Well we have a wacky one here kids! The group got together in between our normal campaign sessions to play a one-off and we finally got to check out a system I’ve been dying try for a while now. That system would of course be Maze Rats by Ben Milton. I wanted to pair this ultra-light system with a quick adventure so I opted again for a One Page Dungeon since the last one went so well. That is how we ended up with Plumbing the Depths by Ed Nicholson, the 2019 winner of the contest.
Spoiler Warning: The following recap contains spoilers for Plumbing the Depths.
As rule sets go Maze Rats is what’s called ultralight. That being said I still needed to do some preparation or risk my players having to sit around while I roll tons of dice and make notes at the table. I ended up with a one page google doc to go with my one page dungeon. The monsters were easy enough, just followed the monster generation page from Maze Rats. The items became more of a problem as I believed the author of the dungeon had made his treasure choices for specific reasons (or at least it appeared so). As such the Maze Rats treasure generation rules would not quite do the job. I decided to stick with the treasure from the dungeon using Swords and Wizardry descriptions wherever possible (with 5e SRD as a fallback if needed). I’m really happy I went this route. Finally, there was the matter of our mastermind Wizard. I decided to make Gon a full blown character so that he would be a more believable Wizard. This also gave me an opportunity to go through the PC creation process which was valuable. I made him a level 7 character taking all the spell slot options that were available.
The Characters and Setting the Scene
When game night arrived the three players gathered around and began rolling up their characters. The Maze Rats character sheet has two sheets per page which essentially encouraged the players to create two characters up front. I’m not sure if that was intended or if it was done that way to save space but either way its a great idea. Character creation was quick and fun.The three starting PCs were:
- Redmaine Rummage: The wrinkled stubborn gravedigger with a gold tooth.
- Waverly Droll: The haggard cunning counterfeiter with a mustache.
- Fatty McRatty: The rat catcher wearing a rat suit. His motto was to catch a rat, you had to live like a rat. (I believe this player was silently protesting my decision to not let them play as actual rats despite the name of the rules)
With the first round of characters established I set the scene:
You respond to a help wanted poster from the local arch wizard Gon the Good. In the morning, you are guided to the laboratory at the top of his tower by empty suits of walking armor. Gon’s eyes sparkle with great magical energy as he tells you, “I will pay you 100 gold coins each to go down into my laboratory sink and retrieve a ring with 1 red ruby on it. It was dropped down there a few days go and should not be far. I of course will shrink you and all your equipment down to about an inch in height so you can easily fit. Do not attempt to use the ring as it could kill you! Once you have found it -take this Gem of Returning and say ‘Zopowie’ and you will return here, back to your normal size. I can give you this spool of thread so you have as much rope as you need. One more thing, we will have a heavy rainstorm tonight, so find it and return before the storm!”
Into the Sink
Gon the Good shrunk the three down and gently lowered them into the sink. Waverly got to work lowering the thread down the drain and within moments the adventurers were repelling into the dank dark. After a couple minutes a faint blue and green glow began to emanate from the depths as they descended. The vertical pipe came to an end in a pool of phosphorescent water and the party dangled there above it unsure what to do. From within the water they could see the movement of some kind of aquatic creatures. Redmaine shrugged and let go of the rope, splashing down into to glowing drink. A moment later Waverly was following after him. Fatty McRatty held on tightly to the rope, unwilling to face the unknown below.
Redmaine and Waverly swam through the luminous liquid and within seconds were face to face with two angry glowing jellyfish. They pulled out their weapons but found the metal being pulled down towards the bottom of the pipe, making it difficult to fight. As the odious invertebrates closed in Redmaine cast his single spell, warding snow. A spinning torrent of blizzard erupted in the water around Redmaine and the thrashing ice shredded the soft bodies of the jellyfish.
Satisfied that the threat was now gone, Fatty McRatty plopped into the water to join his compatriots. Waverly was curious about what was drawing his metal possessions towards the bottom so he swam down to investigate. There he found a large magnate with a rope tied to it that seemed to follow him as he swam. He untied it and found that it followed his will. The three found that the phosphorescent water formed the bottom of a u bend in the pipe and surfacing on the other side they saw that the pipe climbed straight up vertically. Waverly pointed his rope of climbing up the pipe and within a moment the three were ascending again into the darkness.
