Dungeon Crawl Classics has something called “the funnel”, an adventure approach that takes a large number of very low-level characters and tests their mettle. It isn’t exactly new as a concept.
My first experience of a “funnel”-style adventure came when my DM ran us through the Treasure Hunt module for 1st edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (written by the hugely talented Aaron Allston, who beat me to the top of the contributor credits of PARANOIA Troubleshooters, and alas passed away just under two years ago). Therein, you took control of a class-free 0-level character and by the end of the module, having recorded your actions and reactions, earned one of the iconic character classes as your future path.
DCC plays it different to this approach in that players have several talent-lite characters with simple occupations and possessions of questionable value, ill-suited to facing off against malign forces of the unknown. However, knowing that few – if any – characters will make it to the end of the game is no big deal because the characters take very little effort to create – or generate more when you run out.
Symbaroum‘s mechanics make the prospect of funnel-style play equally viable. Until you choose an Ability, per the core book character creation process, you have a simple 0-level character equivalent. A character without Abilities is equal to a Weak adversary. If you keep the Challenge and Resistance low, you can have interesting adventures with these underpowered characters and see them find their path along the way. Remember, two 0 Experience characters equal a 50 Experience character when coming up with some suitable opposition.
In practical terms, you could run two or three adventures like this and have them spaced a year or so apart, awarding sufficient experience to acquire one or two Abilities between each. After the final installment, you will have a character that had grown naturally to the state normally achieved through standard character generation – but with a better grasp of your goals and purpose.
Zero Experience Characters
A player can create one by completing step 2, 6, 7 and 10 on the Creating a Character guide (page 80 – 81 in the Symbaroum Core Book).
First, determine the character’s Attributes using your preferred method – whether Typical Distribution, Point Buy (page 75) or Roll for Attribute Values (page 181). All characters and adversaries have the same basic allocation of points, so your potential remains the same throughout your career. Only in achieving exceptional talents or suffering grievous injury will you wander wide of the norm.
Second, roll randomly for personal possessions on the tables at the end of this article; roll three times, once on the Special Clothes table and twice on the Keepsakes, and assume you also possess a kitchen knife, paring tool or similar semi-improvised weapon (1D4+1, short).
In addition, all characters have 1D6+1 ortegs to call their own, travel clothes, an oilskin of food (dried, salted or otherwise preserved provisions sufficient for two days), and a flask of small beer.
Third, choose or roll for a Life Goal from the selection offered below – and perhaps a basic personality trait or unique tic. The combination of these should be a simple and straightforward guide to why the character would go on the adventure at all – so, don’t something that would complicate this too much. A Personality that makes the character shy, retiring, dismissive, or otherwise disinterested serves only to slow down what should be a fun game!
Finally, draw a quick portrait. Nothing too special or spectacular. If you take more than a half-a-minute to draw a picture, you’ve taken too long. With the wrong encounter, the character might be gone in a moment.
Special Clothes (each character has a distinctive item of clothing) [roll 1D6, twice]:
1: Cloak (1-2: weather-proof; 3-4: dark colored; 5-6: long)
2: Boots (1-2: sturdy; 3-4: steel-capped; 5-6: soft-soled)
3: Hat (1-2: broad-brimmed; 3-4: with a feather; 5-6: leather)
4: Scarf (1-2: knitted; 3-4: colorful; 5-6: long)
5: Gloves (1-2: thick wool; 3-4: manacles; 5-6: leather)
6: Ornament (1-2: spyglass; 3-4: bottle of spirits; 5-6: sack)
Keepsakes (each character has a couple of items of importance to them – or they might just be the only things to hand when the alarm sounded and someone called for volunteers) [roll 1D6, twice]:
1: (1: pin, 2: necklace, 3: crowbar (1D4+1, short), 4: fish hook, 5: key, 6: trowel)
2: (1: box of chalk, 2: magnet, 3: stick of charcoal, 4: mirror, 5: flask of oil, 6: metal bowl)
3: (1: butchery knife (1D6, short), 2: wood ax (1D6), 3: chain (1D4+1, long), 10′, 4: saw (1D4+1, short), 5: grapnel, 6: net)
4: (1: honeyed snack, 2: jar of sweet biscuits, 3: dice, 4: marbles, 5: bell, 6: flute)
5: (1: bone comb, 2: leather pouch, 3: mask, 4: bandages, 5: cooking pan (1D3, balanced, blunt), 6: lockpick)
6: (1: small dog, 2: whetstone, 3: lute, 4: weasel, 5: mule, 6: bag of flour)
Life Goal (why would you put yourself in harm’s way) [roll 1D4, twice]:
1: (1: Fame, 2: Greed, 3: Curiosity, 4: Power)
2: (1: Might, 2: Freedom, 3: Order, 4: Loyalty)
3: (1: Faith, 2: Salvation, 3: Kindness, 4: Help the Helpless)
4: (1: Family, 2: Promise, 3: Duty, 4: Revenge)
The Player’s Handbook contains rules on the subject of starting with free experience, as a means to generate more flexible characters. The Funnel process outlined here leads into that same approach – of a character with nothing become more refined with the careful selection of Abilities and Traits. The Handbook also introduces the idea of advantages and disadvantages – but we won’t go into that here…