OSR: Review: The Book of Delves

It's always a good idea to keep a "emergency dungeon" folder handy at game. Players get teleported a thousand feet into the air? Players decide to check out that weird door you didn't finish mapping? Dig under the baron's house, search for a rumour, flee from any carefully prepared content into the wilderness marked, not "here be dragons" but "fill this bit in later"?

Michael Prescott's Trilemma adventures are, I think, the gold standard. Ben Milton's putting out great adventure hexes. And, of course, there's the one page dungeon contest.

One page dungeons are hard to write. You need to cram as much information as possible into a very small space. No superfluous text, like "Kitchen: You enter this room to see a kitchen. Along the walls are pots, pans, cheesegraters...". Maximum conceptual density while still being useful as a pick-up-and-go gaming tool. They're like D&D petit fours.

Anyway, Tristan Tanner (bogeymanscave.blogspot.com) has written twenty "30 minute" dungeons and put them up for sale here. For $5.00 USD, you get 20 dungeons with maps.

I like the idea of a thirty minute dungeon. Sit down and, for half an hour and only half an hour, furiously hammer out a dungeon. Don't stop to think, don't stop to plan. Just go! Gooooo! And when you're done, come back in a week and either edit it or scrap it. It's a nice little writing exercise. Lots of RPG projects seem to stall or suffer from scope creep; this at least provides a tangible goal, cutoff, and reward.

Do Tristan's dungeons pass muster?

Side Note: I try, whenever possible, to punch up, not down. But these notes might be useful to anyone who wants to build short one-page dungeons or publish them, and I've run them by the author, so I should be OK.

Plot Hooks

One or two sentences plot hook, short and to the point.
"There have always been rumors in the village that the strange stone building in the hills was a blasphemous church to a demonic being. It has been a long time since light and foul chanting emanated from the structure, and the church has payed you to investigate, to see if the evil has left."
They're all pretty serviceable, though most are "someone's paying you to investigate a thing". Not a bad hook by any means, but it'd be nice to get some variety.


Here's an example map from the book.
It's not exactly a work of art. It barely feels like a work of work; it's just thrown together in MSpaint. Considering the web tools available, license free, it's hard to see why this was the style chosen.

I redrew this map in 30 minutes.

Map Numbering

Numbering should flow from room to room. Let's take a look at this dungeon as written.
Oh dear. The rooms were numbered as they radiate outwards from the entrance. But as the party moves through the dungeon (1-3-5-4-7-8-10 for example), the poor GM has to keep referencing the map to figure out the next room. It's also hard to judge adjacent rooms by reading the text.

Renumbering the map as follows:

We get a much more smooth numbering system.
There are still a few "jumps", but it's significantly easier to read and visualize. Try to keep player flow in mind when numbering rooms. Imagine how they'd walk through the dungeon and how much flipping the GM would need to do to keep up with them.

Map Jaquaying

It's supremely difficult to make a complex one-page dungeon without it becoming a grid of connected squares. The maps in Tristan's book have loops and multiple paths. A few look a bit linear, but most seem to incorporate a few good design principles.

Dungeon Key

"Read-aloud" text or general dungeon dressing is first, in plain text. GM notes and stats are in italics. It's a nice touch for the length of the room keys. If they were shorter, like a "classic" one page dungeon, it'd feel like a gimmick, and if they were longer a line break would be more suitable, but as they are it's just right.
There is a cupboard in this room, along with some piles of wood that appear to have once been furniture. Some blood stains the wall. A brownie lives in the cupboard, hoarding shoes. He does not want to be bothered, and rarely leaves the house for anything other than collecting more shoes. He knows about the goblins and the ogre downstairs, but doesn’t care because they don’t take his shoes. The brownie has HD ½, AC unarmored, ATK 1 knife, DMG 1d4, and can turn invisible at will.
There's a mix of combat encounters (rats attack, goblins attack, ghosts attack, etc.), diplomacy and conversations, traps, and interesting things.

General Complaints

These could all be one-page dungeons, front and back, with a bit more work on formatting. All the text is single column. With a two column layout, a smaller font size, and a bit of editing (there are still a few vestigial "Here is a room that is a room..." sentences).

As it is, most dungeons are 3 pages. Sure, a map page stapled to a front-and-back dungeon key isn't the end of the world, but it'd be nice to have these as single sheets of paper. If I wanted to print this, I'd need to spend a fair bit of time printing sections individually.

I'm not sure if any of these dungeons were playtested. I think, if you're publishing a product for money, you need to put in at least some playtesting. A "1d100 Horrible Horses" table, sure, don't bother testing it, but 20 dungeons? Honest, clear-eyed playtesting and editing helps immensely.

There's no art beyond the MSpaint maps. For one page dungeons art is tricky, but a cover page would have been nice.

And finally, the price. It's $5 USD.

That's too much. I don't think you get your money's worth, given other offerings on the market at $5 or below. There are $5 worth of ideas here - more, for sure! - and $5 or more of effort, but the final package feels flimsy. I feels, in places, like the author wasn't really taking pride in the work and trying to put out the best possible product. It feels like I paid $5 for a playtest document or a mockup, something on the road to being great but not there yet.


  1. Thank you for the honest review! The advice and criticisms you gave are very useful, and hopefully, with time and practice, I can improve. The advice on mapping and keying are especially helpful, as is the critique on layout.

  2. Now I want a 1d100 Horrible Horses table...

    1. 1. A male horse upside-down like as if doing the bridge stretch gymnastics. http://i.imgur.com/yuaknfq.jpg

    2. 2. A large zombie horse. You don't ride it, you are carried in its innards like a carriage.

    3. 3. Godiva's Horse. Refuses to carry anything but naked people.

    4. Ask and ye shall receive. http://goblinpunch.blogspot.com/2016/02/d100-horses-with-chris-mcdowell.html

  3. Fair points about the room numbering, layout, and so on. And on variety in hooks. Think the map could be a little better, but ok as is. Clearer to me than your reworked one though. I’m looking for speed and clarity. And something i can easily sketch out if my players are too brain dead to want to waste headspace on accurate mapping. So l didn’t mind the format.

    A good and useful review. And thanks for the pointer on the web tools available.