[ Play report ] Maze Rats: Nyolibhotep’s sewers

sean f. smith / he, him
14 min readApr 17, 2022
Map by Dyson Logos — from https://dysonlogos.blog/2019/10/03/south-sewers/

It’s a cold wet day in Aprille (fantasy april) and you’ve all been called together by a seamstress called Culdene, who is calling in a favour.

We played Maze Rats as live play-by-post, all in the same group message on Discord, with me rolling all the dice. That meant very little conversations about game mechanics took place. What’s more, the gameplay itself writes up the replay! This is minorly edited and remains at narrative level throughout.

Dramatis Personae

The Pledge

Alma had the unfortunate dependence on Culdene in an occasion due to one of her experiments causing damage to a rich merchant’s textiles, and, as unpleasant as Alma is as a person, she pays her debts enough to get over the slight hangover headache and go attend to her call.

Meadow is teetotal and a little anti-social, so they were up early anyway.

Culdene embroiders all of Jimbly’s tunics and trousers at a deep friends and family discount. Culdene and Jimbly are neither friends, nor family. They both knew the favor would be called in one day. They pull on their trousers covered with flowering filigree and scrolling, pull a slouchy cap down over their missing ear, put on a cheery face, and whistle a lively tune as they head down to meet the seamstress.

Culdene is John’s cousin and if he’s not prepared to be on time, he’ll hear all about it at the family get-together in Junelle (fantasy June)

Culdene isn’t a tall woman, but her extreme slenderness gives the impression of height. She is wearing an elaborate housecoat: ostentatious loungewear that it is, but the sort of thing she’ll use to symbolise she is being deadly serious.

“You’ll have noticed that there have been a significant reduction in the amount of twinslugs this year.” (They’re about the size of daschunds and basically overground nudibranches. Absolutely ruin crops and textiles alike. Normally they come up when the Marech {fantasy march} rains start.) “I’ve been always to work out why — — an organisation that is hiding under the city has been stealing them away. Normally I wouldn’t mind someone secretly helping the city, but I am certain they have nefarious purposes. Before the sun sets today, I need you to go into the sewers and work out what in helk (fantasy hell) is going on.”

“I’ll definitely need a pair of gloves if I’m going to be handling a bunch of twinslugs! Assuming part of this job is their safe return?” Jimbly asks.

“You can kill them for all I care: I just want to know why they’re going missing.” Nevertheless Culdene gives Jimbly some fancy work gloves made from gharial hide. Jimbly looks crestfallen at first, but then positively delighted when they are handed the gloves after all. They pull them on and admire them, gripping their hammer tightly and swishing it this way and that.

Being rather well-acquainted with the sewers, it being a great source of various chemical overspill, Meadow has noticed the same but honestly didn’t think much of it.

“I assume this cancels the debt I owe, so I’ll go for a wade if needs be.”

Alma raises her eyebrow upon hearing the task. Not that she finds it a particularly weird request, but that it looks too vague a premise for investigation. At the very least, however, she can take some slugs in the process.

“Very well, I’ll do it,” she says burying her hands in the clothing, oversized as always, her having the confidence that her charm and strong charisma makes them look good and eccentric. It doesn’t, but she does not need to know. “I’d like some gloves too, if possible. So, any hint of a contact that might know how to start looking for the organisation?”

Culdene looks at Alma. “They’ve been wearing monk’s habits, but none of them have the standard tonsured haircut you’d expect. Helk, it’s the same as any other city: most people keep to themselves so noone has approached them yet.”

The Turn

It is the sewers. The rain from above has chilled the general temperatures down here, so there’s less effluent haze than you’d expect from being down here. But the water levels are high and even as you walk along the grill-plate the grim waters lap almost a quarter-inch up your boots and or other shoes.

At this point, I gave the players access to the map at the top of this post. “Secret” doors were once secret, but now worn and visible. This was a 2h game and I was more interested in choice than chance.

Most of Meadow’s clothes are stained in chemicals of various sorts, so a little sewage hardly seems of concern. They start to splash confidently along towards the nearest twinslug grounds, muttering to themselves as they go.

Alma is generally unbothered by the sewers’ particular brand of perfume, having her fair share of experience either searching for material down there or hiding from people very interested in knowing why there was a type of weird smoke entering their rooms. The water’s height, on the other hand, feels unbearable.

“Frak, bad day for wearing these boots,” she says, tagging along. (Frak is fantasy fuck)

“Various entrepreneurs have been known to store things away down here to reduce costs, should you happen to see something,” John adds.

