The day’s work is done and you have all gathered to form a search party in front of Nebin’s home. The orange twilight casts a soft glow upon the hand-carved walnut door set into the hillside. No light is burning from within. Nebin dug his pantry inside the walls of his home so that he would not have to walk in the
frigid snows of winter; within, you will need to go.
And why are you all gathered here? ‘Tis three days since your fine village constable Kelvran ventured in to find Nebin… and he estimated that two or even three days may have gone by before Nebin was missed. And neither has returned.
Welcome to this Dungeon Crawl Classics funnel game, authored by Mark Bishop and published by Purple Sorcerer Games, where four players jockey 16 level-0 villagers through to either death or an adventuring career!
SPOILERS! If you plan to play the adventure, read no further!
Players arrange characters in order of luck, with least lucky at top. Most of what happens, happens to the unluckiest first.
DCC has a luck-spending mechanic that guarantees the “party order” will change even if no character dies!
Here and there I will shamelessly retcon “what must have happened” since some of my players were not tuned in adequately.
Down to danger
Bold would-be leader Slim Hope the Grosser opens Nebin’s door. A flood of razor-toothed piranha lizards surge out. They are not interested in bipeds that don’t attack (Slim dances nimbly clear with a DC8 Reflex SV) but they do swarm over a chicken, cow and mule the villagers have brought. Yum! Oh well, bones can be useful too.
Inside, the party is greeted by a home obviously overrun by hundreds of starving piranha salamanders. Anything even remotely edible was devoured long ago. On the far wall leans a shovel resting near a large hole dug deeper into the hill. A new torch and 50’ of rope sit upon a small chair. A rough pathway is just visible beyond the mouth of the hole descending into darkness!
The shovel becomes a deadly (d4, but with some reach) weapon in the hands of Gong, the local gongfarmer; Bill the Mercenary lights and carries the torch; the rope is slung by another; and after some discussion of how long a torch is likely to last, burly Bill and Karl the Caravan Guard break the chair up for makeshift torches. Gong has oil, which is used along with frayed rope-end twists, and the job is done before the party van reports from the hole.
A tunnel beyond the hole descends for nearly fifty feet before it opens into a taller and wider chamber. Stalactites hang from the ceiling above while stalagmites force a meandering path around the chamber floor. One set of footprints lead to the opposite wall of the chamber where they end abruptly. The other set simply stops in the middle of the cavern where the disturbed dust hints at some sort of scuffle. A small, shiny object glints in the dirt nearby. A couple of alert characters look up…
The two characters that are (a) least lucky and (b) not carrying a torch, are allowed to roll a DC16 Reflex SV to avoid the two plummeting toad-spiders that glom onto them and ascend again into cover among the stalactites!
Heroically, they both wriggle and tear free, but Slim Hope has already been lanced by dagger-long fangs and filled with acid, and is dead before he drops down onto the unforgiving stone below. His comrade-in-peril Baldric Turnip-farmer survives.
Quickly, those with longer weapons defend the fallen, while Slim is looted. But while they are distracted, Lhoss Minstrel is glommed up and slain, his ukelele falling with a discordant twang.
The foul toad-spiders are just too high to reach effectively. Crisis! A general retreat.
A couple of the company make the trek back to the Bloody Bullfrog tavern, to buy lost property: a short bow and arrows, and 3 torches.
While they wait, the rest of the company sit on the two chests that various members have brought, or lounge about nervously, or use rope-end and oil and chair-legs to fashion more makeshift torches.
Caravan guard takes three careful and well-placed shots at the wounded toad-spider and slays it. Then the whole troupe deal with the remaining one, scoring a winning draw. They use a torch-on-a-staff-held-up-by-a-man-standing-on-two-others to dislodge the initial wrapped victim that caught their eye.
It is, as they suspected, constable Kelvran. They recover his handaxe, rusty dagger, and padded armor. And some coin.
By this time cobwebs that seemed to terminate the tunnel have been burnt away. The company reforms and sets out again, two souls lighter.
Again the tunnel winds downward, growing narrower as it descends. The walls and pathway are cold and damp, turning the dust to slime. From ahead, the flutter of a thousand wings. Suddenly, the party is engulfed in a cloud of screeching, fluttering bats! They find themselves slipping forward on the path’s steep slick surface!
Refl SV DC6 to grab something solid (like the rough tunnel wall) then failing that DC10 Luck check to grab the lip of a waiting crevasse.
Two of the company, Karl Caravan-guard and Mickey Prentice, are left hollering for help. One, keen-eared, catches a whisper from below:
And also works out that the drop is about 30′.
