As a Dungeon Master, you know how crucial it is to be prepared for your players when they arrive for your D&D session. But sometimes life gets in the way, and you might find yourself in a situation where you have only 30 minutes to create a dungeon for your players. Don’t worry – with a little creativity and a lot of improvisation, you can create a memorable dungeon in under an hour. Here’s how:
Step 1: Create an Engaging Dungeon Storyline: Hooking Your Players
For a D&D dungeon to be good, it must have a story that keeps people interested. After all, if your players don’t have a good reason to go into the dungeon, it can be hard to keep their interest. To create a great storyline, consider adding a hook that brings your players into the dungeon. This could be anything from a kidnapped NPC to a valuable artifact that must be retrieved. Whatever you choose, make sure it gives your players a clear objective. Choosing a generic storyline is just fine, you’re trying to get something on the table quickly and not necessarily write an original story.
Along with the hook, it’s important to have a clear ending where the players can get out of the dungeon. This could involve discovering a secret exit or defeating the final boss. Without this clear conclusion, your players may feel as though their efforts were for nothing. A good ending will not only make your players feel like they’ve done something, but it will also give them an adventure that they will remember.
Step 2: Get a map
You’ll want to get a map for a traditional dungeon, as it’s the easiest to prepare. Your goal is to use 10-20 rooms or areas to create your dungeon. You don’t need to use every room on the map, but having options will help if your players go off-script. Once you have your map, print it out or keep it on hand for reference.
If you start with a good map, you’ll have a framework for the adventure that can inspire encounters and challenges. With this foundation, you’ll be well on your way to creating an exciting D&D campaign in a hurry.
Step 3: Number Rooms & Plan Challenges
Once you have your map, number each room, starting with 1 and moving in a logical order. This map will then become your cheat sheet as you are running the dungeon itself.
For each room, create a list of challenges or encounters your players might encounter. You can use a list of monsters, traps, puzzles, or any other obstacle that fits the general theme of your dungeon. Make sure to also include the aspects needed for your storyline and the exit.
Step 3: Add doors, locks, keys
To make your dungeon feel like a cohesive whole, you should add locked doors and keys. Put a few locked doors in the dungeon, and make sure the players can get to the keys before they unlock the doors. I’d suggest that once a door is unlocked, it stays unlocked, as then you allow for backtracking and you make sure your players won’t accidentally lock themselves out of a room.
It’s nice to provide a hint with the locks and doors to show that they match, for instance, a bone key opens a skull door. You could even turn this into a puzzle by having colored doors where you need a yellow and blue key to open the green door.
Step 4: Add challenges – Traps, Monsters, and Riddles
No dungeon would be complete without traps and monsters. Use Kobold Fight Club to make sure that the monsters your characters meet are at the right level for them.
If you have time, consider adding puzzles or riddles to add an extra layer of challenge. I like Wally DM’s series of puzzles, some of them are only 5 minutes to watch on YouTube and simple enough that I can add them to my dungeon along with a few additional items to assist with the puzzle.
Step 5: Prepare rewards – loot & treasure
After you’ve planned the encounters and challenges in your dungeon, it’s time to make some rewards for your players. The first thing to consider is loot. You might be really good at coming up with your own loot, but I can’t fit that sort of creativity in under time pressure. You can find loot tables in the DMG, or there are also plenty of loot tables online (donjons random treasure generator being a favorite of mine) that can help you come up with randomized rewards for your players. Loot provides a fun way to add variety to your game and keep players engaged.
In addition to loot, it’s a good idea to include a big reward at the end of your dungeon. This could be a powerful magic item, a large sum of gold or treasure, or even an opportunity for your players to level up.
Step 7: Prepare NPCs
To give your dungeon more depth, prepare some NPCs for your players to meet. If you’re short on time, there’s no need for official stat blocks and to develop a whole personality, instead, use a shortcut to create memorable characters. For example, you can give an NPC a unique trait, like an obsession with a certain food or a unique way of speaking. These small touches can make the character more memorable and engaging for your players.
By putting NPCs in your dungeon, you can give your players a more interesting and immersive experience. So try to think of at least 1 challenge that can be resolved through talking to an NPC rather than combat – can the bad guy be negotiated with? Can one of his minions be convinced to give a clue to help? This can add more complexity and depth to the story and provide new opportunities for role-playing and decision-making that aren’t all combat-based.
Bonus Step: Prepare a Cheat Sheet
If you have a few extra minutes, consider making a cheat sheet with all the information you need to run the dungeon in addition to what’s on your map, I mainly like to include monster stats.
Step 8: Set up the Game and Get Playing
Once you have everything prepared, it’s time to set up the game and get playing. One quick way to do this is to draw the dungeon on a battle map and cover any areas you don’t want the players to see with pieces of paper.
To represent the players and monsters, you can use colored plastic tokens that you can write on quickly to keep track of their location and actions during combat, that way you don’t need to prepare any miniatures.
Now that you’ve set up a dungeon in record time, you’re all ready for a thrilling night of adventure and excitement!
Creating a dungeon in under an hour might seem daunting, but with a little creativity and improvisation, it’s entirely doable.
Remember to keep things simple and use generators, balance encounters for your players’ level, and create a compelling story with a clear objective. And, most importantly, have fun!