One Page Dungeon Contest: The Other Judges Take a Turn

As a follow-up to my last post regarding my thoughts as a judge for 2014's One Page Dungeon Contest, and my advice to future submitters, I sent out a short questionnaire to the other judges involved. To date, all but two have answered the questionnaire (and the two who haven't answered yet said that they will but that they are busy putting the finishing touches on a soon-to-be-published RPG project).

I'm going to edit a bit and pick-and-choose from the answers for a few questions, especially for a few where the answers from the various judges ended up being a bit repetitive (probably a sign that my question was not all that interesting).

Note also that sadly this wasn't an "interactive" type of interview of questionnaire - as much as I would love to meet these guys at the pub and share a pint, that unfortunately wasn't meant to be. But, one of the benefits of that format is that there are no "shared answers" - none of the judges saw each other's answers. That means that for a question like "What were your top criteria for judging?" it's interesting to see how most of the judges had the same criteria (including two separate uses of the word "evocative"). That's a good sign that these are the main things to consider.

I also add a few editorial comments regarding my own judging on a few of answers below.

I started out by asking the judges,  

"Is this your first time judging the One Page Dungeon contest? What other similar contests, if any, have you judged before?"

Delta: "It's my first time, and so I wrestled with developing some criteria as I plowed through the list.. I don't usually use the one-page format myself, but this was golden opportunity to see a wide range of perspectives on dungeon design (110 entries, to be exact). It felt like a master's class in the subject, and was tremendously educational from the judge's seat."

[Editor Comments: I, too, struggled with what exactly to use for my judging criteria and then just developed my own system, which looks like what we all did.]

Steve Winter: "This is my first time judging the One-Page Dungeon contest. I was a judge for the RPG-related Origins awards for two years, and I’ve also judged the Three Castles Awards twice. That’s in addition to a few years spent sifting through the Dungeon Magazine submissions pile in search of great adventures to publish."

Brendan: "First time. I haven't judged similar contests before, but I have refereed conference papers, and this felt similar in some ways."

Sean K. Reynolds: "
This is the first time I’ve judged this contest. However, I’ve been a judge for Paizo’s RPG Superstar for four years, and I judged this year’s EN World D&D Next adventure contest..."

"What were your expectations for the contest before judging began? Were those expectations met?"

Sean: I really had no idea what I was getting into when I agreed to do this. I had seen the results of some of the earlier competitions, but didn’t know there would be quite so many entries in this year’s contest. I was hoping to see a lot of fun, creative ideas that made the best of the one-page limitation, and I was not disappointed."

Steve: "Mostly I just expected to see plenty of clever, innovative adventure concepts. And yes, I’d say those expectations definitely were met."

"In general, what kinds of things stood out in this year's submissions? For example, did you notice any similar themes across entries?" 

Delta: "It was indeed interesting to see how some of the same ideas bubbled up in multiple entries. Two very young crayon-based entries was present (given special mention in the results, amusing). Two of the entries were full-on "mini-campaigns" that both ended very high in the results. Two entries had features which called for sending PCs to *other* one-page dungeons in the contest, chosen randomly. And several were systems for producing randomized or "infinite" adventures."

Steve: "...Most of the entries showed plenty of originality."

Sean: "There were over a hundred entries, and (other than a couple of them that were a little similar) I don’t recall any of them having a common theme. Some of them weren’t even “dungeons.” :)" 

"Have you used any of the ideas from the contest in any games you're currently running?"

Brendan: "I think some of the entries have inspired a few traps and tricks, though I have not had a chance to use any entries directly."

Sean: "...
some of these ideas were very inspirational and I’d love to stick something like them into an upcoming campaign."

Delta: "I made lists of specific adventures and trick ideas I could use in my own play, but I haven't actually played them out yet."

"What are the Top 3 things you were looking for in the submissions to pick a winner?"

Steve: "Qualifier #1 was a theme that either was different from what we see over and over, or was a different treatment of a familiar theme. Qualifier #2 was a map that meshed with and amplified the theme. The map didn’t need to look professionally rendered, but it needed to be the right map for that adventure. Qualifier #3 was solid writing and adventure design. I looked for adventures that a DM could print out and run as-is, not just a collection of suggestions. Ideas are cheap; everyone has plenty of ideas. Polishing those ideas into shiny gems takes talent and work. That’s what DMs are looking for."  

[Editor Comments: This last point of Steve's is very well-worded and an important one to consider. Execution of an idea, in this case, is almost as important as the idea itself.]

Brendan: "Relationships between different areas or aspects of the scenario. Evocative premise. Good non-linear maps that can support many ways of approach."

