When I had finished reading through all the submissions for the One Page Dungeon Contest 2012, I had a list of dungeons I was considering for nominations. We had agreed on twenty nominations but here I was with nearly thirty dungeons and adventures I liked!
The following are short commentaries on the entries I liked. Note that I printed all the entries using a black and white printer. If any of the maps are colorful, I probably missed it.
Also, I’d love to read your take on individual entries you want to recommend. What did you like about them? What is worth imitating in our own games?
warning: Spoilers ahead!
The following list was written for referees that are staring at the pile of over one hundred submissions and wondering where to start. If you only have the time to look at a handful of dungeons, check out the stars.
- Andrew & Heleen Durstop’s Time-Shear – a dimensional rift forces the party to cross a jungle clearing with dinosaurs, a futuristic tunnel with robots (“clockwork warrior”) and an post-apocalyptic with hell hounds in the search of some dwarven miners. Each of the three scenes has a short description of one or two sentences, an encounter listing a few creatures and with a handful of words describing what they’re doing, and a natural hazard (getting lost, getting sucked off a platform, taking radiation damage) with a very simple save mechanic. I loved the image of a party trying to make sense of the crazy chaos interfering with reality and the simple elegance of the three scenes. I also liked the simple map that gives me a little overview of the scenes. I want to use this in my game.
- André Bogaz e Souza’s Temork’s Descending Dungeon – a vertical dungeon with a lot of enemies sticking to the walls and the ceiling. This entry shows that you can write an exciting dungeon with just a bare sketch of a map. I liked the monster progression from simple orcs at the entrance to spiders and spider-riding elves and a half-spider dwarf mage. I liked how one of the traps is a slippery floor dropping the character into the room with the ogre and I liked how the other trap is hundreds of little spiders that will ignore other spiders and spider-riding creatures (i.e. most of the monsters from the levels below). I also appreciated the “tools and magical components here which might be useful for a mage who wants to craft his own gargoyles or golems.” Yay!
- Andrés Cuesta’s Hellmarsh Monastery – a ruined monastery overrun by swampfolk (frogmen?), bandits, goblins and an undead wizard. The first thing I noticed was the map style. I love hatching, line art and multiple factions of humanoids. I was intrigued by the suggestions of the lower levels: an ogre living in the well, a deep chasm with “entrances to deeper levels in the dungeon.” I was somewhat frustrated by the plate armor with a full plate armor with two left hand gauntlets. Why? Was the wearer a famous person? As a DM, I feel like I’d have to prepare some background before running this adventure. I liked the runic lance. It doesn’t say much more than that it is “a powerful magic weapon associated with law.” That intrigued me. I guess I just really loved the map and the idea of a runic lance of law.
- Boric Glanduum’s The Ebony Obilisk of the Snail Demon – this is level 2 of the Watery Palace of the Ooze Behemoth. I was amazed when I realized that people had submitted different levels of the same dungeon! Unfortunately the various entries differed a lot in style. As a contributor to the Darkness Beneath megadungeon in Fight On! magazine, I know how hard it is to coordinate such a thing. I liked the use of terrain (water), intelligent opposition, the potential for permanent changes to player characters (turning into a thrall), the watery theme and that the dungeon has a secret that players can discover with a lot of effort: the obelisk can be used to summon an avatars of Urosh the Snail Demon: five huge flail snails! I felt that the map could have contained more rooms and the key could have been shorter. I don’t like rows of cells or living quarters because they don’t play well at my table. I might use this for a snail demon worshipping temple in my campaign one day.
- Dale Horstman – The Monastery at Dor Amon ☆ – the name alone invokes the spirit of Middle Earth. Two libraries beneath a monastery: the library, and the secret: a bound toad demon that eats books. I loved the side view of the monastery, the small maps with the monastery and the library, and the silhouette of the surrounding area including other hills with elvish names and hints of goblin tribes and ruinous black magic. I liked the graphical design elements as well. Above, light background and black text, below, dark background and white text. The increased font size to indicate priorities worked very well. The smallest font size was at the very limit of what I could read, but at the same time I knew that it optional content in case I want to expand on this location. This was one of my top candidates. I want to include it in my campaign.
- David Gay – Water Genie vs. Undead Mermaid Gladiator ☆ – a high-level underwater adventure involving mermen, a marid king, his daughter, a triton, mermen, a death knight, lacedons, a lich, and a squid wizard (a squizard). The NPCs have different relations and plans with each other. The touch of madness is on the entire adventure and I love it. I really liked the little hand-drawn portraits and maps that accompany the text like a little photo story, and I really liked the high-level aspects of it: a black blade of annihilation “that destroys anything it hits” and the abyssal deeps that lead to the plane of water. This adventure is so awesome, I really want to incorporate this into my campaign. This entry also one of my top candidates.
