• The VOIDRUNNER'S CODEX is coming! Explore new worlds, fight oppressive empires, fend off fearsome aliens, and wield deadly psionics with this comprehensive boxed set expansion for 5E and A5E!

What's the problem with five room dungeons?

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
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?

log in or register to remove this ad

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).

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.


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.


actually dracula
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.


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).

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.

Remove ads