Tower of the Moon

By David Pulver
Night Owl Workshop
Levels 3-6

[…] The tower filled with howls and screams. Tales say that all perished in the struggle, the frenzied wolves even turning against their pack mates and devouring one another; only a few servants escaped to tell the tale, and recall Mordark’s dying words to Artesia before he was eaten alive: “if I could not share the Tower of the Moon beside you in life, I do so in death…” Today, the Tower of the Moon is a monster-haunted ruin, its shadow falling over dark forest and desolate wilderness. Only the brave or foolish dare its secrets.

This delightful 23 page digest adventure details a tower with four levels and about 25 rooms. Interactive, interesting, and not too overwritten, it provides that OD&D like vibe that I enjoy so well. It could also use some work for scanability. 

The cover is actually a decent depiction of the tower, imagine that! And the front door of the tower? You enter through the teeth of a giant wolf head face carved in to it. Mythic Underworld here we come! These are but two examples of the decent design that Pulver imbues in to this adventure. Making the art work with the adventure to help inspire the DM and evoke the setting, as in the case with the cover picture. And then there’s the wolf head. You’re passing somewhere else when you go through it, and everyone knows it. The mood changes. It’s D&D time. You’re elsewhere now. The rules are all wrong and every perversion is justified. 

But, I shouldn’t have started the review in the middle. This thing has the OD&D thing going on. What is that? It’s a degree of creativity that is not standardized for your convenience. As D&D has aged and the various editions have marched on, the various tropes of D&D have become more and more ingrained. Sword, +1. Hero. Innkeeper. Loyal Knights of blah blah blah. Everything comes from a book. Going the other direction there tends to be more non-standard elements and they tend to be combined in more unusual ways. That first level of The Darkness Beneath does this well. A flaming roll rolling the ceiling shooting off fire blasts didn’t come from no book. Nor did cursed plate mail shouting “Here I Am!” or an orange gem that you can use to shoot fireblasts … until it ,elts your hand off.  None of this is writ in stone, of course, it’s just a general trend; exceptions abound. But it’s also a convenient shorthand label.

This has that OD&D feel. There’s a magic well with curses and delights. It’s related to silver, and the moon, and has a sullen werewolf in it. And, it does magic stuff. One example is that it can turn stone back in to flesh, like the cockatrice statue you found in an earlier room, if immersed. But that’s an example, not an exhaustive list. It reminds me of the way LotFP (the system or an adventure, I forget which) used Bless as a kind of general-purpose thing. It wasn’t exhaustively spelled out and with the spell you could, well, Bless things. AND WHAT HAPPENED DEPENDED ON WHAT YOU WERE TRYING TO DO. The game world kind of made sense, general guidelines were set up and left for the DM to follow. And this adventure does a lot of things that feel like this.

Interactivity abounds and the monsters are sometimes integrated in to that. A ballroom, with shadowy dancing figures … that beckon you to join them. Shadows. (A nit: if you survive 30 minutes of dancing with them they kiss and release you. You should have gotten something for that, a +1 con or wis or something else. Reward must come to the daring, or else no one will ever be daring.) Rooms are generally written in a neutral tone, not designed against the party but rather existing for the party to exploit or fall for. A statue with a face that speaks? Do you give it a drink? Kiss it? These are the ways of OD&D and these are the ways of this adventure.It’s done well and I like it.

One the mediocre side if Pulvers writing and roo morganization. It’s primarily paragraph based, three or so per room of maybe two to three sentences each, with monster stats being bolded. Each paragraph generally describes one thing fully. I suggest that this is a poor format, in the form its taken here. Room two is a store room. The first paragraph details smashed crates and casks, blood stains, etc. The second gives more detail, a discarded mace and a broken quarterstaff. And the statue of a surprised elf. HOLY FUCk?!?!! What?!?!?!  This format forces the DM to read the entire room description before running it. Not. Cool. We don’t delay games because of bad writing. Better to bold important details in other paragraphs, or, put all of the majorly important/obvious stuff in the first paragraph and then use the later paragraphs to follow up, perhaps with bolding to draw the eye immediately to the correct place. Otherwise we need to bring out Ye Olde Highlightere. And what do we say to designers that force us to do that? That’s right: Go Fuck Yourself, it was your job to do that for me, the DM/consumer. It’s not egregious in this adventure, but its enough to be annoying. 

“Bob the wraith Lord put 7 skeletonsin this room (using his magic book) to prevent him from being disturbed.” That’s fucking trivia. Use that word count to create a more evocative description or increased interactivity, not to justify the existence of why there are 7 skeletons in the room. That trivia has no impact on the adventure being run and is this (almost always) irrelevant, distracting, reduces scanability, and the word count used for better things. It smacks of the crimes of pay per word padding.

