In association with Johnn Four, and all the fine folks subscribed to his Roleplaying Tips Weekly mailing list at http://www.roleplayingtips.com
, we bring you our first collaborative Quest:
You can submit your dungeon as a quest submission at www.strolen.com
or email email@example.com
The Five Room Dungeon Quest. Quest ends Sept 26. See the following message from Johnn on contest rules and prizes.
Looking forward to seeing your Dungeon!
A Brief Word From Johnn at roleplayingtips.com
5 Room Dungeon Contest
This week's tips are about a quick format template for
making easy designs and entertaining game sessions. The 5
Room Dungeon is perfect for busy GMs with little prep time
or those who dislike long crawls.
In conjunction with the fine folks at Strolen's Citadel, the
5 Room Dungeon contest gives you a chance to win some loot,
have fun wielding your creativity, and help other GMs with
To enter the contest, send in one or more 5 Room Dungeons of
your own creation. Use the tips in this issue to help build
your designs. Use the example at the end of the tips as a
* Make each room 1-3ish paragraphs long. Your 5 Room Dungeon
can be as short as five paragraphs, or longer if you like.
Room One: Entrance And Guardian
Room Two: Puzzle Or Roleplaying Challenge
Room Three: Trick or Setback
Room Four: Climax, Big Battle Or Conflict
Room Five: Reward, Revelation, Plot Twist
* Keep your designs as rules-free as possible. The best
designs should serve as skeletons that other GMs can pick up
and flesh out for their game system and campaign. No need
for stat blocks or complex rules annotations.
* Maps are definitely optional. Most 5 Room dungeon designs
won't need a map as the layout will be intuitive.
* Multiple entries are welcome.
* As with past contests, entries will be edited and given
back to the community for free so all GMs can benefit from
* Winners will be drawn at random, so don't worry if you
aren't confident about your designs - every entry has an
equal chance of winning, and it's just your participation
that counts. Have some fun with it.
* E-mail, text files, Word docs, and Open Office files are
* E-mail your entries to firstname.lastname@example.org
them at the Strolen's Citadel website: http://www.strolen.com/index.php
Please submit your entries by September 26.
The following prizes have been generously supplied to
support this contest. Please visit sponsor sites and check
out their products.
1 x D&D Icons Gargantuan Black Dragon
From: Legend Games http://www.legendgames.co.uk/
3 x MyInfo Personal Reference Software licenses
From: Milenix Software http://www.milenix.com
3 x D&D modules:
* DCC #46 Book of Treasure Maps
* DCC #47 Tears of the Genie
* DCC #50 Vault of the Iron Overlord by Monte Cook
From: Goodman Games http://www.goodmangames.com
5 x Adventure PDFs:
* 1 on 1 Adventures #5 Vale of the Sepulcher
* #6 Shroud of Olindor
* #7 Eyes of the Dragon
* #8 Blood Brothers
* Advanced Adventures #3 The Curse of the Witch Head
From: Expeditious Retreat Press http://www.xrpshop.citymax.com
To summarize, craft your own 5 Room Dungeons and submit them
for a chance to win some great loot. Entries will be edited
and formatted and given back to the community so others can
have more fun at every game.
Johnn Four email@example.com
5 Room Dungeons
By Johnn Four
The following tips originally appeared in Issue #156, and
they are among my favourite. I thought it was time to
feature them again with some edits, a new tip or two, and a
1. Why Do I Like 5 Room Dungeons?
This format, or creation method, has a number of advantages:
* Any location. Though I call them 5 Room Dungeons, they
actually apply to any location with five or so areas. They
don't have to be fantasy or dungeons. They could take the
form of a small space craft, a floor in a business tower, a
wing of a mansion, a camp site, a neighbourhood.
* Short. Many players dislike long dungeon crawls, and ADD
GMs like to switch environments up often. In addition, some
players dislike dungeons all together, but will go along
with the play if they know it's just a short romp. This
helps ease conflicts between play styles and desires.
