Sunday, December 22, 2013

A dungeon with an elevator

Spoliers ahead if you will be playing in the module Tower of the Stargazer.

Yesterday I ran another B/X game, and the players decided to check out some rumors outside of the Caves of Chaos. That was fine, as I have laid out some additional modules in an expanded woodland area (via a very rough sketch of a map that I drew). The adventure seed the PCs wound up following was the stories of mysterious lightning leading up to the Tower of the Stargazer.

This was a very interesting transition from Keep on the Borderlands, simply because the modules couldn't have been more different in execution. No huge sprawling caves here, it's a very compact area. Rather than every corner hiding a lurking creature, there was danger of death at every step, but in a largely abandoned area.

As Tower of the Stargazer runs, it feels like James Raggi read The Tomb of Horrors and considers it less of a one-off death trap and more of an artist's manifesto. His module is more focused on tricks and traps and puzzles, than on monsters and demons. Even exploration is blown wide open for this module by having the elevator system - which allowed the PCs to see, and get, the treasure in the lowest level.

The one PC who died did so because he insisted on looking in each mirror in Dungeon Level 1 and managed to fail every saving throw. (They did trigger the snake trap at the door but made their saving throws.) The surviving PCs figured out the switches in Dungeon Level 2 and got the treasure without a scratch, which gave each of them a level up. The wizard himself was a hilarious encounter for the already-wary PCs, who thought long and hard about trying to kill him but thought better of it.

Part of why I enjoyed this was that it made a total death trap that still felt appropriate as an adventure for low-level PCs (in this case, a level 3 now ex-thief, a level 2 dwarf and level 1 fighter and cleric). It also let me set the tone that not everything I'll be running is classic TSR in style, but felt like it worked well into the existing campaign. It's also a short module, but in a good way - whereas B2 gives you a ton of bang for your buck, Stargazer finishes smoothly without a dozen or more sessions.

It's also worth a shout-out to J.D. Neal, whose town from JN1 The Chaotic Caves I've nicked as a settlement not far from the Keep on the Borderlands. It's a good alternative to just sticking with the Keep.

In future sessions we'll have modules even further afield. But I do have to say, mixing Gygax and Raggi in a campaign isn't as hard as you'd think, and at least for Tower of the Stargazer it works to good effect.


  1. I agree! A lot of Raggi's stuff is either too horrible or too world-specific or both to use without tweaking (for the people/worlds I play with, at least), but when I stuck the Tower into a sandbox I was running, it became a major element of the campaign.

    The players went once, did some poking around and looting, found the wizard and (similarly) argued about maybe trying to kill him, before finally just going away again. Later they returned with a new member -- who immediately set the wizard free.

    After that it was a several-session battle for life between a group of mostly 2nd-level adventurers and a 13th-level murderous wizard with a grudge. He found their home base and burned it to the ground, and found their major contact organization in town and murdered everyone in it, and finally they built up a team of hundreds of mercenaries and stormed his tower in a bloody climactic battle.

    Later, fleeing from debts incurred by the destruction of their home base, they went to the next island and explored the tower of the apprentice, who had been a major force for peace before mysteriously disappearing....

    Sadly, none of them ever activated any of the really fearsome deathtraps. C'est la vie.

  2. Poor Zoldar, it seems he gave in to the pressure of wanting something to happen. While the tower was devoid of direct threats it does generate a feeling of impatience if not managed will lead to PC death. Players will want to, and should, force action in the game. But when you are wandering through an apparently deserted wizard tower which attracts lightning a good rule of thumb is Don't Touch Anything. We didn't ,as a group, touch anything outside of good old treasure chests. And for this cleric, just good old fashioned coins.

    I am concerned about the wizard we left behind. We left him unmolested, trapped within his magical prison. As the group decided we were not powerful enough to take him on. But I'm sure some foolish party will release him at some future date, and then he will certainly want his revenge.

    As a malignant force of evil with none of the class and grace my cleric aspires to, he must now be eliminated out of religious principle. Recruiting one versed in the magical arts (Rodrick I'm talking to you!) seems advisable as well as the usual gang of retainers of the fighting man class.

    Besides the loot we gathered, a good adventure game is the piling up of complications which require creative thought, inject momentum, and keep the players on the knife edge. The magic imbued tower still retains all its mysterious threats and with it inherent ongoing complications which the party is now ensnared.

  3. The thief here... To be fair, I didn't actually touch anything. I just looked at something. By this time we'd been playing for close to three hours and yet we still had no clue as to what was going on. We are looking for clues yet, for some reason, Raggi thinks that looking at stuff is wrong. We are adventuring in a f***king museum! I only get a couple hours a month to do any gaming and I'd rather do actual adventuring than just wandering around looking (or not looking!) at crap.

    Compare the mirrors with the pools from B1. With the pools each had their own colors and description, some were good and some bad. We could take precautions to avoid any of the really bad one (like using the fish) and we only were at risk when we actually decided to partake of the liquid. Stargazer has five identical mirrors all of which do bad things to you if you fail a save (which is 70% of the time). That's just lazy.

    1. One of my players takes the same attitude, and I find I play that way too. It's the "I didn't make a paper man to play on my one gaming day this month to hide from danger." Carefully avoiding risk might be good play, but deliberately taking risk can be very fun play, and I'll take "fun" every time. The best stories come from the risks taken, not that one time you didn't do anything dangerous and nothing bad happened.

  4. I'm glad we didn't go for the wizard. 13th level? He would've vaporized us!


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