The Necropolis of Nuromen v1 (2015)
Justin Becker (Dreamscape Design)
Necropolis of Nuromen is the expanded edition of an adventure that came out in 2013 for the Blueholme retroclone, based on the holmes basic set. It was made on the trail end of the imitative period of the OSR and thus, by and large, is a fateful imitation of the type of adventure you’d see for DnD Basic in the early 80s, minus all the warts. It is very good.
Nuromen the Necromancer was a powerful and evil magic-user who attracted a number of like-minded followers to his tower set upon a rocky knoll in the Delvingwood. Here they built a small town, known as Law’s End because it lay beyond the reach of all kings of the Realm. Nuromen took advantage of an extensive cavern network beneath his tower, expanding and fitting it out with fine stone and woodworks. This underground lair became the abode of his family and his henchmen and, according to legend, the site of terrible debaucheries, rituals and experimentation.
Unfortunately for Nuromen and his band of evil, a terrible doom befalls his tower, wiping them out. Expeditions are mounted but all suffer a terrible fate. Wood elves watch over the site. Unfortunately, the Elves are fading, goblins are moving in, and the site is once again open to exploration. Enter the PCs!
Necropolis is an enhanced version of the original Maze of Nuromen, incorporating an expanded surrounding area, as well as an extra mini-quest to be explored after the adventurers have survived the original Maze. The combination of frontier castle with a handful of staple NPCs, forsaken ruin inhabited by evil and wilderness area puts on immediately in mind of B2, and my recommendation would be to omit most of the setting detail and simply place the Maze on the site of the never described Caves of the Unknown as an additional location to explore alongside the Caves of Chaos.
The area consists of the Delvingwood, a deep and enchanted forest only navigeable by the Elfway, erected from pact between man and elf, and inhabited by bandits, warring goblins and elves and all manner of wild beasts and enchanted creatures. There’s hints of the same care being taken to establish that this is a place separate and distinct from the Lands We Know, although I feel an opportunity is missed by making the place too civilised. There’s lumberjacks taking advantage of the forest’s preternatural regeneration, caravans of merchants travelling to the far off city of Blueholme and patrols by the Lady Leikas of the Lily and her Griffons etc. etc. It feels more like a little nook of chaos surrounded by civilized lands, rather then a place beyond the Lands of Men, where what we know of the world no longer applies and I think it is the weaker for it.
There’s nothing wrong with the description of Camlann Castle, dominated by the White Tower and later expanded into a township by her ancestors. This and numerous other references are reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, the elves a combination of Tolkien and Lord Dunstany, but this gives them a fey sort of mystery that was generally absent in Basic . That being said, the surrounding area does little to contribute to the adventure proper and in some cases is almost a distraction. I can’t help but feel Becker’s energies could have been better directed. There’s a rumor table for intrigue within the fortress but there’s no rumor table for the Necropolis proper, for example. Several other examples of game-relevant content like item availability, NPC retainers or treacherous assailtants that were present in B2 are also absent. The NPCs have fluff but they do not possess much in the way of potential gameplay .
There’s a considerable table for travel from the fortress to the Necropolis, both on and away from the Elfway. As one may readily surmise, straying from the Elfway is cruisin for a bruisin, with Owlbears, Ogres and a Cockatrice being possible encounters. Necropolis tries to add an extra layer of versimilitude by providing a maximum amount of monsters per encounter, meaning eventually the area will be depleted, though I find this superfluous. If random encounters take place in a fixed notation any fatalities can be subtracted from possible room inhabitants until the total is zero, and for open areas we can assume the size of the location means the number of inhabitants is either unique (as in the case of the Cockatrice here) or unlimited. It’s all about versimilitude. Why have five Owlbears but not six etc?
The encounters proper are described but more in terms of context then any actions they might be taking. It’s usefull but it could do a little more to make them come alive. Sometimes Nuromen gets it perfectly:
This young dragon is wandering the forest in search of a suitable home, and is considering Law’s End. It tends to avoid fights.
Voila. Motivation, Activity—> Done!
