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I often see the term "funnel" used in describing adventures or campaigns, but it's not clear to me what it actually means. An example of this kind of use is this blog post talking about playing a "funnel". It doesn't explain what a funnel is, just assumes the reader knows:

I've run DCC RPG funnels. I've even run DCC funnels using the Swords & Wizardry rules. Heck, I ran a short lived DCC RPG campaign and some side arcs.

Saturday night was my first chance to play the DCC RPG, funnel or otherwise, from the player's side of the table, and it was good.

Can someone please provide a description of what it is and how it works in RPGs?

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A "funnel" is an adventure designed to take in a large number of 1st- or 0th-level characters and spit out just the survivors, if any. The metaphor is the shape of the PC pool: large at the entrance, small at the exit.

The term was coined by, and comes from the way character creation works in, Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG: each player creates and plays four 0th-level PCs during the adventure. Due to the fragility of these starting characters and the relative deadliness of DCC RPG, many are expected to die. From the survivors you advance one to 1st level. The result is that your "starting" 1st-level character has a bit of a history, some stories to tell, and a connection to the other PCs that's forged in fire.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think "meat grinder" is a synonym right? \$\endgroup\$ – user4000 Nov 21 '14 at 17:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ For anyone who hasn't tried this, it's super fun and gives your characters an instant backstory and motivations. (I must get revenge on the big bad for killing my father/cousin/mentor!) \$\endgroup\$ – Thane Brimhall Nov 21 '14 at 18:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MrJinPengyou I think a "meat grinder" is similar, but usually is geared more towards being a competition style dungeon of high deadliness which are usually run with characters who have some mid level capabilities. A funnel is specifically designed to run with absolutely new characters (ie. level 0's) and "weeding out the chaff". It should be noted that its origin, being DCC, also means that the funnel is the ONLY part of character creation in which the player is actually in control. A funnel can be considered the height of "role playing character creation". \$\endgroup\$ – Ian T. Small Nov 21 '14 at 19:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Would all the player characters follow the same adventure, i.e 6*4=24 characters? Seems like you'd be restricted to town posses, guilds or military sections or platoons in that case. \$\endgroup\$ – Lilienthal Nov 22 '14 at 22:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ They play simultaneously, yes. No, it doesn't restrict them to that. It's widely forgotten that D&D was originally played with large parties like that. In a character funnel the idea is that these are pre-hero normal people of some sort, but nothing dictates what sort or that they must all be of the same sort. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 22 '14 at 22:18
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In the context of adventures and campaigns, the word "funnel" in my experience usually refers to the use of several "common" people (0-level in AD&D nomenclature) that find themselves in an "uncommon" situation that they have to resolve.

The number of people outnumbers the number of players in general- because it is expected that there will be deaths- and a great number of them. But the ones that survive become the adventurers that games normally start out with, and this funnel becomes their origin story- moving them from cannon fodder to heroic levels.

A good treatment of this for Dungeon World that I can recommend from experience is Funnel World.

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Without context, I would assume the normal English usage of the word, which is quite different than the two RPG-specific answers posted before me.

A funnel takes things that are spread out and brings them together. Like if you set up events so that your characters could take several paths, but at the end they will get 'funneled' to the main boss regardless of which path they take.

Verb

funnel (third-person singular simple present funnels, present participle funnelling or funneling, simple past and past participle funnelled or funneled)

To use a funnel. To proceed through a narrow gap or passageway akin to a funnel; to narrow or condense.

Expect delays where the traffic funnels down to one lane.

(transitive) To direct (money or resources).

Our taxes are being funnelled into pointless government initiatives.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is how I've heard the word used in an RPG context before. Specifically to describe storylines. \$\endgroup\$ – Sparr Nov 21 '14 at 22:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Me too. No matter which tomb, ruin or other rumor the players follow, they end up at the same end boss. They don't know that though. \$\endgroup\$ – Zan Lynx Nov 23 '14 at 2:47
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While clearly not the answer you're looking for, there's another use of "funnel" I find used fairly commonly in tactical RPGs (anything played on a grid with "opportunity attack" rules used to discourage moving past enemies in combat), where you use a chokepoint to "funnel" enemies into a place they can be dealt with one/fewer at a time. The most common example would be positioning the "tank" just outside a door or in the doorway instead of inside a room, so enemies need to move through his space to get at the rest of the party.

Bonus points if your funnel causes a mixed group of monsters to have to engage separately based on their size - running down a hallway or cave passage the golem or dragon can't fit down and engaging their minions with totally different tactics than you use on the boss makes them much easier to handle.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This question is asking about what a funnel is when it appears to be referring to an entire adventure or campaign. Whilst what you're describing is a kind of funnel, this isn't the kind of funnel that is being described: you can't "run" this kind of funnel. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Nov 23 '14 at 5:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener Indeed. This answer is primarily intended for people who clicked the title and are curious about all the definitions in an RPG context, not just the one fully described in the body of the question. Some people see a simple title like "What is X?" and skip right past the body assuming the question is more obvious than it is. \$\endgroup\$ – gatherer818 Nov 23 '14 at 13:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ More effective would be posting and self-answering a question about the other kind(s) of funnel. We still expect answers to answer the actual question, not a question that a reader might mistake its title for. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 23 '14 at 18:34

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