* Quick to plan. With just five rooms to configure, design
is manageable and fast. Next time you are killing time, whip
out your notepad and write down ideas for themes, locations,
and rooms. Knock off as many designs as you can and choose
the best to flesh out when you have more time and to GM next
* Easier to polish. Large designs often take so long to
complete that game night arrives before you can return to
the beginning and do one or more rounds of tweaking and
polishing. The design speed of 5 Room Dungeons leaves room
most of the time to iterate.
* Easy to move. 5 Room Dungeons can squeeze into many places
larger locations and designs can't. If your dungeon goes
unused or if you want to pick it up and drop it on a new
path the PCs take, it's often easier to do than when
wielding a larger crawl.
* Flexible size. They are called 5 Room Dungeons, but this
is just a guideline. Feel free to make 3-area locations or
10-cave complexes. The idea works for any small, self-
* Easy to integrate. A two to four hour dungeon romp
quickens flagging campaign and session pacing, and can be
squeezed into almost any story thread. It also grants a
quick success (or failure) to keep the players engaged. The
format is also easy to drop into most settings with minimal
2. Room One: Entrance And Guardian
There needs to be a reason why your dungeon hasn't been
plundered before or why the PCs are the heroes for the job.
A guardian or challenge at the entrance is a good
rejustification why the location remains intact. Also, a
guardian sets up early action to capture player interest and
energize a session.
Room One challenge ideas:
* The entrance is trapped.
* The entrance is cleverly hidden.
* The entrance requires a special key, such as a ceremony,
command word, or physical object.
* The guardian was deliberately placed to keep intruders
out. Examples: a golem, robot, or electric fence.
* The guardian is not indigenous to the dungeon and is a
tough creature or force who's made its lair in room one.
* The entrance is hazardous and requires special skills and
equipment to bypass. For example: radiation leaks, security
clearance, wall of fire.
Room One is also your opportunity to establish mood and
theme to your dungeon, so dress it up with care.
3. Room Two: Puzzle Or Roleplaying Challenge
The PCs are victorious over the challenge of the first room
and are now presented with a trial that cannot be solved
with steel. This keeps problem solvers in your group happy
and breaks the action up for good pacing.
Make Room Two a puzzle, skill-based, or roleplaying
encounter, if possible. Room Two should shine the limelight
on different PCs than Room One, change gameplay up, and
offer variety between the challenge at the entrance and the
challenge at the end.
Note, if Room One was this type of encounter, then feel free
to make Room Two combat-oriented.
Room Two should allow for multiple solutions to prevent the
game from stalling.
Room Two ideas:
* Magic puzzle, such as a chessboard tile floor with special
* An AI blocks access to the rest of the complex and must be
befriended, not fought.
* A buzzer panel for all the apartments, but the person the
PCs are looking for has listed themselves under a different
name, which can be figured out through previous clues you've
* A concierge at the front desk must be bluffed or coerced
without him raising the alarm.
* A dirt floor crawls with poisonous snakes that will
slither out of the way to avoid open flame. (A few might
follow at a distance and strike later on.)
* The PCs must convince a bouncer to let them in without
confiscating their weapons.
Once you've figured out what Room Two is, try to plant one
or more clues in Room One about potential solutions. This
ties the adventure together a little tighter, will delight
the problem solvers, and can be a back-up for you if the
players get stuck.
4. Room Three: Trick or Setback
The purpose of this room is to build tension. Do this using
a trick, trap, or setback. For example, after defeating a
tough monster, and players think they've finally found the
treasure and achieved their goal, they learn they've been
tricked and the room is a false crypt.
Depending on your game system, use this room to cater to any
player or character types not yet served by the first two
areas. Alternatively, give your group a double-dose of
gameplay that they enjoy the most, such as more combat or
Room Three ideas:
* The PCs rescue a number of prisoners or hostages. However,
the victims might be enemies in disguise, are booby-trapped,
or create a dilemma as they plead to be escorted back to
* A collapsed structure blocks part of the area. The debris
is dangerous and blocks nothing of importance, another trap,
or a new threat.
* Contains a one-way exit (the PCs must return and deal with
Rooms One and Two again). i.e. Teleport trap, one-way door,
2000 foot water slide trap.
