This is a play test of a campaign written for The Black Hack by Simon Forster. The Black Hack is a set of OSR rules by David Black. I have used The Black Hack to run my own fantasy campaign, The Chronicles Of The Latter Days Of Yarth and my group is familiar with the rules.
Because this is a play test document I will be including my thoughts on the adventure design as well as a narrative of play, this will necessarily involve SPOILERS. Please bear this in mind if you hope to play this adventure yourself.
Session 5: The Bramble Maze
At the end of the tunnel the party found themselves in another peculiar place. Thick walls of brambles that rising high into the air formed pathways lit my moonlight.
Strange gusting winds carried the smell of rotting meat and lent the rustling plants a sinister air.
Remuz and Gus moved cautiously forward to scout the first intersection. Peering around and holding their lanterns high they saw pathways branching off in all directions that, in turn, divided again. They realised they were in a hedge maze.
And right then, as I knew it would be, was when the level was broken.
As I read through the notes for this level I estimated my players would finish the whole thing in 15 minutes. They actually took 20, so I wasn't far off.
Our heroes discussed their choices: Follow the left wall or the right wall, either one would get them to the exit or the centre, which ever one this maze had.
They chose to go left.
As the map is drawn, going left gets the you to the exit and by-passes every other location. Going right gets you to the exit and takes you to a healing pool along the way.
Both paths get you to the exit before you can encounter the other two locations on the map, a helpful robin and a refuse pile.
The party moved cautiously through the maze. They sampled some of the blackberries growing amid the brambles and were surprised to find them tasty and refreshing.
Before long they heard sounds of someone, or something, approaching. With nowhere to hide our heroes readied themselves for a fight.
Two groups of strange creatures came into view. They carried gardening equipment and were tending to the hedges and tidying the ground. They ignored the party which carefully made its way past them.
This was the first random encounter. I added a second group of gardeners in case my players wanted to fight. They didn't which is what I expected and the gardeners don't communicate so we moved on.
Shortly after our heroes were surprised by the appearance of an angry Minotaur.
They weren't actually surprised that it was a Minotaur, but everyone failed their rolls so the Minotaur started with the initiative.
The angry beast charged into the party. Ragnar met its charge and had his last shield destroyed by a mighty axe blow but avoided the murderous horns that tried to eviscerate him.
Gus hid amongst the brambles awaiting a chance to strike and Remuz unleashed a torrent of magic bolts that did little damage.
As Ragnar fought back Gus struck the monster from behind causing it to bellow in pain and fury.
The Minotaur turned to concentrate its attacks on Gus letting Ragnar and Remuz attack its unprotected back.
The Minotaur died quickly before it could harm anyone in the party.
Down it went. The Minotaur needed to be at least 10HD rather than 6. I gave it extra HP but, even with Ragnar only hitting 50% of the time with his pitiful 12 STR, it was doomed. Remuz's magic missiles don't run out with his high INT and Zaboka can out heal most damage.
If Gus gets in a backstab (which negates the 'tough opponent' rule) as he did here it's game over very quickly.
The Minotaur had a large key around its neck which the party took.
Continuing on our heroes reached the exit to the maze which was a bronze door. Opening it with the key they passed through to whatever awaited them next.
So, that was that. Everyone went up a level and rolled their stat improvements. Not very satisfying really.
One of the random encounters was a concealed pit trap but I wasn't going to use that even if I'd rolled it. The playability of a trap is how to avoid it, not how to deal with any damage it inflicts. Springing a random pit on the players is a meaningless exercise.
"You fall in the pit and take 1D6 damage."
"The cleric heals me and I climb out."
This just makes the characters walk more slowly from then on as they prod the ground. This has no impact on the actual pace of the game, nobody needs to make any rolls, nothing is achieved. So, no random traps in my games. Traps need to serve a purpose.
Having a maze might seem like a good idea and, as with all the settings in Oubliette, it's a wonderfully atmospheric maze conjoured into being with a terse, evocative description.
However it's empty. There's nothing here.
The maze itself is not a puzzle. In real life a maze is just an exercise in tedium to actually walk through. It isn't tedious during the game because it takes no time to describe but there's no puzzle, no mystery, no challenge.
I suppose you might not know how to navigate a maze (is there seriously a role-player who doesn't?) or you might want to map it and explore every nook and cranny. That will take time, actual play time, but will be unrewarding as there's nothing to find.
To have a maze that's worth playing it needs to be a puzzle. It needs to move or change somehow to confound the payers.
The gardeners are a perfect way to do this, they can plant new hedges to block paths and open new areas by pruning back brambles. But, again, this needs to be in a pattern that the players can discover, understand and then predict if it's not to be frustrating and pointless.
Couple this with other people lost in the maze who need help and you have an actual adventure.
A married couple separated, lost children, hidden items that need to be found and combined to leave. Indeed, anyone or anything that needs to be brought together with someone or something elsewhere in the maze makes for a story the players can be involved in and something for the characters to achieve. a proper reason to be there.
As written this level is sadly lacking but there's so much potential waiting to be unlocked.