Sunday, August 16, 2015

Maze of Nuromen (2 of 2)

After Chrono’s departure, the party tried some more names against the “skeletons” door (without success) and then returned to the gardens. Cutting through the overgrown vines, they found a secret passage where they were attacked by a pair of zombies. The passage led to a little girl’s bedroom. (Here, among other places, I soft-pedalled the creepiness that saturates this adventure. Part of makes it so effective is its roots in realism. This wizard, along with being crazy and evil, also had a family that he loved very much. And, unlike in many other very other good adventures, the back story isn’t background for the DM’s private entertainment.) Among the ribbons and bows and toys, there was a magical dancing puppet, with the inscription “Always for Altheana.” Wolfgang claimed the puppet.

The party also found a staircase to a lower level, and descended, hoping they would find out what happened to Gerrilynn and Caitlynn. Instead they found a room containing goblins. Because this is a well-conceived adventure, the goblins did not simply attack. Instead they started a conversation, with one or two goblins speaking to the party in common while the others conversed among themselves in their own language. The goblins wanted to know if the party had a key because they really shouldn’t be down there without a key. And how many were they? Not so many only a hundred or two, and did the visitors have anything to eat. Wolfgang shared his wine and the goblins shared their cold bouillon and they all agreed they would meet again soon.

The party left the goblins debating whether they should ask to go to their “base.” When they soon found another locked iron door they suddenly understood why the goblins wanted a key. When they returned to the goblins room, they found it barred. The occupants explained that they were napping and that they were in the middle of a ritual to summon a monster and maybe they shoud all talk later when that key had been found?

Meanwhile . . . Gerrilynn and Caitlynn resolved that since Nuromen secreted the elf crown in the caverns, there should be a way to access them from his stronghold—other than by way of a cold dark stream. They crossed to the other side, and found more and more narrow twisting passages. The smell of the reptile-men lingered everywhere. And they had no materials for making a map. The safest course of action it seemed, was to stay in one place and wait for the rest of the party to find them. They returned to the stream and the treasure room.

As the main party returned upstairs, Wolfgang had an idea. He led the others to the main courtyard and walked up to the metal doors depicting skeletons and other sights related to death. When the death’s head demanded a password, he had an answer: “Altheana”

“You may pass”

Inside thy found a particularly macabre wizard’s laboratory and—a set of iron keys. These keys allowed the party to get behind the iron doors on the lower level and they renewed their hope of finding Gerrilynn, Caitlynn, and/or the crown.

They explored a series of rooms containing sculptures, paintings, or amulets depicting a four-armed fanged baboon. This was scary and weird and provided a compelling thematic progression. And it was an effective “palate-cleanser” after the succession and password-and-puzzle obstacles th party had just overcome. The complete absence of monsters only added to the suspense that reached its climax when they reached the tomb of Nuromen.

Like the goblins, Nuromen did not immediately attack. Trapped in an undead state, he seemed eager to know how the living had fared in passing through his dungeons. He laughed as their arrows passed through him. White Bear listening in from the next room even though neither her PC nor her Gerrilynn’s henchmen were involved, urged the other players to “attack with magic weapons!” Wolfgang imbued his staff with a temporary enchantment and only when he landed a solid blow on Nuromen’s undead skull did the necromancer begin to fight in earnest, seizing Wolfgang in his chilling, life-draining grasp. Wolfgang shook free and retreated, while Vulpio charged into battle with his magic war hammer, shrugging off a blast of magical energy from Nuromen’s fingers. Nuromen crumpled under a blow from Vulpio’s hammer, and when the second blow landed, he crumbled to dust. Mardiuw and Kirito fought off and destroyed Nuromen’s entourage of zombies.

The party recovered treasure from Nuromen’s tomb, but no crown. And there was still no sign of Gerrilynn or Caitlynn. The party agreed that it was time to return to the surface.

