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Five-room Dungeons

The five-room dungeon framework was designed by Johnn Four of Roleplaying Tips as a way to combine mythic story structure and quick/easy adventure design1. The framework is simple and flexible; it works for any setting and system, and can be used for one-shot adventures or as part of a larger campaign.

The framework is popular because it “satisfies a dungeon crawling experience as well as an adventure’s narrative”2 and “includes all the main ingredients of a fun, fantasy adventure… combat, exploration, and social interaction.”3

The five rooms

  1. Room One: Entrance and Guardian: An early encounter that explains why the dungeon has remains unexplored and hooks the players into the adventure.
  2. Room Two: Puzzle or Roleplaying Challenge: A different kind of challenge than room one that requires the players to use their brains or social skills.
  3. Room Three: Trick or Setback: After victories in rooms one and two, this room builds tension by introducing an issue that puts success into doubt.
  4. Room Four: Climax, Big Battle, or Conflict: The big showdown that tests the players’ skills, resources, and problem-solving abilities.
  5. Room Five: Reward, Revelation, Plot Twist: The final room provides the GM an opportunity to provide a reward, reveal a secret, or introduce a twist that sets up the next adventure.

Put another way, the rooms are an “Entrance, Puzzle, Setback, Battle, and Reward”2 though the exact order can be changed13. Rooms one and two are popular choices for swapping1, but you could alternatively introduce passages or secret doors that allow the players to move freely between rooms3 or a non-linear layout that invites the players to explore and double back4.

It is important to note that the framework of a “five-room dungeon” can be used in settings other than dungeons134. You can think of the rooms in the framework as scenes in a story, or narrative touch-points2, that could be set in a town, hideout, forest, ship, or any other location.

Beyond five rooms

Justin Alexander, in his book So You Want To Be A Game Master, proposes a variation of the five-room dungeon that he calls “5+5 Dungeons”.5 These contain five featured rooms and five scenic rooms, the former focused on action and the latter on setting and story.

Alexander’s five featured rooms should comprise:

  1. A challenge
  2. A fight
  3. A twist
  4. A reward
  5. A second challenge, fight, twist, or reward

The order of these featured rooms is less important, and the interspersed scenic rooms can be used to weave the rooms together into a cohesive and interesting adventure.

An alternative option is to link multiple sets of five rooms into a larger and more complex dungeon. This could be “mini dungeons” with distinct themes that are linked together or multiple levels of a larger dungeon. Let the five-room dungeon be the starting point and grow from there.

Other improvements

Baron de Ropp suggests improving the five-room dungeon by working the elements to a traditional three-act story structure and gives some examples of what that should look like2. Map Crow suggests designing the dungeon in reverse, starting with the boss and then planning a secret, a gauntlet path, a “thinky room”, and the entrance guard6.


  1. Five Room Dungeons by Johnn Four. 2 3 4

  2. Why the 5 Room Dungeon Falls Short! by Baron de Ropp. [ 2 3 4

  3. How Long Should An “Adventure” Be?… by Bob World Builder. 2 3 4

  4. The Nine Forms of the Five Room Dungeon by Matthew J. Neagley. 2

  5. So You Want To Be A Game Master by Justin Alexander. Page Street Publishing, 2023.

  6. 5 Room Dungeon Design Reversed! by Map Crow.