Nearly eight years ago, I wrote a post about Minimal Dungeon born of an observation that various example we have of keyed dungeons from back in the day were very terse with little notes. As you can see from Judges Guild Tegal Manor and the well known photo of Gary Gygax with his Greyhawk binder attached to this post.
Rob's Note: You can download the dungeon referred in my original post from here the Elf Lord's Temple.
Now both +Peter V. Dell'Orto on Dungeon Fantastic and Delta on Delta's DnD Hotspot wrote about their observations. Both have the opinion that the format is useful for a referee's own notes but not acceptable for print publication. I disagree in part.
First off I concur that what we see in the attached photo is too terse. Even the published Tegel Manor suffers from terse although there the uses of map notes, and room titles makes it more usable. My opinion the root of the problem is the long shadow of adventures formatted tournament style. An adventure with a keyed map, with each keyed location fully describe with a introduction that provides an overall explanation and general notes.
The problem with the tournament format that it doesn't scale. There a limit to the size of a locale that can be effectively described in this format. Beyond with people get lost in the detail or the project itself is unfeasible for publication. Nor does the tournament format work well when the focus of the adventure is on the interactions between different NPCs rather than on the exploration of a locale.
So what is the ideal format? I would contend there is no ideal format. The focus should be on teaching you the reader on how I, as the author, ran the adventure. Whatever does the trick for that particular adventure is the right choice.
It starts with you imagining sitting down with another referee and explaining how to run the adventure. Then taking what you imagined (and perhaps practiced on a friend) and writing that up so the rest of us can learn how to run that adventure.
For example +Zak Sabbath excels at using his talent as artist and writer to explain his adventures and supplements through a unique combination of written and visual elements.
What about minimal dungeons specifically. Let's look at Tegel Manor by Judges Guild. It compactly details a fundhouse dungeon in the form of a sprawling manorhouse with a small four level dungeon beneath. It does this through a combination of terse text, some random tables, room titles, and above all the map itself.
To be clear I am not holding Tegel Manor as a great example. Having run it twice now, it just on this side of plausibility. Along with I get little sense of how Bob Bledsaw Senior ran it outside of the obvious "it is a funhouse.". However I think it only a little more to turn it into a a great example of a minimalist dungeon. About double the page count should do it and most of that would be in the beginning where one explains how the place works overall, and give some specific on areas of the dungeon. Then add a sentence or two to flesh out the different room and leave it at that.
I think the advantage of the minimalist approach that is plays into the default mode of referee which is largely a matter of improvisation as the players attempt various things as their character. The only time that a complete description of C14 Butler's Room is needed is for product oriented towards novice referee. Otherwise it just take too long during actual play to read that much text. And beyond a certain point it is too much to retain even if you read it all beforehand.
But it tricky. It is a fine line between too much and too little. Which is why if you are terse it is best to use a combination of technique written, visual art, and maps to teach somebody how to run that adventure.