Delta: "Overall, I found myself looking for clever and coherent design, plus quick usability for the DM (readable, fully executed, etc.). Some good points would be: (a) Specific number appearing and usable stats for monsters, traps, and treasure (almost any system will do, prefer to see AC, HD, Damage); (b) Clean and readable linear text layout (ideally: map and text aligned, with area 1 at top, and last area at bottom in each); (c) More encounter areas (with detail) are better than few; (d) Usability as a pure drop-in to an existing, standard fantasy campaign."

[Editor Comments: I myself didn't look for the inclusion of stats - as long as the monsters are pretty standard fare, or I can discern how they would react in a given situation, I can adjudicate stats on the fly. But that's part of what makes this contest fun - Random Wizard did not give us any criteria for judging and instead let us pick our own criteria.]

Sean: "The top 3 things I was looking for in a submission are (1) a visually interesting and legible map, (2) a cool “hook” or premise for the dungeon, and (3) evocative or memorable room descriptions.

"For those who are thinking of entering next year, what are 3-4 things you would suggest *not* do to?"

Sean: "1) Don’t make something that isn’t actually a dungeon. The contest is called “One Page Dungeon,” and if your entry is a single outdoor encounter, you’re not aiming at the correct target. This is not to say that an outdoor area can’t be a “dungeon” (one of my top 10 entries was an above-ground ruin overrun by dangerous plants, another ), but one room is not a dungeon.

2) Don’t be satisfied with something unexceptional. Be innovative, be old-school, or both. In other words, try to make something the judges haven’t seen before. One designer’s dungeon requires you to look at it with colored filters to distinguish the two overlapping phased layers; several were mapped as vertical cross-sections of a multilevel dungeon. If your dungeon is an ice cave with frost giants, that’s been done before; spice it up with a new twist.
[Editor Comments: I definitely agree with Sean on his last point - there were actually a few dungeons that fit that description and could have used a bit more creativity. On the other hand, I alluded to this yesterday, but I actually didn't vote for the "colored-filter" dungeon, not because I didn't think it was creative, clever, and well-written, but because it required a lot of additional prep-work beyond printing it out and running it, and the additional materials needed for prep aren't exactly super easy to come by. I almost felt guilty not voting for it because it was really a neat idea but I think it's something that would work better as a printed product that you could buy that came with the colored cellophane already included.] 

3) Don’t introduce concepts or themes that might not be accepted at other gaming tables. One of the entries had a rape scene; out of nowhere, you're reading a room description, and there’s a rape occurring between two NPCs. Sexual violence, pregnancy, abortion, infanticide, and harm to children are a trigger for many people, and are best avoided."
[Editor Comments: 100% agree with Sean. I had forgotten about this one until he brought it up, but immediately upon reading it I was very put-off, not because I'm squeamish or a prude or anything like that, but rather just that there was really no reason for that to have been included - the adventure could have worked without it.]
Brendan: "1) Don't write 'in character' (like, this is the expedition journal of blah blah). 
2) Don't bother including formulaic hooks (guarding a merchant caravan, rescuing a whatever). 
3) Don't base the scenario on a mini-game that pulls people out of the system they are actually running. In this case, an instantiated scenario is better than a system to generate an adventure."
Steve: "1) Don’t wait until the last minute to get started. Rushed work stands out, and not in a good way.  
2) Don’t rely on 6-point type and ⅛-inch margins to fit everything onto the page. Be vicious about razoring away everything that’s not 100% necessary and 100% in line with your theme. If you don’t have space for all your encounter descriptions, then cut whole encounters until everything fits comfortably.  
3) Don’t go overboard with graphic design. I downgraded more than a few entries because it was a struggle to figure out the correct reading path across the page or because the text was just hard to read. Good graphic design doesn’t just make the page pretty, it makes the page easy to read. If the layout and design are making the page hard to read or understand, then they’re wrong."

Delta: "1) ...I would recommend including bare-bones D&D-style monster stats (again: at least AC, HD, Damage). Also specify their number, as well as traps and treasures. Don't say 'here is a group of very strong monsters' or 'there is a powerful NPC wizard' (that the DM must spend time selecting and designing before running the game); personally that made me to see red and immediately reject entries.

[Editor Comments: I can see Delta's point here, but this just wasn't as much of a concern for me, as I was thinking that a lot of these submissions could be used with a variety of systems; e.g., most of the fantasy-based ones could be used with OD&D, WFRP, 1st Edition AD&D, or even stuff like GURPS and Savage Worlds. So, to my mind, including monster stats probably would have used up space that could be better used for other descriptions or increasing the point size of the font so that the judges didn't have to squint to read it. :)]

2) Don't create a "randomized infinite adventure table" system. I think there were around a half-dozen in this group of entries? One did get into the finalists, but not highly, and none were on my list. This kind of work makes it hard for the prospective DM to "know what they're getting" or discern a theme (when in fact there usually isn't one)... As my college creative writing instructor told us 'it's the specific details that really sell a piece'.

