Our Pathfinder GM was on a real world mission of personal goal fulfillment, so that left the rest of the crew to fend for themselves this Thursday night. It took us a while to figure out who was and wasn't going to show up, given that the night was going to be a one shot of . . . something, but once we hashed that out, I was originally just going to bring my Sentinels of the Multiverse box to the FLGS and we were going to go to town on some villains.
However, work was insanely slow, and I was playing around with Evernote, and figured out that I could do all of my concept work of a game when everything was slow (clearly only during authorized breaks), and only need what minimal effort it took to get game stats together and run. Run what? Why, Dungeon Crawl Classics of course.
It seemed to make sense. I had no real desire to run Pathfinder, but DCC is a level based kitchen sink fantasy game, so it's in keeping with the "theme" of the night. I threw together some notes, and looked up some stats, and in pretty much no time I had a workable 0 level funnel adventure to run for the group.
First off, just let me say that if you are interested in Dungeon Crawl Classics, you should check out Purple Sorcerer Games site and their DCC tools. I made up a stack of 0 level characters in no time for the one shot festivities.
I wanted a more old school, "Appendix N" set up for this adventure, so I tried to channel my inner Leiber and Howard in coming up with the backstory.
Bladesport is an ancient port city that "everybody" knows is blessed by the God of War. Bladesport has a famous arena, and is the place to go to hire mercenaries, and it's navy is well known for pirate hunting, making the city even more attractive as a place to engage in trade.
Bladesport hides a secret. It's founder was the half mortal son of the God of War, and his own son was a wretch of a human being. Cursed by the other gods for crimes against nature, he was turned into a minotaur and sentenced to only die by horrible violence as befitted his cruel spirit. No one in Bladesport is aware that the minotaur is still under the city, in a grand labyrinth created to hold him, and that the God of War blesses the city because once per year, the town fathers gather a tribute and set it lose in the maze for his sport.
One of the priests of the God of War throws the bones, determines how many participants the games will have every year, and people from all over the nearby environs are ambushed and thrown into the maze. Those that die will "serve the minotaur" from that point on.
Anyone that can find their way out will be allowed to live, provided they never speak of the minotaur or the tribute games to anyone.
The dungeon was composed of three separate mazes, a center, inner, and outer section. There was one transition room between each section that had it's own unique trap or circumstance. To navigate each section took an hour, and some kind of a justification to make a check to guess the layout of the maze. Each time the PCs failed, they had an encounter or ran into another trap. If the succeeded, they made it to the transition room to the next section of the maze.
Rats and Coppers
The first room the group came to had a neatly stacked pile of 2000 copper pieces with a sign next to it that said "Please Take Two." On one wall was a set of ancient writing that predated modern languages, and on the other wall was a section of arcane text, like one might find in a spellbook or on a scroll.
My PCs (since we had a couple of wizard's apprentices in the group) figured out the writing on both sides. The one side explained that anyone that died in the maze needed a copper piece placed over each eye to pay the ferryman to take his soul, or he would rise to "serve the minotaur" as a zombie.
The arcane writing detailed a spell that ensorcelled any rats that came into the room to go out into the city at large and collect and stack copper pieces. One of the players wondered what would happen if they took more than 2 copper pieces, and then grabbed a handful, thus causing the rats to pour out of their holes in the walls and form an angry swarm.
In what would become a trend for most of the night, the idiot wizard's apprentice that tended to stick Fate in the eye with a stick seemed to be immune to damage as the rats continuously missed him, but hit other characters. Eventually the party fled and slammed the doors behind them, and the rats didn't pursue into the next room.
As a side note, had we been using a strictly drawn encounter map, I doubt the party would have attempted escape. It's very easy to see that the swarm "could" chase you here or there, or that you might be two squares away from getting through the doors, or what have you, but here, in the abstract, opening doors, running through them, and slamming them shut when everybody is through makes perfect sense.
