5 Room Dungeon Spawn Points

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0821

5 Room Dungeon Spawn Points


You can make 5 Room Dungeons spawn points for deeper adventures. Here’s how.

The basic formula is:

  • Type: Ruins, campsite, tower, etc.
  • Plot: Combat mission, quest, explore, etc.
  • Room #1: Entrance or guardian
  • Room #2: Puzzle or roleplaying
  • Room #3: Trick or hazard
  • Room #4: Conflict or climax
  • Room #5: Reward or plot twist

Depending on the content of each encounter, you’ve got a good session’s material there. Enough play for a night.

But what if this is just a rough pencil sketch?

Imagine your 5RD as the core idea of a larger adventure. It’s just the first draft as a thought experiment. If you like the direction it’s heading, then you’re ready for the next step.

Here’s an example of a 5RD as a pencil sketch:

The Forgotten Temple of Wells

  • Type: Ruins
  • Plot: Combat mission – find the antidote
  • Room #1: Sacrifice to the God of Wells to gain entry
  • Room #2: Prove yourself worthy to the God of Wells
  • Room #3: Multiple wells, some are cursed
  • Room #4: Well Guardian
  • Room #5: Access to the chosen well’s water

You could GM from that outline as-is if you had to. Fill with monsters, treasure, and traps on-the-fly.

Fractalize The Rooms

Yes, I can make up words, because this is my Musing.

Fractalize means taking each room and turning it into a 5 Room Dungeon on it own.

Five rooms times fives rooms makes 25 encounters. Roughly the size of many published adventures!

One problem doing this occurs when a draft room doesn’t have “enough legs” to support five pieces or fractalization (right-click to add that word to your dictionary).

For example, Room #4: Well Guardian. If there’s just one guardian, how’s that work as a 5RD on it own?

First, try abstracting it one level. If you think of parent/child relationships in a topic, or as leaves and branches of a topic, you can try moving up one level.

For example, instead of the monster we have a monster lair. We can easily make that five rooms.

Second, try multiplying it. Instead of one guardian, we have five.

Third, you might just have to gut your idea and create a different room concept that supports fractalization.

And hey, this is your adventure. You don’t have to turn every room into a 5RD. And you can make 5RDs three rooms or seven or whatever.

The key idea here is to quickly rough out a core concept. Then play with it and see if it has legs to become a full adventure.

The Forgotten Temple of Wells Revisited

Here’s an example of our Forgotten Temple of Wells now, our sketch iterated into a more detailed outline.

The PCs need to help cure a curse. A seer tells them there once was a glorious temple blessed by the God of Wells. It was said all manner of miracles occurred from drinking the well-water there. People in a remote mountain village might have lore on the temple’s location.

Room #1: Sacrifice to the God of Wells to Gain Entry

  • Room #1: NPC guide willing to take PCs to the village.
  • Room #2: Find the village, earn trust to gain location details (note, the journey to the village could be its own 5RD, and the village itself could be another 5RD!).
  • Room #3: A rockslide has buried the temple (note, to find and get access to the buried temple entrance could be a 5RD-style skill challenge).
  • Room #4: Now in a large space within the slide created by fallen boulders, the PCs stand before the entrance and must make the correct sacrifice.
  • Room #5: Entrance is granted but with a dire warning.

Room #2: Prove yourself worthy to the God of Wells.

  • Room #1: Many exits in this large domed area. Bodies offer clues of temple’s fate.
  • Room #2: Each exit leads to a well, normally opened by a priest. PCs must figure out pass-phrases from lore already gleaned from guide, village, and temple entry encounters.
  • Room #3: The floor is weak in some areas. Incautious PCs may fall into Room #1 of the Well Guardian Lair.
  • Room #4: This entire 5RD takes place in the large, domed area. Each round that the PCs linger risks summoning hostile spirits of dead priests. Each round spent cleaning or repairing the place in homage to the God of Wells buys five safe rounds.
  • Room #5: Hostile spirits emerge only from cursed well entrances.

Room #3: Well Rooms

(This room does not follow the 5RD format. I figure the well choices make for interesting gameplay as-is.)

  • Well #1: Angry spirit. Roll on cursed well table.
  • Well #2: Roll on blessed well table. And offer vision/request to fix cursed wells.
  • Well #3: Angry spirit. Roll on cursed well table.
  • Well #4: Roll on blessed well table. And offer vision/request to fix cursed wells.
  • Well #5: This is the well the PCs need.

Room #4: Well Guardian Lair

  • Room #1: A long tunnel beneath the temple. Claw marks deeply gouge all surfaces.
  • Room #2: Clues to nature of the guardian. Spoor, claw prints, scales.
  • Room #3: A large boulder that, at dim light range, could be mistaken for a monster.
  • Room #4: The creature in its nest unless roused.
  • Room #5: Treasure carried back by the creature. Anything metal or shiny.

Room #5: Well #5. Access to the Chosen Well’s Water

  • Room #1: The well beckons. A stream trickles through a crack into well. Ancient rope and bucket sit on the ledge.
  • Room #2: Rope and bucket fall apart. Well water is 75 feet down.
  • Room #3: The well water is poison. The PCs need to capture the stream water.
  • Room #4: Once stream water is gathered an avatar appears. It beseeches the party to undertake a quest. It will bless the stream water the PCs have (roll on blessed well table x2 per PC who drinks). PCs can also fight the avatar.
  • Room #5: If PCs defeat the avatar, the temple starts to collapse. If the PCs undiplomatically refuse the avatar’s quest, the party is cursed. If the PCs accept the quest, start creating a new 5RD!

All told, this 25 room dungeon of 5x5RDs took about an hour. I erased a couple of rooms, went back and added details, and noodled in a few places until I figured out what could fit.

If I had time before the session, I would iterate again and look for ways to connect rooms with more clues, backstories, NPCs, and other means so each encounter could have more context, weight, and drama.

I would also try to add additional integration points with my campaign and world, such as rivals seeking the temple for their own reasons, a 3 Line Culture, and hooks for the village, a campaign secret for the guide, a backstory for the temple’s ruin that might feed into a greater plot, and so on.

You can also see where there are more opportunities for 5RDs. For example, Room #1.1 could involve a 5RD to find and convince the guide to show the PCs the temple location. A back-up 5RD could offer an alternate way to discover the ruins if the guide option falls through (no pun intended). Use this 5x5RD method to make 5RDs spawn points for deeper adventures. Go forth and multiply!