I’ve previously mentioned this in one of my more recent posts, but I am participating in a dungeon creation contest. Specifically, the One Page Dungeon Contest that has been held annually for 10 years now. I have never designed a one page dungeon. I’ve never even ran a one page dungeon. However, it sounds like a fun and exciting challenge and quite frankly, I have nothing to lose. Well, except the contest I suppose.
Regardless, this is going to be the first of 3 posts detailing the design and creation process of my submission to this year’s contest. Like I’ve said before, I have no idea what I’m doing, but the best way to learn is to teach.
What is a One Page Dungeon?
As the name suggests, a one-page dungeon is a complete dungeon that fits on a single side of a sheet of paper. This not only includes the story, description, creatures, and treasure, but also the map. Most of the time the map and title will take up at least 1/3 of the entire page. It’s a great exercise for learning to be concise when writing.
Elements of a One Page Dungeon
- Description of the dungeon
- Setting information
- Dungeon map
- Room descriptions
Basically everything that would normally be included when creating a dungeon should be included in a one page dungeon. The only issue is having enough space to include all of these elements and still be able to convey your story.
Although, your story should be fairly simple. One reason is that you’ll have more page space to work with. Another reason is that the GM that is running your dungeon now has a chance to make it their own story using the simple overview you’ve provided.
Additional Rules for the Contest
- File size no larger than 6 mb
- Entry is system neutral
- No copyright infringement
The file size isn’t a huge deal, but it is worth mentioning. I won’t be able to use a ton of flashy pictures and graphics to help with the story/description. One tip that they provided in the submission guide was to use unique fonts. I hadn’t even considered that before, but that is a good way of setting the tone of your adventure for the reader.
The copyright stuff pretty much goes without saying. Though making the contest system neutral does help quite a bit. I won’t be tempted to use proper names or specific monsters from a system.
Creating a system neutral one-page dungeon is going to be a challenge for me. I primarily think and create D&D 5e as far as TTRPGs are concerned, though I have dabbled in other systems. There are many creatures, mechanics, and other elements that are unique to D&D 5e and I will have to ensure that I am limiting these aspects.
The first thing you should do before creating anything is brainstorming. It’s considerably more difficult to come up with an idea, flesh it out, and complete it. I’ve done it plenty of times, but I also make a ton of unnecessary mistakes or forget to include important details when I complete a project in a single sitting. Instead, you should think about what you want to create beforehand so you have at least a rough idea of what to write, draw, or make.
I had a few basic ideas for my dungeon before I began writing. I wanted it to be focused around a specific creature or type of creature. The dungeon also should be focused more on low-level or less powerful characters. This dungeon is going to be a bit smaller as I want it to be completed in a single 3-4hr session as well. Lastly, the dungeon should be easy to run and understand, I want something new GMs can easily pick up and run with their players.
Kuo-toa have been a fan favorite for my players. I can understand why as I love using them. They create their own gods through their devout and over-the-top worship of the god. I’ve had kuo-toa that worship inanimate objects, animals, or members of the party. Because of this, I’ve felt it’s only right to pay homage to them in my first entry to the contest.
I’m going to use fish-people as that is a system-neutral creature that I’m sure a GM could find relevant stats for in their game. The players will have to explore their disgusting cave dungeon in order to retrieve an item.
The cave floors will be slick and muddy as the party first enters the dungeon. The further in they go they will find piles of garbage and bones strewn about the cave. The fish-people are clearly looking for something. Some of these piles may have coin or valuable items that the fish-people had no use for, but the party may!
The party will have to fight some fish-people, avoid basic traps, and solve a puzzle in order to obtain the item they came into the dungeon for. This part doesn’t matter in brainstorming. We will get to the specifics in the post for next week or the week after.
The very last room will contain a cauldron full of boiling water, a group of living people tied above the cauldron, a couple of fish-people, and their “god” a tiny devil. This could be something like an imp or a spined devil if you were playing 5e. Just something clever enough to abuse the fish people’s innate desire to worship something or someone. I like having an idea for the final encounter when I brainstorm as it gives me inspiration for flavor and the setting.
Now that we have a setting in mind and what the last room may look like in our dungeon, let’s figure out a story. We want low-level adventurers for this adventure so we don’t want the item the party is retrieving to be anything super powerful.
Our story is going to begin with the party setting up camp for the night. Since they just came from a nearby town today they were able to buy fresh vegetables and meat to make a fine stew with. They’ve been looking forward to this all day. The party puts the stew on the fire and goes to set up their tents. All is well until out of the corner of their eye they see two fish-people grab their pot of stew and take off into the woods.
The party will most likely want to kill or chase the fish-people. They are very careful to stay in the cover of the trees making it hard to shoot at them, however, they are very clumsy so they are easy to follow. The fish-people run into a cave that is fairly well-hidden.
The party will then have to traverse the slick and muddy front entrance of the cave. The fish-people have webbed feet and can run through this terrain just fine. This allows them to get away from the party.
The party will have to fight their way through traps and fish-people and solve a puzzle in order to get back their sought-after dinner. Again, we don’t need specifics just yet. We just want a general idea.
The last room will have the human sacrifices strung up above a pot of boiling water. It seems the fish-people needed your stew as a base for their dinner! Not only that, but among the fish-people there is a small devil with a crown of rotten fish bones. This is presumably their “god”. The devil will want the party killed and added to the delicious dinner they are in the process of making.
The fish-people love stealing trinkets or small possessions from people. It’s a game to them. To showcase this, each time the party enters a room they will see the two fish-people running out of the room. Thankfully, there is a hidden shortcut! If the party find it, they will be able to get ahead of the culprits and confront them!
The fish-people are scavengers. It seems as though you’re not the only group they’ve stolen from as the cave is filled with rotten food, bones, and other garbage.
None of this explains why they have people tied up and ready to be lowered into a pot of boiling soup. That is how we showcase in the devil’s influence. These mischievous fish-people are being manipulated by an extremely evil power. The party will have a choice, do they kill the fish-people or do they simply dispose of the devil? Will they feel pity for these pathetic creatures?
During my brainstorming, I’ve come across a few issues. I will need to think of a solution to these problems before I begin writing.
Normally I would throw in magical items and whatnot for a dungeon like this, but I’m not quite sure how to word the rewards as this is a system neutral dungeon. I think my solution will just be something like saying “one of the piles of garbage has a glowing dagger”. Distributing treasure is easy enough as I can just say “a small pouch of coins” and that’s translatable to pretty much any game with currency.
I tend to try very hard to balance my dungeons in my homebrew campaign. However, since this one-page dungeon has to be system neutral and we don’t have unlimited real estate on the page this probably isn’t worth our time. The dungeon will be ideal for 4-5 players so I’ll limit the groups of fish-people to 3-6 at a time.
Now that I’ve brainstormed and made a very basic outline of what my one-page dungeon will look like, I feel a lot more confident in the final product. I know what to keep in mind when designing the encounters and have a good idea as to the size and scale of the map.
As I’ve said before having a solid brainstorming session or a good outline of your project will do you wonders. It’s difficult to think of all these details on the fly as you’re creating something. Now that I have it all on paper I can focus more on the mechanics and polish of my one-page dungeon.
Next week I will draw out the map and write the overarching story. The only problem with this part of the plan is that I suck at drawing. I’m not sure how I’m going to make the map, but that’s a problem for next week. Seriously though, if you have any suggestions hit me up.