The group managed to not get lost very often, which was kind of a surprise, but they did end up running afoul of a giant centipede, which they scooped up in an empty treasure chest that one of the 0 level guys had as a trade good. More on that later, but I will say this . . . again, figuring out if they could scoop the thing up was pretty quick and painless when you know there aren't any arcane rules governing it that are hiding from you somewhere in the rulebook.
In another room, the PCs found some skeletons of the previous people in the maze, slammed the door shut, and the skeletons battered the door down. Again, we resolved this one pretty quickly, and the fight ensued. Oh, and some PCs died. That started happening. The really dumb wizard's apprentice continued to avoid death, however, and one of the players really liked his Bee Keeper with an 18 personality, so his other three characters charitably decided to act as human shields for him for most of the adventure.
The group ran into a giant viper that was way out of their league, because I wanted to emphasize that they could, indeed, run into stuff way out of their league. The whole party managed to escape the snake and slam the doors shut behind them, except for a couple more casualties, and the dumb wizard's apprentice, who, continuing his charmed streak, ran into the maze, lost the snake, and made it back to the doors, and begged to be let back in.
It's A Trap
I had a transition room set up that had two pools, filled with odd liquids, and a dragon's head above the hallway. One liquid was highly flammable, and if the dragon's head trap was triggered, it would double the damage from the fire. The other liquid made thing smeared with it immune to fire for 1 hour.
What was really neat about this was that the players actually used logic to figure out what the two pools did, and to set off the oily death enhancing pool before the dragon head trap was triggered. It felt positively Gygaxian, except that the solution wasn't something obscure three levels above the party that they all forgot so they all died automatically without any other recourse. But other than that.
Door Number One, or Door Number Two
The players found two cryptic notes above some doors, and actually figured out what each one meant. One door led to the minotaur, and the other one led up a dangerous, narrow passage that had to be climbed, and was filled with painful spikes.
After a few of the PCs took damage and dropped from the spikes, a couple of them decided that maybe they could bribe the minotaur. Now, I'm running a generally old school game, but I don't mind social checks, so I explained the the minotaur would require a DC 15 check to convince him to take their tribute (after all, he could just let them die and take it off their corpse).
Much luck was burned. The minotaur was given a gift of the treasure chest (with a centipede in it, that he never got around to opening), a "magic cloth," which was just linen, and an ounce of mithril. But man, did they spend a lot of luck on those rolls.
In the mean time, I had ruled that after three failures to get a grappling hook to latch, zombies from the maze would wander into the climbing room, and another fight ensued. After that time, one of the players prudently pointed out that closing the door to the chamber might have been a good idea.
We had four players, each with four 0 level characters. They all got enough XP to make it to 1st level, and each of them had at least one survive, and I think two of them had two survive. Unfortunately, Fate was fickle for the stupid wizard's apprentice and the bee keeper, and they both perished. And nobody remembered to put coppers on their eyes (or cared enough to stop and do it).
The survivors were given 10 gold pieces and booked on a ship to another city in order to help them to not spread any word of Bladesport's secret.
We had two of our regulars that weren't interested in playing a one shot, and one that wasn't really interested in giving it a whirl once he looked at the characters involved, but we picked up a spare that isn't usually in the group. Of the people that played, everyone seemed to have enjoyed it and had a good time. There was some speculation on how they would have used luck and approached survival and cooperation if they had been going into an extended campaign with the characters.
I did notice that I wrapped up the whole thing about an hour or so earlier than our Pathfinder games usually wrap up, because I'm not used to "old school" pacing. Marvel encounters are are much more description heavy, due to justifying the die pools and the like, and even Savage Worlds encounters, which are more quickly resolved than a lot of Pathfinder actions, take more time due to the initiative on each round factor.
This game just zipped by. We all seemed to have a blast playing the game, and we hardly even got to see that many criticals or fumbles, let alone any crazy spell rolls.