* The PCs finally find the artifact required to defeat the
villain, but the artifact is broken, cursed, or has parts
missing, and clues reveal a solution lies ahead.
* Believing the object of the quest now lays within easy
reach, an NPC companion turns traitor and betrays the PCs.
Another potential payoff for Room Three is to weaken the PCs
as build-up to a dramatic struggle in Room Four. It might
contain a tough combat encounter, take down a key defense,
exhaust an important resource, or make the party susceptible
to a certain type of attack.
For example, if Room Four contains a mummy whose secret
weakness is fire, then make Room Three a troll lair (or
another creature susceptible to fire) so the PCs might be
tempted to burn off a lot of their fire magic, oil, and
other flammable resources. This would turn a plain old troll
battle into a gotcha once the PCs hit Room Four and realize
the are out of fire resources.
Don't forget to dress Room Three up with your theme
5. Room Four: Climax, Big Battle or Conflict
This room is The Big Show. It's the final combat or conflict
encounter of the dungeon. Use all the tactics you can summon
to make this encounter memorable and entertaining.
* As always, generate interesting terrain that will impact
* Start or end with roleplay. Maybe the bad guy needs to
stall for time to let PC buffs wear out, to wait for help to
arrive, or to stir himself into a rage. Perhaps the combat
ends with the bad guy bleeding to death and a few short
words can be exchanged, or there are helpless minions or
prisoners to roleplay with once the threat is dealt with.
* Give the bad guy unexpected powers, abilities, or
* Previous rooms might contain warning signals or an alarm,
so the bad guy has had time to prepare.
* The bay guys tries to settle things in an unusual way,
such as through a wager or a duel.
* The lair is trapped. The bad guy knows what or where to
avoid, or has the ability to set off the traps at opportune
* The bad guy reveals The Big Reward and threatens to break
it or put it out of the PCs' so reach so they'll never
* The bad guy has a secret weakness that the PCs figure out
how to exploit.
* A variety of PC skills and talents are required to
successfully complete the encounter.
6. Room Five: Reward, Revelation, Plot Twist
Here's your opportunity to change the players' bragging to
"we came, we saw, we slipped on a banana peel." Room Five
doesn't always represent a complication or point of failure
for the PCs, but it can. Room Five doesn't always need to be
a physical location either - it can be a twist revealed in
Room Five is where your creativity can shine and is often
what will make the dungeon different and memorable from the
other crawls in your campaigns.
In addition, if you haven't supplied the reward yet for
conquering the dungeon, here is a good place to put the
object of the quest, chests of loot, or the valuable
information the PCs need to save the kingdom.
As accounting tasks take over from recent, thrilling, combat
tasks, this would also be a good time to make a campaign or
world revelation, or a plot twist. Perhaps the location of
the next 5 Room Dungeon is uncovered, along with sufficient
motivation to accept the quest. Maybe the true identity of
the bad guy is revealed. New clues and information
pertaining to a major plot arc might be embedded in the
treasure, perhaps sewn into a valuable carpet, drawn in
painting, or written on a slip of paper stuffed into a
scroll tube or encoded on a data chip.
Room Five ideas:
* Another guardian awaits in the treasure container.
* A trap that resurrects or renews the challenge from
* Bonus treasure is discovered that leads to another
adventure, such as a piece of a magic item or a map
* A rival enters and tries to steal the reward while the PCs
are weakened after the big challenge of Room Four.
* The object of the quest/final reward isn't what it seems
or has a complication. i.e. The kidnapped king doesn't want
* The quest was a trick. By killing the dungeon's bad guy
the PCs have actually helped the campaign villain or a
rival. Perhaps the bad guy was actually a good guy under a
curse, transformed, or placed into difficult circumstances.
* The bad guy turns out to be a PC's father.
* The true, gruesome meaning behind a national holiday is
* The source of an alien race's hostility towards others is
uncovered, transforming them from villains to sympathetic
characters in the story.
* The true meaning of the prophecy or poem that lead the PCs
to the dungeon is finally understood, and it's not what the
7. Example 5 Room Dungeon - Library of the Ancients
Here is an example 5 Room Dungeon to inspire your contest
entries. In your campaign, you'll need to flesh out some of
the details, but this skeleton format is perfect for GMs to
pick up and customize for their own memorable sessions.
