I’ve been thinking of what imaginative adventure I could outline for the benefit of the gentle reader; something not usually done, something different. And which could say something about the way the game is played.
Allow your party to reach a fairly large settlement, a few thousand people…but not too many. After their first or second night, have a disturbance wake them at four or five in the morning. They look out their window to see the street is full of people, loading up wagons and horses, mules and each other. Have soldiers rushing here and there, shouting for everyone to stay calm, to take only their necessities. Have town criers moving through shouting that the local nobility has instructed everyone to flee, that the time is four bells, that ten bells remain. Describe people tossing goods out of windows into the street, people tussling over the use of some animal, swords being drawn, soldiers rushing in to stop a fight from occurring.
Now that you have their attention. They will rush about demanding to know what is happening. Have people say, with a great deal of fear, that the “Junipers” are coming. (Pick any completely non-threatening term you like). Encourage the party to “flee for their lives” and say that they must flee to “Graven.” Have people be too busy to talk. Do not explain the meaning of anything—they are much too busy, frantic, freaked and terrified to explain what is going on to noobs. Have the party’s horses stolen, or about to be stolen, so that the party must fight for their horses. Have the innkeeper leave, without locking the door, while the party reclaims their horses. Unless the party says, “WE RUN” right away, indicate that the town is emptying out pretty fast, that there are many doors hanging wide open to jeweler’s shops, smithies, craft guilds and the like. Have at least a dozen obvious other people looting all around—as suddenly the soldiers have all disappeared.
Chances are the party will note the time (9 bells or 8 bells left) and that it can’t be that bad if there are other locals who are looting. Let the party loot. Let them find amazing stuff, enough to let them go up one, maybe two levels. Let them find some truly magnificent treasure, something unbelievable, like a crystal statue weighing a ton, suggesting that it alone could allow every person in the party to go up a level—if they can get it out. Give them a broken-down cart and a frightened donkey in order to drag this thing. Watch the party calm the donkey, fix the cart, debate with each other about taking the item and so on…wasting time, of course.
You should be able to figure out the rest of this adventure yourself. Obviously, the party will refuse to abandon the statue. But once they have wasted even one hour, you must play it out this way, once they discover that the “Juniper” is an advancing horde of ten billion insects, an enormous creeping doom which will grind down four hit points per round while being, effectively, impossible to kill (even with another creeping doom or a plethora of cloud kills): carrying anything, anything at all, will slow them down to the point where they will not reach safety (Graven is a holy place of some kind, which holds the town). They must abandon everything to survive. Do not make this clear at any point. Have them work it out on their own: “Hm…I run faster without the sword…I run faster when I’m not manipulating the Tenser’s Floating Disc,” etc. Before the party can reach Graven, give them twenty four or forty-eight hours of the creatures nipping at their heels the whole way, one damage every eight minutes if they’re in clothes (which have grown ragged and are now constantly grabbing at branches or tripping them up), one damage every nine minutes if they’re naked and still carrying a weapon, and so on.
I’m guessing that you will kill the whole party before they willingly dump the statue, then their loot, then their armor, their goods and equipment, finally their weapons and their clothes. Given the choice between materials and life, players always hesitate. Make them pay for their hesitation.
Oops. Forgot to include a princess. Oh well, they rescue a princess somehow.