Wow Your Players With Monster Hunts

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1189

5 Room Dungeon Template

When I invented the 5 Room Dungeon in 2003, I first thought of it as a physical adventure framework.

Five literal encounters.

This method still works brilliantly, but we can advance it for great monster hunter storytelling.

After reading a bunch of work by American professor Joseph Campbell, who wrote Hero of a Thousand Faces and whose story pattern Hollywood adopted for hundreds of blockbuster hits, I saw how mythical story structure could make creating RPG adventures a lot easier.

With experimentation, it boiled down to five key encounters or situations:

Room I: Entrance and Guardian

What’s the 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.

And a guardian sets up early action to capture player interest and energize a session.

Room II: Roleplay or Puzzle

The PCs emerge victorious over the first room challenge 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 this a puzzle, skill-based, or roleplaying encounter.

It’s an opportunity to spotlight different PCs than the heroes of Room One by changing up gameplay.

Room III: Trick or Setback

With this room we want 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 encounters.

Alternatively, give your group a double-dose of gameplay that they enjoy the most, such as more combat or roleplaying.

Room IV: Major Conflict

Welcome to the grand finale!

The party confronts their prey at last.

Use all the tactics, cool terrain, and encounter effects you can summon to make this encounter memorable and entertaining.

Start or end with roleplay.

Maybe the monster needs to stall for time to let PC buffs wear out, wait for help to arrive, or stir itself into a rage.

Perhaps the combat ends with the monster bleeding to death and a few short words can be exchanged.

Once the hunt has ended, maybe there are helpless minions or prisoners to roleplay with.

Room V: Reward and Revelation

Players now earn their just rewards for taking such risks.

They find the treasure hoard, perhaps trapped, and reap.

We can also sow hooks for our next 5 Room Dungeon in the form of twists, clues, and revelations, keeping our monster hunting campaign going.

Room Five is where your creativity can shine and is often what will make this monster hunt different and memorable from previous ones.

For more information on 5 Room Dungeons, get my book for free right here.

5 Room Dungeon Monster Hunt Template

We can also think of the 5 Room Dungeon as a story model we layer on top while we GM.

It’s got a complete story baked into the recipe, beginning to end. Lots of gameplay unfolds within its bookends.

And we can wait for players to make choices before framing an encounter as one of the rooms.

So we can turn 5 Room Dungeons into a fantastic monster hunting template like this:

  1. The Legend
  2. The Lore
  3. The Scent
  4. The Beast
  5. The Reaping

We apply each room as opportunity strikes during play. You can layer it onto an existing encounter, or prepare an encounter to drop in when ready.

Room I: The Legend

In this opening stage of our monster hunt adventure, we give the party their mission.

It could come from a patron or ally. It could be extracted from an enemy. It could be part of the reward in Room Five from a previous 5 Room Dungeon.

Regardless of hook delivery mechanism, the players have acquired a new target and a new adventure has begun.

We use this encounter to “sell” or firmly hook the players on the monster.

We create a situation where player characters can create an initial relationship with the creature in terms of:

  • Potential payoff
  • Community benefit
  • Service rendered
  • Curiosity
  • Relatable traits

We want to start building up the legend of the monster so it serves the role of Feature Creature — a celebrity of sorts.

This amps up engagement, tension, and drama as the party stalks their prey and gets closer and closer to what you’ve turned into a highly anticipated confrontation for Room IV.

Room II: The Lore

The Legend gets players excited. The Lore makes them worried.

We’ve got them hooked and committed to our monster hunt adventure.

Now we deliver the bad news. Muhahaha.

We share tales of our Creature Feature, both true and not, to increase the perceived threat and danger the party’s goal presents.

For starters, we can start killing NPCs.

The monster, and its minions if you’re employing the Feature Creature as the Enemy Faction, has been busy. A trail of bodies gets players hating your monster, and they become worried about how much harm and suffering they might experience.

Room II also offers a good time to attack the Player Character Faction for the same benefits.

Ideally, we show instead of tell. We want to impart clues and threats of danger via gameplay, not through direct statements.

At minimum, NPCs should deliver all Lore to the players.

