Tower of the Stargazer

by James Edwar Raggi, IV
for Lamentations of the FLame Princess
Introductory characters

Legends tell of a wizard so arrogant that he felt the entire sky was naught but a lens for him to view the stars. So great was the hubris and defiance of this man that the gods smote him with the power of storm and fire. Oh did the wizard laugh at such a pathetic gesture. He did not fear the gods, for he drew his knowledge from something greater. Something darker The legend of this wizard grew, first whispered by men in fear, and later in awe. The wizard, they said, attacked the gods just as they had attacked him. And his joy only grew as the land around him died. But then there was no more news. No more talk. Something had finally brought the wizard low, for though the sky still blazed down on him and his abode, he no longer blazed back. And now you’re going to walk right through this wizard’s front door.

Stargazer is very good and can be very deadly, in spite of the low creature count. It’s one of my favorite modules to run at cons. Unlike most of what I review, I HAVE run this. About 20 times.

The module is in digest format and sometimes manages to squeeze three entries to page. Raggi does like to fill a room with words, ad there’s a little bit of this that goes on in the module. Unlike many 3.x modules though it doesn’t feel TOO excessive. Many 3.x modules feel like they are being padded in order to exploit a ‘cents per word’ payment rate by the publisher. In this product though it feels lie it’s genuine excitement over the room and setting. The module is also meant to be a kind of introductory work and thus there are some extensive notes in certain areas. These are a kind of combination designers notes and advice to the DM; advice both on how to run the room and the design behind it, in order to guide a new DM and help them run better games in the future. I LOVE designers notes and don’t really have too much of a problem with them being integrated in to the main text. The advice also does a decent job of conveying the feel the designer is going for. Most games are shooting for a certain feel and it can frequently be difficult to figure out what that feel is. This helps.

Stargazer only has about 26 rooms, spread out over the seven levels of a wizards tower. Each level only has three of four encounters in it however it manages to deliver a good Exploration feeling, the kind that’s very rare in a setting with so few rooms. It does this primarily through two mechanisms. First, it’s the tower of a reprobate wizard, and thus there are many strange, bizarre, and weird things in it. This does an excellent job of setting the mood of the various rooms. Secondly, there are multiple ways around many of the levels. Three of the levels are only accessible through a levitating platform, and two of the levels are NOT accessible through that platform. Three levels also have no stair access while two levels only have stair access and two levels are connected by multiple ‘stairs’ and have areas not accessible by the other stairway. This map complexity to some decent Exploration elements in the tower, which, combined with the atmosphere, leads to the players not quite knowing what’s around the next corner, even when it’s obvious there is no next corner. Eventually though this leads to “find the missing room” syndrome, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The players get to experience both the mystery of the tower AND have a mostly-satisified feeling of having explored everything.

This being Raggi-land, the module is short on opponents and full on weird and death-traps. There is not, though, a feeling that the traps are arbitrary or unfair. Carry a ten-foot pole though a lightning field and take your chances. Go through the eighteen steps required to use the telescope and suffer the consequences. Perhaps the only borderline example is the front-door, but even then it can serve as a good example of how old-school play proceeds and it certainly sets the stage for what is to follow. I don’t have problem with it since I use this frequently in con games with a boat-load of pre-gens available as replacement characters.

There is a SHIT-ton of stuff to play with in this adventure. Lots of stuff to drink, or to open, or to mess with. Some good, some bad, and almost all of it weird. I LOVE this kind of stuff and this is what OD&D means to me. It’s the weird and strange and its use to invoke a sense of mystery in the players. There’s absolutely no telling what some of this stuff will do. This instills a kind of apprehension in the players and keeps them off balance. It’s terribly hard to min-max things through the rules when encountering the weird and non-standard. Almost every room has something interesting in it. I particularly like the crate room, the anatomy room and the wizards room. The wizards room, in particular, provides an enormous amount of fun in running, both for the players and the DM, in my experiences. The players generally think they are getting one over on the DM and the wizard is A LOT of fun to role-play. I only recall there being five monsters in the module, two which are NICELY bizarre and two of which are classics. It’s not a combat-heavy affair.

The only criticism I have is that it can sometimes be a bit slow. Most of the combat encounters are clustered in the same area. This can lead the rest of the tower to feel a little slow.

I like this module a lot. I keep it in my “quick-start” kit, along with Death Frost Doom, Tomb of the Iron God, and Shadowbrook manor. Those four choices, along with a pad of graph paper, a big stack of 1st-level pre-gens, the magenta D&D basic book, and dice-pencils make for a PERFECT “zero effort” D&D kit. This module, along with that kit, makes it possible to play D&D IMMEDIATELY. Anything that lets you play more D&D is a good thing.

This is available on DriveThru.

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9 Responses to Tower of the Stargazer

  1. Ynas Midgard says:

    I have read so many good reviews on this one that I feel urged to check it out.

  2. Far too many deadly traps for my liking.

  3. Nobboc says:

    Ireally liked it and will include it in my next sandbox. It’s very vancian. The mage in his circle of salt could be Iucounu. And the front door trap is what you could find at the manse of Murgen. Great stuff (and one more ODD stuffI read because MrBryce. Stop him!)

