Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mayro Below the Jade Temple / Review: Lesserton & Mor (One DM’s perspective)

Although one reviewer noted rightly that “Below the Jade Temple” a 5-page mini-crawl set in the ruins of Mor, is not, the major selling point of a product with over 100 pages, most of them devoted to descriptions of locales, folk, and plots of the base town—it is the focus of this “review.” Reason number one: this post is also an adventure log describing Mayro’s exploits in the Jade Temple. Reason number two: I have way too much unused campaign source material that might provide very interesting reading for DMs, but because of a lack of obvious “plot entry points,” will likely remain unusable. Indeed, often I find that campaign sourcebooks are so well-presented as self-regulating machines that I can’t imagine how autonomous PCs could be introduced without breaking them. Therefore, a fully fleshed out adventure provides an introduction to a setting that DMs and players may begin to see as their own.

The Jade Temple uses an entry-point that’s straight-forward without forcing the players’ hand. By chance they meet an adventurer (Golfo) who had been taken prisoners by a band of orkin living in the ruins. Imprisoned in the base of a small tower, he heard noises below him that made him think that there was a hidden entrance to a ruined temple. Thus there were two motivations for adventure: revenge and exploration/looting. Instead of orkin,
I varied this a little, and added some Khanbaliq-specific details. Golfo had been imprisoned by members of the Dirty Rain gang after he ran up large gambling debts that he was unable to pay. The Dirty Rain had planned to sell him as a mine slave, but instead he was purchased by an agent of the Black Flower gang. The Black Flowers had their own terms—they had wanted Golfo to find some friends to attack the Dirty Rain outpost and secure the tower. Although Golfo had escaped this debt by helping to exterminate the Black Flowers, he was still interested in seeing what was inside and below the tower. And Mayro reasoned that it was ok to kill people who had planned to sell your friend into slavery.

We played this game with one PC (Mayro who is a 3rd level M.U., Fighter) plus Golfo (published as a 2nd level fighter, he has risen to 4th level in adventures with Beatriss) and Nardon (also a 4th level fighter). I expect this adventure was intended for a larger number of lower-level characters. There were a couple places where their small numbers made the adventure much more dangerous.

Although he understood that it meant earning no XP for the adventure, Mayro opted to rely on magic to gain entrance to the tower. Ironically, the adventure includes enough detail about the gang’s daily activities-- including visits to the well to collect water—that had Mayro followed his usual M.O. of a long stakeout, he might have found another way. But his approach was very quick and very safe: sleep on the sentries from a distance, then jump up to the top of the tower. He killed the sleeping sentries, then brought his companions up on a rope.

They broke into the tower from the top and worked their way down, killing the gang members in their barracks rooms. When they found a locked door, the occupant raised the alarm, but the party took a defensive position and knocked off the gangsters in small numbers. Once the attackers stopped coming, the party moved through the ground floor and found the kitchen and then the stairs to the cellar—a succinctly described place of squalid misery well-known to Golfo, with a single pair of manacles hanging on the wall.

There was hole in the floor covered by a grate. In previewing the module, I was a little anxious the total of 3 spots requiring a successful bend bars in order to continue with the adventure. While I appreciate the realism, it can be really anticlimactic. Isn’t it almost better to fail a save and die of poison, then to fail a bend bars check and then have to just go home early? Anyway, this was actually the only instance, where it came down to a straight die roll and one of the three reasonably strong fighters made it and down they went.

Sewers! They’re a cliché I never get tired of and I don’t think anyone else does either. Consider that every urban feature—roads, sidewalks, intersections, even skyscrapers-- has its mirror image underground.

Fantasy blue. by phill.d
Fantasy blue., a photo by phill.d on Flickr.

Really? Anyway, the sewer map here is small, but suggestive of something larger, and more complicated. By simple process of elimination, the party was able to find its way to their intended goal, but there are plenty of blocked passageways that could offer passage to other “fossils” of the old city. Some passages were narrow and some wide, some filled with standing water, and others dry. Finding a nest of oversized worms (carrion crawlers) at the end of one of the blocked passageways gave them a clue that something lay beyond and after slaying the worms, (not difficult, but dangerous with a small party—at one point both NPCs were paralyzed by those nasty tentacles,) and “thawing out” Mayro & co. began trying to dig their way through. The module has some nice rules for exhaustion, that I unfortunately forgot to apply.