And sometimes it does not:
A few bugbears have come to the woods with the goblins, but they are not really affiliated with them and are far more aggressive.
A subquest in the form of a party of elven travellers searching the crown of their prince, betrayed by the evil Nuromen, adds more spice to the mixture.
The Dungeon proper is excellent, coming across like a lost episode of B/X without ever feeling like a tired rehash. Language is evocative without being flowery or self-indulgent. It feels like a place that is worthy of exploration.
The Necropolis of Nuromen is a marvel of engineering. Carved from the natural limestone caverns beneath his tower, the halls and corridors are grand and imposing with fantastically sculpted columns supporting high, vaulted ceilings. Nuromen had the inhabited portions dressed with stone, frescoes and wood which, in spite of the age and
neglect that have taken their toll, are still impressive in their hedonistic and decadent splendour
The entrance into the dungeon proper is properly introduced (characters must rappel down a shaft), there’s different factions exploring the dungeon at one time, making the place feel alive, there’s multiple means of exploration (including a perilous underground river that allows you to skip the entire 1st floor), secret doors in sensible locations , natural obstacles to overcome and multiple doors with keys. There’s a few empty rooms to give the whole some breathing space and prevent one from being overwhelmed and they are all keyed to a single description at the start of the adventure, aspiring module writers take note. On the whole, the use of naturalistic locations like barracks, pantries, a weird garden and a wizard’s laboratory are more reminiscent of B1 then B2, though the ridiculous length of some of B1’s room descriptions are fortunately avoided. There’s even an alchemy lab where the PCs are free to sample potions.
Inhabitants take sensible precautions like posting guards or setting ambushes. Goblin raiders are interspersed with vermin, the living dead and the crowning piece of the first level, two fucking Harpies in a large open hallway. I respect a module that puts in at least one encounter that will be a total shitshow if the PCs are not ready for it.
There’s also, wait for it…riddles! The ghoulish corpse of the greatest thief in the Realm guards a treasure on an island and poses a riddle or it attacks, clearly a homage to Gollum. There’s an enchanted door that will only open if you give it the password…but you can figure out the password from the surrounding area!
Necropolis rides that fine line of having classic content without coming across as entirely old hat or derivative. Mundane treasure is richly described, painted ivory dice, elven viands, a fine silver puppet belonging to Nuromen’s daughter. Enchanted weaponry, an amulet that makes you irresistible to goblins of the opposite sex, a book of worship of the Chaos God Gamosh; there’s wonder without a violation of the feel of B/X, a rare subtlety. An elven crown that if donned even once, raises the charisma of the user but will lower it in the presence of dwarves.
The final confronation with the wraith of Nuromen is likely to bust everyone’s balls, but the low hit points of the evil Nuromen make it at least technically possible to finish the dungeon with a large party. The traps and tricks guarding his hoard might claim one or two more incautious assailants as a last, spiteful stab from the evil Nuromen.
There’s a second small adventure in the back involving a band of brigands led by a disgraced noblemen hidden in a cave complex but it adds comparatively little to the adventure as a whole and may easily be committed. It lacks the richness, cleverness and variety of the Necropolis proper.
As a fan of the old stuff I can’t help but have a soft spot for 1st wave OSR. Nuromen captures the essence of B/X without copying its flaws and never once feels like an old hat. It demonstrates yet again that the essence of Dnd is as viable now as it was thirty years ago. A rare treat that may be seamlessly slotted into one’s Mystara campaign without a missed beat.
UPDATE: After careful consideration, I have decided to bust it down to a high ***. B9 kids, not even once!
 I would direct the jury to Dungeon #1 ‘The Elven home’, where elves are essentially hippies living a degenerate, hedonistic existence of hot mineral springs and carefree frolicking that is risible to the upright, dungeon-crawling man.
 We need a unit of measurement for game-play potential, with a hostile monster starting out at 1 and a description of what a room once used to represent at 0.05.
 Secret doors in seemingly random places are a fucking waste of time and reward either luck or tedious, autistic dungeoncrawling. Secret doors whose existence may be gleaned from careful mapping, contextual cues or cryptic hints are welcome indeed!