5 Room Dungeons & Filling Your Dungeon with Adventure

A couple of weeks ago on the Campaign Trail I looked at the 4 Types of Dungeons. This week, I wanted to continue my look at building dungeons using a tool called the 5 Room Dungeon. Dungeons come in various forms such as lost temples, haunted houses, natural caverns, or even the lower holds of a sunken ship. In this article, we’ll generate a 5 room dungeon based on what we already know about the dungeon I randomly generated last time.

What is a 5 Room Dungeon?

The 5 Room Dungeon, an idea by Johnn Four, provides GMs with a pattern to quickly and easily build a dungeon crawl or any short adventure with 5 locations, such as on a spaceship, in a large city, or for this article… a temple in a chasm. With just five simple steps you can have an adventure ready to go that will last you a session of play.

I created 5 room dungeons in the past such as hunting for a sunken pirate treasure, searching for cultists in a city and regular old dungeons. I’ve also run 5 room dungeons created by others such as Kobold Hall (the starter 4th edition adventure that is included in the DMG) and a couple of the many, many found on Roleplaying Tips.

5 Room Dungeon are typically linear and follow the pattern below, but rooms can be shifted and you can branch and backtrack as well.

1) Entrance with Guardian

A dungeon should be hidden, guarded or hard to get to. Some ideas:

  • the entrance is hidden by magic to look like the mountain
  • the entrance requires a key or password
  • the entrance is guarded by a tough opponent

2) Puzzle or Roleplaying Challenge

After getting past the guardian it is time for the players to use their smarts or charm to progress. Some ideas:

  • a chessboard puzzle
  • a riddle whose answer reveals which direction the players should go
  • an NPC will allow you to pass in exchange for a small gift

3) Trick or Setback

After getting past the challenge, something happens to raise the stakes by tricking the players or forcing them into a setback. Some ideas:

  • a trusted NPC betrays the party
  • the party fights and easily defeats the Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG) they were sent to find
  • the players find the secret they were looking for, but it is useless without a macguffin or information that is deeper into the dungeon

4) Big Climax

This is the grand finale and it is time for you to pull out all the stops to provide an exciting set piece encounter. Some ideas:

  • a difficult battle full of environmental hazards that are easily avoided (or caused) by the BBEG
  • create a battlefield with interesting terrain and props to swing from, throw at enemies and more
  • the BBEG is tough, but can be defeated by exploiting a weakness they learned about during the Trick or Setback

5) Reward, Revelation

This is your chance to reward your players and reveal something to hook them into the next adventure. Some ideas:

  • the PCs destroyed only the first of many evil masks, but they find a map pointing to the location of the next mask
  • an NPC the players were sent to save was actually behind everything, and challenges them to follow him as he escapes to his lair
  • the boss was defeated in the climax, but she was actually only a lieutenant working for the BBEG

My 5 Room Dungeon

In my previous article we started to create a dungeon using the tables in chapter 5 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide for D&D 5th edition. I made the following random rolls.

  • Dungeon Location (d100): In a chasm
  • Dungeon Creator (d20): Kuo-Toa
  • Cults & Religious Groups (d20): Worshipers of an evil deity
  • NPC Alignment (d20): Neutral
  • NPC Class (d20): Ranger
  • Dungeon Purpose (d20): Temple or shrine
  • Dungeon History (d20): Abandoned due to plague

These rolls went pretty well and I think I have the start of a nice little dungeon. So now it is time to create our 5 room dungeon based on this information. I’m going to whip this together pretty quick in a rough draft state, and then come back to it next week to put in more details to go along with my edits. Here we go…


Long ago, there existed a beautiful city, protected by the followers of a goddess of light named Sarenrae. One fateful day, an earthquake leveled the city and in the aftermath plague further decimated the survivors. Sarenrae’s priests and priestesses did what they could to save their people, but there were so many sick and injured. Another earthquake hit and the temple of Sarenrae and much of the ruined city was swallowed by a chasm, falling deep, deep into the earth.