- Diogo Nogueira – The Hidden Shrine – a little subterranean area connected to some ruins above: a perfect little dungeon to drop into my sandbox campaign. One look at the map with its line art and hatching gives me warm fuzzy feelings. The map key does not disappoint: there are intelligent humanoids (kobolds, bandits), a riddle, a treasure map to be found (you need to provide your own), and underground river, passages leading outside or deeper down, a non-linear map and a necromancer who has been kidnapping people for the party to free. It’s simple, unassuming, standard fare and I love it. (I do confess that there are many submissions for low level characters containing kobolds, goblins or bandits.)
- Eric Harshbarger – In The Dying Light – everything is done by hand, even the key. Curious! As I start reading I realize that this is not a typical map key: this is a journal of a party that went through the (very linear) dungeon. It’s a map and a plea for help that has been teleported back to safety and now it has ended up in the hands of the party. The awesome thing is that this entire dungeon can be handed to the party as-is. Go follow this trail! (It also means that the referee needs to consider what the actual dungeon looks like and how it differs from the map the players now have.)
- Fco. Javier Barrera’s The River of Stars ☆ – another map in my favorite style. Or is it? It takes some studying because this entry has combined side-view and traditional maps. I felt that this slight confusion forced me to study it harder and engage more. I like it when the key facilitates skimming. A key element of that is the use of bold to highlight the important stuff. This key highlights the monsters. Thank you! The monster selection is standard fare (undead, yellow mold, goblins, dark elves, goblins, hobgoblins) with the exception of a zombie plant, a living statue of an undine, a demon and an ogre mage. I like using ogre mages myself. The treasure is guarded by a pseudodragon. Hah, haven’t seen those in a long time. I always wanted a pseudodragon familiar when we played AD&D. This seems like an ideal adventure for the mid-levels. Think of me and let one of the player characters befriend the pseudodragon!
- Gene Sollows’ Holy Sword – when I saw this in my mail, I thought it was the most awesome thing, ever. It burst with enthusiasm! HOLY SWORD! ! As I read it more carefully, I was a bit disappointed: as I wrote elsewhere, I’m not a big fan of humor in the adventure. My players bring the humor of killerclowns and murderhobos. Our humor is the humor of desperate men in over their heads. What am I to do with a legal disclaimer pinned to the walls of the first corridor saying “Ye Olde Disclaimer Danger ☠ High Pwnage Intruders may be mutilated beyond recovery.” I decided to ignore the humor and take it as entertainment for the referee that is not to be communicated to the players. With that in mind, this is a great dungeon filled with dozens of traps and a lich crypt at the very end. I might use this in my game even though I’m not a big fan of death trap dungeons. We’ll see.
- Jason “Flynn” Kemp’s Sell Swords of Mars – I confess not having seen the John Carter of Mars movie and having only read the first half of the first Barsoom novels. I do appreciate small wilderness regions. They can be excellent material if you need something to put at the other end of a teleportation gate. This is how I got to use The Forgotten Depths in my campaign. I think I’ll be using this adventure area when my players find the passage to fantasy Barsoom! Before I do that, however, I’ll need to read some source material. I’d still have to add an actual goal to the map: pick a hex with the teleportation gate back and add some rumors, NPC guides and the like.
- Jasper Polane’s Ship of the Lost – I don’t really like ship adventures. I’m not sure why: my players do a lot of traveling by ship in my campaign. This adventure stood out because of the magic item involved: a guardian demon and a mysterious stone containing a pocket dimension holding a death titan. I don’t know exactly what it does, but it sounds awesome. I might add it to my campaign as the party reaches 7th or 8th level.
- Jens Thuresson – Close the Gates – a simple, hand drawn dungeon, a very short key, interesting monsters (hellspawn) and an in-game challenge: to figure out that there is a problematic gate, what to do and do it. This adventure works as a potential campaign started much in the way that Death Frost Doom (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) can be a cool campaign started when you trigger the awakening of thousands of zombies.
