A Dungeon Master’s Guide to the One-Page Dungeon

Last Updated on November 13, 2023

Have a session coming up and no idea what to run? 

Tired of trawling through massive blocks of text and flipping between books at the table? 

You may want to consider a one-page dungeon. 

A one-page dungeon is a dungeon or adventure site that fits on a single side of paper.  It is intended to be run with minimal prep time over a single session (1-2 hours) of play.

Planning a One-Page Dungeon 

I’ve written before about the virtues of one-shot adventures. They can be a great way of cutting down on prep time, creating a more focused gaming experience, and actually getting to run a game of D&D. 

I’ve also gone into some detail about the concept of the five-room dungeon — a super useful adventure design template that can help dungeon masters create rewarding, enjoyable content with minimal prep. 

The one-page dungeon takes these ideas even further — to the absolute logical extreme. 

If you want to make sure your one-page dungeon is as cohesive, comprehensible, and above all useful as possible, keep the following in mind. 

A good one-page dungeon is…

  • Self-Contained: A one-page dungeon is no good if you have to spend as much time fitting it into your campaign as you do preparing to run it. A good one-page dungeon is largely a self-contained adventure that can easily be encountered as a side-quest in an unrelated campaign. 
  • Clear Conflict: There’s little room for subtlety, mysteries, and nuanced, character-driven storytelling. We want to get the players from the start to the end of this content in a few hours (not to mention understand what’s going on with minimal reading or prep), so a clear goal for the adventure is key. 
  • Strong Theme: I talk about theme in more detail in my article on dungeon ecology, but essentially your dungeon’s theme is its central idea, and each location, monster, and NPC in your dungeon should refer back to your theme. 

A good theme that is expressed through a clear and present conflict taking place in a self-contained location is a great way to get your players into the groove of your dungeon before it’s all over. 

Mapping a One-Room Dungeon 

Obviously, you can draw your own one-page dungeon map if you want to try your hand at making one. However, if you’re looking for inspiration or something ready-made, you can check out this excellent one-page dungeon generator by Watabou on itch.io

You can play around with the look and feel of your dungeon, engage or disengage certain parameters, and even generate little prompts to help you get started. 

Alternately, official D&D 5e mapmaker Dyson Logos regularly releases some amazing hand-drawn maps for personal and/or commercial use via his blog. 

I use them all the time when I make stuff (like BlackCitadelRPG’s free adventure The Accursed Crypt Beneath Cold Moon Isle), and they’re a great place to start. 

5 Good One-Page Dungeons

If you’re looking for a one-page dungeon to grab and go in time for tonight’s session, here’s a list of great options that I’ve personally used, I read through and want to use, or come recommended by people I trust. 

The Sky-Blind Spire

Hailed as one of the greatest one-room dungeons of all time, The Sky-Blind Spire is a 2016 creation of Michael Prescott, the mad genius behind Trilemma adventures

Titardinal’s Spire seems like an ordinary stone tower at the edge of a large lake. Inside, however, players will find that this dungeon is basically one big puzzle for players to poke at, fool around in, and maybe solve before they all get eaten by giant pelicans. 

It’s got interesting twists and cool rooms, and it’s completely free. If you’re looking to explore the very best that this subgenre of dungeon design has to offer, start here. 

The Haunting of Hainsley Hall 

Another adventure from the Trilemma blog roll but this time written by Skerples.

The Haunting of Hainsley Hall is a fantastic haunted-house mystery with a twist I won’t spoil here. 

If you want to mix dark humor and gothic horror and give your players more opportunities to roleplay than crack skulls, this is a great one-shot for Halloween. 

The God Unmoving 

This one is probably the most traditional and dangerous of the three I’m suggesting, and it deals with a village of fisherfolk who have made an alliance with the dead and a pact with the sea god they worship. 

I love how effectively Michael Prescott crams a whole town’s worth of creepy mystery onto a single page.

© Michael Prescott, Trilemma Adventures

The Burial Mound of Gilliard Wolfclan 

Honestly, no dungeon that uses clip art this goofy has any right being this freaking good. Written by Josh Burnett, The Burial Mound of Gilliard Wolfclan is probably a contender for one of the best starter dungeons of all time. 

A buried barbarian chief who trucked with evil spirits and became undead, nasty bugs crawling out of the walls, and goblin factional infighting for the players to take advantage of — it’s got it all in a tight two-level burial mound. 

Squirming Fragment of a Dead God 

And lastly — I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug my own entry to the 2022 One Page Dungeon competition!

 Squirming Fragment of a Dead God is a horrifying descent into a death-drenched ruin to retrieve a star that fell to earth. I’ve played it once, and it’s already horribly mutated three player characters in ways they can’t yet comprehend and killed a few more. 

If you’re looking for a touch of cosmic horror mixed into your sword-and-sorcery adventures, this should hopefully be a good source of both in one easy-to-digest and easy-to-run package. 

That’s all from us, folks. Stay safe, and happy adventuring.

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