What's the problem with five room dungeons?

Whizbang Dustyboots

100% that gnome
Terminology note: Five room dungeons are a specific design for RPG adventures, and not literally a reference to having five rooms in a dungeon. For more, see here.

While working on my #dungeon23 megadungeon, I've been thinking of an article I saw in passing while pulling together resources, which referenced "everyone being tired of the five-room dungeon."

I was taken aback by this. I've used the model to great success for years as it makes sure that the variety of personalities at my table are each given something to do over the course of two hours. I've used the structure for dungeons, point crawls, urban adventures and more.

For #dungeon23, I'm trying to hit all five encounter types each week, plus an empty room, plus a wild card room.

Is there some big pushback against the model I'm not familiar with? If so, what's the root of it? Or is this just an example of bloggers talking about something so much, they burn out on it, rather than there being an issue?

I did run across another good model. In an Arcane Library livestream, Kelsey Dionne advocates for having combats and encounters instead rotate through PC character archetypes, and making sure to give fighters, rogues, clerics and wizards each something to do in the adventure (ideally in every combat, although that's not always possible).

Do you use the five room dungeon model? If not, why not? Is there a better adventure design frame you suggest?
 

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This is the first I've ever heard of it, let alone there being pushback against it. There are a lot of other concepts (storytelling and TTRPG) that I can recognize being boiled down into the five-room dungeon, and it seems a sound methodology.

It also seems a great way to create a narrative when you've got a bunch of uncertain elements in play (see the use of Room Three - Trick or Setback, for example).
 


bloodtide

Adventurer
I don't use it. I just do it. I'm aware of the dislike.

From what I see, people don't like the formula. Far too much in modern times.

It's already bad when a luke warm DM and they make a very cardboard "five rooms", but worse then that are the players that know it and metagame along "what room they are in". And that is a groan for any DM.

For many it's just better if it does not exist.
 

Yora

Legend
It's a criticism that is both correct but also meaningless.

If you have a campaign that is nothing but 5 room dungeons, then of course the formula will get very disappointing very quickly. You either want to have plenty of stuff that isn't dungeons at all, or have several dungeons that aren't just five rooms.

It's correct, of course, but it's true with really everything.
 

JAMUMU

go, hunt. kill haribos.
Man, this is one of my favourite GMing tricks, so my players better not be getting tired of it! More seriously though, giving every PC things to do as they move through an adventure site works gangbusters, and often leads to shenanigans as the players don't realise what's going on so you get fighters trying to argue with trickster spirits and mages arm-wrestling goatmen. Good times.
 

Reynard

Legend
For my own part, I don't like them because they are generally linear (or at least circular) railroads through set pieces. They feel artificial and gamey.

That said, I do employ them for one shots and con games where the goal is to present a specific experience (as opposed to an open experience).
 



CubicsRube

Hero
Supporter
Wait - isn't that how most people use the formula already?

I thought 5 was basically just a starting point for riffing on small dungeon layouts.
I think some people must take it literally like that.

My understanding was it came from the psychological studies suggesting most people can store 3-7 blocks of information in their working memory at a time.

In any case, it's just a guideline to aid in design. If someone is tired of it, they just need to use something else or work freeform.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I was taken aback by this. I've used the model to great success for years as it makes sure that the variety of personalities at my table are each given something to do over the course of two hours. I've used the structure for dungeons, point crawls, urban adventures and more.

For #dungeon23, I'm trying to hit all five encounter types each week, plus an empty room, plus a wild card room.

Is there some big pushback against the model I'm not familiar with? If so, what's the root of it?
My main pushback would be that the resulting adventures/dungeons are simply too short - no sooner do you get your teeth sunk into it than it's over. And while a very short adventure is fine now and then, they're not something I want to run every time.
I did run across another good model. In an Arcane Library livestream, Kelsey Dionne advocates for having combats and encounters instead rotate through PC character archetypes, and making sure to give fighters, rogues, clerics and wizards each something to do in the adventure (ideally in every combat, although that's not always possible).
While it's nice if one can do this, my preference is not to worry about it and instead write adventures that are each more geared to one class or character type, and mix it up that way.

Right now, for example, I'm running a string of homebrew adventures. As it turned out, the first one was mostly for the explorers and investigators (there were only four monster encounters in the whole place and the PCs never met two of them), the second and third were kind of for everyone, the fourth (in progress) is for the warriors, and the fifth will be for the trap-finders and clerics. But in each, all the other characters certainly have stuff to do nearly all the time, so it's not like anyone is sitting out.