Meanwhile . . . Gerrilynn and Csitlynn camped in the darkness of the treasure cavern, and over a day or so, ate their rations. In time, they began to consider the possibility that they would never be found, and would need to seek their own way out. Caitlynn’s torches and her tinder box had dried out. She lit a torch. Together they explored the cavern more thoroughly. They found one section where the stalactites and stalagmites had been cleared away. Masonry blocks framed a doorway. Just as Caitlynn discovered the handle on the stone slab that would open the secret door, a glistening, gelatinous cube slid down from the ceiling. Gerrilynn pulled her out of the way just in time. The pair retreated to higher ground and pelted it with rocks and arrows. It pursued them, and as it reached Caitlynn, she found its touch numbing, even partly paralyzing. Gerrilynn thrust the lit torch forward. The cube started to melt. Caitlynn broke off a chunk of the cube with a solid blow of her club. Gerrilynn held her torch to another part of the gelatinous mass and it broke down into a jelly and then a liquid. Sitting down to rest, the two women heard voices from the direction of the stream . . .

Wolfgang, Vulpio, and Mardiuw rose from the dark depths of the maze to the heady afternoon light of the Island of Lost Dreams. Chickie was waiting for them, eager for any news. Bruised, battered, and shaken, they refused to discuss whether they might be giving up their quest or any hope of finding Gerrilynn alive. The pixies who lived on the island gave them succor—nourishing food and easy slumber. They awakened mere hours later, much refreshed. Vulpio had a dream that he eagerly shared with Wolfgang. They should go into the stream. He didn’t believe Mardiuw would survive, but Wolfgang was an excellent swimmer and he, Vulpio would rather die than desert a friend. Wolfgang agreed and Chickie insisted that he woukd follow them. They planned for their risky venture, leaving their armour behind, and carrying small weapons.

Vulpio went first, then Chickie, then Wolfgang. Chickie was nearly swept past the landing site a d down into yet lower levels of the cavern, but Wolfgang risked his own life to save him. Safely on dry land, they saw a dim light in te cavern beyond . . . and also heard women shouting. . .

So the party was reunited at last. They passed through the secret door that Gerrilynn had discovered. Wolfgang and Vulpio recognized the statute of the multi-armed baboon but were initially disoriented with regards to how to get out. But they referred to their map and once they found the stairs up to the garden, they were able to find their way.

 In summary,

This is a great module, classic in form and subtle in its novelty.  It has a deep back story that will be appreciated not by the DM but by players who pay close attention. It's sized well.  The rooms and encounters are not stripped down to the essentials of the chain-of-keys-ad-passwords plot.  At th same time, with the possible exception of the wandering monster tables (which are generic Moldvay basic) there's no filler either-- the set encounters all belong in the lair of an evil wizard who should be long dead.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Maze of Nuromen (1 of 2)

Maze of Nuromen (now available as the Necropolis of Nuromen) is billed as a first-level adventure and involves the retrieval of an elven artefact from the ruins of the “Maze of Nuromen,” the lair of a long-dead wizard. As noted by 10-foot Pole, that set-up could be described as classic or cliché. While he praises the adventure, he suggests that it’s best for new players because they will not be put-off by its use of well-known elements. White Bear, an experienced if casual player, commented that this was one of her favorite adventures ever, that she really felt drawn into it and was thinking about it between sessions. Isa Girl Monkey, who has also been playing D&D for over five years also showed an enthusiasm while playing that she often keeps to herself. On the other hand, the other three players were children (11 years old) and thus relatively new to the game.

Because I have run this adventure, I’m writing this review as a play report, summarizing each of the five sessions, interspersed with advice on running the adventure and assessments of the product. Spoilers abound.

In the first session, the following PCs and NPCs entered the Maze of Nuromen through a steeply-sloped hole they’d found on the Island of Lost Dreams:

Wolfgang (PC- 3rd level druid)
Kirito (PC- 1st leverl ranger)
Gerrilynn (PC played by White Bear 3rd level cleric) with her henchmen Chickie (NPC 3rd level thief) and Caitlynn (NPC 1st level ranger).
Vulpio (PC played by Isa Girl Monkey) with his henchmen Mardiuw (NPC 1st level thief).

Most of these characters were close to levelling up and did so between sessions. A group of brand new 1st level characters would have a tough time—though admittedly we had no deaths at all over the five sessions.

