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Below is a dungeon generator for Johnn Four's clever way to build small dungeons using a simple design method you can learn in just a few minutes. More generally, you can use the technique to build larger adventures.
You can download Johnn's full 317 page 5 Room Dungeon book free, due to a special arrangement I've made with Johnn. It's packed with 87 example 5 Room Dungeons plus dozens of pages providing you 5 Room Dungeon design assistance and inspiration.
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 justification why the location remains intact.
Also, a guardian sets up early action to capture player interest and energize a session.
Room One is also your opportunity to establish mood and theme to your dungeon, so dress it up with care.
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.
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.
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 roleplaying.
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 they are out of fire resources.
Don’t forget to dress Room Three up with your theme elements.
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 the battle.
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.
A variety of PC skills and talents are required to successfully complete the encounter.
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 Four.
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 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.
Used with Permission from Johnn Four