The Tower of the Twisted Mage

By Hexplore Publishing
Hexplore Publishing
Level 1

Orin, the Wizard is missing. And his apprentice is hiring adventurers to go look for him in his last known whereabouts: The infamous Tower of Zaradon, the Twisted Mage.

This 28 page adventure features a “tower” with four levels and about sixteen rooms, using about nine pages to do so. So generic that I had to check, multiple times, to ensure I had not reviewed it previously. It’s throw-away garbage.

You see a dude in the market place looking around. I hope you go talk to him because if you don’t then there’s no adventure to be had! An apprentice, named either Kendrick or Cedrick (both names are used for him … and not on purpose …) wants you to go to this tower that his master was exploring and never came back from. Why doesn’t he? Well, gentle reader, you see, this is just a garbage adventure. In a garbage adventure we don’t bother even mentioning such things. But, whatever. 

You walk down a country road to get to the tower. On the road you have an exciting encounter from a table! Just one though … from the table of eight. So, let’s see … “A tree has fallen across the path, blocking the way forward. The players must find a way to remove the obstacle or go around it.” Joy! Wonder! Excitement! I’m so glad I’m playing D&D tonight! I had been looking forward to it all week! Our boots might get muddy! Ohs nos! Look, if you’re just gonna force one encounter then don’t use a fucking table. A table was used for wanderers, if the PC”s are dawdling, or exploring, or some such. Not for a programmed encounter. Instead of saying “A group of bandits has set up a makeshift roadblock. They demand that the players pay a toll to pass.” then write a short paragraph about the Murphy Boys Independant Tax Agency.” 

Congrats. You made it to the tower. You may now enjoy majestic room descriptions that say things like a LARGE room” a room with “HIGH ceilings.” Don’t fucking do this. I know you think you’re doing right, but stickin gin an adjective. But, maybe, pick a better one? Large and high have little meaning. Use a thesaurus. Conjure an image in your mind. Describe that. Ceiling tower overhead. Or loom overhead, or stretch in to the shadows above. Don’t fucking say high. The purpose of a room description is to inspire the DM. To conjure an image in their heads that they can riff on for the players benefit. Large don’t do that.

And, maybe, watch your rooms text for padding also. Telling us that the room has two doors, as the maps clearly fucking shows, and has no encounters or traps in it is not helpful text in the room description. What’s the fucking point? You think there might be some, that the designer left out? Why? Why the fuck say there are no traps or encounters in the room? You don’t even consistently do it for all the rooms with no encounters or traps! “After defeating the rats, the players may find some treasure scattered among the bones.” Why? Just why?! That sentence does nothing. N O T H I N G. Oh oh oh, and then it sticks the door descriptions IN THE NEXT ROOM. So if the door from room one to room two is described, you know where it is described at? In room two. Room one tells us there IS a door, but the actual description is in room two. Now, I know my readers, you’re thinking “that could be ok”. Maybe. But what if room two is a corridor. It makes no fucking sense at all. 

My favorite, absolute favorite, encounter that I may have even seen in my entire worthless piece of shit life, is the mirror maze in this adventure. “To go forward, the PCs must pass three Wisdom saves. Failing any of the saves forces a restart. If they pass all three, they reach the end of the maze”. Tedium. Just an exercise in tedium. Just like the fallen log encounter. Tedium. Nothing but tedium. Tired of reading the fucking word tedium yet? Too fucking bad. I had to deal with this adventure. 

When you leave the tower you meet 1d6 rival adventurers. That’s all you get. Nothing more. 

There is NOTHING here. The same room concept, a room with a stone pedestal in the center with a glowing crystal on it, appears twice. Not for thematic reasons. Not for puzzle reasons. Just because. It’s the most basic of descriptions. Dull and boring. Padded text. Unimaginative encounters. Tedious play. No specifics to bring something alive. 

This then is the curse of man. To be forced to create only to spew shit eternally.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is eight pages. Because of all of the advert padding you don’t actually get to see any rooms. Shitty preview.

Is it possible to live a simple life without flax seed and hemp indoctrination?

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22 Responses to The Tower of the Twisted Mage

  1. Melan says:

    It is really hard to find good tower adventures. They seem easy to do, but they almost never deliver. For all their iconic status in fantasy, they are physically and conceptually limiting. There are exceptions, like the Black Tower (Midkemia), but most tower adventures are stuck in the “stone tube with guard room, kitchen, quarters, guard room, parapets” paradigm.

    • SargonTheOK says:

      For the physically limiting part, they do seem naturally resistant to Jaquaysing. For all the emphasis on vertical space, if that’s the only direction, it’s still a 1D dungeon.

      I suspect they need a lot more secret stairs, switchbacks, and split levels than your average adventure, and these should skip around by multiple levels in nonlinear fashion to keep the navigation more interesting than “just go up.”

      Or you can use portals, or non-Euclidean space? But in a wizard’s tower that feels like doubling down on the most tired of tropes.

      • Maynard says:

        When it comes down to it, towers are interesting because they are useful for surveying wilderness areas. There’s not really a lot of room in there, it’s mostly stairs so you can get to the top and look out.

