Playing the Medusa

I think personal experience has very little to do with the actual quality of a module. There are so many things that can drastically change your experience with one, from the DM, to personal circumstance, to the system being played. But just as a frame of reference, and because I know people would ask, here’s a synopsis of my experience with Blue Medusa.

I DMed the game for three friends. All four of us had D&D experience. We played with a slightly modified version of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, although I had to sell it as D&D because the players refused to learn what they perceived to be a new system, even though it’s basically just OD&D. I did not tell them it was a module until the very end, because I did not want it to color their experiences, as I was genuinely interested in how the game would go. As such, I renamed the titular Blue Medusa into something else entirely, to avoid any chance of google blowing the surprise. The players started at level 2, and received EXP from combat encounters + discovering each section of the Maze.  We played for three hours a week.

Within the first few rooms the players had already learned that touching things was a very bad idea. The “Starlit Stones” room with the shadows was, I believe, the first real challenge encountered, and as far as I can remember, the only encounter in the entire game that they approached with genuine interest and treated the results as an endearing challenge. Within the first session the players had already learned that they could sprint through rooms with no real risk to themselves, and basically speedran through the entirety of Chronia’s Halls. (In the only other actual play I’ve seen of this game, this exact sequence of events happened.)

A character had already died within the first session, though this was entirely a result of player stupidity so I only mention it for record keeping. In the second session they entered the Almery, which they quickly learned was a bad idea as the first enemy they encountered was way out of their league even with me actively cripplingly it as much as I could for the sake of avoiding a total party kill. Another character died this time, and the only living party member ran off. Within the next hour we had our two replacement party members, which appeared in the Garden that I basically railroaded them into. A lot of random encounters happened which went nowhere and left the players disinterested.

The players seemed totally clueless as to what they were actually supposed to do in the Garden and seemed to stay on track solely because of the deeds of the demon Carnifex, described in room 42. Carnifex floods the garden, which the players of course could not care less about, but he also manifested to trap the players, which was enough of a motivation to get them to find him. The players took several sessions to even find Carnifex, but they eventually did find and gut him. (Note: This is the only significant character in the entirety of the module that they actually kill.)  By the time he was found, the Garden was completely flooded, which made me question the rationality of the random encounter table as it was already stretching belief to say that these creatures would appear in the garden at all. Now if they showed up, they’d probably drown. I decided to drop the random encounters from the game entirely after this.

Next came the Art Gallery, which was the section of the maze I was most excited to DM. Unfortunately, the players did not feel the same way. One player in particular hated the survival mechanics (time passes extremely quickly in the art gallery, so the players must eat constantly to survive) to such a degree that he outright refused to play if it meant his character was forced to go through it. I was forced to GM fiat up an easy puzzle that allowed them to warp to the Reptile Archive through the Art Gallery, thus skipping pretty much all of it.

The Reptile Archive was a bit of a weird experience as it is pretty dependent on you going through the Art Gallery beforehand, as most of the antagonistic forces here are Chameleon Women who you’re supposed to know through the Art Gallery. That didn’t exactly happen, so I had to drum up a reason why the Chameleon Women were hostile. What I came up with was while the players was on their warp puzzle excursion, the birdmen from the Garden relocated to the Art Gallery after the Garden flooded, royally pissing off the Chameleon Women and causing them to go on full lockdown. It helped that one of the characters had a bit of an alliance with the birdmen…but that same character died not long after arriving in the Archive, so the sense of happenstance remained.

There are a ridiculous amount of rooms in the Archive which serve basically no meaningful purpose. The players once again did not know where to go so I basically had to play up like they were going somewhere, which I did by completely ignoring the provided descriptions of the rooms and coming up with my own internal logic for them. If you’re keeping track: I have by this point radically rebalanced the encounters, come up with my own explanation for many of the major events of the module, and am now essentially doing room design.

My goal was to goad the players into discovering the hidden Mile of Many Moons, an area which, in the module itself, holds a weirdly high number of meaningful encounters and evocative imagery with descriptions that suggest that it is a secret, but in fact it is incredibly easy to find. I actually hid it behind a puzzle, so the players had to actually do something other than search rooms for once. I fleshed out the See-No-More character to essentially blackmail the player characters. Finally there was some semblance of a reasonable story hook after 12 sessions: and it wasn’t even in the book itself. I made him out to be in cahoots with Torcul Wort, the son of the “boss” of the next section of the Maze.

The Wedding is probably the most well-crafted section of the module. It is also the part of the module that my players hated the most, as uncovering the mystery behind the doomed wedding is incredibly difficult, or at least it was for my players. It is probably the only section of the module that I ran completely as-written without regrets, though my players weren’t particularly thrilled with it. Especially, after, well…they all died. The Angelfish and it’s friends ripped them all apart.

Thankfully, I was well-prepared for this, having understood by this point that there was a very real possibility of a total party kill and that the players would have no motivation to go on if their stories ended there. I had already thought of a contingency plan: having died within the Maze, they passed through some sort of unnatural looking glass within the afterlife, and returned to the Maze as shadows, similar to the ones encountered in the first encounter I described. They would return to life, but with a catch: they had to find and take new bodies from the maze dwellers. One character refused to do this on principle, and died instead–with his death, all three of the original party members were now dead.

By this point I was already well acquainted with the Maze’s flaws and eccentricities, and reading ahead, found that they reached their most insufferable heights within the Almery. At this point, I figured that so much has gone south that I could probably make a far superior Almery by myself, ignoring the book entirely. So I did. Unsurprisingly, this is unanimously remembered by my players as the best part of the campaign.

The only thing remaining were the cells, and the final encounter with the renamed Blue Medusa. By this point, I could tell my players were worn out, so I skipped the cells entirely (they are severely lacking anyway) and went straight to the final room. As written, the Blue Medusa is supposed to duel the players, culminating in an escape sequence where the Maze starts to crumble apart. Knowing better at this point, I ended it with a conversation.

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