By James Mishler, Jodi Moan-Mishler
James Mishler Games
The Demon Tower of Valdig Fel is an ancient, much-storied flying citadel in the shape of a demon’s head. Since the death of its creator during the Wars of Succession following the Fall of Eldisor, it has passed through the hands of countless villains, who have used the flying tower to raid, pillage, and enslave the peoples of the Ivory Plains and beyond. Terrible tales of wizards, demons, and dragons follow in its wake. And now it has drifted into a tree-lined ridge near Wulf’s Ferry… right in your own backyard! What are the inhabitants up to? Are they here to raid or to trade? What of the rumors of centuries of treasure hidden within? Are you brave or foolish enough to find out?
This 24 page adventure features nineteen rooms inside a stone demon head fortress that can fly around all Zardoz style. Good vibe going on here, but linear, cramped, and the designer needs to learn to how to write not just with specificity but with intent.
Ok kiddos, so, a giant floating zardoz head has grounded itself in the hills nearby. “The adventure begins when a local rancher bursts into the common room of the inn at Wulf’s Ferry (Hex 3821), crying “The Demon Tower! The Demon Tower has landed over on the east ridge!” Of course, locals know full well what this could mean, as raiders from the Demon Tower have hit the region numerous times over the years. Everyone scrambles to go to defend their own. The player characters should of course have no idea what the fuss is all about, being strangers to the Isle.”
And that little hooky paragraph should be able to tell you almost everything you need to know about the adventure. It’s a good intro. Hanging out, a rancher rushes inn. A panic. “The east ridge” is how real people talk. Every runs out to defend their own. Right on man! You got the vibe down! And, also … it’s a little padded out. And this is very hard. Because the padding it more natural than the padding in a lot of adventures. A little more conversational. A little more in the way of creating a vibe, which I think is super critical in an adventure. But, also, hey, kind of pain to navigate. And that is this adventure. Repeat, over and over again, to varying degrees, and you got the adventure, the good and the bad.
There’s specificity here. “Ilse the Barmaid says, “My man is a Dodsspyd, he says that the Demon Tower has eaten more clans than the feuds put together!” Note the use of my man. Kurt-Dan of the Death-spears says …. That’s what we’re looking for in a rumor table. The nake, the brief blurb, the writing of the actual rumor. That’s an in-voice rumor!
And there’s a kind of weird wizard-logic in this thing. Detail that makes sense, in a weird way. Only the dead wizard who made the place can control it. So his apprentices grabbed his head, enchanted it, and stuffed his spirit back in it so they can control the flying demon head. Uh … Fuck yeah! That’s a wizard baby! Or, the create food and water spell of a tribe of cannibalistic cavemen … “actually summons forth a living human sacrifice that was made to Yog-Sothoth elsewhere in time and space.” Yessssssss! THAT is what is good! The adventure revels in detail after detail like that, which sets a vibe that is magnificent.
And then there’s the rest of what the adventure does.
It’s wordy. In a conversational style. I’m not going to bitch about its paragraph layout, but, I am about the choices made in implementing it. It focuses, quite a bit in some cases, on backstory and explanations and WHY something is, rather than the immediacy of what going on RIGHT NOW as the party enters. And it’s spread out, over multiple paragraphs, the details of the room. So you either highlight or read and digest the entire thing when the party enters … which takes time. Here in tenfootpole we believe in scanning for details to relate to the party, which means the text MUST be laid out to support a DM quickly relating information to the party.
For every description that is decent, like “He lairs in this room, in the far back alcove, in a nest made of the rotting corpses of his erstwhile companions, plus bones of victims from their raids and from the internecine war between the factions.” we also get a description, multiple paragraphs in, that starts with “the door to #11 is concealed behind a large tapestry made of human skin, painted to depict a vile necromantic rite” Ok, sure, great specificity. And, also, maybe that could have gone WAY up higher when we’re detailing what the room looks like? At one point we get a LENGTHY paragraph on the history of a wight, his hopes and dreams and a youngster and his rise to power, etc. Which, I must say, is appealing. But, also, useless for running the adventure. Specially in an inline fashion. Stick it in the fucking appendix if you feel you need to include it. Otherwise, the text should be focused on play at the table, and supporting that.
Sure, we could use maybe al little more in the order of battle, and reactions, and sights and lights coming from other rooms. But, also, cavemen who fail their morale roll believe they have failed yog-sohoth and throw themselves off the floating head, out of the mouth hole. Right on man!
So yeah. This is the swords and sorcery adventure you are looking for. Weird ass wizards, freaky wizard shit. Floating heads. Flesh-eating cavemen. Sign me up papi! But, also … it’s small. It’s linear. And you gotta fight the text to run it. And, man, the truth ofthe matter is that I don’t have to do that. I can go select any of a dozen other adventures and run that instead … and not fight the text in them. And it s the VERY rare text, indeed, that I would be willing to fight the text for. Interestingly, after reviewing the Tavern from Hell I had kind of mentally put Mishler in to a little box in my head where Starry Knight and a few others live. “Ok, so, maybe … but probably not …” This adventure clearly tells me I was wrong. If Mishler can trim the fat and put important things first then this might be a very series of adventures coming. On the plu side I think tha this, the thing that I harp on the most, is actually the easiest thing to improve. So, fingers crossed!
This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages. It does’t really show you any of the encounters, so, not a very good preview at all. The last page, though, goes in to details of the wizards head, and that does, I think, give you a good taste of the ability of Mishler to put something together that is interesting.