Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The One Page Dungeon Contest: Short & Sweet

I’m an advocate for brevity (though my writing rarely demonstrates that). I prefer game rules (both in mechanics and presentation) on the short and simplistic end of the spectrum given my lack of time and focus in a hectic life – a subject I’ve previously discussed here – though I have in my more than 30-year history of gaming indulged in “tome” games for both reading pleasure and actual play. So I’ve watched the past few years’ One Page Dungeon Contests with great delight because they not only showcase some outstanding, system-neutral short adventures but generate a host of free material for the gaming community every year.

I love short scenario material, whether a full-fledged dungeon crawl or some in-universe source prop with adventure hooks. Way back during the 2nd edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons days TSR released several Deck of Encounters sets, boxes filled with oversized cards containing brief adventure elements keyed by location and difficulty level; I actually used one during solo play when the gaming scene in my life seemed slow. Some TSR boxed sets also contained one-page scenarios or adventure hooks with related player handout props. R. Talsorian’s Cyberpunk 2020 contained a section of adventure hooks with a “screamsheet” on one side – a one-sheet fax newspaper reporting on key events in the Night City setting, typical of what characters might find – with related scenario ideas on the other. The company used another concise strategy with its Castle Falkenstein game, offering one-page adventure outlines providing the extreme basics of set-up and plot along with brief stats for key allies and adversaries.

I’ve admired the One Page Dungeon Contest from afar for years, though I’ve never entered. I’ve tried to craft an interesting dungeon experience on one page; it’s quite a formidable challenge. The best I’ve managed – combining an adequate adventure with the constraints of one page – ended up being a whopping two pages: Labyrinth of Set, a Pulp Egypt scenario available for free/pay-what-you-want at DriveThruRPG. Creating an adventure with an engaging concept, enticing introduction, and challenging encounters in one page (including a map) seems a daunting exercise in clear, concise writing and tight game design. The contest entries, of course, range across a wide spectrum of quality, theme, presentation style, artistic finesse, and layout. It takes a lot of courage to submit one’s work, whatever it’s comparative quality, to such a very public forum. The contest offers a good opportunity for aspiring game writers to “get published” and gain some recognition for their work.

An esteemed panel of judges determines the most outstanding of all the entries, but all submissions receive recognition and online publication thanks to a creative commons license. This year’s judges include such game-industry notables as Ernie Gygax, Martin Thomas, Steve Winter, and Sean K. Reynolds as well as several others from online communities and the blogosphere. Winners in a variety of categories can receive prizes from a host of supporting sponsors. All entries eventually find a home on the One Page Dungeon Contest website so readers can view or download the PDFs and decide for themselves which ones they like best. Previous years’ entries remain archived on the One Page Dungeon Contest website to peruse and download. They offer a broad spectrum of adventures enterprising gamemasters can customize for game system, genre, play style, and character level.

I admire anyone who enters the contest: they accept the daunting challenge of fitting an engaging adventure (map and all) on one page; they have the courage to share their work in public; and they contribute to a greater body of work available to everyone seeking inspiration for a short adventure.

Don’t miss the April 30 deadline for submissions to the 2014 One Page Dungeon Contest. Develop an interesting premise, sketch out a map, and write some encounters...it can’t take forever because it’s only one page!

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