A Sticky Situation
After a short climb, the pipe again leveled off and the team found themselves at the top of another u bend. Waverly pulled out a torch and began looking around. He quickly found a piton at the edge of the next descent. Someone had come down this way before. They tied off their rope to the piton and began to descend. After a few minutes they found the pipe blocked by a spider web. Fatty McRatty, wishing now to prove his courage, leaped onto the web sending it vibrating. Instantly three spiders descended on the web and Fatty McRatty. Ratty McFatty had to make a strength danger roll to see if he could break free from the web in time to fight the arachnid attackers. He succeeded and a flurry of melee ensued. Redmaine joined the fray as Waverly hung back on the rope attempting to hit the spiders with his sling. The two sides exchanged blows, the humans battering the spiders with their weapons, and the spiders sinking their fangs into the humans. After a few moments Fatty McRatty and Redmaine were injured but all three spiders were dead.
They began investigating the rest of the area and found a crack in the wall with a cocooned body in it. On the body they found a potion of spider climb, an immovable rod, and a note which Fatty McRatty handed to Waverly as “Fatty McRatty can’t read”. The note read:
My miserable apprentices,
Do not come back if you do not have my ring. If you cannot complete this one simple task, I have no use of you. Remember DO NOT touch the Ring! If you do, you will find a gruesome death. Alas all my plans do not rest on your collective incompetence. If you fail, I will get some fool-hardy band of adventurers to go down and get it.
Your Eternal Master,
GON THE GREAT,
Controller of Kings
The gravity of their situation began to sink in. Taking a moment to collect themselves, they began to descend further and came to a slight bend as the slope became more gradual.
The Calcite Dams
They came to a series of descending pools in calcite dams that blocked their way. The first pool had a faint amber color to it and an acrid smell arose from its surface. Fatty McRatty was prepared to jump in but Waverly stopped him. Waverly took his ten foot pole and prodded the liquid with it. He then had a 6 foot pole. Realizing that there was no immediate way forward, debate broke out among the three as how to proceed. Fatty McRatty believed he had a solution. Taking his tinderbox, he created a spark and within a second the pool was ablaze in flame. Fatty McRatty was quite pleased with himself but the other two became concerned as the pipe was quickly filling with smoke. The three decided to recede to a part of the pipe where the smoke was less dense. After a few minutes it had cleared up enough that they were able to continue.
The acidic pool was now empty and they crawled down it to the next to find soapy water. As they pondered the suds two eyes appeared on the surface and blinked. The three leaped back as a bubble formed and spoke to them. “Hi, I’m Blub Blub”. The party was taken aback at first by this new manifestation of sanitation but quickly adapted. Blub Blub was a sentient scrubbing bubble who lived in, and cleaned, the pipe. He was willing to scout ahead for them in exchange for some food so Waverly held out a ration in offering. Blub Blub heartily accepted, enveloping Waverly’s arm. When the bubble receded the arm was fresh and clean. This pleased Waverly immensely.
Blub Blub took off down the pipe and after a few minutes returned. He was quite alarmed to report that two pools ahead there was a ferocious purple slime monster. They thanked Blub Blub for his contribution and began to formulate a plan. They decided to see if they could lure the slime monster back to Blub Blub’s soap pool in hopes that it would weaken or kill the creature.
They continued on down and came to a sparkly pool. Waverly dipped his 6 foot pole into the pool and when he removed it he was nonplussed to see that it was now covered in glitter. Assured that the pool, although annoying, was quite harmless, they dove in and swam to the other side. They descended once more and came upon the previously scouted purple slime pool. Fatty McRatty got to work luring the slime monster out of the pool and back up the tunnel. Making dexterity danger checks, the three were able to outrun the vile viscous villain and returned to the soapy pool. Blub Blub promptly fled further up the pipe and away from the approaching monster. Swimming to the other side, they waited as the slime monster entered the soapy pool to see what the effect would be. The purple slime monster let out a horrendous screech as it filtered through the soapy water but continued on towards its prey. Seeing that the creature was weakened but that combat would be unavoidable, the three began their assault.
Redmaine slashed and raged against the slime monster as Waverly aggressively prodded it with his trusty glittered 6 foot pole. The monster chomped down on the pole leaving Waverly with a 3 foot pole. Fatty McRatty came to his aid and a moment later the weakened slime monster was dead and dissipating at the bottom of the soap pool. The three bid farewell to Blub Blub, who was now a bit annoyed at the pollution of his pool, and returned to their quest deeper down into the depths.
