Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Judging Dungeon Designs: One Page Dungeon Contest

As I've mentioned previously, I was a judge again this year, along with fellow judges Steve Winter and Teos Abadia, for the One Page Dungeon Contest, administered by Random Wizard.

There were 97 entries this year, and each judge was asked to send over our Top 10 picks so Random Wizard could tabulate them and see which entries got the most votes so he could announce a winner. The results were... let's just say "interesting." More on that later.

Last year, after the contest, I conducted an email interview with the other judges, which you can find here, wherein I asked them their process of how they went about selecting their top picks, and any hints and suggestions they had for future contestants. At the time, I noted that ideally I would have loved to join the fellow judges at a pub, hoist a pint or two, and just chat about the contest.

We're getting a bit closer to that idea this year. When I submitted my picks to Random Wizard last week, I asked him if perhaps we could do a Google Hangout with himself and the three judges so we could more naturally about the process, and also make it more interactive by letting the contestants and other interested parties ask us questions about why we chose the ones we did, how difficult the decision was, and anything else related to the contest that people wanted to know about.

Random Wizard and the other judges liked the idea, and so based on our collective work schedules and other time management issues (I'll fess up - one day I have to be gone to take my daughter to her ballet lesson!), the Google Hangout will be held tomorrow, May 28th, at 3pm Pacific Time. Random Wizard is also going to work on recording the Hangout for those of you who can't join live, but if you do have a question, you can probably put it on Random Wizard's Google Plus Post about the Hangout at the previous link, or go ahead and leave me a comment below and I'll do my best to answer it either during the Hangout or will address it directly in the comments here.

This now brings me to - "Why do we need a One Page Dungeon  Contest?" There are lots of talented people out there, and many of you are more than capable of creating your own worlds and dungeons, and in fact might not really find much use for a "simple" one-page dungeon that might not fit into your world. This type of contest is obviously not for them.

However, having been a judge for the contest two years now, I think this type of contest offers a lot to the role-playing community. Below are just a few of my thoughts, which due to time constraints today are just stream-of-consciousness.

  • It encourages creativity. The one-page dungeon format is not easy. Trying to create a whole scenario with a map, encounters, a narrative flow, some type of objective, and a "hook", all within the constraints of one page, is extremely difficult. It takes some real creativity to make it all work without just shrinking the text so small that it's illegible. One of the things I most look forward to is not only the idea itself, but also seeing how the contestants lay out their ideas to make them work within the format. You'd be surprised what you can fit into this format if you edit yourself enough to keep from trying to throw everything and the kitchen sink into the submission. Besides layout and design, it also takes creativity to come up with something new and different that the judges aren't seeing over and over again to make your submission stand out. Reading through the submissions can give you a lot of ideas for ways to take your game that you may not have considered before. 
  • It gives you options for when you want to take a break. Maybe your whole group isn't able to get together for your regularly scheduled game, but you still want to play. Maybe you've been playing your regular game for such a long time that you never have time to try something else (a different character, a different setting or genre, or a different set of rules).  Maybe you're always the GM and while you don't want to give that up, maybe one night, one of your players could take on that role and allow you to play through a short one-page adventure just to give you a break. Any of these scenarios above could lead to even new outbreaks of creativity that you weren't expecting. Maybe the player who takes over the GM role likes doing that job so much that he or she decides to start a new campaign...
  • It can act as the springboard for a new campaign. Speaking of new campaigns, many of these one-page dungeons are so much more than "dungeons." Many of them read like mini-campaign setting ideas. Every campaign has to start somewhere. While my current campaign (of 14 years!) is based on some pretty standard fantasy tropes like Conan, some old-school D&D game worlds like Greyhawk, the Known World, and Dragonlance, and also our own world history, as I read through the submissions last year and this year, it definitely gets me interested in running a game of a completely different genre.
  • It gives players a "voice" in the community. Many might not think this matters, but I know back when I was a young teen just starting to game, it was clear that I didn't fit in with the other kids who were more into sports and hanging out at the mall. Back then, it was difficult to find people like me, and, on the whole, we tended to be smart, a bit quiet, and not that likely to have the confidence to speak up about things. But as we probably can all agree, role-playing encourages creativity and one of the first things most new role-players do is want to create things for others to look at and use. It was something I loved doing and was "good at," and where I could be in control of one part of my life. I've blogged before about doing that in my "Amateur RPG Design" columns. But, as much as I would have wanted it, I had no illusions that my designs were never going to see the light of day outside of maybe a handful of friends, because "RPGs were run by big companies." Back then in the early 1980's, we didn't have the luxury of the Internet to form a community. I would have loved for the opportunity to share my ideas with others in the form of the contest. Just knowing that somebody else was looking at and reading my ideas would have been cool. It would have made me try harder, focus more, and really work at creating something different and hopefully useful. Anybody can create home-brew stuff for their games. We do it all the time. But it takes a commitment to do so in a polished form and enter it into a contest for hundreds of people to look at and comment on. The One Page Dungeon Contest essentially empowers people who might not have a "voice" to gives them the opportunity to show their creativity and be recognized, and gives them a reason to really bring their best. 
  • It encourages young people to remain active in the hobby. This idea goes hand-in-hand with my thoughts above on giving players a "voice," but for the past two years we've seen entries by youngsters who learned of the contest and submitted their ideas. Sometimes it's easy to forget that people of all ages play these games - they're not all just like us. And while, again, for some people it doesn't matter if new people get into the hobby or not, I look at it more as a big picture thing. This is a hobby that helped define me as a person (for the better) and I'd love to "give back" to help the young people of today learn about it and give them ample opportunities to work on creating things that a larger community can see, comment on, and encourage them to keep trying, keep improving, and keep being creative. I might be a little biased as a dad whose daughter is still a bit too young to grasp role-playing games (she's getting there - she'll be six in July), but I do think it's a strong benefit of this contest. 
Those are just a few of my thoughts. To me, this contest is about so much more than just "bragging rights" for having won. But, that's just me. What are your thoughts on the contest?

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Tap water
Listening: "Mercyless - Original Mix" by Waye Tennant

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