Meadow is fairly certain they know where to go, so they’d be taking the lead. Whether they actually do know where they’re going… Alma, given her armor, stays to the back to protect people.

Jimbly is complaining loudly to nobody in particular, “…if I had known, I would have changed into some older clothes is all I’m saying!” They mumble sorrowfully, “These are my second favorite pants..”

The bellbottoms drag through the muck and are already soaking up plenty of water.

After nine or so minutes in the cistern, you soon reach a junction. A triangular extrusion cuts into the sewer passage, upon which you can see a wax and straw effigy that’s been pinned to the floor with iron pitons.

The sewer continues NE in a wider path and also S (don’t go that way) and also there’s a warped wooden door.

Alma breaks the dripping silence: “Very well, people. Should we take the right or left? I suspect there’s a door a few steps to our right, if memory serves correctly… I’m usually running through here”

“”I’ll take the door I know over the door … that might not be there!” Jimbly says.

Meadow walks over to the effigy and prods it with their spear; “Odd.”

“Well that’s an inauspicious omen if I ever did see one…”

John joins Meadow and pokes in the effigy in the off-chance someone has stashed something in there. Jimbly walks over and pokes at the effigy too.

“It’s just to scare simple-minded ratcatchers,” John offers.

“Since we all decided to poke the ominous religious creepy object, does someone have any idea of what it is? I’m familiar with some sects of belief but baffled by this one.”

“…..I don’t know. If that’s the case, then somebody has gone to a lot of effort and trouble for the simple-minded.”

Being an amateur enthusiast of scientific pursuits, Meadow has no idea who it might beling to. “Superstition and nonsense, but maybe it indicates our path forwards. Shall we?”

Meadow is certain that the efficy is “safe”, in that nothing dangerous seems to be hidden within it. It’s the sort of harvest effigy that’s burnt in Aggust (fantasy august). They rub the slime between their fingertips. Sniffs it, then tastes it. “That’s foul,” they pronounce decisively. Twinslug slime is grim at the best of times, but this has certainly been made worse somehow.

John does find where a common coin purse was stashed in its trousers, but the purse looks to have been emptied. There’s a sluggy slime to the inside of the purse tho. An expression of joy crosses over John’s face quickly crushing into disappointment.

Jimbly thinks they might just be imagining it, but the effigy does somewhat resemble Coremy Jerblin, one of the mayoral candidates, if the short cropped hair and patchy beard are anything to go by. There is a rosette on its chest, but it too has been slimed. “But look though! I’ll be helked if that’s not Corky Jerblin!”

Alma looks over John’s shoulder to see the slug. “I can take care of the slug. You know, for… evidence. Anyway, want to try the door?”

John squints hard, then tosses the purse to Alma.

“… now, that was just mean.” It’s unclear if Alma refers to John squinting her coveted prize or the effigy being a caricature of Jerblin. She catches the purse and smiles regardless.

“Jerblin’s a menace to freedom loving free traders but they could have put a bit more effort in, he doesn’t even have a cap”

“I think it’s obvious what’s going on here!” Jimbly announces pompously. “The sewer monks are training the twinslugs to steal coin and metal, and they’re going to loose them on Jerblin to steal his whatchamacallit!” They glower menacingly, “It’s the perfect crime!”

“Well, that’s certainly a theory, but we probably would do good with more evidence.”

“Jimbly continues uncertainly, “Or maybe to just muck up his clothes. Look at that foul slime…”

John contemplates the possibility of an army of sluggy pickpockets at his command but at the end of his daydream, he’s still in a sewer.

“Well shall we have a look at this door?”

“I vote for the door, if only because I need a rest from the water and being through is important for Culdene to get off my a- for we to conduct a properly investigation.”

“It’s either that, or continue NE. For some reason I feel a sense of strange foreboding from the south…”

“No less foreboding than a strange caricature.”

Meadow glances up distractedly. They pocket a few folds of cloth stained with slime and follow along.

The door leads to another, with the first room being a storage room of sorts, though clearly out of use. A much larger room beyond the first has an utter stack of Jerblin effigies. Easily nine to a dozen of them.

From beyond a once-hidden secret door, you can hear muted conversations: quiet from the distance you reckon, rather than people trying not to be heard. There’s at least three voices there and a significant amount of movement.

“Should we go and ask them what’s up with the slugs? Maybe they’ve seen something,” Meadow offers.

Alma presses her ear to the secret door and she can hear someone acting like a foreman or overseer, instructing others where to go and what to do. “No, no, to the left brother.” There’s also quiet conversation between some others talking about how they’ve gotten used to the smell. From listening in, she’s sure there are at least six or more people in there.