At best, the mechanics and situations you set up in encounters do the work for you.

For example, in Room I the players discover their favourite weaponsmith in a coma. A midnight attack was interrupted by the smith’s husband and the monster fled.

Mission acquired.

In Room II, the PCs learn that the creature’s poison bite puts victims into an unwakeable sleep (half-true: the poison induces coma but there is an antidote).

Further, the creature has laid eggs in the smith and small creatures grow rapidly in her body. Such is the fate of all who get bitten.

We’ve passed fantastic Lore to our players without resorting to boxed text.

Room III: The Scent

Now the party walks the creature’s path, getting closer.

Our GM goal with Room III involves putting obstacles and non-deadly threats in the PCs’ way to diminish the party’s resources.

We don’t want everyone fresh and rested when they trigger Room IV.

For example, Room III could be waves of monsters before the final showdown.

We also continue to dish out Legend and Lore where possible.

Traps, hazards, and foes also hinder the party.

But the PCs persevere and draw closer to the monster they now know much about and fear.

We also want to use Room III to create urgency.

We don’t want a long rest here, so we must give characters a reason to keep up a relentless pursuit.

Perhaps too many NPCs are suffering now, the Player Character Faction weakens too much, the Rivals Faction has a lead on the PCs, or the monster has a goal it’s close to completing.

With urgency, wounds, and worry, we propel the player characters breathlessly into….

Room IV: The Confrontation

At last we meet the monster!

If we’ve done well sowing seeds in earlier rooms, the anticipation at the game table will be at an all-time high. Such juicy drama.

We want to stage our monster well. An anticlimactic appearance lets the tension out of the room like a farting balloon.

So we don our storytelling hat and start with a good description.

We include the six senses to describe evidence of the creature’s presence.

We give signs the creature’s close. Very close.

We point to movement just beyond range of sight.

The area grows silent and neither bird nor beast takes… a… single… step….

And then BANG! Roll initiative.

Whether you lead with the monster caught in mid-act of something horrific, or draw out the effects of the monster’s existence in this place, we present a stage of threats.

Minions, traps, hazards, and inscrutable places make the battlefield memorable, tactical, and very engaging.

We’ve escalated the Stakes with our Legend and Lore. Now we delve into the Law as an exciting combat erupts, brimming with context and tension.

Well done.

Room V: The Reaping

We create situations. We play for outcomes.

The big battle with our Feature Creature has multiple futures.

And no matter how the dice roll, the players must face the Consequences.

Hopefully the players have won and earned their bounty.

But in case luck or decisions go against the party, we should think ahead a bit and give the party at least one out.

By “out” I mean a way to run away to fight another day or change the tide of battle.

Some GMs roll behind screens and fudge to make this happen, but that’s a last resort for me as I like gameplay to sort things out. You could choose to have the monster withdraw or not pursue, but players don’t like it when the GM is obvious about giving them a hand.

Fortunately, we’ve got our GM Toolbox brimming with NPCs.

We’ve been introducing new ones and George R.R. Martinizing half.

We’ve been harming NPCs with a side-benefit of proving our impartiality.

We’ve laid the groundwork for NPCs being independent game pieces that do not revolve around the party.

And therefore, NPCs could intervene for their own reasons and you won’t break the fiction.


We’ve also got a Player Character Faction to serve this purpose, and even a Rival Faction who might be open to offers.

When we run the Consequences of the Confrontation, win or lose we want gameplay to continue.

This is us playing the Infinite Game.

We hand out the rewards now, whatever’s been earned, and the party reaps accordingly.

It’s Your Turn

That’s our 5 Room Dungeon template for monster hunt adventures.

We begin with Room I: The Legend, which gets the party hooked.

We proceed to Room II: The Lore to build engagement.

Then it’s Room III: The Scent for building drama.

With Room IV: The Beast your players confront the goal of their hunt and face an exciting and deadly threat. Huzzah!

And we end with Room V: The Reaping where the party faces the Consequences of win, complication, or setback.

Try this template out and let me know how it goes! And if you want more monster hunting adventure tips, consider getting my guide via the Kickstarter when it launches tomorrow.