The Demon Tower of Veldig Fel

By James Mishler, Jodi Moan-Mishler

James Mishler Games

Labyrinth Lord

Levels 5-7

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.

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49 Responses to The Demon Tower of Veldig Fel

  1. Anonymous says:

    At this point, anything that’s NOT written for levels 1-5 and doesn’t suck is a huge win! I mean, seriously, take a look through The Best list and see what percentage are for levels 6 and above – once correcting for typos, of course. Not many. How many low level adventures can anyone possibly use??? I know I have zero need for more. So, again, huge win here!

    This is not at all a Bryce criticism, just a statement of fact.

    • Kubo says:

      Agreed. Also too many short adventures. An old school dungeon level should have roughly 25 rooms to fill a page, and many of these fail to meet that modest quota in an entire adventure. They seem to go the Dyson Delve route with a puny 10 rooms per level. It’s exactly the length of only one short night of beer & pretzels gaming or a 4-hour convention game. Doesn’t anyone run a campaign anymore? (Sure you can drop a short adventure into an ongoing campaign, but in my experience, you are less likely to do it if there isn’t 2 or 3 game sessions in it).

    • Anonymous says:

      Agreed, but most of the OSR seems to focus on on low to low-mid-level play. This is probably tied in with the fact that most of the OSR seems to be about playing various forms of B/X D&D, and the general feeling I get is that most of these players rarely play anything above 6th level. If there was a greater number of AD&D modules being produced, I’m sure you’d see more high level adventures out there.

      • Gnarley Bones says:

        I readily agree that there is an absolute glut of modules for character levels 1-3. I think that’s indisputable. It’s also a bit odd in the sense that while high-level (levels 8-10 and +) modules are in fact more difficult to write, modules for levels 3-5 and 5-7 aren’t really. In fact, while I do personally find that level 1 is the most fun to play, anything over Level 5 is also a blast. That’s where the game really kicks in; magic items, 3rd level spells, the DM can finally use dragons, etc.

        I’d love to see more level 5-7 modules put out. Any good DM can “scale up” a low-level module, for sure (I once revamped B2 for a party levels 7-9 and it was a rollicking good time), but anything that streamlines a busy DM’s work is greatly appreciated! 😉

        • Anonymous says:

          Honestly, it really gets going at level 9-12 for me. I look at the monsters available at that level and the types of environments they live in (demons, devils, high level undead etc.) or the challenges they should be facing, and my imagination just kicks into gear.

          I know PCs at that level have a lot to throw at tough situations and what they can do is much harder to predict due to the vast amount of resources they can muster, but I don’t think we need to hold high-level adventures to the same standards. What can be easily overcome by one high level party of PCs can also be no walk over for another party; all we need to worry about is presenting what COULD BE a challenge for any particular high level party, not what is ALWAYS going to be a challenge for ANY high level party. High level characters have earnt the right to romp through adventures from time to time, let them have their fun.

          • Johann says:

            I agree. A grab bag of challenges with no particular eye towards being ‘level-appropriate’ or ‘solvable’. Let the PCs sort it out — a cakewalk here, a retreat there. It’s a major reason I use modules in the first place: I’m not invested, I didn’t put my heart’s blood in there, so I have no problem if an item or spell combo or whatever short-circuits a challenge or sidesteps a location.

        • PrinceofNothing says:

          It’s not a matter of covering every eventuality (an impossible task surely), but you should strive to create something that will at least challenge the majority of play groups. It can be done (ref. Dark Tower, GD- series, Dream House & maaaybe RtToH).

          Why would you deliberately lower the standards for a high level adventure?

          • Q says:

            “Why would you deliberately lower the standards for a high level adventure?”

            So, respectfully, what’s your solution to the proposed problem, if any? The fact is there are more OSR rulesets than there are decent OSR mid-high level adventures (over level 5). That’s fucking nuts.

          • PrinceofNothing says:

            Do a high level(ish) contest as a proof of concept, see if there is a place for high level stuff (there seems to be around these climes), if there isn’t, run high level games for people until there is one.

            No Artpunk Vol 1. had several fine mid-levels, and one high-level adventure. The contenders had one more (Mr. B/X Blackrazor’s Hell’s Own Temple, which can be downloaded from his website and which I will get around to compiling at some point). There are people who can write it.

            If its hard to write yet people want it, then its a worthy field for experimentation (also very underdeveloped).

          • Q says:

            That would be great, Prince. Thanks for at least considering it! I do own No Artpunk 1 and will be following No Artpunk 2. Haven’t purchased anything from Huso yet. Reviews seem mixed, although Dream House does sound promising. Maybe, dare I say it, a little TOO high level, haha!! 😉

          • PrinceofNothing says:

            I’ll review it soon. Hopefully you will be able to figure out if its for you.

    • Q says:

      Agreed. I don’t even bother reading the low level reviews anymore.

  2. Ken McKinney says:

    I gotta say, I’m willing to deal with some wordy text to get a giant flying Zardoz head adventure. That’s way more evocative than 90% of what’s out there, even if it is ripping off an old scifi movie. And the nature of a flying head makes it easy to drop into any campaign. I guess I’m more willing to deal with a wordy format than you are if it gets me a well executed great idea that is just gonzo enough.

  3. Stripe says:

    E’ry body over here talking ’bout Zardoz and I’m over here like . . .

  4. Shuffling Wombat says:

    Good review. The text is too dense, especially in the Background information section (which admittedly you probably won’t need to read much in play). It is easier to scan when you reach the key for the tower. If you want to pack this much onto the page I would go double rather than single column. It would benefit from a gathering of the map levels at the end, and an overall map, and
    possibly a table listing the possible entry points. Even a few pieces of the dreaded stock art would break up the text; and a few bespoke pieces might inspire referee descriptions.
    In terms of interesting ideas well developed, I am enjoying this very much.

  5. Gnarley Bones says:

    The author’s name sounds familiar. Does anyone know if he’s active at DF? I know that name, but can’t place it.

    • He’s done a lot of writing in the past for Judges Guild and, more recently, Labyrinth Lord! Also, James taught me and my friends how to play D&D at our FLGS when I was younger, whaddya know?

      I’m glad Bryce reviewed this one, it’s more his batting average for quality than Tavern from Hell. I think Tavern was more of a thought experiment/novelty thing. James is wildly creative and has very rich sword and sorcery flavor in a lot of his work.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Perhaps we need a Bryce’s Guide to Writing Adventures for Levels 5-10? I too am tired of the glut of low level crap. Bryce, I’d love to see you publicly acknowledge the issue, and give warning that you’re going to start grading low level adventures more critically while loosening the standards on level 5+ adventures a bit to encourage more people to attempt them. Unless, of course, you disagree. But, it looks like your readers have spoken with consistent feedback on this issue.

    • Anonymous says:

      Perhaps an adventure writing contest focused solely on level 5+ adventures?

      • Olle Skogren says:

        I’m writing a big 7th level adventure for No Artpunk 2. One difficulty of higher level play is as a DM you have less experience running it and the capabilities of the party are much more varied due to different campaigns having different availability (often randomly) and expectations for magic equipment, hirelings etc.

        • Anonymous says:

          That’s great! Look forward to it! I definitely understand the difficulty, which is why I suggested a contest focused solely on 5+. In these contests most choose the easier path and write for low levels, and inevitably a low level adventure wins. Wish you the best and thanks in advance for doing it!!

      • PrinceofNothing says:

        There is a growing debt of magic spells, abilities, items and creatures that accumulates as you ascend the higher levels and all of it should theoretically be taken into account. Even playtesting a high level module doesn’t give you the same results as actually raising a group of player to that level and making modules to tackle their abilities.

        Difficult and laborious to make, easy to spot phonies. It is small wonder the would be luminaries stay away, for the most part. Anthony Huso did a fine job with Dream House of the Nether Prince though.

        • Anonymous says:

          Disagree, see my comment further up. High level adventures should not be judged by the same standards or expectations.

        • Q says:

          “… the would be luminaries stay away, for the most part.”

          Here, here. So instead, we get a high volume of low level drivel.

        • Anonymous says:

          There’s a lack of higher level play experience these days because there’s virtually nothing to play. Chicken or the egg?

          • PrinceofNothing says:

            I suspect most high level games are highly personalized affairs, and just starting people out on level 16 characters doesn’t have the same oomph as people that have played for a long time and carefully integrated all the abilities into a routine.

            There’s more high level stuff to play now then there was in the old days. GD, Dark Tower, the S series, Labyrinth of Madness, Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga, and some of Cordell’s 2e stuff. That giants adventure bryce mentioned in Dungeon. There’s a necropolis conversion for AD&D 1e which looks promising. Then there’s Huso.

