Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Five Room Dungeon: Let's Take it Easy With an Easy Dungeon!

What'd I say?
A Five Room Dungeon is this idea that's been floating around in which a dungeon is boiled down to its most base components. Some guy named Strolen dreamed the idea up almost 10 years ago, and though it's not new, it's new to me! Let's see if we can handle this!

The Theme

So, just so I get used to this, and get used to exercising a template, I'll start off with something easy. I want a kind of plug and play dungeon that anyone can drop into a setting, with flavor up to the GM, but I need to give enough information that it feels like I'm saving some work. So what is a typical starter adventure? Fetch MacGuffin from an abandoned building! This is a h*ck of a trailblazing idea here, so please don't swoon all over yourself telling me how original and amazing it is. Let's go through the basic formula then.

The Entrance

The entrance, is a pseudo-room that is more like the puzzle of discovering and actually beginning the dungeon.

A character in a very civilized location eventually entreats himself to the party. He remarks how he has heard a great deal about the storied exploits and heroic deeds of the party. Alas, he is poor, but he needs the party's help! He left behind a precious memento when forced to abandon a house a long time ago, and wants help fetching it from what is now decidedly no-man's land. He lets the party deliberate among themselves, and whether they decide to help or not, he lets them know that anything else they find, they can keep! If and when he decides to divulge the path to the "dungeon" it happens to be in the direction the players have already came from, and the trip there is very straightforward.
  • The players can use negotiation tactics if they want, although they may not get anything extra out of it.
  • If they try to ask the quest giver to go with them, he will absolutely refuse. This may or may not come across as suspicious.
  • Body Language - 4, Psychology - 4, or Empathy with a margin of success 3 or better might give away that there is something suspicious about his desperation.
  • Whether or not that is suspicious, the fact that the destination is in a location the party has traveled to safely before might also be suspicious.
The following might be some good integration points:
  • The character is a minor NPC in a place the party has already been.
  • The event could be a breather quest after a large victory against a weak army.
  • Having a dreary, but relatively safe place like an overgrown forest or marsh might anchor the real dungeon better.

The Puzzle or Role-playing Challenge

This "room" is meant to give the spotlight to someone else other than the big beefy fighter guys. This is usually done through puzzle solving, lateral thinking, or a social problem.
You should be able to solve this.

When you reach the house, it is dilapidated, and run-down, and the first floor is heavily guarded by weak enemies [If using the bestiary, Dungeon Fantasy Monsters: 1, consider either Dinomen x 4 to the players, or Dinomen equal in CER to the players. This should be quite a numerous count of monsters, but not entirely impossible to defeat for a strong party that wants to brute force the way in. On the other hand, Dinomen can be coerced readily with fresh meat to give up any objectives they have.
  • The players can brute force themselves through a small army of weak but very numerous soldiers. If they do that, you might want to consider the enemies as fodder to speed up an inevitable victory. Don't be afraid to have many run off if winning is surely in sight; it will work well dramatically anyway.
  • A straightforward act of diplomacy can be done by simply walking up and bribing them with fresh meat. One rations worth of meat per Dinoman should easily do the trick. Look up butchering rules in Low-tech 3 if you want to slaughter an animal, or just look up ration prices in Dungeon Fantasy 1 if you just want to pay for food. The trick after this is that they might ask why they shouldn't just rob you blind anyways. Defeat them by asserting dominance in an intimidation quick contest of the party's best intimidator versus their bravest, or running away in a quick contest of the party's worst runner versus the enemy's best runner.
  • A less straightforward approach might be to set up a barbecue nearby to attract the dumb Dinomen with the smell of meat by building up a barbecue and getting the scent to the guards without being spotted. Try using a contest of Strategy versus IQ for pulling a trick on these dumb guys. Then try Stealth to sneak around them while they are eating. Use a flavorless poison to knock them out for bonus time, or burn the right kind of herbs found with Naturalist while wearing a filter to protect breathing.
If the players use a strategy at least as clever as the last bullet point, and it all comes together, give them a bonus character point at the end, if they did something that truly blows your mind, consider giving them 2. Or if you feel afraid of giving out too many bonus points, or like to live dangerously, count these as extra rolls on the treasure table.
Mon Dieu, am I right?

The Trick or Setback

To build suspension, at this point, the players should fall into a trap, as if it were the plan all along.

When the players finally get inside the small dilapidated house with barred-up windows and only one door, the inside is fairly mundane and isn't too complicated - perhaps a room or two and a fairly easy to find  memento - such as a teddy bear, for example. Shoulda thought about this harder, but the players should be allowed to explore aimlessly until they find it far away from the entrance.