  4. Anonymous says:

    I played this with a few more experienced players and an experienced DM, and I have to say that I really loved it, mostly the feeling of having no idea of what to expect next. I also like how all the traps force to be very careful and advance very slowly

  5. Groody the Hobgoblin says:

    We played this with 5e, and just two experienced players, a mage and a paladin.

    Overall the adventure was a blast to play, old-school treasure hunter style. Since you get free spells via cantrips and rituals in 5e with a mage, they were able to avoid many of the traps with Mage Hand and continuous use of unseen servants. As Bryce (whatever his real name may be) says, it is very slow: there is nothing that punishes the players for idling time. Once they realised this, they took full advantage of it. They took about three weeks to throughly loot the tower, to the point where they bought vials for the acid from the acid pool with the returns of their first round of loot. Some specific tactics enabled by the lack of time pressure:

    (SPOILERS follow): Play with a ghost for your soul to remove a force field? F*ck that, we’ll just chisel our way in from the floor below. So what if it costs a day. Tired of playing around with the force fields in the treasure chamber? F*ck THAT, let’s hire a dwarven demolition team and tunnel down from above through several feet of solid rock. I thought about the dwarves getting greedy and trying to overwhelm them in the face of all that gold, but then this was a fair solution to tackle the problem, so no. They however did get trailed back to the tower by a mage with a bunch of henchmen whom they sold the more interesting loot to, and had to barricade and negotiate their way out of that. Since they could not carry enough to make off with all the treasure, they also had to leave behind about 28,000 cp, the rest of the acid and the books for them.

    Some of the scenes are hilarious fun, like the one where the mage licked the microscope slides clean. Or the attacking blood — as it does only one point of damage, it does nearly not hurt at all, its more of a weird itching. Man, were they scared of being infected. Preventive cure disease by the Paladin, just to be save. Or the brain maggot: the Paladin tried to snort acid up his nose to get it out again. He had to go to his deity’s temple in the next bigger town, and after trying everything form cure wounds to cure disease (lesser restoration) to remove curse, they had to resort to splitting his skull open, fry the damn thing with sacred flames, and then revivify him. I also ruled that they could find a book in the library that explains its ecology with enough search or a good library use roll. It seems pretty shitty to give the players a whole library worth of monster books, and then all of them are useless.

    In playing, I found there are a few incongruent things in the tower layout: firstly, where does the blood come from that trickles through the keyhole and washes down when you crash the door? If it is not in the chamber beyond, or the mage would be knee deep in blood, and the circle long dissolved? I ruled that it is magically created by the keyhole/door, there is no reservoir; still sloppy. Second, how is the door locked from the inside, if the former head servant made off with all the spell books (which my players figured out from the diary and an empty “strongbox” in the library area I added)? Third, what is beneath the entry floor and above the basement? The stairs to the entry floor lead “from the ground level up”, and given the length of the stairs on the map, even if they were a lot flatter than the artists interpretation on the cover, they should go up at least a floor of 15-20 feet. But there is no such floor in the tower.

    I think three things would make the maps a lot more usable: (1) indication in which direction doors open. This makes a hell of a difference when you are trying to bar or spike a door. (2) Indication how thick walls and floors are. (3) A cross section with height indication. This makes it a lot easier to judge if you can reach a ceiling, and how long it takes you to get through by force. Sure, I can make all that up, based on the overall size of the tower, and I did. But to parrot Bryce, this is the writer’s job. It costs next to no extra effort to use doors with an indication to where they open, and a cross section would have easily exposed the logical construction flaws. These are things that /do/ come up in play, they are not useless backstory.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Any updates to the quick start kit?

  7. Bryce Lynch says:

    No, except to say that Upper Caves from Darkness Beneath #2, and per Unfath are my goto’s for con games.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Awesome, thank you! Its really interesting to hear how these things evolve

  9. gruszczy says:

    I purchased the Fire Adventure Anthology to LotFP based on this review (I assumed that even if other adventures are not good, this will be worth it), but unfortunately I am not impressed.


    1. Playing chess with a ghost? Come on, if I wanted to play chess, I would play chess – I came here to play RPG. This is a gimmick. And the funniest thing is: the author says in the commentary that two people fell sleep when he tried that. You didn’t get that as feedback it’s a poor idea?

    2. The telescope being a trap – this makes no sense whatsoever on game level, on story level and on adventure design level.
    -> On the story level: the wizard set up a telescope to get liquefied? What was his purpose to set it up in this way? He has a death wish? Oh, to trap someone? A trap that requires multiple steps to activate? Whyyyy? He run our of snake handles?

    -> On the game level: I would totally try to enable the telescope and would assume it’s a riddle with some payoff. The payoff being killed? Great – you taught me to NOT explore. Let’s stay home and play chess.

    -> On the design level: a page of text that is NOT intended for players to explore? I am paying money for that?

    Overall: nothing special. A lot of jerk off on own ideas that are supposed to be very clever, but really aren’t.

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