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Content Warning: while not inevitable, some of the events in this module can result in harm to defenseless animals.
Some of you who follow me on YouTube may recall that I did a video review of the Zero Level Rulebook. Turns out the publisher utilized it to make a bonafide adventure for both 5th Edition and Dungeon Crawl Classics.
For those unfamiliar, Dungeon Crawl Classics is an “old school” style ruleset that popularized the concept of the 0 level Funnel. Such adventures had each player take control of 3-4 hapless commoners, and those lucky enough to survive could be picked to become a real adventurer at level 1. Weird Works liked the idea enough to do a pretty faithful conversion to 5th Edition D&D, releasing it as a free supplement.
The Tournament of Pigs is a Funnel style adventure where a cruel and eccentric king known as Octor Malartin has taken to hosting an annual celebration known as the Tournament of Pigs. It commemorates a priest who died attempting to destroy a scourge of wild hogs by using a spell to make them all spontaneously explode. He was caught in the blast radius and the scattered remains ruined the town, but his sacrifice wasn’t forgotten.
Before covering the adventure, I’d like to note that it’s available as both a physical box set and a PDF. But even the PDF is very helpful when it comes to setting it up for virtual tabletops. We have images in various formats of just about every useful token, character, map, and handout both for printing out physically and using as digital assets. There’s even a nice set of instructions for how to print out the gameboard, and the book helpfully points out that the tournament’s play area is the exact size of a Blood Bowl board for gamers who also own that.
Malartin’s tournament earns many contestants in spite of its lethality, for most of the populace are indentured serfs who inherited the debts of their forebears. In addition to money and prizes, the survivors’ debts are cleared. Each player creates 3-6 PCs depending on the number of players, but unlike other funnels they aren’t controlled all at once. A player who loses all of their characters can still make new ones to participate in the contest. Only 4 PCs are allowed into a tournament event at a time, with the backup PCs replacing them at the end of the event upon their death.
The real “win condition” of the Tournament of Pigs is for a player (not a PC) to gain the highest score. The Tournament consists of 3-12 unique games depending on how much time the GM has to run the adventure, and each game is referred to as an “event.” During every tournament event contestants can gain a Silver Prize medallion by completing a special objective beyond just surviving, which affects their score. The score is also affected by how many of a player’s PCs died and how many survived. Events can either be determined by randomly spinning on a wheel with 12 results (or rolling a d12 to simulate this) or having the players choose an event.
The entirety of the adventure takes place in the Kingdom of Nook in the arena of Moldarno Keep. The arena is a large rectangular open-air area surrounded by raised stairs for audience members to watch, and King Malartin sits in an opera box-style area where he is accompanied by royal guards and servants. There are guards monitoring the arena at all times, and barred gates spaced around are used to bring in monsters and contraptions for specific games. The rules of the tournament as a whole are rather simple, with each event containing special rules that are described to the audience via an announcer with a magical horn that can magnify sound. PCs who violate a rule are assigned a White Penalty and warned to cease their behavior. Continued violations of the rules result in a Black Penalty which marks the offender for death, where archers will rain down arrows on them. PCs begin play with the weapon appropriate to their randomly-rolled occupation.
While not rigged, the Tournament is full of shifty behavior. Contestants are drawn via a magical lottery where tokens are marked with blood, but the blood tokens of the royal family and their staff are never put into the lottery. Monsters that are used as threats and obstacles in the tournament have been tortured or promised their freedoms to encourage their compliance. Even in contests that aren’t directly dangerous, such as the Sphinx or Piece of Cake, penalties for failing still include death. Nook’s inhabitants are well aware that their King is not a good person, but they still enjoy the tournament for its blood sports and as a promising means of obtaining a better life.
When the tournament officially begins, each PC begins play with a single weapon befitting their 0 level occupation and one item of their choice (or what they can get away with sneakily stealing) from the Crap Rack. The Crap Rack is a collection of various items of shoddy quality whose game effects are passed out as cards to the players. The item’s special effects (if any) are labeled on the back of the card, and the card’s front lists their title, image, and the circumstances required to flip the card and see the effects. For instance, a sparkling potion is flipped when a character takes a sip, and the effect on the flip side is the drinker takes poison damage and everyone within 15 feet takes acid damage. This adds an element of risk, as players may not exactly know what the item in question is capable of. During the tournament, PCs who gain a Silver Prize can choose from the Silver Rack, which contains higher quality gear such as heavier armor, martial weapons, thieves’ tools, and even fancy valuables like a chest full of gold or a well-designed hand mirror!
