2012-05-28 Regarding My Nominations


We’re close to finishing the list of winners for the One Page Dungeon Contest 2012. I’ve sent my nominations, prepared the spreadsheet, did my thing. As the deadline approaches—June 1st—I’m reminded of what I said a few days ago:

If you’re the author of a particular entry amongst the first fifty dungeons and you’d like to hear a few more words about it, let me know. I hope I’ll be writing a paragraph about all the dungeons I’m going to nominate in the end – but if you want to hear about your dungeon right away, I’ll be happy to talk.

Two people got back to me and here’s what I had to say.

The author of The Oracle of Pagebrin was the first who wanted to hear more. He had already read about the things I like to see in a dungeon and knew that it wasn’t going to be my cup of tea.

The problem is this: What should I do with humorous and witty submissions to the contest? As for myself, I run D&D games, various Indie games, Pendragon – and the old school D&D games in particular are full of deadly slapstick. The player characters are murderhobos and killerclowns. It’s neither serious like the Forgotten Realms, not gritty like Warhammer, nor is it meta and funny like Paranoia used to be. That’s why I would never use The Oracle of Pagebrin in my campaign.

There would be a lot of groaning and shaking of fists once the players discover the jokes. There are plenty of these funny moments and I’m sure I missed many as I read the entry: the presence of angry birds, links going on for ever and ever, feeling lucky, and so on. In addition to that, there are no elements that I might lift from this entry to use in my own game. There is no map that I can hand out to the players as treasure, no NPCs I might use, no interesting monster I can import into my game. From my very utilitarian point of view, this is why I cannot nominate The Oracle of Pagebrin.

There was a similar funny entry I remember, the MAZE of NAMCAP (namcap = pacman). It was funny when I saw it and I remember it well; it was named Best Silly Dungeon back in 2009. There was also The Chapel of Priapus, a temple of fertility where the last room was a penis and if you wore the right amulet and said the right prayer, the character would be ejected. Again, an unforgettable entry with a weird sense of humor. Plus, Priapus did in fact exist! Nevertheless, those are not the dungeons that I want to print out and keep in a folder to use for my home game. I remember them – but I would never nominate them. I cannot use silly dungeons at my table.

The authors of Dungeon Town also asked me to “spill the beans.”

Here’s what I like: I like something to drop into my sandbox campaign or something to run as a one-shot at a convention. I like to use my favorite system to do it (currently that would be Labyrinth Lord). This means that an entry doesn’t have to be an actual dungeon. I’ve used the hexcrawl The Forgotten Depths in a campaign of mine, for example. In this particular case, the things I liked about Dungeon Town:

  1. It has a list of interesting non-player characters: their characterization is incredibly short and evocative. The image is inspiring and short tags such as half-good or “retired” in quotes make me believe that I could role-play these characters and makes me think that I couldn’t have thought up as interesting characters on the spur of the moment. Furthermore, non-player characters are practically always intelligent and thus inherently more interesting than stupid monsters.
  2. It has an inspiring map: a long stair reaching a stalagmite spire town; a slum further down, mines, a market, a tomb—these seem like interesting locales. I’d have to prepare the details for the various locales because of the one page limitation, but the map inspires me to think of something—even if some of them are not great on their own. Tomb? Again?
  3. It has interesting notes on the map: “Ants! Bring honey!” is enough to work as a rumor in town, as a problem, as a suggested solution or a combat encounter. A little comment like “Moistened Horrors (We’ll miss you Jake)” can also serve as a hook to a rumor, and suggest additional situations: recover the body; pacify the ghost, find his last surviving relative, that kind of thing.
  4. The map also hints at multiple goals such as locations to search for.
  5. The list of events and the map notes provide a strong theme.

Unfortunately, the entire reputation mechanic is very much an added layer of rules that I didn’t find very interesting. As far as I’m concerned, I’d probably develop something less abstract. One example is Roll WIS. Low roll is either “framed for theft” or “pocket picked” depending on your current reputation. Using framed for theft for the first encounter and pocket picked for subsequent encounters would work just as well for me. I’m just not interested in the simple reputation mechanic.



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