So Johnn Four’s “Five Room Dungeon” concept has been out in the ether for a while now and I’ve recently been toying with drawing some dungeon maps in the Dyson Logos style… (You’ll see a bit more of these drawings in a future post.) But it got me thinking about some of the ways that the “five room” concept could be used that have nothing to do with dungeons. If you apply it to concepts more than physical areas it opens up some different areas to explore.
First, there’s the story structure many of us use already… Most stories can be broken down into the beginning, the middle, and the end. But some writers (and literature or drama majors) go further than that with a five-act structure: an introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Doesn’t that sound sort of like what we do with each encounter, module, or campaign?
If you look at a traditional module, it is usually set up with a few broad strokes in mind:
- The introduction sets the stage and the players (players in the dramatic sense including NPCs and PCs)…
- The rising action may take place over a few encounters as the PCs unravel the plot and things build toward some point of focus…
- The climax occurs when the PCs must face the major challenge or conflict of the adventure…
- The falling action deals with the fallout of the climax…
- And the resolution details some possible outcomes and directions to go next.
Each encounter also has a similar structure, but on a smaller scale. The same pieces must fall into place even though the scope is smaller.
So you potentially end up with a broad tree structure of five part stories made up of sequences of other five part stories. And conceivably you could model each of these as a mind map breaking things down into more simple boxes to be elaborated on as necessary.
Let’s take an example from a map I’m working on now that centers around a lost palace complete with servant entrance, throne room, and treasure hall. Early in this six-room map the players will encounter a group of doomed servants in a zombie-like state preparing a meal for the king and his retinue. Each of the five main areas is noted with the step in parentheses. Usually the terms would be removed to avoid cluttering up the text, but they serve to illustrate the point.
(Introduction) [Read aloud text] This hallway contains the remains of what have been a beautiful rug tightly woven and stretched taut the width of the floor. Broad alcoves on either side of the corridor contain long counters with rusty bowls and utensils, along with shelves full of small jars and containers dirty or broken after years of disuse.
This used to be the food preparation wing for the King who abandoned his castle and moved into his underground bunker to escape waves of assassins seeking to destroy him and his kingdom. He and a hand-picked staff would continue to entertain in the bunker, with guests brought in with bags over their heads or magically put to sleep so they could not reveal his location to outsiders. Unfortunately, someone did get the word out and a pair of assassins dispatched everyone in the compound with a magical poison given to them by the head of their order. The poison kills the target but reanimates them to continue their tasks as if nothing had happened.
- If any character has a passive perception of 18 or higher, they can hear muffled footsteps from up ahead which reveal themselves to be nearly mummified zombie servants locked in the same jobs they held while alive.
- (Rising Action) If a PC attempts to interfere with one of the zombies, they will attempt to ignore it once. If it occurs a second time, the zombie will attack the PCs with silverware or claws until they are no longer disturbed and can return to their duties.
- (Climax) If more than half of the zombies are disturbed, all the zombies will begin attacking the PCs to eliminate the annoyance.
- (Falling Action) If a PC is knocked unconscious, prone, or is dying, the zombies will cease to see them as a threat and go after one of the other available targets. If the PCs flee the area, they will not be pursued and any zombies undamaged enough to return to their duties will do so.
- (Resolution) The PCs can avoid any trouble with the zombies if they simply ignore them and walk straight through to the other end of the preparation hall without disturbing them. The zombies’ footsteps are muffled by the remains of the carpet and the PC’s footsteps will also be muffled.
- If the PCs get into a fight with the zombies, there is a chance (Perception check DC 20) that the zombie guards in the next area will hear the scuffle and investigate.
- Little of the silverware or dishes are salvageable, but they may be worth something to a collector if the PCs can collect a full place setting (10 gp) or the full set (50 gp).
I anticipate seeing numerous fives as I continue working on the map and adventure…
Here’s one way this might happen in a mind map:
My one hesitation with this approach is that several steps (such as the rising action and climax or the falling action and resolution) could easily be condensed into a single step. So using five steps may overly complicate things. Even so, this approach offers a set of key points to think through for each piece of a larger story (encounters, adventures, campaigns). Similarly you could add more steps if you needed to.
But it certainly doesn’t have to be!
So I’d encourage you to look beyond the proverbial boxes on paper and see what else you might be able to strategically break into five parts for easier construction or deconstruction. Five room dungeons can be so much more!
Hopefully this weekend you’ll get to see some of my poor attempts at Dyson Logos-style maps and the story that goes along with one of them. Or at least parts of them. We’ll see what we can get done!