“I think it’s better to question them after we’ve softened them up a bit”. John taps his crossbow for emphasis. “People are always more eager to answer questions when their begging for their lives”. He then touches his scarred ear and spaces out for a bit.

Alma goes slowly back and whispers to the group.

“At least six people. If they turn hostile, we’re in trouble. Should we just leave? If we try to rough them up we will need a heck of an ambush.”

Jimbly looks at John, frowns, and pulls his slouchy cap further down over his own missing ear.

Meadow smiles.

“I can certainly cause quite the distraction.” He waggles his fingers in a typical alakazam sort of way.

“We could dress up as Jerblins?” Jimbly looks around at the effigies. “And then jump out and whomp em?”

“We could set fire to the effigies and hit them from behind when they investigate”

”Between the ambush and my magic, I’m sure we can tidily take care of this.”

“Okay how’s about me and Meadow soften em up with a little alakazam and lure em back here, then you lot jump out and whambo!”

Whispering Jimbly asks, “Meadow, what does your kazam do? Mine’s kind of a … withering, wasting thing. You’ll need to cover your ears when I do it.”

Alma offers hers too: “I believe my… “kazam” is about… hot stuff? Like, writing in hot stuff? Convincing things that being hot is what’s on their nature? And making armor fade? Not sure.”

Meadow closes with the door, looking for a gap of some sort to peek through. Jimbly is at their side.

Meadow glances at Jimbly and whispers “If they hear us, go left and hit the biggest person you see. If they don’t notice, we’ll pick our targets more carefully.” They start to try to ease the door open just a crack.

“One second!” Jimbly quickly pulls the caltrops out of their pack, and clips them to their belt so that they have caltrops and manacles handy. “Okay!”

The room beyond is big and carefully swept clean. In the NW corner, a vivid purple pentagram is painted on the porcelain tiles. Nearby, a short monk with a mohawk is directing eight other monks: their hands are full with large buckets they are carrying in pairs. The buckets are rimmed with salt.

None of the monks see you: they’re too engrossed in their task, which they seem especially keen to get correct.

There are some additional salty buckets already at the tips of two of the pentagram tips.

Meadow turns to the others and says, “Okay, start the fire, we spell whammy, scurry aside, hit whoever comes out from behind?”

Jimbly shows nine fingers to Meadow and raises their eyebrows questioningly as though asking a question. Meadow looks at Jimbly, holds up two fingers and jerks them left.

Jimbly pantomimes covering their ears to Meadow, and whispers, “The magpie thieves, what the magpie sees..” and then whistles a couple triplets of a low croaking whistle.

Meadow utters dark formulae under their breath and glares at two to the right as they gesture sharply at the monks.

Chaos abounds!

The monks hit by Jimbly’s incantation shriek in shock and pain . A number of bruises spread across their visible skin; looking almost like they’d been pecked by magickal corvidae. They stagger and put down their pot.

The monks hit by Meadow’s spell see that everyone around them has vanished and drop their bucket in their panic. As the bucket hits the floor, slugs are catapulted from the bucket onto the monks, who go down gurning in pain.

Meadow lurches away from the door to try and hide, spear held ready.

With the exception of the short monk with the mohawk, they all panic and flee away from the fell magics: right in the direction of the spreading smoke from the Jerblin store room.

Jimbly emotes silently but excitedly at Meadow as their kazams erupt in chaos, and then grips their shield and hammer as the monks rush past, preparing to flank them from behind… “Caw caw, helkers.”

Alma gets her mace ready to hit them on the legs, allowing them to trip and be rendered useless.

John fires his crossbow — the bolt thuds into one of the trailing bruised monks, catching him in the jaw and tipping him to the ground in a gout of crimson copper-smelling blood.

Alma’s low mace catches the first monk as he shoves the sliding door back, and he trips over the barrier. The rest of the monks barrel into him and trip up and over too. (It looks like a peloton pileup in various cycle races)

They shout in almost unison “Parleigh, parleigh! We show the whitened flag!”

Jimbly half lowers their hammer disappointedly at the metaphorical raising of the white flag.

Meadow sees that the mohawked monk is not fleeing with the rest, but rather smearing some of the purple paint from the floor upon his face and doing a load of strange hand moves like it was an anime or something.

The Prestige

“The pratfall shall never lose its war power!” Alma proclaims and points her mace to them. “Who are you? What are your goals? Why do you want to train a slug army against Jerblin supposedly, besides his opposition to our freedom to scam customers?”

One of the bruised monks squeaks out: “We don’t mean Corky any harm! We just want to destroy his credibility!”

