[D&D] Two-Hour Dungeon

edited June 2019 in Story Games
This is a game we've played a few times when we want to play some D&D but don't have a real campaign going. In practice we have always played this with 3 people, 2 players and 1 DM, but I don't think that matters.

It works like this:

First, generate the name or theme for the dungeon. We've always used the random megadungeon zone name generator from the Hack & Slash blog, which usually generates a ridiculous name like the Violent Gymnasium of Knives. Then choose the dungeon's target level (Challenge Rating) with a dice roll--you could use d20, but usually we use a d12 or d8 because the lower levels are better for dungeon delving.

Then the DM sets a timer and goes off to make the dungeon. Here's the rules:

- First hour: the DM completes all the creative aspects of the dungeon, i.e., the map (on grid paper) and the key (on lined paper). If it's me, I've got the "monsters by CR" list open so I can pick stuff off it like a menu.
- Second hour: the DM stops working on creative parts of the dungeon, and then spends up to an hour filling in any required mechanical details. E.g., Copying down monster stats, setting DC's, rolling on treasure tables--anything that requires looking up the details in the DMG.
- After 2 hours, he dungeon is done and the DM has to stop working on it.

Meanwhile, the players go off and make their characters. Depending on the target level, this can actually take a little longer than the 2 hours allotted for the DM.

Then you play the game! Usually we get 4-5 hours of adventure out of the 2 hours of prep.


  • edited June 2019
    For the players, it's rollicking good fun, a no-nonsense dungeon crawl and a chance to play at a different level than we usually do and meet some unusual monsters.

    For the DM, the point is to stop feeling like you have to come up with super original and creative ideas, and just do whatever seems most obvious. (Yeah, I just read that Keith Johnstone book.) But, it's still a "klockwerk" game (prepped), with all the interactive solidness that implies, just a hastily prepped one.

    We have played it in 3e, which helpfully provides quite a lot of "gameplay" right out of the book, with the skill rules, monster abilities, treasure tables, magic items purchasable for gold, and so on. So even if the DM is stumped for ideas, the results are playable. In practice, the stupid dungeon names and rush to think of anything quickly leads to pretty interesting dungeons after all.
  • That sounds like a lot of fun, Vivificient, although my first reaction is to wonder whether two hours of prep for two hours of gaming is a satisfying ratio. :)

    Have you seen my old thread on an AP of a group adventuring in randomly generated dungeons, for a similar activity that’s rather at the opposite end of that spectrum?


    The last two posts in the thread (mine) offer a sort of “reader’s guide” (the rest of the conversation is probably not really pertinent to this topic).

    Questions for you:

    How often do PCs die, and what do you do if that happens?

    How much of the prepped material do you tend to get through in those two hours? How often do you end up feeling that you’ve prepped too much or too little?
  • To reiterate, that's two hours of prep, but then usually more like 4-5 hours of adventuring, maybe more (not counting the prep). Usually in practice it has been a style of game played in odd hours during a weekend visit or across several weekday evenings, so it might be 2-3 short sessions of play after the 2 hours of prep.

    I can think of at least one occasion where the whole party died (that is, the whole two of us). On that occasion we called it quits since we had already explored most of the dungeon, I believe. Another time one other time one PC died, but then they made a new character and came back to retrieve the body and complete the dungeon.

    I do like that randomly generated dungeons thread very much, but I think that is a slightly
    different experience. There, the fun is all about facing the impossible odds and seeing if/how the players can survive. In this one, the fun is more about the rushed creative process--seeing how good of a dungeon someone can make up in one hour (the second hour being just a defence against bookkeeping, to make sure you aren't wasting your one hour of actual creative time).

    The way this came about was related to a 3e game we were playing that my older brother was DMing. He made very good and intricate scenarios, but sometimes he would get stumped for months working on details and unable to come up with inspiration for them. So I challenged him to make one in a single hour from a random prompt! And it turned out that he could.

    Except that later I felt that the little technical details would trip up the creative process, so thus the second hour.
  • edited June 2019
    Good thoughts, Vivificient! It's cool stuff.

    I'm not sure if you answered my last question there, though. (Unless it just varies so much, and gameplay time varies so much, that you couldn't really say. I could see that!)
  • I have one to hand here--it is a 16-room dungeon. So, that's 3.75 minutes per room. Pretty good prep/play ratio, I think.
  • Oh, sorry, I missed that last part. Usually, I think we end up exploring about half to three-quarters of the space. I don't think we've ever exhaustively cleared one. More of a megadungeon feeling, I suppose, where you try to get in, get the treasure, and get out alive.

    Maybe we could do it in half an hour for a shorter adventure, but in my experience the hour feels pretty short already to execute an interesting concept.
  • Sounds like fun! I like this kind of creative constraint. I'm preparing for a game of Dogs in the Vineyard right now, and the Town Creation rules create a similar constraint: since they have a finite number of steps, the procedure gives me a clear signal when it's "over" and I should wrap it up and put it away. Effective!
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