GM's Toolbox: Lost In The Warrens

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Mazes are sometimes just the thing a story needs, but they aren’t usually much fun in RPGs. A lot of the “we don’t know which way to go” feeling is lost when the players around the table see the map in a top-down way. Here’s an easy way to include a maze-like experience in your games.

First, decide on an entrance, an exit, and an optional area, like a room with some treasure or a helpful clue—something that isn’t necessary for the heroes to find but that could aid them. You should also choose a minor hindrance the heroes might stumble into, which should impose a condition like being clumsy, enfeebled, or stupefied.

Let’s apply this to a maze of kobold warrens, clawed out of the earth, braced with rickety wooden posts, and barely large enough for humans to navigate. The kobolds have stolen some trinkets from town, and our heroes need to get them back. In our kobold warrens, let’s use the following:

Entrance: The warren entry is guarded by three kobold warriors (Pathfinder Bestiary 212). That’s an encounter of Low difficulty for 1st-level heroes.

Exit: The warren’s center is where a kobold dragon mage (Pathfinder Bestiary 213) and another kobold warrior have stashed the stolen trinkets. This encounter is of Moderate difficulty for 1st-level heroes.

Optional: The kobolds have a trap-making room with a lesser bottled lightning, a lesser tanglefoot bag, and a pile with everything needed to create two spike snares.

Hindrance: The warrens are full of traps like caltrops that lodge into boots (or feet!), entwining ropes, or similar inconveniences that make intruders clumsy until they have the time and space to get themselves free of the spikes, hooks, and knots.

A torchlit underground tunnel branches into three directions.

Which passage would you take? Illustration by Jessé Suursoo.

In the Warrens

The passages are so narrow that one hero must lead the others. The hero in the lead must attempt DC 15 Survival checks, each taking 10 minutes (this DC should be one appropriate for the party’s level; for 1st-level heroes, DC 15 works just fine). Other heroes can Aid this leader’s Survival check (Pathfinder Core Rulebook 470). Once they accumulate four successes, they’ve reached the warren’s center. The heroes can return to the surface at any time by retracing their steps, but this reduces the successes they’ve earned to zero and, if they return, they must start again.

Critical Success The party makes good progress in the maze, earning two successes. On their first critical success, they also spot the side passage leading to the trap-making room and can collect the treasures there.

Success The party earns one success towards solving the maze.

Failure The party stumbles into a kobold trap! Each hero must succeed at a DC 15 Reflex saving throw or become clumsy 1 until they are out of the warrens and take an hour to untangle themselves from the detritus. Failed saves from multiple kobold traps increases this condition, to a maximum of clumsy 3.

Critical Failure As failure, and the heroes inadvertently return to the warren entrance, losing any progress they’ve made.

How will the heroes of Otari fare in the kobold warrens they find themselves in in this week’s chapter of The Shroud of Four Silences? Find out by signing up for a weekly chapter on the marketing mailing list. New sign-ups will only get this story for a limited time, so start catching up today (we’ll offer The Shroud of Four Silences for purchase at a later date for those who miss it via email). Whether you’re adventuring in Otari using the Pathfinder Beginner Box, the Troubles in Otari adventure, or the forthcoming Abomination Vaults Adventure Path, or setting into a menacing maze in a campaign of your own, use these rules and share how they worked with you in the comments.

Ron Lundeen

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Tags: Otari Pathfinder Pathfinder Playtest Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Pathfinder Second Edition
Grand Archive

Pathfinder Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Huzzah! Nice!

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Charter Superscriber

Really digging these GM Toolboxes!

Cool and simple abstraction for handling mazes

Silver Crusade

Oh cool

Huh. And in theory, that way you can even make up a map as you go. Just add passages and rooms where appropriate.

Liberty's Edge

Question: Shouldn't the DC of the Survival check be calculated more on the basis of the opposition than the party? I mean, it's easy enough to say "a bunch of level -1 creatures led by a level 2 creature average out to level 1," but shouldn't that still be the starting point?

This is really good.

Sovereign Court

This is being put into immediate use in my home campaign. What a wonderful building block for adventure.

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