3) Don't create a sci-fi piece. Now, personally, I was very open to the entries that went in this direction, but none really made the cut for me or other judges. (Paul Hughes' space-fantasy "The Great Stag" was #14 on my list, just a bit too sketchy to get in the Top 10.) I think it's just a bit too hard to reconcile these when thinking about using them in a D&D campaign or similar context (as the judges probably have on their mind when reading a series of these adventures).

[Editor Comments: As readers of my post from yesterday will note, I disagree with this point, but I see where Delta is coming from. There were some really fun and interesting non-standard fantasy submissions this year that I quite enjoyed.]

4) Don't have blatant logical gaps in how pieces connect, how traps function, etc.

[Editor Comments: Yes! Whole-heartedly agreed. There were a few submissions this year where I was left scratching my head about how it was supposed to work only to discover there was some pieces missing.]

5) Don't create just an image entirely lacking text or numbers.

6) Don't have typos or irritating grammatical errors.

"Unrelated to judging, but what are some things you're currently working on that you'd like fans to know about, and where can they go to find out more information?"

Delta: "'I'm currently working on Version 2 of my "Original Edition Delta: Book of Spells", to incorporate the last few years of play experience, and align it even more closely with the old-school game (that is, Original D&D). This summer I'm writing a "Spells Through the Ages" blog at least once a week as I go through the assessment and judging process on this particular project: at my usual blog, Plus trying to apply some lessons and become a better adventure-writer myself. :-)"

Steve: "I just wrapped up design work on the first two adventures for the upcoming edition of D&D, Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat, where I was writing with Wolf Baur and Alexander Winter. Currently I’m putting the finishing touches on an adventure for the D&D Organized Play program’s Adventurers League. I’ve signed on to several other assignments for the coming months that I’m very excited about, including a major Kickstarter project, but since they haven’t been announced yet, I’ll get into trouble if I say any more than that about them."
Brendan: " Currently in progress is a sorcery supplement for old school play called Wonder & Wickedness: I am collaborating with some other folks on this, and am pretty excited about the specifics, though I am not quite ready to announce details."

Sean: "Right now I’m writing an adventure for the (currently unannounced) next Adventure Path from Paizo, an adventure for Monte Cook Games, and a kickstarter for a Pathfinder-compatible sourcebook, working on an online class for teaching better magic item and monster design, filming a bunch of tutorial videos for YouTube on various topics (mainly game design and painting minis), as well as transferring content from my old website to my new one ("

 I'd like to thank all the judges for taking some time out to answer my questions about their judging experiences for the One Page Dungeon Contest. Not only do I feel like it helps potential future adventure designers (for the contest specifically but also just i general), it also provides an interesting glimpse into how they themselves view adventure design and what things are important when creating an adventure. 

Please let me know your thoughts below. Do you agree with the judges' criteria above? Disagree? If so, why? What criteria would you use?

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Listening: "Blame It On My Youth" by Jamie Cullum
Drinking: Sierra Nevada Harvest Fresh Hop IPA


  1. Thanks for putting in such a good effort judging, as well as taking the time to get the other judges' viewpoints. Good writing advice for the contest, and in general, as well.
    Looking forward to putting together another good entry next year!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Excerpt from the Submission Guide:

    "Remember that the judges may not know the exact game system you play, so a good strategy is to avoid using too many system specific stats."

    Then I read in the judge's interview:

    "Specific number appearing and usable stats for monsters, traps, and treasure (almost any system will do, prefer to see AC, HD, Damage."

    and later...

    "Delta: "1) ...I would recommend including bare-bones D&D-style monster stats (again: at least AC, HD, Damage)."

    How am I supposed to make sense of this?

    1. Thanks so much for dropping by and for your comments. These comments and thoughts from the other judges were all from the first year that Random Wizard managed the contest (2014), and there were no judging "guidelines" provided to the judges, so each judge used his own criteria. The quote from Delta was his criteria on stats, which not every judge used that year.

      This past year, in 2015, Random Wizard added the bit you quote above about "a good strategy is to avoid using too many system specific stats."

      I hope that helps, but please leave more comments if you have further questions. I hope this interest means that you'll be submitting an entry this year!

    2. Hey there Tramor Zool.
      Martin has the right of it. I just wanted to also follow up and confirm that putting in statistics is a non issue. You can put them in or you can leave them out. Now, I wouldn't put in huge stat lists as that is going to take up valuable space, but if you wanted to put in a few stats and it looks cool, feel free. Or if you want to leave stats out and concentrate on filling in that space with more descriptive content, feel free.
      I think Delta did a great job judging in 2014, but his view on wanting stats on the one page dungeon is a bit of an outlier. Out of the 7 judges that year (and myself) he was the only one that held the view that a submission should have stats.
      For future contests, I am making it more clear that stats are completely optional.


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