As they entered the Maze, the party experienced their first near-death in the form a fast-moving underground stream cutting through room. Caitlynn was clumsy, slipped on a rock and was swept out of the room and into the darkness. Faithful Gerrilynn, stripped off her heavy armour and dove in after her. The others crossed the stream safely, and proceeded to explore the rest of the maze. Splitting the party—for the DM this is impossible to do perfectly. Even if you take each group into their room—the fact that you are bouncing between the two rooms lets everyone know that at least the others are alive. Nevertheless, this is kind of what we did, but with much airtime devoted to the main party. White Bear ran Gerriynn’s henchman Chickie so she wasn’t left out.

The party soon found themselves in what seemed to be the center of the Maze—an underground courtyard with two sets of metal doors—one bearing scenes of feasting and more feasting (or as I said “feasting and more feasting”) the other bearing scenes of “skeletons.” Suspecting reverse psychology, the party went for the “skeletons” door, but one of the gruesome faces on the door came to life and demanded a password. After many many attempts, the party, still fearing the “feast” door, exited through one of the prosaic wooden stores. They mapped well and after passing through some other rooms, found themselves in a huge fireplace that seemed to be shared with the feasting room. Kirito the ranger went through the fireplace to investigate. There was another room on the other side and Kirito caught whiff of a horrible stench—possibly the worst thing he’d ever smelled—and yet strangely familiar. Kirito covered his ears and slipped back into the kitchen, warning the others to do the same. Wolfgang understood. After they’d all moved a safe distance away, Wolfgang brought out his candles and everyone plugged their ears with wax and they returned to the feasting room, ready for battle.

Sure enough, the terrible half-women half-birds emerged from the rafters, their faces twisted in fury. As they circled, Wolfgang produced a small ball of flame and threw it at them, catching one and setting its greasy wings alight. Both monsters descended, and were met by the weapons of Vulpio and Kirito. With the others’ assistance, the harpies were destroyed.  

Underneath the harpies’ filth, the feasting room was lavishly furnished. The party filled their backpacks will gold and silver dinnerware and returned to the surface. They tended to their wounds and asked the elves whether maybe they’d heard anything from Gerrilynn and Caitlynn? No.  

Meanwhile . . . in the underground caverns . . .

After being dunked by the rushing stream and bounced against the walls of the winding tunnel, Caitlynn and Gerrilynn emerged in another cavern at least large enough to lift their heads above the water to breath and with banks wide and sandy enough that they could escape the stream’s current. As they dragged themselves from the water, calling out for each in the darkness, they heard voices, alien and menacing and the sound of footsteps echoing from all sides. The shock of being hit by something sharp, a spear or arrow from the darkness was almost a relief. Gerrilynn called out to Raud asking to halt their unseen assailants. After another volley of missiles, the attack ended. Caitlynn, judging by the direction from which the spears had come, felt her way across the stream and slew their transfixed enemies. Then the two adventurers collapsed into slumber.

The main party, accompanied by a new companion, Chrono the druid (PC-- 2nd level), continued to explore the Maze of Nuromen.  

One of the highlights was a large, overgrown garden. As a DM, I had some difficulty describing it—even though they were underground on an island, this garden grew in the sunlight and open air—on a shelf surrounded by a stone balustrade. Still, this place was very atmospheric—lots of strange plants with stinking fruits, twisting tiled path, and fountains with statues that spit and piss when someone steps on the wrong pressure plate. The monsters—fire beetles were something of an unnecessary distraction.

The party came upon another locked metal door. Wolfgang found a pickaxe and did his best to break the stone that framed the iron door, but was defeated. Chrono, feeling claustrophobic and nauseous, expressed his wish to return to the upper world. Chickie, who had been injured in the garden, also wished to escape the maze. The rest of the party escorted them to the room with stream and saw them safely across.

Meanwhile . . . Gerrilynn awakened and prayed for light to help her explore the cavern. She roused Caitlynn. They turned away from the stream and sought dryer ground. They followed a series of crooked tunnels into a large cavern with a box of jewellery in the middle. After testing that it wasn’t a trap or an illusion, they got closer and found among the other treasures, a silver and gold circlet that matched the elves’ description. Gerrilynn put the crown on her head and Caitlynn noticed an immediate change—the always compelling prophetess now seemed to take on an extra, elven layer of . . . charisma.