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Spiking the Brew with Lessons Learned

For an upcoming public library game, I was handed a first-level adventure of the familiar rats-in-the-cellar stripe, "A Most Potent Brew," from Winghorn Press.

In prepping the adventure and looking for ways to juice it up, I found myself relying on advice gleaned from the OSR and OSR-adjacent community.

1. Slugs are Fun
I thought is was strange, when I picked up David McGrogan's Yoon-Suin, that slug-folk were one of his core playable races—until I used one. Slugs make great NPCs. A slug innkeep serving you a pot of goat stew and sloshing out adventure hooks is much more distinct than, oh, say, a gnome in the same position.

Rumpleslumph the slug-man runs the Fallen Tower Brewery and Inn. He keeps a clean inn, is a good boss to the humans and halflings that work in the brewery, and has let the PCs hang around a little too long while they look for work. Now, he's getting nervous, wondering if they'll ever pay their bill.

When workers break open an ancient wall in the cellars and get attacked by giant rats, he approaches the PCs with a chance to settle the debt.

2. Weirdo Rats
The PCs head down to the cellar, which is dark and full of barrels, and are promptly ambushed by giant rats.

Giant rats are a mechanically adequate challenge for 1st-Level players, but they sure don't capture the imagination. Remembering Skerples' d100 Skeleton Variants, which I have previously used to spice up another boilerplate 1st-Level encounter, I dressed up some of the rats in strange fluff.

The encounter is 4 standard giant rats, and 4 weirdoes.

1d10 Weirdo Giant Rats

  1. Wooly Mammoth Rat. Trunk & tusks. Trunk attk (1d4+2) bludgeon, has reach (10’). 
  2. Rat Ball. Bunch of rats in a ball. 10’ charge attk (1d6) bludgeon, DC 10 STR save or be knocked prone.
  3. Spider Rat. 8 legs, many eyes. Crawls on ceiling. Spit web gob (causes Disadvantage on next physical activity). 
  4. Silver Skeleton Rat. Resistance to piercing. Immune to poison. Vulnerable to bludgeon. Worth 250 gp, if you can kill it with bashing it to pieces; 50 gp if beaten into a lump.
  5. Pushmepullyou Rat. Head at both ends. 2 bite attacks per round, hard to surprise. 
  6. Bat Rat. Bat wings for ears. Can hover 1’ off the ground. 
  7. Black Armor Rat. Living rat-shaped full plate. AC 18. 
  8. Grasshopper Rat. Has grasshopper legs. Jump range: 15-30’. 
  9. Balloon Rat. A rat-shaped balloon piloted by small red newt on its back. Resist bludgeon, vulnerable to piercing. 
  10. Tar Rat. Weapons stick to it. DC 10 STR check required to free it. 

3. Underbramble
When enough rats have been dispatched, the survivors flee through the hole the workers knocked in the wall. The hole is choked with brambly vines bearing small, pale flowers. When disturbed, the flowers rustle and mewl piteously. 

This isn't much of a challenge—it's easy to cut through the bramble, but the little flowers make sounds like upset kittens when you do. I added this to give new players a sense of interactivity with the environment, and a problem that doesn't have an intended solution. 

4. A Little More Conversation
Advice from Goblin Punch's Arnold K. that stuck firmly in my head: Every dungeon should have someone or something to talk to.

Since the hole in the cellar wall opens up on the ruined basement of a wizard's tower, let's have the wizard's ghost as a wandering encounter.

Albrectus is a dotty old shade, who doesn't remember that he's dead and his tower has fallen. He is convinced that the PCs are inquiring about progress on a commissioned enchantment.

Imagined Commissions
  1. A boot that is always full of soup
  2. An onyx comb that untangles knotty poetry
  3. A suit of enchanted armor for a pet gnat
  4. A wax paper trumpet that can only be heard by snails
  5. A prosthetic nose that can smell the future.
  6. A universal tongue—fits in any mouth.
He will provide no immediately useful information to the PCs, but he may fill them in on some historical context. If attacked or asked questions the referee doesn't feel like answering, he dodders off through a wall, mid-mumble.

5. Jaquay That Dungeon
As published, the dungeon is a bit linear, because the authors really wants to make sure you appreciate their riddle-trap. Let's follow the Alexandrian's example by following Jennell Jaquays' example.

I added a crevice in the rock that the PCs, should they find it, could follow instead to dealing with the trap. It's long and difficult to crawl through, and full of fungal puffballs that will cover everyone with sticky, luminous spores by the time they're through, making stealth impossible in the dark. It's not a huge challenge, but it gives the PCs a choice.

Oh! It just occurred to me that these should be sacs of glowing spider eggs, since, well, there's a spider in the room this ends up in. 

6. Name Your Poison
The rest of the dungeon is pretty straight forward. There's three rooms to explore, with some monsters and treasure to be found. Eventually, they find (SPOILERS) a room full of smashed potions, and piece together that the giant rats were normal rats transformed by lapping up the spills. 

Roll a DC10 Arcana check. For every point above 10 that they roll, they can decipher the mystic scribblings on the torn labels and identify another potion:

Smashed Potions
  1. Liniment of Enlargement
  2. Phineas' Philter of Faerie Fire & Floor Wash
  3. Revitalizing Essence of Fire Elemental
  4. Polymorph Pudding & Transformative Gut Tonic
  5. Spring-Heeled Jump Juice
  6. Spirit of Iron Armor & Liver Extravaganza
  7. Extra-Fine Fleshcraft Fermentation
  8. Necro-argent Nostrum
  9. Orange Janus
Additionally, there are the following intact potions among the wreckage:
  • Old Fashioned Heart-Mind-Body Miracle Tea (Healing Potion)
  • No See’Um (Invisibility)
  • The Vital Panacea (Potion of Vitality)
7. Emergency Back-up Extra Room
Just in case we run short and I need some extra adventure before our session is up (which pretty much never happens, but better safe than stuck with bored players), I'll have the exiting PCs spring open a hatch leading to a hidden sub-basement room. Inside, they'll find a... not a trap, and not a treasure, but a toy they can play with. 

This is, I think, taken from an Into the Odd adventure by Chris McDowall, who is great at giving players engaging things to interact with as reward rather just throwing GP and XP at them.

Inside the room is a great, brass contraption, bolted to the floor. There are two feeder hatches on one end and a hopper on the other end, and a dial reading "00.003." If you stick items in the two hatches, they are combined into a single item on the other end. Drop in a dozen gold coins and a sword, and you might get a gold sword, or you might get a bunch of coin-sized swords. Each use runs down the dial, and at "00.000" the contraption runs out of some vital magical component and stops working.

And That's That! 
Thanks to all this good community advice and examples, I have an adventure that I'm excited to run! Thanks, everybody!

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