- Jerry LeNeave – A King With No Crown ☆ – a beautiful map and a watery theme without going all-out gonzo like Water Genie vs. Undead Mermaid Gladiator. I like intelligent and charming monsters like sirens and nixies, and since I played a fighter wearing glamered plate armor in a campaign years ago I loved seeing one making an appearance in this dungeon. When adding this dungeon to my campaign, I will have to emphasize the danger to the shipping lanes and I will have to buy into the daughters of Lilith mythology. I like this idea. At the same time I realize that this isn’t optional: without the sirens being an obvious danger there is practically no in-character point in exploring the dungeon. Without the Lilith story, the shrine of Lilith will make little sense. Oh, and I’d make sure that the statues coming to life doesn’t result in combat. Instead, there must be a test the player characters need to pass in order to pass: cover your eyes when talking to the medusa, making sure you’re not easily aroused when talking to the succubus, that kind of thing: every daughter is a little puzzle. This will require appropriate hints by NPCs or rumors in nearby fishing villages. An interesting challenge for the referee. I look forward to using this dungeon in my campaign. This dungeon was also one of the best scoring ones in my list.
- Kelvin Green – A Rough Night at the Dog & Bastard – last year I had started running Solar System RPG and the game suggested a new style of prep: start with an empty page, write down the names of the player characters along the edges. Add abilities, beliefs, advantages or disadvantages you find interesting to the names. Add locations non-player characters, situations, events or items to the page and connect these with the player characters where it makes sense. Make sure that every item you have on the page is involved with at least two other items. It worked for me. It requires a lot of improvisation. This adventure is nothing but a relationship map between the various non-player characters trapped in an inn during a storm: a demon in human disguise, a lady, her ex, a demon hunter, his aide, an assassin, a thief and a wizard. In order to run this adventure, you need to improvise a lot and I’m betting that it will run smoother if you manage to connect you player characters to the non-player characters on the map in multiple ways. This seems ideal for an evening filled with a lot of talking and very little dice rolling.
- L. S. F. – Fungal Infection – Myconids occupying a water supply, their fungoid queen, a number of sluice gates, possibly some fighting, possibly a lot of poisonous and hallucinogenic spores, and an in-game riddle: assuming you want to flood the queen’s tunnel, which gates do you need to open and close? It’s a simple setup and I like it. Plus, pulling off in-game riddles is always hard.
- Leslie Furlong – The Faerie Market – at one point in my campaign the party ventured into the goblin market, faery style. I was inspired by the Courtney Crumrin comics. At the time I tried to use Vornheim book but I was looking for interesting shopkeepers and their wares but could not find a suitable table in the book and improvised everything instead which worked just as well. This adventure is basically nothing but a collection of non-player characters and their stands plus a very thing framing story (girl lost etc). The entries are suitably weird, but they are not tightly connected. My guess is that it’d be easy to use as a backdrop for an adventure, but as an adventure in and of itself, it would need a little extra effort. It would have worked very well for me. In addition to that I was once again intrigued by this style of adventure prep.
- Luka Rejec – Deep in the Purple Worm ☆ – wow, what a beautiful page! Unlike some other beautiful maps such as Ankhor Deeps the Worm comes with a backstory, an integrated key (no time lost finding the appropriate entry in the text and very short and to the point by default), intelligent opposition, interesting foes such as a dire hamster – I absolutely want to use this in my game. Another one of my most favorite entries!
- Michael Atlin & Michael Prescott – Dungeon Town – as I wrote elsewhere, I like that it has a list of interesting non-player characters: their characterization is incredibly short and evocative. The images are inspiring and short tags such as half-good or “retired” are great. I also like the 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? 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. 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.
- Paolo Greco, Dyson Logos & Stonewerks – Axo’s Dungeon ☆ – what a glorious mess! Based on dungeon tiles readily available online a mix of traditional and vertical sections create a multi-level dungeon full of terrible reavers, a calamari saint, a squid king, Argonauts, it’s so crazy it’s awesome and I want to add it to my campaign. It’ll be perfect for a remote sea side temple abandoned years ago. This was also one of my most favorite submissions.
- Peter Regan – The Kobold Coalition – a simple setup: goblins and kobolds in a cave. The only notable thing is that the humanoids have taken care to build a decent defense. A shooting gallery, pi traps, wolves unchained, buckets of oil – that is what makes this entry stand out.
- Radulf St. Germain – The Forgotten Bath House – we’ve had a few bath houses in the contest. This one stood out because it has a ghost story to go with it. The immediate stuff is simple: there are goblins poisoning the water. There is a red herring involving living and undead spiders. The two elements that make this dungeon special are aggressive water elementals that won’t leave their room. Fighting them will destroy the water supply in e long run. This rewards attentive players. The other interesting feature is a ghost that can only be appeased by restoring the place to former glory. The idea of a low to mid level campaign centered on clearing, owning, defending and maintaining a bath house appeals to me very much. That’s an adventure suggesting long term change. It also makes the adventure a cool campaign starter. Generally this is how my campaigns start: a dozen short adventures until one particular feature catches on and the players get interested in pursuing it. This bathhouse could be it.
