Recommend me a FUNNEL

In a few weeks, I’m going to start running games for my Sunday peeps again. I haven’t settled on a system yet, but I’m sure I want to start with the players controlling multiple 0-level villagers. I’ve never played/ran funnel before though, and I want to make sure it goes over well. I know DCC has put out a bunch of them, but I’d love to hear your recommendations for a funnel as well as your experiences with them.

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I’ve had pretty good luck turning just about any adventure into a Funnel with the strategic addition of a few of the more powerful monsters that low level parties can’t defeat easily:

  1. Carrion Crawlers: 8 Attacks, Save vs Paralysis
  2. Ghouls: Claw/Claw/Bite…Paralysis
  3. A few Trolls: Regeneration, high HD, weak only to fire/acid
  4. A Gargoyle: Requires Magic Weapons to Hit

These monsters are surprisingly decent at thinning a large party down, and telegraphing just how dangerous this style of play can be to the unwary./uninitiated. It’s always a good idea to explain to your players ahead of time that Running Away is a valid, and sometimes necessary strategy, and encounters like the above can really hammer that home :).

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I haven’t done this yet and therefore I realize it’s not helpful to you, and it’s also a more niche case, but I’ve been sitting on this idea for a while of a “superhero funnel”. It’s inspired My Hero Academia, and how they have all those tournaments and competitions and personal challenges, and if you screw up even a little bit you can get expelled. So the funnel is like an MHA mini-campaign in itself that sets up the rest of the “real” campaign. If you like character lethality, you can have more heroes pass through the funnel than there are players, so that if some heroes do get killed or permanently incapacitated by villains or other circumstances, there are still other heroes on the team for the players to pick up.

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This is how not to run a funnel.

I am playtesting my non-D&D home system with my family using a re-statted Barrowmaze. I had my kids make multiple characters with the idea that surely some of them would die off in my high-risk rule system. They’d end up with one character each or have to make a single new one if they all died. Sounds good, right?

Well, they subverted my expectations. They have played smart for three substantial sessions, taking precautions and moving carefully to encounter each threat. All their characters have survived, despite my not pulling punches. There were even a few Test Your Luck or Die situations, and they made it through by virtue of the dice in full view.

Now both my kids have multiple characters that have formed friendly relationships. My daughter has decided her two characters (a charlatan and a seer) are BFFs. My son’s alchemist is staying behind in a private inn room to brew potions, funded by their dungeon loot, while his knight and mountaineer go forth with the others every few in-game days on a new expedition. My wife’s mage thief has recovered from a spear thrust to the midsection. All have survived.

They didn’t die and they all like their characters a lot now. The main problem is that having multiple characters per player reduces player role-playing opportunities, because they are not embodying just one role at once. This is not what I planned, but I am going with the flow to see what happens.

This experience leads me to think that the open-ended adventure (sandbox) format is not very conducive to a funnel. If I wanted to make this a real, effective funnel, they’d have to pass through an area of severe danger that cannot be mitigated. Basically, I think you need a railroad of death, or, like what ktrey says, jack up monster powers or traps to take the surplus characters away.

One way to work it may be to put them in a horrific situation where there are only so many cures for the poisonous gas available, and they have to choose who will live. But that’s painful and not really what the funnel is supposed to do.

I can’t say I have figured it out, but I’ll be interested to hear how it goes for you, if you can make it work.

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You say all of this like it’s a bad thing but it sounds like they’re having a lot of fun…

I’ve never ran a funnel but I’ve played in a few DCC ones and one LotFP. I recently purchased Creep, Skrag, Creep! which is a level 0 funnel from DCC but designed for their horror themed games. So if you don’t use DCC I think you should still use their character creation element of their occupation tables. Tell you what weapons your lvl 0 normies might use as well as their items.

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We are all having a lot of fun! But funnel we are not having. I wouldn’t have let them take multiple characters if I didn’t expect some to die!

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Really haven’t experienced a funnel yet, but I started to develop a funnel Adventure for a western system how is developing last fall.

The basic idea was that player’s would create a batch of 3 or four level zero characters and basically be sent through a Civil War battlefield where they would have to take a hill or fortifications with the surviving characters under their control being the characters they could select from.

Not really a proper recommendation on a funnel, but just a memory of a thought that I had.

The best advice I can give is to give your players and their characters absolute hell and go after them since they’ll have access to a small pool of characters for the funnel Adventure but have it so that they’re left with one or two characters to choose from by the end of the adventure.

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AD&D N4 Treasure Hunt is my favorite funnel - but I’m not quite sure it’s aged very well. Might be worth a read through to see if it’s somethin’ appealing to your table.

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Hah, this sounds awesome.

Yeah, I completely agree. I think the funnel needs to be a railroad for sure (kind of like a tutorial to OSR style games, and it establishes the tone) and then the surviving players can go off into the sandbox the next session.

I’ve heard a lot of good things about DCC funnels but I’m hesitating because some of them are a bit too weird. Like in Sailors, a bunch of peasants are expected to take down a chaos god if I recall correctly. I’d prefer a more mundane funnel I guess, and then turn up the weirdness once they’ve become adventurers for real.

Funnels are just background generator sessions. There are lots of ways to do “session 0.”

Viewed in this way, the funnel definitely veers towards Story Game concepts, as OSR materials often do. I suppose the same could be done through elaborate background-generating tables, like Jaquays’ old Central Casting books. OSR gamers specialize in random tables. You can skip the funnel and just have a crazy thicket of random tables for background generating. The original Traveller (1977) role-playing game had tables like that. I never used it, but I heard that your character could die during character creation. Same idea, really, just a lot less role-playing involved!

The funnel has the advantage of tying the survivors together by the trauma they shared together, creating a team. But the point seems to be lethal trauma based on Darwinian dice.

It’s easy to imagine less traumatic versions of funnels. These can be “easy” level-0 adventures or games based on child adventurers like Hero Kids. Perhaps the original concept of a level-1 D&D adventurer is not so unlike the level-0 DCC concept.

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Having run DCC funnels in the past, I’ve noticed that the players can hit level one during the funnel, and while I have allowed them to level during the funnel, the adventures do tend to be dangerous enough to whittle down a first level party.

ASE has a prequel adventure of sorts that does work out pretty well as a funnel. There was even an ASE funnel generator for systems like LL or B/X floating around back in the day.

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I happen to really like “May Flowers” by Daniel J Bishop - and it’s in the 2015 Gongfarmer’s Almanac for DCC (free on DTRPGs).

The gold standard for funnels is “Sailors on the Starless Sea”.

Check out Daniel’s Megalist of available DCC funnels - all readily adaptable to other OSR B/X style games