They passed the purple slime pool and took note of a carving in the wall that read. “The Mage Lies.” Continuing on, they came to a pool of white cream. An inspection with Waverly’s trusty 3 foot glitter pole revealed nothing so they shrugged and dove in. They emerged on the other side finding that the pool had healed their wounds. Fatty McRatty decided to have a snack of healing cream. What that did to his digestive track we will never know.
Finally, they came to a pool of rainbow color. Another inspection with Waverly’s trusty 3 foot glitter pole again found nothing. They waded through and found that Redmaine was stronger, and that Waverly and Fatty McRatty were now faster. Pleased with this final gift from the magic pools, they continued on. They came to another vertical drop and found another piton in the ceiling above it. Tying the rope of climbing to it, they began repelling down.
After a bit they stopped short as there was a massive hideous insect in their path. Its gnarly mandibles opened and closed menacingly. Before they could act there was a shattering of glass and the magnifying glass they were standing in front of shattered as the ladybug on the other side was scooped up in the jaws of a massive rat. The vicious vermin was too large to get through the hole in the pipe that it came through but there was enough room for its horrible head to snap at anything within reach. Fatty McRatty was thoroughly excited by this development but truth be told that this was well outside of his wheel house. They decided that there was no other way forward and so settled on one of them providing a distraction so that the other two could safely pass.
Redmaine got to work, jumping and dodging before the jaws of the monstrous mammal. He succeeded in his dexterity danger roll and remained unharmed. The other two were then able to make danger rolls at advantage due to the distraction and both succeeded. After a moment Fatty McRatty and Waverly were on the other side of the giant rodent. Redmaine made one last danger roll to get past the rat and succeeded. They all continued on safely.
The pipe came to an end in a junction with another pipe below meaning they would need to drop down. Splashing down into kneed deep water, they found themselves in a much larger pipe and a commotion was coming towards them. They were greeted by the sight of a haggard man being chased by four angry mushroom men. Thinking on his feet, Redmaine locked the immovable rod in place to create a choke point in the pipe and the three prepared to fight. The exhausted man passed them screaming and Redmaine plaed himself next to the rod ready to face the onslaught. The first of the fungal fighters slammed into him furiously. Blows were exchanged and soon the attacker was dead. This continued on and after a minute all four of the mushroom men lay dead in the water and the man they had rescued lay panting on the side of the pipe. He told them:
“I am Alcatar, apprentice to the wizard. He is evil and will betray you in the end! He is after the ring of wishing so he can take over the kingdom! The mushroom men have it! They do not know how to use it. If you get it do not let him have it! I know where it is but cannot get to it. It is beyond the Mirror, at the top of the snake, in the mushrooms men king’s throne room. Balthatar got past the magic mirror, he said ‘Only one whom does not have a reflection can pass through’. He went back after it and I have not seen him since.”
Exchanging worried glances, they thanked Alcatar for his information and wished him well as the now former apprentice began to ascend the pipe, trying to find a way out.
Mirror Mirror and Through the Snake
They arrived at the foretold mirror and found they could not pass it. They debated as what to do. After a moment, Waverly had an idea and decided to walk backwards towards the mirror. He passed through without issue and found himself on the other side… among three hungry giant frogs. He let out a cry as the tongue of one of the amphibians struck him and pulled him forward towards the gaping mouth. Redmaine and Fatty McRatty, having heard the cry of the compatriot, did their best to run backwards towards the mirror without looking at it. They arrived just in time to rescue Waverly, and three battled valiantly against the frogs. After more wounds, and a fair amount of slime, the overgrown polliwogs were defeated and the path was again clear.
A bit further down the tunnel they came to the great skull of a snake that took up the entire pipe. Its jaws were wide open and impaled on one of the fangs was the body of a human with mushrooms growing on it. They deduced that this was the ill-fated Balthatar. Waverly carefully examined the body and found on it a Potion of Gaseous Form and Boots of Levitation. There was no where to go but further in so Waverly hopped through the skull’s jaws. They stayed in place. Next Redmaine hopped through and the jaws stayed in place. Finally Fatty McRatty passed through and the jaws fell down. Fatty McRatty made a dexterity danger check… and failed. Impaled on the fangs of the snake skeleton, Fatty McRatty was no more. (An Immovable Rod would have come in really handy right here).