Wimpley Ropemaker uses his grapnel to hook in securely and leads his 100′ rope to the edge and that in turn allows those interested to climb down. A torch, brought down to the cravasse edge, shows:
- a long-dead robed figure below
- a large but slippery tree trunk bridging this edge of the the crevasse and the opposite
- far over to the left and on the other side, the outline of a doorway or door
Wimpley clambers down. The long-dead wizard has left a perished leather haversack which, raised to the light, proves to include a spell-scroll. Mickey, the wizard’s apprentice, tucks that away. The speaking stick is, sadly merely a magic-mouthed stick. But near the bones, a small tunnel, really a crawl-way, leads away out of the crevasse. A “down” party assembles and consists of Dyer Halfling, Wimpley Ropemaker, Mickey Prentice, Percy Parsnip-farmer, and Gong.
The explorers below
The Party of Five wends slowly along the twisty crawl-way, emerging by way of a grate into a tiny chamber. There is only just enough room for the five and a stone altar, on which rests a strange artifact – a stick with a great hand on the end. Wimpley immediately names it a Tickle-stick.
They can also see a block of stone on one side of the chamber, seemingly easily shifted aside to allow escape. Then Gong utters a cry of horror as an active ooze begins consuming him from the leg up! The ooze slurps on his fingers as he tries to slap it away! Mickey drives it away with fire – it flees down the manhole – but too late to save Gong.
Regretfully looting Gong’s shovel, trowel, coppers and remnant of oil, Dyer Mickey and Percy turn to see that Wimpley has removed the tickle-stick from the altar. The troll-size hand on the not-safe end of this very clumsy weapon will clench painfully in combat!
While they begin removing the stone that blocks exit, we turn to the majority party.
Karl Caravan Guard allows the others to cross the log (cautiously, crawling) then scores the surface with his dagger so he can cross without slipping. But the log gives way and tumbles into the crevasse!
He scrambles clear, but burnt Luck has resulted in a remaining Luck of 1.
The van of the main party has confirmed footprints leading left to the door, dry-rotted but sturdy. It swings open on rusty hinges revealing an open chamber of smooth marble walls and ornate tile floors covered in dust. In the center of the room, a circular column of water, six feet in diameter, rises from a well in the floor. It stands perfectly placid and still, defying gravity as it reaches all the way from floor to ceiling where it disappears into another hole above. There is a door on each of the four walls. Numerous scattered bones lie close to the door on the opposite, eastern wall.
Bill the Merc ignores the other fixtures and follows the footprints. As Chumley says, their job is to find Nebin. The others follow him. The north door leads to a closet, with a dust-covered wall-to-wall mirror. And as they head south, the bones finish animating and we enter combat!
Combat: The DM rolls a 1 for initiative, which allows all the others to attack first! Although two-headed and constructed of sturdy bone parts, the skeletal dog guardians are defeated without inflicting a wound!
The Feasting Hall – and Nebin!
The east door seems to be the path chosen by the halfling-size footprints so that’s the way the victors go. It leads to a passage, left and right. The halfling’s well-known top hat lies directly before them. To the right, the passage leads to steps down. To the left, to a flickering light!
The great feasting-hall of an ancient dwarven realm stretches before them! Flickering light shines from two large braziers burning at the northern end of a great hall. This is the largest chamber so far encountered in the underground labyrinth, its ceiling rising some 30 feet above! The light from the braziers cause shadow and light to dance across tall marble pillars lining the eastern wall. In the middle of the room dining tables are attended by the skeletal remains of long-dead miners slumped over dusty tankards and plates. Between the two burning braziers stands a peculiar throne: a tall wooden chair with the head of a great stag carved ornately into the top. The chair appears to be strapped to the large bleached hull of a skeletal tortoise. Atop the throne, a smallish figure lies crossways with legs and head resting on the arms of the chair. The figure appears to be snoring.
Meanwhile, the minority party has broken through into a small armory, armed with a few weapons, and emerged from there into the south of the Wellspring room. From there, it’s a short walk to catch up to the rear of the majority party.
Noting that if the great chandelier over the feat-tables is dropped, it will pin the skeletons, Phineas the Locksmith nips along the wall and saws at the rope. Meanwhile Nebin rises and speaks, cajoling the newcomers and bidding them share his great gift of guarding limitless wealth and being deathless!
Sadly for the DM, once Nebin rises and begins monologing, he is shot by Percy with his fresh-looted longbow, and falls (more) dead!
The great undead tortoise begins grinding forward. And before Phineas can finish, he is skewered to death by the nearest two spear-wielding dwarf skeletons.
Combat! This divides into two: a few characters trying to cut the rope (and fight off skeletons) and the remainder, cowering near the door and trying to deal with the great tortoise of destruction.
