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.
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.