Making a One Page Dungeon

With a lot of vim and vigor I entered the 2022 OPD Contest. If you don’t know, the OPD Contest is an annual event that gathers dungeons that fit on a single page or piece or paper. They can be simple, complex, incredibly artsy, or just a cerebral jaunt. The OPD moderators judge the entries and have a stash of prizes they dole out for the winners.

I took on the task not to win the grand prize but to make myself learn how to use actual publishing software because I have Dungeon Publishing Aspirations. The last time I tried this I used some old version of a word processor, and as low as my expectations were the software didn’t help me any. This year I tried a different approach with Affinity Publisher, which is a capable publishing system. I wanted to set myself up for being able to publish modules, zines, or even small books that showed some form of design or quality.

The road to a promise

I’ll start by showing the finished product and then list out where I had issues, and where I just went about things the wrong way. Hopefully it might save someone some time in their own design work.

A Promise Made is a short story about a friend in need that turns into a trip down a stairway to the underworld. With this being a OPD entry we have to fit everything onto a single page. This includes a catchy title, introduction, a keyed map, map descriptions, some tables, and finally all those identifying references in the footnotes. So what could go wrong?

Draw – You really need to draw a rough version of your map at first. This will be the version that you will use as a reference for your all of your text. I would use a pencil and a piece of paper or a simple sketching program on a tablet. You aren’t going for artistic value at this point but for a basic reference. You will eventually use this rough version to draw a much more detailed and interesting version later on.

So, the map doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does need to have the main areas, locations, traps, and treasures. All of these items need to be labeled. These labels, numbers or letters, tie the items on your map to the text you will be writing. They are often called keys to the map. On this version of the map the keys are probably temporary because you may end up rearranging the order or even adding other items on the map once you begin writing out your text.

Rough Sketch

Write – Then write some more. It can be surprising to find out how much text you will actually need to fill in the space on a page.

You will want to enter this as plain and simple text. Don’t worry about formatting, fonts, or color. Your main job at this point is to create the narrative, and build the adventure. Worry about looks later.

You may need one or more of these sections.

  • Introduction with plot hooks
  • Notes just for the Dungeon Master
  • Descriptions for each keyed item
  • Descriptions of major players
  • A Wandering Monster/Encounter/Event table
  • Monster/Encounter/Event descriptions
  • A wrap up, or possible next steps

Sketch a Layout – Decide how you want to lay out your adventure. Sketching out how you would like for your page to look and making important decisions up front will save you a lot of time editing or in my case starting over, from scratch.

  • Orientation – landscape or portrait, is your idea tall or wide?
  • The size of the map on the page
  • Where the map will fit on the page – left, right, center?
  • Is the map the whole page and the text fits within the map?
  • The flow of the text – single column, multiple columns, wrap around the map or other images, all text at the top, bottom or middle

Build a layout – Unlike a two-column book or manual, the format of a OPD is really all up to you. You may find that you will need to just create blocks of text in your publishing tool and arrange them to match your layout. Most publishing software will also generate filler text so you can get an idea of how your layout will work with text.

As you are blocking your layout you will also want to look for appropriate fonts. There are many resources for free fonts or you can just choose from what is available. I would begin with a near normal size of a 10pt font to begin with. This will give you an idea of how the text will fit on the page. It would not be unusual to use an 8pt font if you need more room.

Partial Layout

At this point be sure and save a copy of your layout now and even save further copies as you make significant changes to the element layout. I went back and forth on several layouts for a while and you may need revert back to a layout that was better.

Draw the final map – You can take several approaches for your map. I drew my map roughly out on paper, scanned it, then edited it with an image editor. You could construct your map just using digital tools or use a combination of tools like I did. Whichever approach you take keep in mind that you might need to crop or scale your map once you place it on the actual page.

Make sure the ratio of the space for your map on your layout is roughly the same ratio as the finished map. So if you crop your map to a ratio of 4:3, which means 4 units high and 3 units wide, the space for your map on your layout needs to be the same ratio of 4:3. This way you can scale your image to fit the space without cropping or mis-sizing your map.

Use the same ratios

I did not add the keys to the map. I decided to do this in the layout software because I was still deciding where to place the labels. Adjusting the map image itself would have been a lot more time consuming.

Add your text – Now is the time to paste your text into the layout. This is where you can spend a lot of time fiddling with the fonts. Try to limit the number of fonts to just a couple, one for the major headings, and another for the body text. You can use emphasis (bold) for sub-headings or for other text that should stand out. Now is the time you can create separate sections, and move things around for the perfect fit.

It is also the time where you really need to read the instruction manual for your layout software. Spend the time with any tutorials, and learn how to manipulate the text the way the software wants because it will save you a lot of time and frustration.

Key the map – Now you can add all those location or description labels on your map being sure to double check that the labels match the text. After proofreading several times, I ended up consolidated a couple of areas and splitting up others. This caused all the numbering to be changed on my map, and in the text.

Print, PDF, and edit – Now would be a good time to print a copy, export to a PDF or other formats just to make sure you don’t have any formatting problems.

  • Does it fit well on a printed page?
  • Is it inside the margins of the paper, did anything get cropped out?
  • Did the fonts print correctly?
  • Is the font size the right size?
  • Do you have enough space between all the sections?
  • Is your map legible?
  • Hand a copy to someone else and have them check your spelling, grammar, and that your map matches your descriptions – plus get their opinion for any changes

At this point you can decide to make any edits. I added a ragged paper outline to the map drawing because it needed some character. I did the same with the title. I also added some line separators just to break up the page. Each time I made a set of changes I went through the whole process of re-printing and re-exporting dungeon.

Final – Once you have made all the changes you felt like you needed to make walk away from it for a while. Then come back to the project to see if it still looks ok. If it is the best thing every, then you can print your final copy, and export your final export. After you have made a backup copy of all the project files then you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

Wrapping It Up

I hope this give you an idea of how to approach what seemed like a simple project but is actually a great exercise in learning how to deliver much larger publishing projects.

I would also like to thank the people over at OPD and their sponsors. It takes a lot of work to organize, judge, and produce this every year. Go check out the 2022 Compendium if you want to see what others contributed.






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