Centuries later…

  • A small group of Kuo-Toa stumble upon the temple and decide to use it to summon their own goddess created by their madness.
  • Knowledge of the gods of old (Pathfinder Pantheon) has been lost and Sarenrae is far from a household name
  • The PCs find out that a lost temple is the last known location of a powerful item of light that they need find to stop the BBEG. They hire a local ranger to help them find the location and have a sketch of the symbol of an angelic ankh.

1) Entrance with Guardian

This dungeon is guarded by the fact that it is hard to get down to and hard to find.

The PCs will have to climb down a deep, steep sided chasm full of ruins using their climbing gear they hopefully purchased in town. This could be run as a skill challenge or just with some tough ability checks. I would reward players for using climbing gear or magic to make it easier with advantage, giving each of them a reroll, etc.

To find the temple will require some exploration and investigation to follow clues (DC15 Religion or History) to find the place. I would reward any trips to the library or temple before they set out. ADDED: It’s also important to provide an alternative way for them to find the temple if they fail their checks, maybe something like an extra encounter or they might come up with their own fix like casting a ritual.

2) Puzzle or Roleplaying Challenge

When they finally arrive at the entrance of the temple they will find symbols that represent the goddess of light. They will also find that her temple is sealed by a large door protected by a large statue standing in front of it. There is an inscription over the top that says something about only followers of the light goddess being allowed to pass. This guardian has survived from the time when the temple was still inhabited by the followers of the goddess of light. When the PCs set off a magic sensor, the statue will slowly activate and start to fight. The slow moving guardian has no interest in battling against those who prove they are followers of the goddess of light. The guardian can be deactivated by:

  • Any radiant damage dealt to the guardian
  • Any healing spell cast on the guardian
  • Speaking the name of the goddess (DC15 Religion or History)
  • Destroying it

Puzzles are tough and I know this needs some work.

3) Trick or Setback

I’d like the PCs to find out the hard way that the temple is not uninhabited and have them encounter the Kuo-Toa who are set on capturing them as slaves/sacrifices. This encounter’s main purpose it to let the players know that this place is just full of a crazy group of Kuo-Toa and to capture the Ranger NPC.

4) Big Climax

This is the grand finale where the PCs will encounter the Kuo-Toa! They’ll find a room full of worshipers and their archpriest who is trying to sacrifice the ranger to summon a twisted goddess created by their madness. If this fight drags on too long and the archpriest is successful, “the goddess” will manifest, dealing out major damage. This battle should act a a set piece with a large raised area for the archpriest that is hard to get to. The room should have a tall ceiling offering plenty of room for their “goddess” to start to appear above the archpriest. I would have some large pools of water for the archpriest to use against the players with spells like Control Water.

5) Reward, Revelation

The temple room leads to another chamber that was being used by the archpriest as a shrine. A quick search of the nonsensical junk and garbage filled shrine will reveal the powerful item of light as its centerpiece. If the players don’t search the shrine, then the item can call to a PC who is a cleric, paladin or the best match.


Conclusion and What’s Next

5 room dungeons can work well to build adventures for one-shots, side quests and lower level PCs. They provide a variety of play experiences in a short time, which works well for introducing new players to the game and keeping lower level PCs alive.

5 room dungeons can fit in well as short chapters in a longer campaign, especially when mixed up with longer, more involved adventures. In my last campaign, I usually ran adventures that would take 3-4 sessions, but it was nice to throw in a short single session adventure to move the plot along and give everyone a bit of a breather.

I think a 5 room dungeon can help provide a good base for adding more adventure to your dungeon than simply rolling up a random dungeon map. Next week, I’ll map and expand this dungeon.


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Shawn Ellsworth

Shawn is an author and co-founder of Tribality.com. He first got into tabletop RPGs through ninjas and then by playing a Kender in Dragonlance. Years later, he can be found running games in the Nentir Vale and his own Seas of Vodari campaign setting.