As for size, the first had something like 25 keyed areas plus a village; the second had about 50 keyed areas, the third had 15, the fourth has 52, and the fifth will probably have more (if only because it involved a keyed maze) but I'm still designing it. By "keyed area" I mean a numbered room or site on the map that has a write-up in the module, even if there's no monster or treasure there.
Do you use the five room dungeon model? If not, why not? Is there a better adventure design frame you suggest?
Specific frame? No. Rather, I think of what would make sense in an adventure based on whatever inspiration sparked the idea, then design such that those elements can be present and fit in. Then I add some extra stuff as red herring material or diversions or just for kicks, and start mapping.
 

aco175

Legend
I use them. I might make one to run on the campout with the scouts since I want something contained and relatively short to expose the kids to. I like to use a variant of them when making side quests in the main campaigns.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
I use 5RD framework a lot. I mean, it's really just a way to categorize parts of an adventure or zones of a map, basically a simple network of nodes. For a small dungeon, it's a quick-n-dirty way to squeeze out something that works well for a one-shot. For larger scales, I use it sort of like a Fate Fractal, in this case where a big 5RD contains smaller 5RDs each of which contains smaller 5RDs. It's flexible enough to add, twist, or ignore as needed, and makes for a decent starting point most of the time.

I've heard occasional pushback over the years, but nothing big or concerted. Ime, it usually seems to come from people who just happen to prefer a different pet organizational scheme; or else it's a surface misunderstanding, like maybe that "five room dungeon" means literally five rooms each with a literal specific purpose in a literal dungeon on a literal map.
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

100% that gnome
I don't use it. I just do it. I'm aware of the dislike.

From what I see, people don't like the formula. Far too much in modern times.

It's already bad when a luke warm DM and they make a very cardboard "five rooms", but worse then that are the players that know it and metagame along "what room they are in". And that is a groan for any DM.

For many it's just better if it does not exist.
I gotta say, if the players can identify that they're in a five-room dungeon, it's probably time for that forever DM to take a break.
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

100% that gnome
That said, I do employ them for one shots and con games where the goal is to present a specific experience (as opposed to an open experience).
I often DM for groups on vacation, where it's a one-shot event, or for newbies, so I find the length and variety of things to do works very well for short one-shots.
 

aramis erak

Legend
Terminology note: Five room dungeons are a specific design for RPG adventures, and not literally a reference to having five rooms in a dungeon. For more, see here.
It's euqally valid to call it a "5 encounter model" or "5 Scene Model." IMO, its the equivalent to "one act play" while a standard multi-session adventure is more akin to a 3 act or 5 act model play.
Do you use the five room dungeon model? If not, why not? Is there a better adventure design frame you suggest?
I've used Mouse Guard's structured adventure model both in and outside of Mouse Guard - the number of encounters varies based upon player responses, but it's 4 encounters plus a final "PCs do what they want"

It's limiting, to be sure - more so than the literal 5 room dungeon - but it can provide a lot of enjoyable play, as it's even telling you what kind of encounters (Weather, Wilderness, Mouse (=person), Animal. With large groups, an Extra encounter may be useful.

The thing is, the 5 scene model adventure is usable wildly as a component of a larger structure, and in that role, it's not bad...

But it does get tiresome at times.
 

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
I did run across another good model. In an Arcane Library livestream, Kelsey Dionne advocates for having combats and encounters instead rotate through PC character archetypes, and making sure to give fighters, rogues, clerics and wizards each something to do in the adventure (ideally in every combat, although that's not always possible).

Kelsey Dionne is a god. I love their format for adventures.
 

Reynard

Legend
I did run across another good model. In an Arcane Library livestream, Kelsey Dionne advocates for having combats and encounters instead rotate through PC character archetypes, and making sure to give fighters, rogues, clerics and wizards each something to do in the adventure (ideally in every combat, although that's not always possible).
This is going to sound weird and and I recognize that: this sounds way too artificial.
 

The five room dungeon is fine for its specific purpose, which is to use the set dressing of a "dungeon" to present the players with 5 discrete scenes for them to engage with in a session. The exact number of rooms doesn't really matter I don't think; it's just a way to break down an adventure into different kinds of scenes with connections leading between them.

I don't know if there is "pushback," but this kind of scenario design is not favored by people in the OSR, since a 5 room dungeon has a somewhat predetermined "plot." You have 5ish chunks of "content" and you expect the players to interact with all of it. An old-school dungeon crawl is a different kind of scenario, where you tempt the PC's further into the dungeon by the promise of treasure with the risks of traps/monsters/etc. This kind of scenario requires a least a somewhat larger space, but more importantly you don't expect the PCs to necessarily engage with all the content, nor engage with it in any particular order. Things like secret rooms or random wandering monsters are important for a dungeon crawl, but they are not really necessary for a 5 room dungeon.

I'm not sure that makes sense. This blog post does a better job of breaking it down:

 

This is new to me, but I see it's a vehicle for using Joseph Campbell's theories. The problem with using those as a story structure generator, from experience with RuneQuest, is that they tend to become obvious and repetitive. To me, story episodes should arise from reasonably mundane considerations, and use of the Campbellian metamyth should not become visible until the story is close to its end, or even after that. Doing the Hero's Journey repeatedly means that it looses all impact.
 

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