The Funnel is over and here is what I learned

I have had a busy week of gaming.  Last Thursday evening we played our third and final funnel session for Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC).  Monday night I ran a game of Degenesis.  Both of these were on Virtual Tabletops and ran over the big wide world of the web…  Today I am going to discuss what I learned about running a DCC funnel over a virtual tabletop.  The Virtual Tabletop I used for DCC is Fantasy Grounds.  They have a dedicated ruleset and it is slick.  But there was some learning to be made in my funnel as it is the first time I have run one online for a long time.  To that fact, it is the first custom funnel I have ever run.

What is a funnel?

Just in case you are wondering what this term means I thought I would add a little introduction to the concept.  DCC recommends that starting characters are totally random level 0 characters that are put through a “test of fire” so to speak.  Many of the official DCC funnels revolve around the idea of the common folk, sick of their lot in life, size an opportunity to break free.  They want to find the treasures rumoured to be hidden and have the tales sung about them in Inns.

Mechanically what this means is each player gets three to four characters that have no traditional “adventuring” experience and are put through a quick and deadly adventure.  The characters that make it through the wringer are the characters that then select an adventuring career (or demi-human class).  The funnel also tends to be a fun introduction to the themes of DCC, introducing the core concept of fun and learning about your character through play, rather than character generation.

Historically speaking…

The games of DCC that I have run in a virtual environment previously have been with small numbers of players, at most four players in a game.  I remember them being a fun “filler” adventure that fits between two more extensive campaigns with different systems while one of our regular players could not attend game nights.  I ran the basic funnel in the core rulebook “Portal Under the Stars” and then a casual adventure that was inspired by whatever caught my eye leading up to a game.  Portal Under the Stars was used previously in my in-person games too, as most of the time when I run games they are with new players to the system.

The funnels that I have run in the past all fit into a single session.  The sessions I am talking about are about a three to four-hour game.  It is designed to introduce the characters, lead them through an area of around six to eight encounters and thin the characters down.

My custom funnel, Taverna

In designing the funnel I altered a couple of concepts.  First and foremost, I wanted the characters to be thrust into the limelight of becoming an adventurer.  They were not sitting down wishing they could find adventure, the adventure found them.  I also broke the concept of one “core” location into two different environments.  To adjust this I lowered the encounters down to about five distinct areas.

Map of the tavern
The first phase starts in a friendly tavern

On paper, the funnel looked like what I was after.  It thrust the characters into adventure and gave hooks for the coming campaign.  It was a vibrant setting with great maps (thanks to Dungeon Alchemist software) and a well-supported Virtual Tabletop system that works very well (thanks to Fantasy Grounds Unity).  What I did not factor into this was the number of players and characters, as well as the number of NPCs I added to the adventure.  It was all held in a Tavern in a mountain city, where a band were playing and a good crowd (all the characters) and serving staff were thrust into the limelight.

Six, multiplied by four

There were six players signed on for the game.  I have always run with four characters per player when I have run a funnel.  Four is better than three right?  More characters mean more fun surely?  Technically that is true but in reality, not so much.  With twenty-four characters and another nine  NPCs between the band and serving staff, then adding in some slugs that show up, things got very bogged down.

We have all (hopefully) by now been exposed to a meeting on the internet.  Most of us have been in situations where the cross-chatter in the game makes it hard to hear what is actually going on right?  Multiply that by having to run through individual (yep, I did not even group initiative – dumb guy) initiative ladder per round.  I think we managed, on average, three full turns a session.

Three Sessions

The funnel took a total of three sessions.  Each was around three hours long.  Admittedly, now I think about it, a nine-hour gaming session is not really too much for one adventure.  But it was because of the reasons that I have noted before.  I wanted this to be a swift taste for the coming campaign.  Now we will need to spend time building the characters out in class before we even move into adventuring proper.  In the final wash of the sessions, eleven of the starting 24 survived.  There should have been less, but that was a combination of me not making the start of the sessions more deadly, and strategic players.

Underneath the Tavern a gauntlet had been created
Phase two happens well below the Tavern after the floor collapses

A funnel, in spirit, is a game where players should be encouraged to play wild and loose with the characters they have.  Throw it all up against the wall and see what sticks in a way.  Some players see it another way though.  They jealously guard the lives of their characters and attempt to strategically play and walk out the other side of the adventure with as many characters as possible.  This became apparent, although likely unconsciously, in the last session.  I saw some very strategic play that allowed many to survive.  It is a combination of the simplicity of the rules and the weight of numbers that allowed for this to occur.

What have I learned?

From a game perspective, with six players I would change things up slightly from how I played the game and how I designed it.

During play

There is only one real thing that I would change to have streamlined the game.  This change would be made largely because it is a virtual playing space and communication is a little more difficult than if we were seated at a table together.  In other words, I would likely not make this change at an actual in-person game.

Group initiative: One initiative roll based on the slowest character in a group.  The players would then run their entire round for each of their characters.  NPCs would run off the same system and enemies in the same style.  This would greatly focus the players’ attention on what is happening and get them involved in short focused bursts.

In design

It is here that I would make two major changes.  The first is the number of characters per player.  I would certainly reduce the number of characters to three per player.  This immediately reduces the player group by 25% and would have made things much quicker to run.  I find it amusing that I figured more characters more fun.  I have run many large games before and know for a fact that is not often the case!

Secondly, the way that I designed the game was a series of encounters.  The first encounter was easier than the second phase where multiple encounters became very deadly.  The adventure, in the second half, is far less linear and allows players to choose routes of escape, to four different deadly encounters.  This design needed to be inverted.  The first encounter(s) really need to be the most deadly, and the remainder of encounters less so.  This would cut the number of characters down early and make the game speed up earlier.


In all honesty, we had fun.  We had fun for three sessions.  I am pretty certain that the points above exist in my mind only.  Sure, the players would likely agree that things took longer than it should have, but in reality, we play to be social and we had fun.  From a pure “how did the game go” assessment I realise I learned the things I have outlined above.  What else I learned is that DCC is the system I truly love.  It is a simple system, designed purely to enhance the fun of this hobby of hours.  It does not act as a simulation of a fantastical world but offers a fun viewpoint on common tropes from early fantasy influences.

Overall, this game was a success.  It did not meet my expectations in regard to the length of the game and that is why I sat down to think about why this occurred.  It is always a good thing to consider, once a game is complete, what you could have done to improve the game if you were to run it again.  This helps you run future games as you identify where you need to work that little bit smarter.  Change a bit here in your design, and a little bit harder when you identify things during play that you could improve.

Should you want to watch the games, they were recorded via Twitch and are now on my YouTube channel in this playlist.  Currently, it has the first two games, but while I write this blog YouTube is processing the third game.  As the campaign continues, even more videos will be added to the playlist.  I hope you enjoy them, keep rolling!

Patreon Pitch

Just a final note, I have started a Patreon.  If you feel you could support this blog with as little as a dollar a month (and a couple of other tiers) please take a look at the page here and join if you can.  The Patreon is about keeping the blog going.  There are no secret posts, or hidden posts if you do not join.  Just a way to help me to keep the blog going into the future.  Thanks for considering it.


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