Room One: Entrance
The guardian is a permanent hurricane situated over a small,
rocky island that is far from civilization. Approach by air
and sea is too difficult by normal means. The storm energies
have attracted numerous elementals to the region as well,
and though most can be bypassed with caution, it's likely at
least one or two will be encountered and fought.
Room Two: Puzzle or Roleplay
The island has been swept clean so now it is bare, slippery
rock. Winds threaten to carry away anything not secured to
the ground. High up on one of the cliffs is a cave with
flickering light streaming out. The first challenge is
puzzling out how to reach the cave.
At the back of the cave is a large portal sealed by magic. A
command word is required to open the valve, and the PCs
should have enough clues found previously to figure it out.
Perhaps it is the name of an item or NPC.
A castaway lives in the cave, though he is either out or
cleverly hidden when the PCs arrive. He survives by climbing
down a hidden, sheltered path that leads to a protected bay
where he fishes and salvages what the currents wash up. He
knows the command word but is insane from solitude and the
continual violence of the storm. He craves to see the sun
again - if the PCs can show him the sun he'll reveal the
Room Three: Trick or Setback
Using the command word, a special ability, or quite a bit of
destruction, the PCs bypass the portal and travel down a
long set of stairs. Angry booming from wind and wave echoes
through the tunnel.
If the PCs don't spot and flip a switch, the tunnel
continues on until it opens up into a huge cavern full of
bookshelves and dry, ancient tomes. Invaluable knowledge is
stored here, as are a pair of immortal fire guardians.
The guardians are sentient and can be parleyed with. If they
deem the PCs worthy, they provide knowledge of the switch
back up in the stairwell, which opens an entrance to a
Their primary task is to protect the library from evil, and
they will start torching the books if the PCs attack or if
the guardians deem the action necessary.
Room Four: Big Battle
The secret passage leads down to a cave where a powerful
elemental has been imprisoned. The elemental was tricked by
the builders of the library and was told his realm was under
attack. Over the course of weeks, the builders brought
evidence that the elemental's home had been destroyed.
Already angry at being imprisoned, the elemental's rage grew
and grew as he came to believe that his home and kin were
destroyed. As intended, the creature's rage was funneled and
amplified until it fueled a small hurricane that surrounded
The builders told the elemental his prison sentence was
1,000 years, which is true, and with that deadline and plans
for revenge, his rage has not diminished over time.
The elemental is free to move about in his cave, and can
communicate in broken common with the PCs if they try. It's
not true that his realm was destroyed all those years ago,
which can be confirmed by any of the elementals outside. If
the PCs can convince the creature his realm is safe, or calm
him down another way, the hurricane will disperse after a
Killing the elemental will be very tough. The hurricane also
disperses a day after the creature's death.
Room Five: Reward or Twist
The object of the quest lies within a chest protected by the
elemental at the centre of the cave. The builders lied and
told the creature the last of his realm's essence was
trapped inside the chest, and opening the chest would
release the essence, forever ensuring a new realm could not
be built. This further fueled the creature's rage, the chest
serving as a goading reminder, but the creature is unwilling
to destroy the container as it plans to wait the 1,000 years
The chest can contain the object of the PCs' quest, or it
can contain a map and clues to the real location of the
treasure, which happens to be deep inside an active volcano
thousands of miles distant. It also contains a note to the
elemental, in case it did break open the container,
revealing the builders' lies and rubbing the creature's nose
in its own stupidity. This should reveal the twist of the
backstory to the PCs if they opted to attack the creature
and killed it. If the creature still lives it will demand to
read the note, which will likely send it into a blind rage
all over again, giving the PCs a bit of a dilemma.
* * *
The five room format is simple yet allows for variety and
permutation, thus it's a powerful little GM tool. I feel a
GM is always better off improving their dungeons by making
them smaller because it gives them more planning time for
clues, plot hooks, character involvement, twists, and so on.
Don't forget to enter contest. If you have any questions,
feel free to e-mail me.