And on the other side of the rubble? The thrill of a locked gate! You can’t get beyond, but you know you’re going the right way or there wouldn’t be a gate here. Rather than trying to bend bars (I suppose an open locks check could have also worked if they’d had a thief), Mayro started bashing the lock with a big rock. This shook the gate and the roof above. And it shook up the party a little, but not enough. After killing some worm worms that popped out behind the falling flagstones, Mayro attacked the lock some more and finally broke it off. Behind this lay the third “test of strength” another grate, this one at the end of a small, upward slanting crawl space. Mayro tied a rope to one of the bars and I let all three of them combine their rolls.

So they broke through the grate and continued to the sarcophagi room. What I liked about this room is that the guardians weren’t inside the sarcophagi. After one tough fight and one easy one, the adventurers looted the room—jade monkey statue plus small jewelry on the long-dead priests.

Perhaps the best moment was one the way out when Golfo, in crossing through one of the “wet” tunnels, stepped on a weak point in the floor and fell through, taking the party’s torch with him, and plunging everyone into darkness. They heard him scream for help and jumped in after him. They found themselves about waist deep in water and fighting something big and slimy that had attached its mouth to one of Golfo’s legs and was sucking out his blood. Golfo stabbed at its head while the others attacked its thrashing body, and they killed it in time to save Golfo. After catching their breath, they dug a dry torch out of Golfo’s backpack, lit it and surveyed what seemed, for a few minutes, their likely final resting place.

They were in a 30’ diameter globular cavern, with water about up to their waist and no obvious exits. Water from the corridor above that they’d been sloshing around in was pouring down in a small, but steady stream. They were in no immediate danger of drowning, but neither was the chamber filling fast enough that they could forward to letting it fill the chamber and carry them back up to the exit. It was one of those times when the rules about re-acquisition of spells really matter. Mayro had his spell book, but what else did he need to re-learn jump? My long-standing house rule is spells can be re-acquired at any time through one-half-hour of uninterrupted study per spell level. I’m very diligent about wandering monster checks, and because any serious interruption (e.g. even the howling of a pack of wolves that do not attack, but not one of your friends sneezing) requires the spell-caster to start all over again, higher level spells can be very difficult to learn outside of one’s own locked study. Obviously, this rule worked very much to the party’s favor in this case. Also in mine, since the “standard rule” would have put me in the position of figuring out whether Mayro would be able to get a good night’s sleep on the slopes of an underground pool if his life depended on it.

Mayro spent some his time with his spell book, took a torch from Goldo and the rope from Nardon and jumped out of the hole, then turned around and pulled out his companions. On their way out, they found that the door from the cellar to the tower was barred, giving them some notice that the Dirty Rain may have returned, but broke down the door without any special precautions. They exited the tower made tracks for the city, only to be waylaid by a small group of Dirty Rain on the road. Neither side was eager for combat, and the party was able to pass after surrendering some of the jewelry they’d looted from the temple.

After resting up for a few days, they went to visit Xiao, who helped them find a buyer for the jade monkey statue. Each of them decided to spend about half his share on a suit of full armor—lacquered steel plates, co-ordinated arm-guards and leg-guards, tailored epaulets and lined gauntlets—the works. Mayro also invested in the supplies needed to create a second spell book containing a couple of his favorite spells.

Ancient Iron Armor by rockourworld1
Ancient Iron Armor, a photo by rockourworld1 on Flickr.

In closing, and to state what I hope is obvious, yes, “Under the Jade Temple,” is a solid mini-adventure that provides players a clearly-defined objective even while contributing to a sense of what the ruins are like and who is moving among them. I don’t think it would make much sense to run it as a one-off, but it works as well in any other “ruins” setting (e.g. mine) as it does in Mor. And it’s very useful as a stepping stone to more Mor adventures , or again, getting deeper into the referee’s to consider what parts can be adapted to one’s own setting.

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