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4/23/2011

My Thoughts On Designing a One Page Adventure

Of all the things to come out of the roleplaying blog community I would say that the concept of the one page adventure* is my favorite. I think it exemplifies the do-it-yourself attitude this community has come to be recognized for. I have never been a big fan of modules for some reason, but I am a huge fan of one page adventures. This is why I am a great supporter of the One Page Dungeon Contest (1PDC), and I was more than pleased to participate as a judge in this year's competition.

Something I thought would be helpful, especially to future participants, is to share a few thoughts on what I personally look for when judging a one page adventure. The comments that will follow are, of course, my opinions, and I am sure not everyone will agree with everything I say. We all have different expectations from games and gaming supplements, so having said that, I still hope this post will be viewed as helpful.

So, without further ado, here are a few things I think are important design elements for any one page adventure:

Design Your Entry to Be As Complete As Possible
There were several entries I had to judge this year that were not complete adventures, and as such, I had to all but disqualify them. No matter how nice a diagram or map may be, if there isn't some sort of additional corresponding adventure details included on the page, then I am afraid the entire point of the design was missed. Why spend hours creating a lavishly illustrated map or diagram and fail to include the most important element, which is the actual adventure? The most basic design goal of any one page adventure that is submitted to the 1PDC is that it must be a complete adventure, and be able to be played at the game table with little additional design effort from the Game Master running the game.

Your Design Should Be As User Friendly As Possible
One-pagers submitted to the 1PDC are supposed to be designed to be used by others, so keep the text and layout of the page as simple and clear as possible. This is easier said than done. It is very easy to get carried away with dense background text and small fonts to help fit everything on the page. Find ways to breakup the text, and make finding important information easy to spot. Embolden, highlight or use different colored text to make these important details pop off the page. Keep background details flavorful, but also keep them brief. The easier it is to read and use a one page adventure, the better chance it will be viewed as a great design, and as a potential winner.

One Page Adventures Should Be Self-Contained
The whole idea behind a one-pager is to present a complete adventure on one side of a single sheet of paper. I think I am stating the obvious here. But you would be surprised how many of the entries had links to outside sources to help fill in the blanks for additional information. For personal use I see no problem with this at all, and I might be splitting hairs with this suggestion, but for the scope of the 1PDC I feel this is an important point. If part of the design of your one page adventure requires additional information from an outside source then you might want to consider another entry for the contest.

Write Your One Page Adventure for Others, and Not Just for Yourself
When presenting a one-pager that others will be using, and judging, I feel it is important for all of the background information to be as complete and clear to the reader as possible. Avoid including information that is so personal that it comes across as confusing to others. Its like telling an inside joke to a perfect stranger. For the scope of the 1PDC, I suggest only presenting generic information and text that is easily understood by the average gamer.

Simple Concept Is King
When designing a one page adventure you must be able to convey a lot of detailed information in a very limited amount of space. Keeping the concept behind the adventure simple and straightforward is important for this very reason. If the concept is too grand then chances are you will never truly capture the entire essence of that concept on a single sheet of paper, and attempting to do so will only result in frustration on your part as a designer, or on the part of others as readers of your entry. Try to be as laser-focused as possible when developing the concept behind a 1PDC entry. In the end, avoid trying to be too clever or too complex, and just concentrate on a straightforward, clean concept. I think it will result in a much stronger overall design.

Everything Old Can Be New Again
It is tough trying to come up with a concept that is entirely fresh and new, but this shouldn't deter anyone from taking an old concept and trying to present it in a new light. A great way to set your 1PDC entry apart from all the others is to do just this. Even a simple dungeon crawl can be spruced up by adding unexpected twists and turns, or by looking at the design from a different angle. But, as stated above, keep the complexity of your concept simple. The trick is to not over conceptualize things, and to strike a nice balance between being straightforward and being innovative.

Don't Be Afraid To Think Outside the Box
The one thing I wish the 1PDC had was a different name. I feel that One Page Adventure Contest would be more appropriate, as the scope of the contest is not limited to just dungeon crawls. It is nice to see submissions with concepts that step outside of the confines of the contest's name. The one page adventure concept is broad enough that it can be applied to any genre you can imagine. Also, do not feel you are limited to creating just an adventure that revolves around a single location or event either. Some of my favorite entries read more like one page campaigns, and provide the blueprint for countless adventures over a long period of time. In the end, design your one-pager with any concept or scope you feel is appropriate.

The Devil Is In the Details
Despite the limited amount of space, it is possible to present a flavor packed adventure when creating a one page adventure. Including small details like non-player character concepts, lists of rumors and tables for random events and wandering monsters can make a huge difference in the design of a one page adventure. Choose your words carefully, and try to pack as much flavor into them as possible, without inflating the word count. Details like these can change a one-pager from being seen as "just another dungeon crawl" into something unique and special. Above, I said the overall concept of a one page adventure should be kept simple and straightforward; I am also saying the details added should be as rich and lavish as possible. These flavorful details can be the game changer, and win the contest for you.

Nice Maps Are Important, But They Will Not Always Win the Contest for You
OK, this is purely my opinion, but I think it needs to be stated. Not everyone involved in the 1PDC has the ability to create the perfect map. I say, who cares? But don't get me wrong here. Maps are an important element to any adventure. They can also provide the "wow factor" that can set your entry apart from the others. I do not want to downplay their importance at all, I am just saying that they do not have to be perfect little works of art to win the contest. When creating a map that corresponds with your adventure just make sure it is neatly presented, can be clearly read and is keyed properly. There are plenty of free mapping tools available out on the 'net, so there is really no reason a decent map can't be rendered for you one-pager. In the end, just do the best you can and make up for any shortcomings with the other details you add to your overall design.

Just Do It
I guess the last and most important piece of advice I can give is to just get out there and create. You never know just how good of a one page adventure you can design until you actually get you hands dirty and design one. This was the attitude I had when I decided to create my own entry for last year's contest, Raid on Black Goat Wood. I had never attempted to design a one-pager before, and it turned out to be a bit more work than I had imagined it would be. But it was also fulfilling as well. Especially when I started getting feedback from others.

Well, that about covers it I suppose. I am sure I will think of other things I should have added or said, but I think I highlighted the things I feel are most important. I just hope this post will be useful to future participants in the 1PDC.


* I use the term "one page adventure" and not "one page dungeon" to help broaden the focus of this post, as not all one-pagers, even those submitted to the 1PDC, can be seen strictly as dungeons.
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