It’s at this point one particular flaw appears in the adventure’s design. While the product comes with 2 PDFs, one for each game system, it’s clear that Tournament of Pigs was written first and foremost for Dungeon Crawl Classics. The majority of checks that call for something that isn’t covered by an attack roll or save is a straight ability check, even when a skill or tool proficiency check would make more sense. For instance, trying to sneak bonus equipment from the Racks calls for a Dexterity check as opposed to a Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check. PCs may gain bonuses on a roll if they have a relevant Occupation, but even the 5e Zero Level Rulebook makes note of bonus starting proficiencies for said commoners. There are also other minor errors, like the guards having shortswords that deal damage and can be held in two hands like longswords, or an NPC with a special ability to deal one extra die of damage with melee attacks and their weapon of choice only deals 1d10+4 damage…and the stat block says the extra die is already included in the attack!
And without further ado, the Events!
Boxes wheels out three large iron boxes into the arena. The PCs must open at least one of them in order to obtain a Silver Prize, and the box’s contents are a mystery. The left box contains a silver greatsword, the right box contains a dead chicken which was partially eaten by a cat that snuck into the box before the tournament, and the middle box contains a bow-wielding medusa that will attempt to kill all of the contestants. The Silver Prize medallion handouts earned during the tournament have a subtle hint for this and one other event (Eight), where a skull in the center box indicates the dangerous option. The medusa in the 5e adventure has much weaker stats than an average monster of its type; still dangerous to 0 level PCs, but can still be overcome via action economy.
Grease Grab has a butcher haul out two cages on one side of the arena, and slippery grease is poured out over the wall to coat the ground around the cages. A band of musicians begins a jig as a swarm of six piglets are released into the arena. A PC earns a Silver Prize if they grab a piglet and deposit it in one of the cages. Grabbing a piglet requires a Strength or Agility/Dexterity check, and Dexterity/Reflex saves are required each round to maintain a hold on it or to move through the grease without slipping and dropping the piglet.
The grease is flammable, and dead piglets don’t accrue any Silver Prizes.
The Sphinx is a challenge of wits, but one that still has the risk of death. Arena guards wheel out several catapults arranged in a semi-circle, and PCs are ordered to be bound and sit in them. The Sphinx, the King’s personal jester, comes out to ask each PC a riddle. If they guess right, they are awarded a Silver Prize. If they guess wrong, the guards release the catapult, flinging the PC to certain death unless they make a check to subtly undo their bonds and jump off in time. 11 riddles are provided, a mixture of original and existing ones. Here’s two of them.
I have arms but no legs,
To the heavens I reach;
I am immovable by a man,
But I shake at a breeze.
What am I?
Master of tension, and
pattern, and rhythm;
Eater of thousands of sheep;
I am but a machine, but I
birth soft comfort.
What am I?
Pigskins is a rather ghoulish sports game where the PCs compete against a team of halberd-wielding orcs where points are scored by decapitating the members of the other team and throwing their heads through wheeled structures with holes on top. A PC who successfully throws an orc head throw the right goal hole earns a Silver Prize. The game ends either when one team throws three heads through their goal hole, or one side runs out of living team members. The orcs are not well-coordinated nor smart, but when they hit with a halberd they’re practically guaranteed to kill a character.
Pound of Rust Is a pretty clever puzzle. A huge caged wagon contains two sections separated by a wooden wall. In one section is a giant owlbear with a unique stat block, in the other are two rust monsters. A complex yet fragile set of machinery located beneath the rust monsters slowly raises the owlbear’s cage portcullis, and the goal of the event is to disable the machinery. One way to do this is to feed the rust monsters metal items, which upon eating will produce rusty flakes that fall through the holes in the floor onto the gears, and a PC who sacrifices a metal item of at least three pounds earns a Silver Prize. There are other means of destroying the machinery, such as breaking open the wooden section in the floor covering them and attacking it with weapons. In both versions of the adventure the owlbear is extremely strong, and if released is highly likely to kill the contestants given it’s stronger than a regular owlbear.
Faerie Fire is a combat-centric challenge where a swarm of six fairies turned into ghouls by Falazar, Nook’s court wizard, are released into the arena by a grave digger. The goal of the PCs is to kill the fairies and put their corpses into the grave digger’s sack, which nets contestants Silver Prizes. But the event is made harder by four oil and torch-bearing goblins who are promised freedom to the one who kills the most people. They will set fire to anyone who ends up paralyzed by the fairy ghouls, and won’t attack the ghouls unless they end up becoming an easier target than the PCs.
Duet involves two Purple Harpies in cages placed in the arena. They are a rare breed, whose songs mentally control those who succumb to them, and the harpies will order those affected to kill the thralls of the other harpy. The goal of this event is for the PCs to kill a purple harpy, which gives them a Silver Prize. The guards and audience members are given beeswax to plug their ears with, and PCs who manage to subtly cover their ears with it (like lifting it off a guard) can be immune to a harpy’s song.
