By Dan Collins, Paul Siegel Wandering DMs OSR Level ... 4?
Dan and Paul. the Wandering DMs, set themselves up with the challenge of stocking an entire dungeon in under two hours on their weekly live stream. What you see here is the output – a one page dungeon style adventure through an ancient monestary that has been long neglected and ravaged by nature. It features a sentient extraplanar ooze and a group of deranged warriors who worship it as their slimy overlord!
This four page adventure is actually a “two page’ dungeon with twelve rooms. An exercise in creating a dungeon in an hour, it comes off better than most dungeons, but, mostly, because they are forced to keep things terse and tight. I scoff at the methodology used and the results obtained.
By now we should all be aware that I love people who play with design ideas. Challenging the hows and whys of established design theory and process is always an interesting idea. Sometimes it will work and you’ll gain new insight in to D&D and how it works. And sometimes it doesn’t work. I’m always interested in the new ideas and always ready to tell someone that I appreciate their attempt, but, No.
A few years ago I got seriously disgusted with the overwrought crp that was coming out. “How hard is it, really, to write an adventure for publication?” I asked myself. So, Criag Pike set out to test that. The goal was to write an adventure in an hour. I created four or five levels of a megadungeon, and, by the end, was doing thirty or so rooms in about ninety minutes. So, not hard. Along come these two dudes, who have a YouTube channel, and they want to design a dungeon on their channel in about an hour. Ok, sure, gimmick for the channel. But, also, buys in to the Bryce core conceit – That this shit ain’t hard and all the crap adventures coming out is because people are fucking idiots who don’t spend any time at all trying to figure out what makes a good adventure.
We’ve got a dyson map, twelve rooms, better than his usual small maps. An underground river runs through the middle of the map, allowing for a few hidden places and some multiple paths to rooms on the other side of the river.
The first issue is the selected format: the one page dungeon. Or, two page dungeon, for this, since the map is on one page and the twelve keys on another, along with a small art piece. This is a bad idea. One page dungeons. Bad idea. The original idea was that the constraint, in the contest, would invite innovation and keep things tight. Which it does. But it also limits the possibilities, especially in true one page design format. I have to ask, why are you limiting yourself to just one page of keys? What if you ran over in to a second page? Is it the end of the fucking world? No? Then why? I get that the format can help to force a terse keying, which is great, but, there are other ways to do this as well.
Looking at the adventure we get a shitty little wandering monster table. Six entries, not doing anything, just lists of monsters. And, while evocative of the monsters in the keyed descriptions, it comes off flat and boring. Have them doing something! Just another couple of words that amount to something other than laying in wait to attack.
The encounters are the real issue though. They run a huge variety of quality. We get a door to the room being boarded up with to giant lizards inside. The boarding up is ok, but there’s nothing more to this, a symptom of the format. We also get four berserkers camped out roasting a giant beetle legs over an open flame next to the underground river. That’s great! A near perfect example of a terse key. Maybe another environmental thing, like smokey room or something, but still very good. Compare that to “Supply closet breached by 3 giant ants.” Just like the boarded up door, it’s boring. Describe the situation, the breach, the moment the party comes in. There’s enough space for this, even in the selected format. One room has prisoners bound ready for sacrifice … one on a +3 shield soaked in flammable oil. Nice!
The adventure does a decent job of telegraphing encounters. In two situations, in particular, there are hints of whats to come. A room with rubble in it betrays an unstable ceiling, while an oily sheen on water hints at the bombardier beatles lurking overhead. Great examples of including a small detail that an observant party can take advantage of … and that cause a careless one to say “oh fuck! Oh course” once they are screwed over.
I’m not the end all and be all of design advice, but I do think that the one page format, or even the two page format used here, is empty for anything other than performance art purposes. A page for a map, maybe two more for keys, a page of monster stats to get them out of the main text (and the space they therefore take up in it) and a page of intro/wanderers/extra stuff seems to me to be just about the perfect format for a “small” dungeon. You get the tightness that you need to retain focus, but still are not all that limited.
As a website gimmick, and the first of one also, I can see the value in this … if I squint hard. But, just a little more thought would do this right and produce something good instead of just performance art.
This is $1 at DriveThru. There’s no level range listed anywhere (Bad!) and the preview is too short to get a sense of what’s up. No bueno.