By Filip Gruszcyzynski Self Published LotFP/OSE All Levels
The wizard is dead – burnt at the stake by a menacing witch hunter. His tower is unguarded and ripe for plunder. Gold, artifacts and magic can be yours, if you act swiftly. But will you be able to get away with the loot? For even in death the wizard will exact his vengeance!
This 36 page adventure describes a wizards tower with ten levels and 25 rooms. A slower adventure, and quite similar to Tower of the Stargazer in its pacing. It feels less dry than Stargazer but still suffers, I think, from the “Tower is Empty” issue. Lower levels will do a hit and run loot job while higher levels will clear the place, hence the “All Levels” range. I think that’s pretty interesting; particularly completing an adventure.
Local wizard gets himself burned at the stake and the party stumble upon it right after it has happened. The pyre is still smoldering and the witch hunter is going to the dudes tower in the morning to burn it as well. Until then .. there’s no one at home and the tower is no doubt, stuffed full of loot.
The adventure has two timers and that’s the first one. If you can get out of the tower before the (8th level cleric) witchhunter and her minions arrive you get to keep all the loot. If not then you get to keep only the monetary loot and not the magical stuff, it being heretical. Or, she just burns you and you get to keep nothing. The “short window of opportunity” is a classic of adventure design, be it looting a manor lords home, a wizards tower, so Speculos’s Lair. There’s a second timer as well: the wizard laid a curse, as all good witches do when being burnt at the stake. Every hour all the animals in a circle around the tower die and come back as undead, humans excepted, doubling each hour until it reaches 32 kilometers. (There’s a helpful regional map showing areas of interest, as well as a handy dandy “what happens after the adventure” to help the DM run the after effects on the local towns, etc.) The party MIGHT know this beforehand, but it’s unlikely. Only the mayor knows, of those outside of the tower. So while this MIGHT be a second timer, it’s actually more of a plot device. There’s a devil inside in a magic circle, if someone willingly sacrifices themselves to it then the curse it lifted. Oh, also, if you sacrifice an unwilling person to it then you gain 1000xp each time.
Holy fuck. That’s a situation! You can use it to bargain with the witch hunter, and she will sacrifice herself to stop the undead plague. You can go all evil and sacrifice people to get your XP. It’s fucking brilliant! Good setup, and, more than just treasure, it can drive action and is a temptation for the party to boot! A nicely done gizmo.
This is certainly one of the better parts of the adventure but there is a certain design aesthetic being followed that is above average. In one instance there’s a hallway with an electrified floor, blocking access to other rooms. If you look around the corner of the doorway in to the hallway then you can see a pile of dead rats at the end … giving you a clue that something is amiss in the hallway. A decent trap, a decent clue, and a decent “normal” situation to present to a party. Altogether good design. There are a few other interesting situations as well, such as playing a chess game with what turns out to be a devil (classic devil stuff!), a library of books, balconies to climb up on to, and NPC’s to free in the cells below.
There’s also a sly little humor added to the text which appeals to me a great deal. “[the wizard] realized early on that sooner or later some of the common folks might come up with a catchy slogan like “Burn the witch!”” or a rumor that he organizes orgies with demons of both sexes … unfortunately untrue, the rumor table tells us. And even the devil who is pleasantly and cordial, while trapped in his summoning circle, to any adventurers he meets — no point discouraging potential customers, the text tells us. These are excellent little touches that, while directed more as commentary to the DM, also serve to add a certain framing the text, one for the DM to then leverage and bring even more to life. They are never more than a word or two (unfortunately untrue, no point in discouraging potential customers, etc) and don’t show up excessively in the adventure. Well done framing to the DM disguised as commentary to the DM.
The town NPC’s, the mayor, priest and barkeep (IE: just the most common people the party is likely to interact with) are decently done, and shorty, with a personal quirk to bring them home to the DM to roleplay. Likewise the NPC’s in the adventure, from a servant who nervously cleans things as a coping mechanism, to traumatized captives who heard a cellmate being devoured alive by undead rats.
Magical items are suitable unique, like a portrait with the wizards name written on the back. If you write YOUR name on the back then YOU get to use the magic portrait to look through its eyes. Looking through a pictures eyes is a classic, and Writing Your Name clearly has historical symbolism. This is good use of that deep cultural innate knowing that we all have.
A few notes …
In several places in the tower we learn that someone does something when they hear something in a different room. For example, I am in a room and there is an antechamber. If you make noise in the anterchamber then I call out. Should that fact be in the antechamber or in my room? I think it should be be in the room where the effect happens, the antechamber. This adventure puts that information in the NPCs rooms … which is usually then missed by the DM.
The map has about two tower floors per page, in the center, and then some columns on either side with room summaries. This is a nice approach (as if all of the formatting decisions mad ein the adventure; nothing particularly special but very usable) but the descriptions tend to be quite short and lacking flavor. They are meant to kep the DM to what the encounter is. There is A LOT of extra whitespace available and i think it could have been used better to bring more to those short little description than they do. Why leave the extra space just hanging out?
There’s a LOTFP Fuck You here and there, like catching the 90% death bubonic plague in one room, with a save every turn you spend in the room. That’s not telegraphed very well. I’m not strictly opposed to this since there’s a book that describes infection disease research in the room, but, it is tending to a direction I don’t like.
The descriptions themselves, of both the rooms and the creatures, could be a lot better. It’s not that they are bad. They are not overly long, or flowery, or Try Harding. They are not even particularly bland (with notable exceptions.) They just are not spectacular. I’m a firm believer that a decent adventure (defined as : I don’t want to stab my eyes out and fill me with ennui) can be made by just about anyone by following a few simple rules. The hardest part to get over the Decent hump in to Good territory is knowledge of design through interesting situations, etc, and evocative writing. The writing, particular, is a learned skill and hard work. If there’s a formula to it I don’t know it. The creature descriptions and the rooms both suffer from this, the creature descriptions more so.
So, ok little adventure. A little on the slow side, as Stargazer was, but with more going on than in Stargazer
This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages and shows you a few rooms. More than enough information to get a good feel for the adventure, so a good preview.