One-Shots & Random Dungeons

OK, I’ve been thinking about this for some days now. I am terrible at hosting one-shots as it rarely keeps being a one-shot. I never conclude my stories, and it really bothers me.

It’s not that I don’t like to play with the same people, I just want to know how it ends! I’ve been asking the various G+ communities I frequent about this problem, and it seems that everyone agrees that I’m going at it with a “difficult” mindset.

I say difficult, because I really love improvising and GM’ing without a plan. It makes me feel better about the game, because I have to take all the input the players give me and use it. I feel it makes the game better in some way.

I really abhor railroading, as you may know if you read some of my earliest posts. I truly hate sitting at a table, having no influence over the game. It feels like watching a horrible TV show, but it’s rude to say anything because the manuscript writer is sitting next to you.

How is this a problem for me? It seems I’m on the right track, right? Well, maybe not entirely. Improvising everything works great for campaigns, it really centers the story around the characters, and it almost ensures that the players are invested in the story. The downside is that it makes the game longer, since it makes players “goof around” a lot more. You can’t blame them, they just pick up on the things that interest them.

So, how is this relevant? Well, if you want to conclude the story, then it is important to have a story to conclude! In the games I GM, this story emerges during the game, but there’s no time for that if you are playing a one-shot. In really comes to letting the players know the X-Y-Z scheme before play begins; Villain X will do Y unless the players do Z.

It might sound square, but as Dan Roth said on the Game Master Tips G+ community:

I’ve found that experienced players come to one-shots with a different mindset than they do a campaign.



This sentence is very true, at least I wholeheartedly agree. You don’t expect great personal revelations about your character’s inner-most desires in a one-shot action-heavy fantasy game. You just don’t have the time! You have time to stop the bad guy. That’s it, and it’s what you sit down at the table to do.

So this X-Y-Z scheme seems useful, if only for setting an initial direction for the game. So far, so good. What now? Random Dungeons!

This week (or last, whatever) the One Page Dungeon 2013 contest ended. The entries can be viewed here. Even though it says “dungeon”, the contests was about submitting system-neutral adventures that fit on a single page. I found something in an entry by Dyson Logos that can be found on his blog Dyson’s Dodecaheron. The link shows a one-page dungeon, where some of the encounters are rolled for randomly on a table, as the party makes their way through a jungle. While random encounters in itself isn’t terribly original, and who cares anyway, then it gave me an idea.

In Dyson’s entry, it’s possible to roll the same encounter more than once. I propose a different strategy where instead of fighting random monsters, you explore random rooms. Basically, the idea is this; you buy some clear, white coasters from your local hobby shop. On every coaster, draw a dungeon room on one side, keeping the other clear. Choose a “beginning room” and a “last room”, and place them aside. Shuffle the remaining rooms, put the last room on the bottom and the beginning room on the top. When the party enters the dungeon, draw the top room and place it in front of you.

Every time the players leave a room by an unused exit, roll a die and dig that deep into the room pile, pull forth that room and place it somewhere in front of you, or draw the last room if your die roll was larger than the size of the stack. Put the other rooms back on top in the same order. Now you connect the new room with the one they left with a line, exit to exit. It helps having a whiteboard or large piece of paper. The players can for the rest of the game move freely between these rooms, using the connected exits.

The amount of rooms can be larger than the size of the die, and the size of the pile will then represent how “deep into the dungeon” the final room is. Alternatively, you can sort the pile beforehand, but the rooms will still be somewhat random. The rooms in the top are very likely to be drawn, but the lower down, the less likely they are to be explored.

You could number some or all of the rooms on their front, and prepare something in advance for them, or you could improvise. The point is; you have a pseudo random dungeon to explore, and you can make it as difficult as you want, just add more rooms! When the enemy has been vanquished, you can exit the dungeon, or explore the rest of it if your players feel like that. At the end, you can sit back and marvel at the creation in front of you.

I bought 20 coasters, and I’m thinking about which awesome 20 rooms to draw on them. The theme is “Dwarven Hold”. If you have any ideas, I’ll gladly hear them out. To give you some an idea about what kind of adventure I’m going for, I wrote an introduction for this pseudo-random style adventure:

The Dragon Menace

You left the city with the horrors you witnessed still firmly imprinted on your mind. The dragon came out of nowhere, setting large parts of the city aflame, trapping women and children inside the burning buildings.

The thought of their dying screams still send shivers down your spine. You could have fled, but you knew that you were their only salvation. The dragon will come again, unless you kill it. That much was clear, when the kobold delegation came to demand tribute for their lord.

It flew back to the mountains, so you headed there. It didn’t take long until you found some of its kobold servants, keeping watch outside a cave. You slew them quickly, their screams cut short by your blade, a blade sharpened by vengeance and tempered with hatred. You did not pity them.

You stand there, watching the cave entrance before you, the dwarven ruins still echoing with the lamentations of the dead. Who knows what will be waiting for you inside?

In the depths you can hear the kobolds, singing songs of worship to their lord. A furious roar greets them. What do you do?

Happy gaming!

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About Undreren

I'm a university student from Denmark, currently taking my candidate degree in Mathematical-Economics. I have played pen & paper RPG's since 2004, but my interest for the phenomenon sparked about 3 years prior to that. I'm an amateur programmer and knows Java and Haskell as well as some rudimentary HTML, CSS, PHP and Javascript.

2 responses to “One-Shots & Random Dungeons”

  1. Dyson Logos says :

    This… This I like.

    I propose that I write up one of these right-soon-like!

    • Undreren says :

      I intend to 🙂 I’m really looking forward to trying it out too 🙂 I also thought about making it a wizards tower instead, each coaster serving as a floor of the tower.

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