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.

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