Skeletons: Bill Mercenary, Chumley Merchant and Karl Caravan Guard lay into skeletons, Carl Astrologer cuts at the rope. Bill is slain as he tries to defend Carl, who slices some rope again and flees, but (under the Withdrawal rule) Carl too is slain. Brave Dyer the Halfling races to chop at the rope: the chandelier crashes down, pinning four skeletons! The remaining two slay Wuzzle Ostler but are finished by Bill Mercenary, Karl Caravan Guard, and Baldric Farmer.
Tortoise: Mickey Prentice unleashes a “Ray of Frost” Magic Missile, but his second attempt fizzles. The juggernaut claims Wimpley’s life as he attempts to deal to it with his tickle-stick! Percy shoots it with his longbow, Trev Farmer, who has been watching Nebin for signs of unlife, lunges and hits hard with pitchfork. It crumbles!
DCC Magic involves a few combat rolls – aim to get 12+ on a d20, for a start!
Boots Ostler rushes in to avenge Wimpley! He sweeps up the tickle-stick! The Troll-size hand crushes his hand – but by good fortune he is still alive!
Much looting later (and after Dyer has laboriously donned rusted dwarf chainmail) they are ready to shuffle up a steep flight of steps to investigate this “undreamed of wealth” Nebin had ranted about! But before they depart, they are caught up by Trapper John, who has made his way down to the crevasse then along the crawl-way and up through the chapel and armory.
Stairs of sudden compaction
The steps lead past four cells. Pallid prisoners, either acolytes of a wizard named Varooth Moss, who has fallen victim to the evil Moldark Zeroth – they fear their master is dead – or wanderers of a realm behind the magic mirror. The characters test them with holy water: they pass the test! A massive prybar leaning against a wall suggests a way of breaking them free, but Phineas’ tools are in Chumley’s possession. He frees two before busting the picks.
The prybar simply sets off a massive stone deadfall, killing the prisoner. Jimmying the final lock also sets off the final deadfall.
With two rescuees, the party surges on and – propping the menacing threshold open with the prybar – in:
A cavernous room; larger even than the great hall of the dwarves, with 30’ ceilings. The rock walls are tinted putrescent purple, etched everywhere with strange symbols and hieroglyphs in bright yellow chalk. The markings reach from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Coin lying freely about the chamber glitters in the light.
A torch is affixed to each of the four walls. In the center of the room a 6’x6’ square block of ice sits inside a runic circle inscribed upon the floor. Empty torch holders flank each of the four sides of the block.
The expected sight within the ice: a figure seems to be trapped deep within, frozen in some defensive position. Closer inspection reveals it to be a man garbed in regal dress, and though his hands appear to be human, his head is grotesquely frog-like. The creature’s bulbous eyes are following the characters.
Rock Behemoth! Final Battle! Bring the Roof Down!
As the rocks coalesce into a gargantuan golem-like creature, Intelligence (Perception) checks all round: five characters spot something “going on” and the others are forced to deal with the gargantua.
The perceptive ones: Varooth is using a spell to communicate with them, manipulating a small rock to scratch phrases on the floor at their feet. Phrases include “torches to sconces” and “free me or perish.” They skirt the fight (as best they can – Reflex SV – Baldric has some tons of rock dropped on him) and soon have four torches in the empty torch holders. The ice melts slowly, freeing Varooth enough to cast a Magic Missile. Obviously his time in the ice has cramped his style, he rolls poorly twice…
Those in the fight: Personality checks are used to test whether they keep the behemoth distracted and away from the ice. Plucky Dyer Halfling is squashed, as is Karl Caravan Guard and Bill Mercenary. But they have nickel-and-dimed the behemoth down to the point where twinned electrical plasma Magic Missiles from Varooth end its existence!
The fight has brought down tons of rock from the roof, and beyond the survivors see twinkling stars. They are free! And just as importantly, there’s a grateful wizard to speak to and loot to be gathered…
Aftermath and hook to the next adventure
Among the 300 gold coins, ruby-set dwarf shield, silver holy-headed mace, poison-inducting mithril dagger, emerald-filled gold tankard and silver mirror the deed to a building in the next big town north is also found. And it so happens that that next big town north, named Neverthawe, is really the only place to properly gear up and sell loot off…
As mentioned, not every player was equally ready to poke, pry and experiment, or even look carefully at their gear. But a fun time was had by all. I used pregens from Purple Sorcerer Games, restricting non-humans to possible halfling (7 on a d8) or dwarf (8 on a d8). I don’t think the lack of dwarfs affected the kill-count. I do note however that pregen equipment does not automatically “equip” meaning that armor had to be manually added on once we noticed it was not equipped.
As for the adventure I think it’s a perfect combination of stuff to equip with, areas to investigate, and shit to mess with (and that kills your character). Highly recommended!