5 Room Dungeon Model, Room 3: Red Herring

Tabletop RPGs are run by people, not computers.  That means there is truly an infinite, unlimited open world in these things.  In computer or console RPGs, there is a limit to where and what we can explore.  On the tabletop, there isn’t.  This is all driven by player choice: they can actually choose to go somewhere not on the map.

For there to be a right choice, then there must necessarily be a wrong choice.  To keep the game world realistic, we must give the players at least one wrong choice to make.  It preserves the illusion that the players have free will in the game. Continue reading “5 Room Dungeon Model, Room 3: Red Herring”

5 Room Dungeon, Room 2: Roleplay/Puzzle Challenge

The best part of the 5 Room Dungeon Model is that it creates a well-rounded dungeon.  The model takes advantage of the “RP” part of RPGs.  While most gaming groups naturally devolve into Monty Python Quotes and Mass Destruction, many people forget that the “RP” stands for role playing. Continue reading “5 Room Dungeon, Room 2: Roleplay/Puzzle Challenge”

5 Room Dungeon, Room 1: Guardian

So now that we have a general plot and backstory for our dungeon, we are in the best position to create a good hook for the PCs to enter the fray.

Assume that the PCs begin the adventure in a small village or town that happens to be in the crossfire of the impending war between orc tribes.  A powerful orc chieftain has put a price on the head of another one.  The upcoming battle can be between those two orcs or the orc with the price and another who intends to collect the bounty.  It doesn’t really matter, and it may never depending on how the PCs play this adventure.

The important thing is that the PCs are located in a population center that is about to be trampled by orcs, and that should give them incentive to do something about it. Continue reading “5 Room Dungeon, Room 1: Guardian”

5 Room Dungeon, Room 0: Theme

The Five Room Dungeon Model does for RPG Adventures what the Three Act Structure does for screenplays.  It gives your players five areas or phases of a single dungeon to explore and interact with.

Let’s briefly review the five rooms:

  1. Entrance/Guardian: a gatekeeper to stop undesirables from gaining entrance.
  2. Roleplay/Puzzle Challenge: a chance to use brain instead of brawn.
  3. Red Herring: a path that goes nowhere.
  4. Boss: the big baddie at the end of the dungeon.
  5. The Twist: suddenly, everything you know is wrong…

So where do we begin when designing this dungeon? Continue reading “5 Room Dungeon, Room 0: Theme”

5 Room Dungeon, Before We Begin…

Good writing follows specific formulas.  Screenplays follow the Three Act Structure, and RPG adventures follow the Five Room Dungeon Model.  I thought I’d spend the next several days examining the formula and create an original adventure using it.

Before that, I wanted to talk about what a dungeon actually is and what I mean by that term.  Since an RPG is basically a group storytelling session, and several sessions together are basically serial fiction, I’ll use the serial fiction that most of us are familiar with — television shows — to set the foundation. Continue reading “5 Room Dungeon, Before We Begin…”

The Five-Room Dungeon: A Framework for Roleplaying Games

The more I study how to tell stories, the more I discover that there are formulas to everything.  That isn’t to say that the writer adds nothing; but it is to say that there are things that work, and things that don’t.

In his book Screenplay, Syd Field introduces the Three Act Structure.  Act I is the setup, Act II is the conflict, and Act III is the resolution.  At the beginning of Act II is a point that that thrusts the heretofore resistant hero into the story.  In the middle is a point where the hero stops reacting to the antagonist and starts to take the fight directly to him.  At the end of Act II is a point of no return, where all the cards are on the table and now it is time for the final battle.  Which is, of course, the subject of Act III.

All movies work like that.

Which, as an infrequent Dungeon Master, makes wonder: is there a formula for writing an RPG adventure? Continue reading “The Five-Room Dungeon: A Framework for Roleplaying Games”