        That information resource can be well guarded which makes for a fun gameplay loop, in fact taking a tower is difficult because of how narrow all the rooms and staircases are. Flying creatures like to roost there and stuff.

        I don’t see why wizards even want a tower. You’d think a being with the ability to scry wouldn’t care whether they can see 18 miles in every direction or not.

        • SargonTheOK says:

          I think it’s the historical affiliation of wizards with astrology (literally, Magi).

        • The Heretic says:

          I’d blame it on Tolkien. Saruman had a tower. The necromancer of Mirkwood had a tower.

          • Beoric says:

            In fairness, Tolkien was probably using the term as a synonym for keep, like the White Tower from the Tower of London. Given that Orthanc was surrounded by a curtain wall, it was certainly functionally a keep.

            And it would be much easer to make a keep interesting than a 30′ diameter round tower.

      • Speaking of Jaquays, Dark Tower solved the problem (sort of) by having two towers side-by-side, underground, and surrounded and connected by excavations.

      • Commodore says:

        The scale of most towers is what causes this. I spent a lot of time on the challenges of that in Tower of the Time Master (, which is pretty Jaquayed. Helps to have a wide footprint and a lot of secret doors.

    • Prince says:

      One of the rare areas where Lotfp has a good track record: Stargazer, Towers Two, Idea from Space, even 3rd party offerings like Wizard’s Vengeance.

      Maybe go the opposite route. Make them fairly limited, 1-3 complex single encounters, multiple ways of entry, running battles. A few complex, potentially lucrative but hazardous magical mcguffins to toy around with.

      Probably Jaquay the dungeon below the tower, rather then the tower proper.

      • Chainsaw says:

        Agreed on all that.

      • Bluecho says:

        ^This. While you could make the tower have a large horizontal footprint and subdivide it, with loads of staircases and holes running up and down, you can also embrace the inherent linearity of a tower. Whether that’s a lone tower with a set sequence of encounters, like something you’d generate populating a random hex, or a tower attached to a larger dungeon (so it’s a branch with a dead end).

        While common wisdom involves Jaquaysing dungeons, linearity is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. It’s a tool in your GM toolbox. And towers justify it very nicely.

        (Plus, any tower can be Jaquaysed once the party have access to flight/wall crawling/teleportation. Smart GMs will factor this into their adventures, and even create opportunities for the party to do so…in a manner that makes more challenges, not fewer.)

        • Observer says:

          Am I the only person that thinks the ‘s’ in Jaquaying completely butchers the analogy and was introduced by pathetic nannies without gainful employment or purpose in this hobby? No aggression towards Bluecho, who makes a good point about the situational use of nonlinearity and is probably a standup guy.

          If you check out something like Tower of the Time Master or even Stargazer they follow the tower format while still avoiding linearity. Being able to climb in via a window is often enough.

          • Shuffling Wombat says:

            I believe Jennell Jaquays suggested it. (Grogtalk 86 is worth a listen; given the wealth of superior product produced, she was only at Judges’ Guild for a relatively short time.)

          • Observer says:

            That’s fair.

    • Ken McKinney says:

      The iconic Dark Tower adventure solved this problem by burying the towers and excavating a dungeon around them!

  2. Reason says:

    Oh boy, remember the time we outwitted that mirror maze by rolling 3 saves in a row !

    Oh boy, do I !!

    Now THAT’S D&D !!!

    • Stipe says:

      Player: “Aww! I made the first two rolls but failed the last by 2 . . .”

      GM: “That’s okay! We’ll count it anyway!”

  3. SargonTheOK says:

    Bryce got a three strikes policy? Cuz I think we just struck out.

  4. Anonymous says:

    You should try the blue lotus adventure. I read it yesterday and instantly thought about you.

  5. TJS says:

    How does one make a Wisdom save in Old School Essentials?

    • Stripe says:

      Roll-under ability rating is an optional rule in the Expert Set (X51) and thus in OSE as an optional rule as well, I’m sure:

      SAVING VS. ABILITIES (OPTIONAL): The DM may want to base a character’s chance of doing something on his or her ability ratings (Strength, etc.).
      The player must roll the ability rating or less on a d20. The DM may give a bonus or penalty to the roll, depending on the difficulty of the
      action (-4 for a simple task, + 4 for a difficult one, etc.). It is suggested that a roll of 1 always succeed and a roll of 20 always fail.

      When it comes to saves/checks in the OSR, the important part isn’t *what* you’re rolling against, it’s *when* and *why* the GM calls for the rolls.

      According Bryce, this is how NOT to do checks:

      “The front door to the dungeon is a puzzle. You need to roll a DC10 to understand its a puzzle. That’s depressing. Why do this? What if they fail? No adventure tonight? They won’t fail 10? Then why put in a roll at all? The DM will fudge it? Why put in a roll at all? This is NOT how you use a skill check in D&D.”

      How TO use checks:

      “The adventure does two interesting things. First, it occasionally handles a skill check well. In one notable example, you find a cave if you are following footsteps . . . OR you can make a PER check if you are not. That’s how you handle a skill check in the OSR. If you search you find the fucking trap, otherwise you fling yourself to the fickle hand of fate.”

  6. Anonymous says:

    $5 at DriveThru! Author should be paying us $5 just to consider this “adventure”!

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