While the two survivors were mourning the loss of their friend there came a splashing further down the pipe from which they had come. Waverly and Redmaine readied their weapons as a chiseled brutish man ran up to them. He held up his hands to show that he was no threat. “Whoa, hold on. I’m Clint Miter. Gon sent me to help you guys as he said you were running into trouble.” Waverly and Redmaine looked at each other then put their weapons away with a shrug. Redmaine looked at him with a raised eyebrow as he spoke, “The Wizard’s a bad guy. He’s going to betray us. We are just trying to finish this and get out alive.” Clint nodded his head unconcerned. “Yeah, I kind of picked up that something was off. But whatever, I just want to get paid.” With that Clint passed through the snake skull and the jaws stayed open.
Clint began eyeing the Boots of Levitation and after a minute Redmaine reluctantly handed them over. They continued on with their new partner. The snake skeleton began to bend upward until it became a vertical climb. Waverly was a roof runner so he dashed up the column, hopping from rib to rib. Redmaine downed the Portion of Spider Climbing and began scurrying up. Clint activated the Boots of Levitation and floated up a la Magneto.
The Final Battle
The snake skeleton leveled off and they found themselves at a dead end. At the far side, sitting upon a thimble, was a mushroom man wearing a ring with a red ruby in it as a crown. Gathered around, 10 other mushroom men bowed down to him. They quickly devised a plan while they were unnoticed. Redmaine downed the Potion of Gaseous Form and evaporated into a mist. Waverly poured out his lantern oil on the ground and Clint lit it. The heat from the ensuing blaze instantly shriveled up and cooked two of the mushroom men. The other eight broke out into a panic with the king looking on in horror. With everyone distracted, Redmaine wafted behind the King, returned to solid form, and lifted the ring from off the royal head crying out, “Zopowie!”
With a flash the three found themselves back in Gon’s Tower, returned to full size. However they were each in a separate jail cell and on the outside waited Gon, flanked by two animated suits of armor. “Hand over the ring now and you can go free!” Gon cried out with shriveled menace. Waverly grabbed the bars and snarled back, “Let us out and we’ll talk about the ring.” Redmaine quietly slipped the ring on his finger.
Gon recoiled in rage and shrieked, “Insubordinate whelps! Let’s see if my Petrifying Crow will change your mind!!!” With that he began waving his hands in the air and a swirling blue and black cloud began forming over his head. Clint and Waverly pulled out their weapons, unsure of what to do. Redmaine wracked his brain. He had the ring, he had a problem. How could he use the ring to solve the problem? He only had one shot. He had to make it count. The cloud began to spark with lightening and the silhouette of a bird began to form. What could Redmaine wish for? Should he wish to be free? Should he wish that everything was made of chocolate?
A great black bird emerged from the cloud. Its purple eyes swirled with galaxies of stars as it flew forward. Redmaine looked at the bird in terror, “I wish I knew what to wish for!” As he gazed into the bird’s eyes he could feel his skin tingle. You should have wished the wizard dead. The idea appeared in his head like a voice as his flesh began to turn to stone. Redmaine made a Will Danger Roll… and failed. Redmaine was turned to stone.
Gon, satisfied with himself, turned to Waverly and pointed menacingly at him. “Your friend will make an excellent decoration for my library. Now, would you like to join him or are you going to obey me?” Waverly furrowed his brow and pointed at the petrified Redmaine as he spoke, “I mean, isn’t the ring stone now too?” Gon did a double take then smacked his hand squarly on his face. “Gah! Nothing ever goes my way!”
With his plans foiled, Gon the Wizard let Waverly and Clint go, having no further use for them. Clint, having no particular attachment to the other two, shrugged and headed off to the nearest tavern. Waverly paused by the statue of his now gone friend for a bit. He could see no way to immediately solve the problem and so sighing, he departed. Gon shook his head in annoyance. “Tut tut, what a mess. Now I’m going to have to start over from scratch.” He turned to the animated armors and commanded, “Alright, move him up to the library. Maybe I’ll make him into a lamp.”
Plumbing the Depths was creative and really well thought out. It makes sense that it would win the 2019 One Page Dungeon Content. In particular I think the magic items were well placed and I am really happy I left them as they were. Maze Rats is an excellent and really fun game. I found the combat to be a bit swingy for my taste but I think this is something that Ben has acknowledged (I may be wrong on this) and will be looking at for Maze Knights. I am really looking forward to Maze Knights, if it is any improvement on the already fantastic Maze Rats it will be a truly fantastic game. I think we didn’t really get to see a lot of Maze Rats true potential as we barely dipped into all the random generation tables the game comes with. It would also be really interesting to run a campaign and see how the characters develop as they level. I would really like to see more spells generated up as they were a lot of fun. All in all, I highly recommend both the dungeon and the game system.