I must admit that I’ve always liked the 1-page dungeon design scheme. Back in the day I would map out a quarter to a half sheet of graph paper (I only seemed to have access to 1/4 inch squares back then) with a dungeon level and then simply list ideas for creatures, tricks, traps, and specific treasures to include. When we’d play I describe the corridors and chambers, plopping in monsters and treasure as the whim struck during play.
This had the advantage of being quick. I could whip up a simple level in a pretty short period of time, and quick glance at DMG random encounter tables or the Monster Manual allowed me to create an encounter listing pretty quickly. The list would be something like this:
- Orcs with a gnome prisoner
- Half-orc champion with a +1 broad sword and 2 orc bodyguards with armor and max hp
- Fake door in corridor wall
- Magic mouth spouts nonsensical rhyme that should make players think treasure is in the next room
- Water weird in clay jar…gem of brightness in bottom
- Pendulum axe trap with +2 battle axe
Now, I just whipped that up off the top of my head in thirty seconds. My guess is that most DMs could do the same (or better).
And as we’d play, I’d drop things in, change them up a bit, or add and discard as I saw fit. This was sort of fun, as I was being creative while we played rather than before. And I didn’t have to bother with all sorts of detailed preparations on my own before we could play. Give me fifteen minutes and I could whip up a little level for an hour or two of adventure.
Unfortunately, it seems that the very nature of these creations means that I don’t appear to have actually kept any of them. Somewhere there is a box filled with a bunch of my old gaming stuff (I hope) and maybe some of them survive in there. But what I whipped up quick and played right then and there didn’t seem real important at the time. In fact, I recall some instances where players on a lower level wanted to return to an upper one that they had cleared previously and I didn’t have the map. If players had kept their version, often an almost-exact duplicate of mine, we were in luck. If not…well, maybe the mythical underworld underwent a radical change. Or something. Whatever happened, magic was definitely involved.
Years later, I returned to the 1-page concept when I re-launched my gaming career with my kids. Below is a scan (apologies for the poor quality but that’s the best I can do) of a map for level one of a dungeon I wrote up about three or four years ago:
This was designed for 2nd Edition (before I decided to go old school) so some of the monsters and checks are a bit new-fangled, but it’s interesting to see how the minimal descriptions leave things pretty open for easy conversion. I also got a little more detailed with the descriptions, keying them to rooms and actually thinking things out in advance. I also had the foresight to not destroy the sheets immediately following the session.
So while the one-page dungeon concept is having a bit of a renaissance, like so many other parts of the old school movement, it’s not really something new. It’s just an old friend back after a bit of an absence.
I’ll post the second level in a day or two and do a little bit of analysis of my (admittedly uninspired) design work on these. I had grand plans for a huge dungeon consisting of small one-page levels and sub-levels like this, but we only got as far as the locked, engraved bronze doors that lead to the third level. My son’s character has been converted to Labyrinth Lord and is still in play, and he still possesses the magical key to open the doors, so maybe we’ll return to it some day.
UPDATE: A slightly re-worked version of this dungeon received Honorable Mention in the 2009 One Page Dungeon Contest. It was honored as Best Dungeon Circa 1974, which is quite a compliment right there.