A while back I was running a dungeon crawl on G+, and at one point a set of stairs was reached. It wasn’t a tall stairway, maybe 10’. But one of the players was worried about moving to a different level of the dungeon.
This actually led to a short side conversation on player assumptions about dungeon levels. Personally I’m a big fan of staircases within dungeon levels. Unless we’re in an office tower (and even then…) a level isn’t necessarily a flat space. A level could easily span a 3 or 4 story volume, with numerous sets of stairs within. I always think about those great big rooms with balconies and windows into them. Sure, that could span a couple of levels, but it doesn’t have to.
Which brings up another thought… do you tell your players they’ve entered another level? Either explicitly (a big number on the wall, like in an underground garage?) or through other clues in the environment?
I don’t think I’ve ever said explicitly, though it would be interesting to do a dungeon that was built in a modern building with clearly numbered rooms and floors. I usually make levels in the dungeon separated by significantly longer stairs than would be found within a level, but that’s only generally, and even then there might be a small complex of rooms off the stairs between the levels that could be a part of either level, or something else entirely.
Other clues that I use are to show monster boundaries. They all control different territory, so the orc level will have a lot of spiked heads at their border while the mushroom forest… well, there’ll be mushrooms, and unworked stone. The goblin market may have actual signs in various languages. The crypt maybe a different style of worked stone from the surrounding areas. Given that my megadungeon is a part of the mythic underworld, it’s shaped by who exists in it.
How do you handle stairs and level breaks in your dungeons?