5 Room Dungeons in The Fantasy Trip

5 Room Dungeons in The Fantasy Trip

One of the things I kept hearing about as I got back into gaming again was the term “5 room dungeon.” A simple Google search showed me a ton of sites that had references to 5 room dungeons, or tips for making them better. But everything kept leading me back to Johnn Four’s roleplayingtips.com site. And his concept for 5 Room Dungeons is perfect for The Fantasy Trip.

What Are 5 Room Dungeons?

I had already found roleplayingtips.com (great site, Johnn, by the way), but had not made the connection to the whole 5 room dungeon thing. In a nutshell, “5 Room Dungeons” are short adventures that follow a flexible formula. They provide all aspects for roleplaying in one shot: combat, tricks/traps, roleplaying/interaction, tension, plot twists–something for everyone.

The basic idea for this format is, well, 5 rooms. They include:
1. Entrance and Guardian.
There has to be a reason no other group of characters has come along and plundered the labyrinth. This is it. It could be cleverly hidden, hard to reach–or guarded by a monster that is tough to get by. This is the place where you have your players who like combat have fun.

2. Puzzle or Roleplaying Challenge.
After the challenge of the first room, present a different challenge–something that can’t be solved with an axe. This is a good place for a puzzle or something that involves roleplaying. It gives the players who like those kinds of things an opportunity to shine.

3. Trick or Setback.
The purpose of this room is to build tension. After the action and mental activity of the first two rooms, the players may think they have things in hand, only to be held up. This ratchets up the stakes for the big finale. This would be a good place to do something for any player that was not satisfied with the first two rooms.

4. Climax or Big Battle.
This is the big finale. Through everything you can into making this a memorable encounter. Try to get everyone involved in the confrontation.

5. Reward, Revelation or Plot Twist.
This is the place where you tie everything together and set up further adventures. You can simply reward the players for a job well done–or give them clues about another adventure to go on. You can hold back the reward and give some kind of slap by an existing villain–use your creativity.

With the 5 room dungeon concept, a group can have all of the fun of roleplaying in a one night session. That session can easily be dropped into a longer campaign, or tied together for a series of adventures to make a longer campaign.

How to Use Them in The Fantasy Trip

All of this makes the 5 room dungeon concept perfect for TFT. OK, “labyrinth.” The Fantasy Trip is a rather deadly system where combat can be brutal. Long dungeon crawls wear a party down and result in a lot of character deaths.

And it is dirt simple to use in The Fantasy Trip–just use hexes instead of squares and you are done. Really. The only limitation is your imagination, and that was true whether you use the 5 room dungeon format or any other.

The hardest part is converting a lot of the resources you can find online for dressing up dungeons from d20 or d100 to d6 rolls.

How to Mix Them Up

That being said, any formula can get stale–you have to change things up. The key to using the 5 room dungeon concept is to not focus on “dungeon” and think “conflict.” The setting could be a building, some old ruins, glades in a forest or in the mountains–or caves and catacombs. The important thing is to use the Guardian/Puzzle/Setback/Climax/Reward format.

That being said, it is easy to mix things up. One way is by layout. There is a really good article by Matthew Neagly at Gnome Stew on the different combinations possible. Its worth a look. (Do a search on 5 room dungeons on Gnome Stew–lots of good articles).

Another way to change things is to alter the number of rooms. Short of time, go for 4 rooms. Need to fill some time, or have stronger PCs? Go for 6 or 7.

Finally, change up the conflict concept. Make the players overcome a physical challenge, not a combat one. Make them sweat, but without the axe.

So–many of you who have been gaming for a while may have already of this, and I’m preaching to the choir. But if you haven’t, check out Johnn’s site and his 5 Room Dungeon format. It’s a great way to improving you gaming sessions!

Marko ∞


  1. Yeah, I really like Johnn’s Roleplaying Tips newsletter, and have even bought a couple of his books. You can also find 5-room Dungeon compilations for sale on RPGNow. I too, only stumbled across this concept within the last couple of years, and I don’t have a current gaming group to run through something like this, but in my opinion, it’s not only great for TFT in general, but is exceptionally good for introducing new players to the game — a very limited, yet exciting adventure in just five “rooms” to whet their appetite, and maybe give them a clue or two about other places they can go! What could be better? And I particularly like the idea that you can run a “5-room Dungeon” in the wilderness, or even in town if you need or want to.

    Frankly, I love me some “megadungeon.” But in TFT, your characters really need to be quite a bit stronger than average to take on even the upper levels of a “Mines of Moria” type place (where you’re just passing through), much less a Barrowmaze or Dwimmermount. Running a series of 5-room encounters allows the characters to build up to that with much less probability of flat-out dying from just being worn down by the adventure itself; they can still die, but if they do, it’s almost certainly because they made a mistake, not because they’re too exhausted to move. A big plus all the way around.

  2. Exactly. There is the campaign megadungeon, that is the end-all of the story arc, and the appetizers along the way. That’s what the 5 room dungeons are. Something that is great for low level PCs, and for helping a story develop.

    BTW–I plan to add a column with short adventures, based in my world I am creating. They will be easily dropped into anyone’s campaigns, but they will have a little flavor along with the structure of the 5 room dungeon.

    Just a little something to give back to the TFT community.

  3. I just used something like this using a Silver Slime as the monster and the actual ‘labyrinth’ was the treasure. They didn’t actually defeat the slime, but it did flee to its food source, a vein of silver in a ventilation shaft. The slime is still there and may make an appearance at a later date.

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