After the players do their shopping, project, or training Actions, the City Game ends with a “crossing of the threshold.” In the City of Skorne is a tavern called ‘the Bleak Hound’ run by a rebel group: the Reclaimers of Bastion. In its basement there’s a water-well that has a temporary portal cast over it by the servant-wizard to the deceased king. Jump into that portal and you’ll be teleported to the wilderness, where many Artifacts are scattered and guarded jealously.
The players are given one hour (that’s one real-time hour with a timer on my computer) to find an Artifact, recover it, and get back to the portal.
I cannot stress this enough: the time element is CRITICAL to this game. The players can joke around, be doofuses, but once that timer runs out, the portal closes… and that’s bad news.
Once the PCs head into the well, they emerge in the wilderness with all cardinal directions teeming with adventure. From my side, this is what it looks like:
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So, all I have to do is make sure there is one hours-worth of encounters (discoveries, dangers, friends, foes) in every direction and then sprinkle boss-guarded Artifacts all over the land. And this is just one location too. You could, in theory, add more portal options. This one shown above is The Valley of the Fallen, but The Crimson Jungle, and The Bladed Desert are also in the works as more potential adventure locations.
The layout of each location is simple. The well is in the center and then you just go around the circle (like a clock!), starting at the top and number it 1 through 8. So “Giants” is #1, “Stompgrounds” is #2, all the way to “Forgehammer Clan?” at #8.
So my notes are then organized in Google Docs as a giant numbered list (now equipped with better names):
I then expanded each item to include dangers, discoveries, artifacts, and areas. Like this:
- Dangers: things that are potentially hostile, deadly, dangerous.
- Discoveries: things that are potentially useful, neat, discovered.
- Artifacts: the things you’re here to find.
- Areas: cool microcosms that present challenges of their own.
When players encounter ‘the next thing,’ I cross off the item using Control + Shift + X.
Overall, this method of “hour-long wilderness runs” works great. Maze Rats is fast enough so that players can get one major Danger encounter (that more often than not results in combat) and a couple good swings at a boss guarding the next Artifact before the time is up. There are also two or three Discoveries per session for extra flavor.
What’s the result? Every single session has ended pretty close to exactly the same: players are down on time and just arrived at the boss. They debate running into the fight to see what damage they can do, scheme what the best plan is, and ultimately go for it. With one-minute left on the clock, they flee to the portal and the Bleak Hound beyond it.
One session, there was a displacer beast waiting for them at the portal. One PC decided to make the sacrifice so everyone else could escape. Everyone was yelling by the end of the session to move as fast as they could and I loved it.
“Could the players just say “we go back to the portal well and leave” to be out of danger? That’s lame.”
Yes, but there’s always the chance (1-in-3 to be exact) that something is waiting for them at the portal (see displacer example above), attracted either to the well’s water or to the magical energies that have disrupted the laws of the universe. Also, if the party is in combat, they have to get “off the map’s edge” before they can safely leave.
“What happens if the players don’t make it back in time?”
The wilderness has been corrupted by Skorne’s reign, making it uninhabitable. If the portal closes, you’re stranded until they can get the portal working again. All that foul air causes either a Mutation or Insanity (there are tables for that in Maze Rats) and that is SUPER debilitating. Also, you have to survive a day with your backs to the wall fighting off creepy, crawly monsters.