Treasure is light. Really light. So light I wonder if Pulver has run a S&W campaign before. And  there’s a lot of boring old +1 magic items. That’s a serious miss and substantial departure from the OD&D ways that the encounter in this feel like. Other than that there’s amiss here and there; one room has a high ceiling with an overlook/balcony … that isn’t actually mentioned at all until you get to those higher rooms. Oops. Plus, if this had been the other way round, with the gallery encountered first, we would have had a classic Thracia tease. But, it’s the lack of balcony mention that’s the sin.

Still, A decent adventure for its flaws. Interactivity is strong. Themes are strong. Creativity is strong. Organization and evocative writing are at least not terrible. 

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $3. It’s certainly well worth that price. The preview is six pages and shows you fuck all of what you are actually buying. You get to see the full tower maps (there are mini-maps for each level also) as well as the bullshit background pretext and hook. But there’s nothing of the actual room contents. Major miss with that; that’s what we’re paying for, that’s what the preview should show us a bit of so we can determine if its crap or ok.

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12 Responses to Tower of the Moon

  1. Ron says:

    Yikes! I thought I heard the name before, but David Pulver has written a lot of things for a lot of different systems. I’m intrigued to read this one. Thanks as always Bryce! Be well man.

  2. I’m a fan of Pulver’s design work from decades ago, this sounds like an interesting adventure to check out with a good price point.

  3. squeen says:

    I think want he did with the isometric map is pretty clever. I also think Swords & Wizardry is great on launching an OD&D designer’s creativity. It takes to the precipice where the rules get fuzzy and encourages you to leap.

    • squeen says:

      Crap. Sorry for all the typos. Busy day—apparently it has me dazed and confused.

      • Ron says:

        The content of your post is good, so we know Bryce will forgive your typos 😉
        I really liked that map too! Usually my old brain looks cross-eyed at the isometric stuff, but I could see and follow that map pretty well. The only thing is it looked like the main entrance way had an opening into the kitchen. It doesn’t *seem* right to me, but it certainly looks like it is there.

    • squeen says:

      Bought it based on Bryce’s and Melan’s reviews (I also have a soft-spot for PWYWs). It’s short so I took the time to read it cover-to-cover. It has a nice ambiance—one that slowly draws you in through repetition of theme, but it’s not quite my idea of a really strong atmosphere. It’s rides the fence a bit with generic high-fantasy (which is not really my cup of tea), i.e. a bit of Lord This and Lady That.

      Amusingly, I read the following sentence in The Kitchen (room 9)

      “There are three armed humans in the room, one feeding twigs into the fireplace, the others resting but on watch; they have some cuts and bruises visible.”

      and though to myself, “Now we’re talking—what’s the deal with THEM!?”, only to discover they did not actually have three arms a piece—there were just three of them and they have weapons.

      • Ron says:

        Well, as the DM… 😉

        • squeen says:

          OK. Here’s my version:

          Three humanoid figures are lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce. They are three Skurra fishermen from a island in the far South Sea. The have three arms a piece (two on the right)—are covered with a course black fur, have full beards and subtly lupine features. Their leader speaks the common tongue and would prefer to parley as opposed to combat.

          If questioned, he will explain that the three were caught is a violent storm while out on their skiff. Calling out to the Moon Goddess caused a massive whirlpool to shallow their vessel. Thinking themselves drowned, they emerged from the Moon Well in the basement 3 days ago with absolutely no idea of their whereabouts.

          Treat as 2HD creatures with beginner thief (or otherwise unusual) skills, +1 strength bonus (by weapon if armed), and three claw attacks per round (d4+1) or a savage bite (d6). If exposed to the eerie music in the Ballroom, they will run in circles howling uncontrollably—unable to preform any other useful actions. The are famished and have no taboo with regards to eating human flesh, but generally consider it rude to consume allies.

  4. Graham says:

    Great review, wonderful to see that David L. Pulver still has it when it comes to adventure writing.

  5. Shuffling Wombat says:

    As mentioned above, we have a review of this from Melan as well. Both are good, and the main point that the room descriptions could be ordered more happily, with important and immediate information first, is well made. (The upper gallery is fleetingly mentioned in the room 8 description.) I agree this belongs in the good, worth a look, category.
    David Pulver has recently written some interesting materials for a Kickstarter for The Fantasy Trip. I hope they become generally available. Citadel of Ice is a “disappearing dungeon with factions”. A huge chunk of a glacier with extensive underground tunnels has broken off, and is melting. Inhabitants include intelligent yetis, one faction aligned with missionaries, the other hostile. Treasure (and magic items) are to be found; wyverns (think of them as D+D dragons) are circling, attracted to the magic items, and they may bargain with PCs.Vampire Hunter Belladonna is a well constructed hex crawl solo, with several vampires to seek out and slay.

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