- Rob S. – Rot Tower – a leper colony, some caves, what could possibly go wrong? An ancient evil chained to a madness inducing bell, an innocent priest and his evil brother – two features that put this entry on my list. I also like how bold is used to highlight the important part and the idiosyncratic map.
- Roger Carbol – The Tomb of Oddli Stone-Squarer – a map with various lairs: bandits, stirges, ghouls, nixies, all of them make sense more or less. If you wanted the party to find the crown, however, I think you would have to provide some rumors to guide the party instead of using the suggested “it can only be detected with two consecutive 1’s while searching.” I like how the crown is supposed to have a large political value. I might want to use this for my campaign.
- Roger SG Sorolla – Old Bastard’s Barrens – a wilderness hexmap. At first, I was not impressed. Using silhouettes instead of named entires or labels on the map seemed gimmicky. The interesting features were harder to recognize. The random encounters on the map depend on the lairs in the surrounding hexes. I’d have to see how well this works at the table. As it stands, it seems to work better than my own solution which is to quickly improvise a random encounter table with eight entries for distinctive regions on my map. My tables take nearby lairs and diurnal and nocturnal preferences into account. The system presented by the author of this entry seems more dynamic, however. All it requires is an extra die roll and looking it up on the map instead of creating a new table every now and then. In addition to all at, the encounters and locations presented also imply a dormant lich, and the map has a short list of suggested missions—the last of which is to destroy the lich! Makes me want to run it!
- Shawn Harris – Down Draft – as adventurers gain levels they sometimes gain mounts. Ever since I heard about player characters gaining pegasi or griffins as mounts, I wanted to incorporate these into adventures. This particular adventure takes place in a flying fortress. The elf king grants you pegasi to reach it. An excellent way to start. The rest is evil elves, orcs, shadows, and an ogre mage. My guess is that this adventure would work best if the referee manages to convey the awesomeness of riding pegasi up to a flying fortress and if the party is allowed to stay in control of the flying fortress if playing well. That would be a great campaign start!
- The Seven-Sided Die – The Tomb of Nesta the Mischievous – I’m not sure what I like about this dungeon in particular. It has all the things I like: a nice map, multiple exits, intelligent opposition, factions (undead, orcs, kobolds), traps (including a petrification trap with ample warnings and green slime, pits with centipedes). I think this dungeon might work best if players thought it was going to be a death trap, but I’m not so sure. As it is, I’d use this dungeon as a neat filler side-quest. “At the inn, you overhear a ranger saying that they recently saw some kobolds in the hills a few hours away.” That kind of thing.
- Warren Abox – Will No One Rid Me of The Troublesome Goblins – another standard dungeon to have in your folder for an emergency. Yes, you could probably improvise all of this in a minute or two, but having it on paper, having a nice map with notes on it, having a named leader and a little strategy (guard dogs, archers, stones dropped on intruders) makes it all the more fluid. It appears that the author subscribes to the same goblin origin story I subscribe to: goblins crawl out of subterranean mud pits. Thus, the chief likes to “wile away his time on the edge of the pool of foul darkness, ready to snatch up new goblins who arise from its inky depths and brutally teach them who commands these caves.” Yes indeed! Simple, but it works.
- Will Doyle – Tomb of Snowbite Pass ☆ – let me finish the list with another awesome map with notes, a bit like a flow chart except that it rocks! In order to activate the eye beams that melt the snow on this pass, the party will need to solve the riddle involving fire water and the ice goblet, fight ice gargoyles, snow wolves and replicas of themselves. Ah, to remember the good old days. Anyway, the visual style makes me want to play it. In fact, I prefer the lack of irony compared to Holy Sword.
A final note: Given all of the above, I often felt that a simple way to get more of my attention (I don’t know how the other judges felt) is to have descriptive labels on the map itself so that I don’t have to read the key all the time and to use bold to highlight the important parts of each room so that I can easily skim it (monsters, treasure, anything that’s in your face and easy to spot when players enter the room). I also like my dungeons to have multiple entrances or exits and to provide for more goals, use interesting magic items (simply having an interesting magic item that can be removed by the party would result in two points)… That kind of thing. It’s not easy to balance this with the time and space constraints, I know. My own dungeons wouldn’t score too well using my own system.
Tags: RPG 1PDC