Heavy Metal is a race against time. A pair of hwacha are placed on one side of the arena, with the PCs and a pile of discarded pieces of metal armor and objects on the other side. The PCs have twelve rounds to assemble functional suits of armor and protection for themselves before the hwachas are launched to maximize their chances of survival. They can of course dive into the metal pile in hopes of protection, but that gives them a disadvantage against escaping from the secondary explosion and risks taking damage from scraping against sharp bits. A Silver Prize is given to anyone who assembles a full suit of armor.
This mini-game provides several new actions specific to the task, with Digging as a Perception check, Survey granting +5 on said check, Improvised Donning to be faster but with less protection, and Trade which gives another character a piece the character is holding. The hwachas are lit six rounds in and the fuses begin working their way to the ignition. Once the hwachas are lit, each PC is hit by 4 ranged attacks each with a d8 table for what body parts they hit and the damage can range from 1d4 to 2d6. The quality of the PC’s improvised protection gives them a higher AC, but imposes a penalty to initiative (hiding in the metal pile imposes the largest initiative penalty). Initiative will become important, as the scattered arrows will simultaneously explode the next round at 5 in the initiative order for 1d8 fire damage per arrow to which a character is adjacent or has embedded in them.
The DCC version of the adventure has unique stats for a hwacha:
Hwacha (2): Init -10; Atk rocket arrow +0 ranged (SP)(see below); AC 15; HD 4d6; 14 hit points each; MV 10’; Act 200d20; SP immobile without operator, may not act again without 2 turn reload time by operators, vulnerable to fire, cannot score a critical hit; SV Fort +4, Ref -10, Will +10; N.
I don’t know if this is a typo or not, but they have 200 action dice. For those unfamiliar, characters and certain monsters in Dungeon Crawl Classics can act more than once per round. Warriors can make multiple attacks, Wizards can cast multiple spells, and so on. For such activities they get their own Action Dice, which in the case of PCs is often lower and increases with level (d12, d14, all the way to a d20) representing the difficulty of doing several things at once in quick succession. What this means is that a hwacha can make 200 ranged attacks per round. Even if there was an extra 0, that’s still 20 attacks. Now I’m Imagining that any Fantasy Korean nations of DCC are the world’s best siege engineers (the adventure does call out the siege weapons as having been imported from the east).
Ettin Race places the PCs in a dug-out trench whose sides are lined with slippery grease. Each PC must tie themselves to another via short ropes, and an odd number results in one of the teams being a “three-headed ettin.” The contestants must escape the trench via a ladder at the end as they are chased by a gibbering mouther, and each time a PC moves they must make a DC 5 Dexterity/Agility check or knock themselves prone as well as the other people to which they’re tied. They can only move at half speed of the slowest person tied to them even on a successful check, so while the mouther is slow the PCs are hampered from making a clean break. A Silver Prize is given to whichever team reaches the ladder first, or to every survivor if the PCs somehow manage to kill the monster which greatly impresses the King.
Eight is a test of perception and balance. A throne with eight massive blades extending from the platform contains treasure chests at the end of each blade. Atop the throne is a tank of octopi whose water has been mixed with Potions of Hill Giant Strength. All but one of the chests are trapped with a variety of harmful effects, and the correct chest contains 50 gold and ends the event upon opening it along with a Silver Prize to the one who picked it. Contestants must sit on the throne and let an octopus crawl onto their head, effectively blinding them, and then must move along a blade to the chest at the end. The blades begin spinning as the event goes on, requiring checks to remain balanced and potentially doing deadly damage to those who fall off. Pulling an octopus off does not incur a White Penalty, but given the effects of their potion they require a contested roll to be gotten rid of. Like Boxes, the Silver Prize medallions have a hint to the correct chest via a star mark on the eastmost tentacle.
Piece of Cake requires the PCs to hastily gather the ingredients for a cake, which the King will personally taste-test to determine whether they pass, fail, or exceed with expectations and win a Silver Prize. Scattered around the arena are places where they can get ingredients, such as an ornery cow that must be calmed down to milk and churn butter, a cage of hens that will peck and scratch at anyone who tries to take their eggs, a honeycombed tree with a hive of angry bees, and a cart of flour that contains a violent goblin with a shield and scimitar hiding inside. The PCs have 10 rounds (1 minute) to assemble the ingredients and combine them together to make a cake before putting it inside a magical oven. There are also checks required to properly assemble and mix the ingredients, and characters with baking-related occupations get bonuses on the check and automatically know the proper amount and measuring sizes. The oven cooks cakes faster than usual, readying them all within 15 minutes. The overall quality of a cake is measured by points, although the book contradicts itself on whether a 5 or a 6 is needed for the best score, where the King awards that team Silver Prizes.
