The Tower of the Elephant

By Luiz Eduardo Ricon
Hexplore Publishing
Levels 3-5

The shimmering shaft of the tower rose frostily in the stars. In the sunlight it shone so dazzlingly that few could bear its glare, and men said it was built of silver.

This 48 page adventure uses ten pages to describe about thirty rooms in the titular tower, the rest being devoted to the now public domain short story. It’s got some ok descriptions for various rooms, but the encounters are relatively prosaic, with substantial editing gaps throughout the rather short ten pages of the actual work. No Fantastic! for you today.

Sorry man, I’m unfamiliar with old fantasy novels. Or, most modern fantasy for that matter, beyond LotR and the Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn series. I’m a SciFI boy. But, on the plus side, you’ll get no glaze in my eyes from nostalgia. The intro to this says it’s inspired by the story but not a copy of it, so, we’ll review it like that: ignoring the story and just looking at the adventure, proper. All I got to go on is that tower scene in the Conan movie.

The map here is relatively simplistic. You get nine levels of a tower, with a couple of rooms per level. One level is underground. There’s supposed to be a couple of walled gardens around the tower, but we get no map of it. The map editing is sloppy, with no key numbers on the map beyond level one of the tower. Entrances are … weird? The map notes doors on levels one … and the key says they can’t be opened. Windows on level one are mentioned as well. But, the garden section notes only a tunnel from the basement and a balcony on the top floor, as well as “concealed windows” on level one. I don’t know how you conceal a large window, but, whatever. It’s sloppy work. You’re looking at one way up and one way down on most levels. Not exactly the most interesting for an exploration, but, alas, thus is the fate of all towers, it seems. 

Treasure, magic treasure anyway, is quite generic. +1 shield and +1 sword and 12k in gold in the main treasure chamber. You’ve got the black lotus/yellow lotus shit as well, so, I guess there’s that. This does not lend to the air of The Fantastic. It comes off as boring. The guards, as well, are kind of poorly done. There’s no real order of battle, beyond one section that notes a fleeing cook may summon some guards. There’s no real “infiltration” section in the walled gardens, beyond a note to roll for wandering guards. You do get to fight six 5HD lions, so, there’s that. Or, sneak by them, I guess? But, there’s not really any framing for that kind of play, at all. That’s a pretty major miss. And the editing throughout is sloppy, beyond the map/key numbers; referring to things on the wrong levels, for example. 

Descriptions are above average. We get a bar scene that is “flickering of candles, the PCs are surrounded by smoke, muffled laughter, scantily clad men and women servants, and the overpowering scent of ale, wine, and sweat.” That’s a decent visual for a bar. And then a “bloated man, flushed and sweaty, claps cheerfully …” along with his wicked grin and his “don’t be shy my lovelies!” This is the kind of writing I like to see. Terse and evocative. We get “crude moss-covered stairs going up” and “Dimly lit chamber, smell of blood and urine. Hooks and chains dangling on the walls. A bronze sarcophagus (S) covered in iron spikes standing in a corner.” I’m not sure how the main stairs are moss-covered, but whatever, it’s still a stairs description, and those almost never get one in an adventure. Dimly lit, smells of blood and urine, that’s pretty good. Above average, to be sure. It’s not always doing this well, but, generally, it does ok. Living up to Howard, no doubt?

The encounters, proper, though leave a lot to be desired. A ghoul in that torture chamber iron maiden, for example. Or a raving madman. No real monster descriptions are present, which is a major miss. And most of the combat encounters are just a sudden combat. There’s not much in the way of sneaking, or in puzzle solving. Maybe a trap here and there, but animated armor is not the end all and be all of an encounter. The monsters are mostly generic with no real descriptions and the on-combat stuff is a simple “drug gas” trap or something of the like. There’s no real sense of wonder in any of them. The final encounter, with some alien dude and a large gem is an exception, but also I assume this is from the story?

This is a simple tower map with rather normal and somewhat boring encounters. While the rooms are somewhat evocatively described, the encounters proper lack that thus come off as just another generic combat encounter. There’s not a lot of interactivity beyond combat and an occasional drug trap. Substantial editing issues and a lack of care in the final proof are quite evident; I can overlook a lot of that in an adventure but this one is a little too heavy in that area. The mundane treasure has an attempt made at a decent description, although the magic treasure is just generic. No real framing for play other than hacking. I’d skip it.

This is $8 at DriveThru. The preview is eight pages. You get to see the opening bar scene. It really needed to include a tower level as well.

This entry was posted in Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The Tower of the Elephant

  1. The Middle Finger Of Vecna says:

    The cover illustration and the font used for the title look like they were plucked right off the page from the Weird Tales pulp that featured this short story. I know, I know, it’s public domain at this point but there’s a laziness about doing that that bugs me.

    That could be forgiven if the adventure was superior but that does not seem to be the case. It doesn’t sound horrible though.

  2. Kubo says:

    I recall “Tower of the Elephant” being one of Howard’s shortest stories, maybe 10 to 20 pages. If you are going to run this as an adventure, I would (1) have the entire story for the DM to read at the beginning of the adventure instead of wasting space describing it generally, and (2) lift entire sections of text from the story to salt the adventure with. If you are going to play Conan, you want to get the real feel and experience as a player. Who wants an adventure that is a cheap copy of the original? If you want just Howard inspired material, that’s easy enough to do without copying the story.

  3. Gnarley Bones says:

    A classic! This has been done a couple of times, including once in Footprints:

  4. Prince says:

    I believe there is another (better) one in the Adventure Sites compilation put out by Ben Gibson by J.Blasso Gieseke.

    • AB Andy says:

      From what I see Ben released Volume 1 from his competition. Tower of the Elefant is not in. Do you know a place where we can get it?

  5. Laeral says:

    I like the Tower of the Elephant. I get why it’s popular. I once made an adventure site inspired by Tower of the Elephant myself – key word inspired, echoing the flavour and feel, not the story itself. I don’t get why at least three different people thought trying to directly emulate a 10,000 word short story in D&D was ever a good idea, maybe my inner child is deficient.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Sounds dependent on the story after all. Do they assume you’ll just go into the tower through the top like Conan did? Taking some script like that for granted is a bad sign.

    You should take a break from DTRPG slop and read one R.E. Howard story. It won’t make adventures better but it would be a nice mini vacation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *