Thursday, June 09, 2011

Haunted Towers

Old towers are not quite as popular adventure sites as stinky subterranean tunnels, but they have there place in most campaigns.  In the molden days tower modules included The Ghost Tower of Inverness tournament module, as well as some options from Judges Guild.  Lara's Tower and The Tower of Indomitable Circumstances seem to come from the same la-la land from which all the weirdest JG stuff emerged.  Indomitable has a great premise: a junior god is testing the party to see if they would make good apostles.  If they survive their reward is being shanghaied into a new religion.  The tower attached to Tegel Manor is pretty good, as I recall.  I've got a copy of JG's Dark Tower around here, but I don't think I've actually read it.

So on my Wessex map I've got a mysterious Tower of the Red King that I really need to flesh out.  The magical and sinister Red King rules a tiny island just off the coast.  So here are my questions for you nice folk:

1) In your experience, what is the best map of a tower you've seen in a fantasy rpg product?

2) What tower-based adventure have you seen that takes best advantage of the tower's shape and height?  Just cramming a dungeon into a small outline and going up instead of down seems like lazy design.

But then again I'm looking for stuff to rip off, so I can't knock lazy design too hard.


  1. Raggi has done a couple of tower adventures, I think; one of them is in the back of Death Frost Doom, as I recall.

  2. I don't think I've ever encountered very many tower adventures, buuuuut the very first "module" I bought was The Haunted Tower(for BECMI, it was a boxed set). It was actually kinda cool. I've always wanted to run the thing in its entirety, but no players have ever tried.

  3. The thing to be careful with about towers is the Tower of the Elephant scenario: there are usually at least two ways into a tower (top and bottom(=), and as a DM you can be taken by surprise if you don't think that through.

    I have made this mistake.

    If it's jsut a place to explore, then fine, whatever; doesn;t matter which way the players go in. But if they're there to get an object or kill a bad guy and you put it at the top of the tower, you have just invited the players to figure out how to take the obvious shortcut.

  4. Anonymous1:06 PM

    Can't speak to modules but you should certainly check out James Ward's "Towers of Adventure" boxed set. Fairly system-neutral but a neat kit for designing small adventures. It has a lot of smallish tower maps ready to stock, as well as "treasures & traps" collection.

  5. I've always liked towers. They're compact and players are prone to approach them with a wider range of options and caution then they would a dungeon.

  6. Anonymous1:38 PM

    Kullervo is dead right..and it's the thing most tower adventures try to nerf by burying the tower, making the exterior too dangerous to climb/fly to the top - like in Tower of the Stargazer, or make the window level a deathtrap (like the tower at the back of DFD Kelvin mentions). They usually end up as linear dungeons.

    IMHO The best tower adventures leave the option open to explore the levels in whatever order.

  7. I love towers. They are like the mythic underworld jutting up into the normal. But as geordie mentions they are prone to linearity.

    The one way I've thought to remedy this is to make the inside magically bigger than the outside, but that's cheating, then it's not really a tower.

    I like the idea of a tower with stairs on the outside leading to the top, to force the DM to consider it being explored from both directions. I like the idea that something would cause players to decide "let's go back out and come from the other way," for tactical reasons.

  8. Anonymous2:58 PM

    You asked "what is the best map of a tower".

    That's easy!!! The tower of Burne in Hommlett. But I realize that answer isn't helpful :)

    I liked very much the towers depicted in MERP adventures from the 1980's. The maps were clean and useful and often had nice isometric 3d views to help visualize things. By the standards of the day the graphics were excellent and in my opinion still hold their own today in the age of photoshop.

    I dodn't game in Middle Earth but I found the MERP adventures lent themselves fine for adapting to my world. So - if you can get your hands on them, since they are as far as I know very out of print - the old MERP adventures would be a great resource for cool towers.

  9. Towers, as a thing to explore as well as an entrance to a dungeon underground has featured in many an adventure. Universally, when given a choice, I've seen players go up, before going down. There is only so much to explore going up, but going down can lead infinitely outward.

    I've always meant to reverse that with a Baba Yaga kind of deal where the tower is much larger on the inside than the outside.

  10. Anonymous4:44 PM

    Answer the first: (funcitonal, clean, well laid out)

    Answer the second:
    X11 Saga of the Shadowlord (except lazy design as you pontificated but hella romp as a player from my perspectiv)

    If you use either of these suggestions you owe me $50 as I have marked both answers as copyright. You can pay me via paypal address:


  11. I drew quite a few towers for ICE when I worked for them that you are welcome to rip off. Check out the Dol Guldur post, the Sea Lord's Tower in Pelargir and Sarn Goriwing in Mirkwood.

    Also, towers don't have to be linear if they are within a larger castle compound and/or are connected to a dungeon or something with multiple ways in and out. Like doors into the tower on the second level from the castle walls for instance, which was not uncommon.

  12. I've toyed with the idea of a tower that is complex to explore, even though it only has a single stairwell going through it, by making the stairwell spatially disjointed. To get top floor, you would have to climb up several flights of stairs, down a few, up a few more, down one, and then up again.

  13. I really like the harn products and recall they had some neat castle/towers in castles of harn (I think)

    The challenge with a tower is making the exploration interesting with secret staircases and level-bypassing.

  14. well you said you have jg dark tower. open it up! both of the towers in that module are very interesting.

  15. Anonymous7:39 PM

    Here's what I would do with a cool character like that: not primarily make a crawl of it at all. The Red King is at the top of the tower; there, in a chamber of many windows, he sits, spreading his magical sight over the Six Kingdoms. If the PCs can fly up there, fine; that might demonstrate their worthiness. Otherwise they might have to beg an audience, or fight their way up; although the latter will be seen as boorish and rude, no doubt. If the PCs necessarily must fight him, then let them; even if they prevail, looting the tower might not be so easy cleaning out the top room, for who's to say the vaults aren't midway up the tower, or even in some cellars below? Otherwise, the Red King might be a mentor, an employer (for when his normal minions might not suffice, or cannot be risked), a source of cryptic advice and prophecy, or a cordial political enemy — or all of these. I'd like to see a guy who controls humanoids but who isn't an obvious bad guy for all that; who has some more faerie-like attitude to them, perhaps.

    As for the tower, perhaps if you leave through the same door you entered, or at the wrong time of day — twilight, a night under a full moon — you come out in the wrong world; some thick and thorny wood surrounding the tower on a bleak plain where the sun seems always to waver on the horizon. Or maybe there's a particular door somewhere in the middle floors which leads to a door under a tree-root in the Goblin Market, the way the door in Howl's Moving Castle goes to seemingly normal houses.

    (This all presumes, of course, that »sinister« is to be taken in the sense of »foreboding« rather than »satanic lich« and consequently may not indicate actual evil.)

  16. I like the towers that are bigger on the inside than the outside. Is there not one such tucked away in Verbosh?