Meadow walks into the room and asks “ Oh my, how interesting. Is this some sort of catalyst for a transformation?”

Jimbly turns their attention from the peloton crash as Meadow speaks up, and follows them into the ritual chamber. “Shmohawk doesn’t even have any kazams. They’re doing magicks the hard way…”

“```Of course it is, foolish mortal! This will be the last you see of Pemberten, for I wholly shall subsume myself into the avatar of Nyolibhotep!```” His face bulges uncomfortably.

While the name Nyolibhotep does call her attention and a part of her says she should worry a lot more, Alma is too perplexed by the weird answer from the monks.

“Just shoot the mohawk bastard. Back to this, destroying his credibility is harm, you know? Or does the paint and slugs messed with you?”

Meadow takes the vial of acid from his satchel and splashes about half of it across the circle to try breaking the pattern. Jimbly rushes forward and hammers mohawk in the face.

The paint hisses on the floor, bubbling under the acid. It catches on the edge of one of the buckets too, which starts to warp. Pemberten growls: ```Grrr``` he says. But his face bulges still.

“More like NOPEhotep!” Jimbly shouts.

Their hammer knocks into Pemberten’s midriff and he staggers back a bit, but seems to balance himself out. It’s almost like he put his weight back onto a third leg behind him? Though you can’t see one there.

Pemberten raises a hand, from which a fist forms out of his palm and that fist punches at Jimbly — who peers around Pemberten curiously, “You packing a third leg there boyoOOF!!”— Jimbly deflects the fist with their shield, even as much as the weight of the blow pushes them back somewhat.

“For heavens’ sake.”

Alma turns her face towards the mess in the other room and centers mohawk cultist in her vision, starting to quickly whisper something strange and melodic under her breath, until:

“May the flames of Itaqhua inflame your passions, foolish mortal.”

She feels the burning figures in her mind go towards the cultist to fill his.

Pemberten’s transformation continues, albeit slowly as some of the purple paint that’s shifting on his skin flakes off in parallel with the blistering paint on the acid-etched floor. He eyes go entirely dark, speckled with vistas like a night sky. He takes a too-fast step towards the nearest bucket, and grabs two handfuls of the salt rim, then smears it hard across his own face. You can all hear the hissing and abrasion as he does so.

In fact, what with the pungent magicks transmuting his body at the same time, a horrid conflux of poor luck.

Next up is a pain montage — split skin, multiple angles, eventual facial explosion as Pemberten’s habit falls to the floor, empty, beneath a geyser of blood, gore, and slime.

On the wind, you hear a far off echoooo “The market will always win outttttt.”

“Why are you taking all the twinslugs? Who’s behind this plot?” John asks the monks.

The monks explain to John that everyone hates twinslugs, right. When their ritual goes ahead (oh, maybe not any more), that distaste will be transferred to Jerblin. People won’t like him, and will vote against him.

“He was never going to win the election anyway you sappy fools! You’ve been had like kippers for breakfast. Who set you up for this nonsense!”

“Oh please, Jerblin wouldn’t win the election at any rate.”

“Oh yeah. Bugger. That Pemberten sold us a right one.”

Meadow begins to mutter under his breath as he lets his last spell pop. Moss starts to spread along his arms and up his neck. He’s going to try to hijack this ritual while covered in Charming Moss so that people will be more likely to vote for Jortney Cromblum

SCREEN FADES ON GORE DRIPPING FROM THE CEILING
CREDITS ROLL

Alma managed to put some slugs into her purse without much trouble and, once she quit her debt, she retired to her barely functional lab to test some things with them. The test were not successful and a taste of slime and salt filled her mouth for months, which made her habit of carousing much more unfortunate.

She still doesn’t regret it, and wears fake fantasy grungy oversized clothes to this day.

Meadow was successful in hijacking the ritual. Unfortunately, butcher Jortney Cromblum wasn’t a candidate, so the people who cast their vote for him effectively spoiled their ballot.

When asked about this, Meadow said “Whoops”

Jimbly exits the tailor shop looking smart and clean in a crisp outfit. Acid washed bellbottom jeans embroidered with flowers. An embroidered maroon vest, no shirt. Long wavy hair under a red cap, slouched to the side to cover their ear.

“Ah, much better! Chimneys? Sewers? Never again in this lifetime!”

They saunter down the way, whistling a tune.

John is confronting Culdene over why she didn’t tell him about their second-cousin’s Pemberton involvement in the slug plot. John wants in on the mayoral fixing, demon summoning racket or he’s going directly to uncle Haxham!

Don’t have Maze Rats? Pick it up here!

My own Quarrel + Fable proudly descends from its innards.

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