When they do find the memento, they should hear a fiery explosion as the house is suddenly set on fire! Sacrebleu! Getting out of the house shouldn't be too much trouble, after all, this is a setup as you can tell from the familiar maniacal laughter outside! Take a look at p. 18 of Dungeon Fantasy 2  to get an idea of how weak a wall might be to break down in order to get out (1 DR, 23 HP, or p. 558 of Basic Set- Campaigns for other ideas.)
  • This situation is just for upping the dramatic tension, and shouldn't really be a challenge to bash in a wall, but you might need to hint to your players that the walls are breakable if the idea doesn't cross their minds.
  • If smoke can build up after a minute or so because of confusion, you might want to familiarize yourself with suffocation rules on p. 436 of Basic Set - Campaigns. In short, you will start to lose FP fast.
  • Of course, I'm drawing blanks, but I'm pretty sure there are tons of solutions to this problem since magic isn't out of the equation. If your party has special means of fighting fire, be prepared for them to use it, obviously.

Climax, Big Battle, or Conflict

This is the "fourth room" of a "dungeon," and the place for the boss fight.

We find out that the guy who set the trap was really a baddy in disguise all along!
  • General of a recently defeated bad guy
  • A betrayed NPC looking for revenge
  • Some crazy serial murderer who enjoys robbing "li'l goody goodies"
  • Anything you can think of.
If the players didn't mortally defeat or force the surrender of the Dinomen earlier, some might decide to help this guy, or maybe not! Maybe he brought a fresh entourage anyways. For the kind of party that would be severely inconvenienced by 4 Dinomen each, a good intelligent boss might be an As-sharak from Dungeon Fantasy 2, or any of the demon-like enemies from Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1. For minions, Golem Armor Swordsmen (DF2), Corpse Golem, Draug, or Throttlers (DFM1) are on par. For an easier, but not too easy fight, choose from one of each of the minions per player in the party; 1.5 each, rounded up if they are itching for a challenging boss. In CER terms, think a main boss that is twice as strong as the average player, and minions with CER close to each party member. Shoot for around a CER ratio of 1:1 to have a challenging, but definitely winnable fight, or 2:1 for a "true" boss fight.
  • Allow the players to use scenery to their advantage. Can they somehow use the set fire as a trap or part of a ruse?
  • Be prepared for questions about motivation if it isn't exactly obvious and your players are like me and like a cohesive story.
  • Be especially prepared in the case of a prisoner capturing scenario.
  • I chose a bunch of incongruous enemies from the manuals, feel free to refluff them for the scene so it makes more sense.
  • If you have Dungeon Fantasy 11 mind Ridiculous Reactions on p.21. Every downed minion counteracts one penalty listed on that page in terms of negotiating or forcing a surrender.
The party only makes it to the next "room" if they are victorious in battle... or very clever and convince you otherwise.

Reward, Revelation, or Plot Twist

If you get them to negotiate surrender, they will throw in treasure. If you route them or kill everything, you might find a fireproof safe in the basement of the rubble after the fire dies. This calls for at least one roll on the treasure table, or if players give you hints for what they want, maybe giving them something like that. If the players don't make a reasonable effort to negotiate or search treasure, then they find nothing. Also, mind the possibility of bonus treasure for solving the "puzzle room" in an interesting way. It's Schrödinger's Chest - they get better treasure if they were cooler, so also +1 treasure if role-playing went well.

As for revelation and plot twist, a reoccurring enemy might show the party that a previously believed extinguished threat is not completely defeated. An enemy who had a righteous reason for revenge might inspire an interesting decision to set something right they once did wrong. A giant space flea from nowhere might be the beginning of a new series of adventures.

Other Thoughts and Closing

That was laborious, and I feel like it was a bit too skimpy on the details, but maybe someone can let me know what they think?  This is my first time doing something like this, and I feel like I took the concept of "5 Room Dungeon" to its absolute abstract extreme. Maybe I'll write more, maybe I won't. Maybe I should do it piecemeal, and write up some monsters and some NPCs, then write up a 5 Room Dungeon. I didn't include a map at all this time because it didn't feel appropriate, but I might include one for a real "dungeon." Oh well.


  1. That was a fun read! And I can see the adventure you've sketched out being good for an evening's entertainment.

    1. Thanks, it's been something I've wanted to try for a bit. I feel it's a bit rough since it's my first go, but I think the most important element illustrated here that some people forget is that a "5 room dungeon" doesn't necessarily literally contain 5 rooms. Your puzzle room might be gathering clues from several exhibits of a gallery; a stereotypical dragon guarding a horde might have the boss fight and reward in the same literal room... Of the 5 "rooms" in the dungeon, only one is a literal "room" and that specific one, I almost imagine to be several small rooms as the party explores an abandoned house that feels safe.

      Ah well, we don't learn to ride a bike without falling off a few times.

  2. I appreciated the "rooms don't necessarily = rooms" reminder!


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