Saturday, July 2, 2011

The five room campaign

I actually have a minor in art. Not that any of this shows it.

Bad MSPaint diagrams aside I'm going to rant on a bit about Game Mastering table top games. I've been running one campaign online for a very long time under a very simple scheme of typing up a paragraph for each session then supplementing it with everything I planed going wrong. More often than not it does.

Game Mastering is practiced failure, you learn to fail in more amusing ways for your players to enjoy. Mostly because of your character actions. That spy you planted and were going to have talk to the PCs just to have a reveal later? The spy going to be punched by one of them and told to get out of the Players sight because he was upset over something the Spy said or other things that completely destroy that scheme. On top of that your players will notice your plots a mile away or otherwise not even notice them when you try to hint leading to frustration later. Player may or may not be intentionally wrecking the game, more than a fair share hate the dreaded "railroading" where a Game Master forces them to do a certain action. What qualifies for railroading widely varies for some it's having to listen through the BBEG's rant unable to do anything before he vanishes mysteriously for others it's the local law enforcement actually putting them in jail for breaking into someones house, smashing their pots, and taking their gold. It's always a challenge to meet a happy medium of your plans working and your players being allowed to do after all everyone should have fun.

So with this in mind, back to the whole premise of this article. The five room campaign. Earlier I stated that I put down a paragraph and other outcomes, keeping each session as modular as possible. This limits the amount of damage that happens the basic idea of the campaign, if a bad guy dies and the party though they were the main bad guy it just turns out he was one of the lieutenants, that sort of cheap trick most GMs do to keep the very frail plot from falling apart. The one problem with my set up was while it gave me an idea to dance with, it didn't give me the best stage to use it. I may have had a few scattered ideas for what I could do during that session. While I may have a plot for that time, I do not have as many things for the players to do as I like, and with out proper prodding or things they could do players get bored quickly which is not fun.

Some time later I discovered something called the "5 room dungeon". You can find a lot about it with Google or the one I have bookmarked to relearn the gist of it, there's a few places to look into it but it boils down to this.

Room 1 The Entrance:
Self explanatory it's how you get to the meat of the session. Be it defeating guards, talking to townsfolk about events, opening a magic seal on an artifact they found, or anything that takes the players doing something to start this chain of events.

Room 2 The Challenge:
Not as informative as the first.  The challenge can be quite a few things. It could be a set of skill challenges or logic puzzles to figure out how to progress, or it could be convincing someone or something to help them get further in the place. If really pressed for ideas it could be a minor fight to introduce what foes in this area could be like.

Room 3 The Delay:
This segment is meant to throw your players for a loop.It could be some red hering they spend their time on trying to figure things out, something that gives them missinformation about the whole over arching plot, or simply an obstacle that will give them the choice of dealing with or finding a differnt longer way to proceed. This choice should have some effect on the rest of the "dungeon" or even the overall game to a degree. It can also easily pad your time if it's something like a giant heavy locked chess that the players get to argue about and decide on having the fighter carry it the rest of the way.

Room 4 The Climax:
Here it is, the big encounter. The boss of the dungeon. Or if you're not into that, the situation that is possibly dooming a village and needs to be figured out. Anything that would effectively be before a "goal" or the "goal" itself could be the climax. Finding the lost treasure could be a climax with the delay just being a giant fire breathing lizard baring the path to it.

Room 5 The Twist:
The anticlimax, the part after the most exciting event. This is generally where plot is revealed or you get your things, though maybe not as you expect them. Personally I don't like calling it the Twist but more often than not it turns out that way when designing just to keep it from being a pure plot dump. This is where it ties into the rest of your game, something got accomplished, learned, or gained through all this. It's the reward of the entire session for better or worse.

While this is a "5 room dungeon" it doesn't necessarily have to be underground. It could be a loosely connected series of events that may not require brute strength to get through. For example the 5 non room dungeon.

The non room Dungeon.

Room 1: The Rumor
For sake of simplicity this game is about modern investigators who try to stop horrible things from coming into this world. One of their contacts informs them that something has been shiped leaving everyone coming in contact with it mysteriously dead in their wake.

Room 2: The Investigation
After this the players are left to follow up on this or possibly go about other things, but with such a juicy lead they go about collecting information. One player starts hitting up contacts to see where this package came from, another looks through old books to see what this could be, and the last tracks down the most recent person with intent to look through his house when the other two are done.

Room 3: The House
After breaking through police tape the players are free to wander the house. However it does not do much, everything is mundane except for the mysteriously exploding boiler where the owner died. Nothing is directly mystic or supernatural in any way and lots of time could be wasted here. The only thing that might lead them to the next place is a few letters (Are in the trash, or some other way of finding them) hinting at a disagreement with a man about not releasing names of a family line.

Room 4:Security Box
The players come up with the plan of breaking into the security box. This presents a lot of challenges for the PCs as they could likely get caught and put in jail if they set off alarms. 

Room 5:Inside the Box.
After gaining access to the box the players are presented with some lists and a strange black yet light metal bar. The bar at the moment does not bring up any information though looking at the names gives a line of accidents, more on the list showing people not yet killed but somehow related to the others. On the end of the List is one of the Player charcters. Both these could be plot hooks for later sessions.

Not a dungeon in sight yet the idea stays the same. One problem though is what happens if the player can't find anything in the house? Or if they fail to find the latest victim. A bit of leeway is going to have to be get given. In fact it's simpler to call room 3 "place where they can find things" and room 4 "hard to get to place where they find the list" just so you can easily shuffle it to a logical location or if you are not into that shuffling in a generic delay event to get their attention. Such as another mysterious death happening or one of the previous plots picking up so they don't have to sit around doing nothing all session.

Running a game can be hard, but it is quite fun if you enjoy constantly building things and testing yourself against player actions.


  1. wow so good information.

  2. GMing is a complex and insane task only attempted by the foolish. It's like raising children, which is why I keep calling it babysitting.

    There's a lot of ways to do it, some good and some bad. Generally the best thing you can do is try and build up a good repertoire to use to get what you wanted going and keep it going in the direction you wanted.

  3. These structures seem very familiar compared to rpg's I have played

  4. Nice post, thanks guy!
    Have a nice day.

  5. haha I found my self being well entertained by this, thanks!