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.
An adventure is a single story. It can be a stand alone adventure (a one-shot), like a Movie of the Week, or it can be one story of many linked sessions. If there is a definite end, then it would be like a miniseries (like the recent incarnation of The X-files this past January). If there is no definite end in sight, then it is more like a TV series (like Law & Order or How I Met Your Mother).
RPG adventures can be site-based or event-based. Most adventures are site-based: they revolve around the exploration of an ancient ruin, a crumbling wizard’s tower, or an orc city. But some take place in a series of non-contiguous locations (e.g. different shops or houses within a large city) and trigger different events as they unfold.
Now let’s answer that all-important question: What is a dungeon?
In its most basic sense, a dungeon is a linked series of rooms that form the basis of a single adventure. In a site-based adventure, these rooms would be contiguous. That may not necessarily so with an event-based adventure.
The Five Room Dungeon Model, however, has no specific requirements that its “rooms” be contiguous. In fact, its “rooms” may be the events of an event-based adventure.
So when I speak of the “dungeon” of the Five Room Dungeon Model, I’m really using it synonymously with an “adventure.” When I speak of a “room” in the Five Room Dungeon Model, I’m may either mean a physical room of a site or an event of an event-based adventure.
My hope is that this short essay clears up any future misunderstandings as I unpack this powerful model of dungeon design. If I’ve done the unthinkable and actually muddied the waters, then forgive me dear reader. Shoot me some comments below with anything I’ve left unclear and I will try to fix it.