Once the cake’s ingredients have been gathered, putting them together requires some improvisation and a group effort to determine the correct combination. Contestants are attempting to bake a cake with a score of 3 or higher. Teams who achieve a score of 6 or higher get a Royal Compliment (a hearty belch) and all members of the team receive Silver Prizes. A cake with a score of 0-2 is inedible and results in the team’s summary execution.
If, however, players go above and beyond and score a 5 or higher on their cake, the king is duly impressed and follows the “thumbs up” with a belch. The belch triggers the Silver Horn, and all contestants involved in making that cake will earn a Silver Prize. They are also allowed to pick something off the Silver Rack before the next round.
The book has a helpful sidebar for baking a medieval-style cake,* as a physical handout for players whose PCs survive. How nice!
*closer to a scone and without sugar.
Bonfire is our final challenge and is a mixture of puzzle and conventional combat. The event begins by having audience members chuck wooden and flammable objects at the PCs in the arena, with the relative middle being a safe zone. Once enough flammable material is gathered, lizards with wheeled harnesses and crushing blades bulldoze the objects into four piles which are then lit as giant bonfires. Falazar the court wizard will arrive in the arena to give one PC a magical box which acts as a magnet for a water elemental he will then summon. The event then becomes a game of keep away, as the elemental will attack and engulf anyone holding the box. The elemental is simple-minded and will move through a bonfire if it is between it and the box-holder, which deals double damage as this particular elemental has a unique stat block and is vulnerable to fire.
But what if the elemental gets the box, or a PC throws it at the elemental? Well it’s immediately spat out as a ranged attack to the nearest PC, so the elemental is still dangerous even if characters don’t have the box. Silver Prizes are given to contestants who manage to lure the elemental through a bonfire.
Concluding the Tournament happens once the desired number of events are run, and the final score for each player is tallied up. The winners are the surviving PCs, and the top three scorers are given descending amounts of gold (500, 100, & 50) along with a unique magic item. All other survivors gain 30 gold each. The unique prizes are pig-themed magic items: the Ham Crown (1st place, forces the frightened condition on animals that make eye contact with the wearer), the Goblet of Endless Grease (2nd place, can cover nearby squares in slippery grease when turned over), and the Bracelet of the Hog (3rd place, once per day can transform into a pig, boar, or porcine for one hour).
Regicide is our final portion of the book. Vengeful PCs who want to kill the King have opportunities to do so, such as poisoning the cake in Piece of Cake or as unimaginative as shooting him with a bow from the arena floor in his royal box. The King is pretty weak, wearing only light protection for a 12 AC and having 8 hit points. But upon his death, he transforms into a giant bipedal boarlike demon known as Haazor, who starts attacking everyone in the arena. Decades ago King Octor Malartin made a deal with the demon Haazor, letting him possess his body in exchange for more power. This is partly why his reign has grown crueler over time, and ties in with the pig-themed nature of this adventure.
In terms of stats Haazor is well above the capabilities of 0 level PCs, with loads of hit points, a highly damaging staff attack, an acidic breath weapon, and characters who start their turns within 10 feet of him risk the poisoned condition (5e) or take a penalty one step down the dice chain (DCC) on all attacks.
Overall Thoughts: Just in regards to reading, the Tournament of Pigs comes off as a fun and unconventional adventure. There’s not a lot of cool stuff individual Zero Level PCs can do, but the variety of challenges can help keep things fresh and the Silver Rack prizes still give a sense of progression. Barring Faerie Fire and perhaps Duet, even the events involving a fight have means of resolutions that don’t necessarily involve straightforward killing of the opposition. The module gets points for being very user-friendly in regards to assets and handouts, and actually winning the tournament gives a 1st level PC an appreciable amount of money and perhaps a nifty magic item that leaves a notable impact beyond “I was lucky to survive.” In terms of an in-universe perspective it may feel weird for a PC that was recently placed in the tournament to be the winner due to their player having scored well with prior PCs, but this works well with the King’s wicked sense of humor. I like the fact that there’s an appendix for what happens upon the death of the king; even if it doesn’t happen during the adventure, it’s only natural that many PCs will come back to Nook to free their countrymen from his reign of terror.
My main point of contention with Tournament of Pigs is that the 5th Edition version could use some sprucing up, as DCC is the author’s preferred system. But such complaints are rather few; it’s not that hard to change a Strength check to a Strength (Athletics) check for example. I would definitely recommend this adventure for an offbeat oneshot or Funnel for groups who want a darkly humorous change of pace.