            Someone mentioned B/X being the problem, they might be right.

          • Shuffling Wombat says:

            Some more at least decent mid to high level adventures:
            X series: X4, X5 (excellent encounters strung together rather than great adventures), X8, X11;
            2E Books 2 and (especially) 3 of Night Below; WGR6 City of Skulls
            3(.5)E: Red Hand of Doom.

            One problem with some contemporary offerings is a desire to try out a scenario idea that would normally only make sense for much higher level characters without a well-reasoned explanation, e.g. the much-lauded OSE adventure Halls of the Blood King (reviewed by Bryce).

          • Anonymous says:

            Well said, Shuffling Wombat.

          • Dave says:

            Eyrie of the Dread Eye is an excellent high level adventure.

            It is a thing I can’t rattle off a long list though.

            Another thing is how many campaigns really go to high levels, organically from level 1 with no time jumps? I think not as many as you’d think if you’re in one. So people write what they know, as well as what they think (with good reason) that people need.

          • Shuffling Wombat says:

            Dungeon magazine was mentioned, so some more for your consideration:
            #32 The Wayward Wood;
            #37 The Mud Sorcerer’s Tomb;
            #60 Shards of the Day.

            To reach high levels (contiguously) in TSR era D+D is a huge undertaking. At the end of G1-3D1-3Q1 and Night Below top levels in groups I refereed had reached respectively 14 and 15, and the players had honed their skills, slickly combining abilities and using magic items in a clever way. By contrast, WGA4 Vecna Lives has some bewilderingly poor tactics for high level play.

      • Dom D. says:

        I like both of these ideas. We need the OSR Influencers to stop gushing over every decent low level adventure and start figuring out how to encourage more level diversity. Yes, they’re harder to write. Yes, they take more time. But, I for one will refuse to spend another cent on anything that not for mid or high levels from here on out.

  7. Anonymous says:

    There is a reason you became a named title in odnd fast. This concept perchance you speak Gygax heresy

  8. Chainsaw says:

    Yeah, it’s really tough to write a good high-level adventure. Not much else to say.

    • Anonymous says:

      Higher level adventures require more homework, thorough play testing and review from other sets of eyes, for sure. Then again, maybe I don’t really mind all of the money I’m saving as a result of my extremely infrequent purchases these days. I’ve mostly just been taking older stuff and reskinning it a bit.

  9. squeen says:

    My campaign PCs are not even at name level yet, but are far tougher than they might be if using pre-gens because of the accumulated magic and other resources. Thy are hard to challenge with single encounters, but attrition and a skillful/intelligent enemy can knock them back.

    Doesn’t help that they run from fair fights in favor of easier pickings. Too much at stake for them to risk losing. They also tend to unload in the first round rather than risk a counter-strike. That means the villains have to make feints or get blasted.

    There is a lot of talk about “not enough treasure” in adventures, but solely piling GP on without interesting magic gets a bit dull…but then that magic then tends to add up—even if using one-shots like potions and/or wands with very few charges, and magic item saving throws.

    Also, playing pre-gens is rather lifeless. No history = no emotional buy-in from the players.

  10. Q says:

    We’re Not Gonna Buy Them

    We’re not gonna buy them
    No, we’re not gonna buy them
    We’re not gonna buy them anymore

    We’ve got the right to skip it
    That low level tripe you wrote it
    Higher level quests are what we crave

    We’ll ask the luminaries please
    Make more than OSE feces
    You’ve lost your way, convention slaves

    We’re not gonna buy them
    No, we’re not gonna buy them
    We’re not gonna buy them anymore

    From bad reviews you’re hiding?
    ‘Cause 1-3’s are all you’re writing
    By the gods no more, thank you

    Your theme touts facing Devils
    But it’s for lower levels
    It makes no sense at level 2

    We’re done, yeah
    No pay, yeah
    Sold none, yeah
    You’ll say

    We’re not gonna buy them
    No, we’re not gonna buy them
    We’re not gonna buy them, anymore

    No way!

  11. Anonymous says:

    You just know the next review Bryce posts will be for low levels…

  12. Dom D. says:

    The comments on this one have been more entertaining than most of the reviews. Well done, Anonymous, Q and others.

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