How I Judged the One Page Dungeon Contest

If you haven't seen the posts, the tenth One Page Dungeon Contest finished recently and the producer, Aaron, has announced the winners!

I had the honor of judging this year's contest, alongside Philippe "Chatty DM", Martin Thomas, Steve Winter and Jason Sholtis.

I wanted to share with you on my methodology and how I saw that the OPDC approach has shifted and changed as D&D has shifted and changed.

When the One Page Dungeon template was first conceived and created, it was an OSR thing. This was late 2008/early 2009, during a blog/Internet fueled expansion and interest in the original/old versions of D&D and other role playing games. Whether just nostalgia, a cry of defiance against the 4th edition of D&D or something else, we were going old school and going hard.

When Chatty and I ran the first One Page Dungeon Contest, it was pretty crazy to judge the entries! By far, most of the entries were old school in particular - very much dungeons in the vein of what I think of a dungeon - underground or Underworld or "not here" in nature. Fantasy tropes and themes that I was very familiar with. The number of entries that were more in the theme of "encounters" as 4th edition described were in the minority.

This year was a bit of a culture shock to me! That ratio was very much flipped. Most of the entries felt like 5th edition approaches - encounters, bigger areas, more simple dungeons. Quite a few entries were not dungeons as I define them, but hex crawls, locations like villages and towns, even generators and just tables/charts to create your own adventure from. I felt old!

Tempting, but I resisted the urge to go this route...
So what were my criteria for judging a dungeon? A combination of:
  • "If I think it's a dungeon, it's a dungeon" 
  • How much does it mix it up between interesting things, traps/tricks, monsters, treasure?
  • Is it interesting?
  • Is it creative? (The two are not hand-in-hand!)
  • Is it DM-friendly/helpful! (Thank you Bryce from for drilling that into my head!)
If I think it's a dungeon - very subjective and the one gate that I struggled with the most. "Is this a dungeon?" I'm a stickler for the meaning of words and while the contest rules are pretty broad, at the end of the day, I wanted to see something of a dungeon - a place/space/area that is contained, that has a purpose, that is odd/strange/different and I prefer the standard/typical underground/Underworld! I did stretch that a lot for the town settings, buildings as dungeons or the approach of an adventure that focused on a dungeon - kind of a plot within the one page. That means if you sent a hex crawl, or a random generator or just an open quest, I probably scored that lower than something that "felt" like a dungeon.

An example of a submission that challenged me a lot: The Akhronoton by Anton LC. The concept was that this was a one room crypt, but as you moved around, you moved through time instead of space. A very creative take on what a dungeon is by exploring how it changes over the course of 300 years in the past and in the future. Definitely made me think of what a dungeon is and what I like to use/play as dungeons.

Mix it up! This was one that I was very strict about. I scored highly for this category if there was a decent mix of traps/tricks, interesting stuff for players to interact with, monsters that had purpose and character, not just things to defeat in combat (factions! hooks! stories!). If it was all combat, or no combat, or no traps/tricks, then I scored lower. I believe that a dungeon should challenge player skill (solve puzzles) as well as challenge PCs in combat - and that combat should be an option, not always the default!

Is it interesting? Is it creative? These were two categories that challenged me, because I found some dungeons that were creative, but I found myself not interested in them. Or vice versa. "Would I play this at my table?" was a first gate for me. I had to re-calibrate that gate because I found that I have definite tropes that I want to play at my table! Interesting became more of "is there a nugget in here that would hook players, as far as I'm concerned."

Creative is always a subjective judgement. For me, creativity comes out with something where the author has an idea and explores it. It might not have been my cup of tea, but I respect creativity and this year, there was a lot of that to go around! That would be a frustration in some parts as I wanted the author's creativity to come out more - there was a nugget of a great idea, but they either just chucked in a ton of combat only, kill-all-things encounters or didn't flesh out the idea. I get it, sometimes I struggle with that as well.

Is it DM-friendly/helpful? If you read the reviews at (and if you don't, get thee over there and read! Especially if you create/write and publish), then you know that one of Bryce's big criteria is if the module is written from the standpoint of helping the DM at the table. I agree with this 100%!

If the entry was tiny print, low score. If information was scattered around here and there, low score. I tried to balance creativity in presentation with DM friendly, and sometimes one was more than the other, and at the end of the day, I held DM friendly as a more important. If I had to do prep-work, as in defining what this strange monster is, and make my own stats, low score. Or the random generation of room contents/dungeon layout. Low score. (Note: If you said "like orcs. Like dragons. Like xyz, I appreciate that! Give me something to work with. Good score!)

If I have a dungeon, especially a one page dungeon, I want info at my fingertips, easy to find. Rooms/encounters are clear, I know at a glance what it's about, the main elements and some flavoring to help me if I'm not already flowing with a flavor as I present it. Make the elements on the map go with the text. Make that organization logical and easy to use at the table.

I know there's a temptation to be artsy and overdo the creativity, but the entries that balanced the creativity artistry with usefulness at the table were the ones I liked the best!

We built the One Page Dungeon Template with the idea that brevity can be useful, to force ourselves to be creative while limiting the content to one page, and to make it useful to the DM to just have a dungeon at a glance.

Whew... a lot of juggling there and I had to go through over 150 entries!

So, what do you think? What do you think of this year's winners?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thanks for spelling all that out! The insight is helpful, given I intend to enter again next year.

    I'll admit, I do wonder where my entry fell out of the 160+, esp. given there were over 50 winners!

    1. You're very welcome! This is only how I judge, each judge approaches it differently.

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  4. Wow, quite a lot of useful info! Can I translate this and share with our russian-rpg forum readers? :)

  5. I was thinking about submitting a last-minute entry for the contest, and had downloaded and read the rules, but by the time I had free time I thought I didn't really have the time left to do it justice. Also, I didn't want any appearance of favoritism since you're my friend, so I was going to enter it anonymously. I still like the idea though, makes you focus on what's important when putting together a dungeon. Maybe next year!


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