Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Play Report: Tower of the Stargazer

Over the break, I had the opportunity to run Tower of the Stargazer using the 52 Pages ruleset for visiting family. Results were excellent.

The cast of characters:

Zoltar the Rogue, STR 9 DEX 13 INT 12 WIS 12 CON 11 CHA 10, 5HP, wielding a short sword and dagger

Root the Elf, STR 8 DEX 11 INT 10 WIS 10 CON 12 CHA 13, 5HP, wielding a shortsword and hammer, knowing the spells Disguise and Phantasm

Displaying IMG_1349.JPGJermandry the Fighter, STR 16 DEX 8 IINT 11 WIS 11 CON 14 CHA 8, 9HP, with Longsword, Shield, and Greatsword

Blooberton the 'Dwarf', STR 15 DEX 13 INT 10 WIS 6 CON 17 CHA 5, 9HP, with Battleaxe and Shield. His CHA of 5 is readily explained by the bizarre wasting disease which left him looking like a hairy mutant flumph.

After a basic explanation of the rules and a fairly lengthy discussion of equipment purchases and distribution, during which Zoltar suggested they all take advantage of the free slings and sling stones mentioned in the equipment list, and the group discovered they couldn't afford any better armor for any of them, the four found themselves standing in the hilly region surrounding the mysterious Wizard's Tower, having heard of another crew's plans to break in in five days' time.

The crew observed the tower for a few minutes, noting the lighting strikes and the four metal spikes, and decided to patrol around the base in order to look for any entrances at a safe distance. They take note of the stairs up to the large double doors, but find no other doors or windows. They also find the corpse of Del Lorenzo, and Blooberton assesses the bent grapple and warns that perhaps climbing wouldn't be a good idea.

Root advises that they might want to avoid alerting any inhabitants of the tower to their presence, but also suggests testing the door in some way to see what happens. The gang decides to load their slings with loose stones and fire a volley at the door. The four stones bounce and ring loudly off the door's metal. Next, they decided to have Zoltar advance and attempt the doorknob. He cautions the rest of them to stay at the foot of the stairs, weapons ready. Ascending the steps, he takes a quick note of the two large knockers, and the two serpent-shaped handles before he grasps one firmly.

Despite his speed, he is unable to avoid the handle's sharp teeth as it darts forward and bites deep into his hand. His companions rush up the steps as he collapses, the handle returning to its former shape. Black and purple corruption spread across his fingers and wrist. Blooberton and Root clean the wound and suck out some of the poison, saving his wrist. His pinky and ring finger, however, crumble and fall off.

The team discusses various methods of killing the door handle. First, they pour some lamp oil on it ant set it alight – this succeeds only in blackening it. They try pouring water on it next, reasoning that this is a magical contraption and could react to anything at all. This effort only cleans the handle. Next, they gingerly hook the handle with Zoltar's grapple, assigning Jermandry the task of pulling back on it while Blooberton prepares to set the thing alight once it comes alive.

After a sharp tug, the handle twists and slips free of the grappling hook, and Blooberton lights the remaining oil – but too late, as the handle returns to its metallic, impervious position.

The four discuss trying to behead the serpent with Blooberton's axe, and then maybe trying to pull the doors open by hooking the knocker, but the latter plan is rejected as the knocker swings outwards and is considered to be a poor grip. Eventually Zoltar grabs the knocker with his damaged hand and knocks.

A deep gonging rings through the tower and out into the hills. After a pause, both doors swing open, and the party's torchlight illuminates some kind of parlor, with two tables, a north door, and an eastern door. Both doors are oak, with a circular brass handle – but the serpent-handles have set the group on edge, and they spend some time considering these doors and whether they pose any danger. They decide to split into two pairs and simultaneously open both doors. Root and Blooberton take the north door, Zoltar and Jermandry the south. The doors creak open, neither group having decided to take any precautions.

Zoltar and Jermandry find a small closet filled with musty old clothes, and use their blades to push through the robes and check pockets, but they find only chewed holes and moth eggs. Zoltar's player declined my offer to give him any moth eggs.

Root and Blooberton, on the other hand, discover a fancy stting room with a glass cabinet, a stone statue, a table, and stairs up. They are soon joined by the other group, and proceed to examine everything in the room. Jermandry looks under and over the central table, finding nothing, while Root opens the cabinet and looks through the china plates within. They notice that nothing in the tower has been covered with any dust so far, and continue to be suspicious that strange magic could hide within the room. Root picks up a china plate, and the whole group watches intently, weapons drawn, as she smashes it to the floor. They keep their guard up as the sound echoes through the tower, but nothing happens. The party then sets the table, as if for a meal, using the china and one of the four bottles of wine found in the cabinet, to see if it causes anything magical to happen.

Continuing up the stairs, the adventurers arrive in a kind of kitchen/dining room, with a short hallway to the east. They move quickly to the three doors in that hallway, and again decide on simultaneous opening – Root and Jermandry entering the northern door, and Zoltar and Blooberton each taking a southern door. They find nothing but old, musty, broken beds, but Root finds a key underneath the head servant's bed, and Jermandry picks up his diary. They bring this to Zoltar, the only literate party member, who finds that it's the diary of the tower's head servant, which details the time he spent purchasing rare books and other materials relating to the exploration of outer spheres, but cuts out abruptly after an entry discussing the wizard's murderous rage and his plans to escape.

The group progresses to the next staircase, and are disturbed by the trickle of blood oozing down it. Jermandry tries the key, but it doesn't work – and the blood flow increases slightly. Next Zoltar moves forward and tries to pick the lock, succeeding only in pushing a loose object out of the other side before getting temporarily blinded by a blast of blood. He cleans himself off, and the other party members look apprehensive at the prospect of triggering whatever is causing the flow. But the unknown still calls to them, and Jermandry inserts his crowbar into the jamb, and levers it free with a harsh crack.

A massive blood flow knocks him and Root all the way back down the stairs, dealing some heavy bruising and scrapes along the way. Jermandry and Zoltar are able to cling to the walls as the flood slackens, and catch a glimpse of some kind of figure looming in the center of the next room.

Zoltar sticks to the shadows as Jermandry advances into the room, with the other adventurers staying back. There they see the wizard Calcidius, who explains he was trapped in the salt circle by mistake and offers 100 silver coins for Jermandry to free him. Zoltar whispers, “That is some weak shit,” and Jermandry fakes moving to brush away the salt, but stops short and asks Calcidius for at least 10,000 silvers. The wizard tells them, “Free me, or I will pull your guts out of your nostrils,” but Jermandry refuses, and instead makes a great show of walking back down the stairs and wishing Calcidius luck. Zoltar watches carefully to make sure the wizard has no other means of escaping, and sees only Calcidius' red-faced cursing.

The adventurers discuss ways of trying to get information out of Calcidius, and moving through the room, and decide on having Root cast her Disguise spell to appear like his former assistant to see what he does. Unfortunately, the powerful wizard sees right through the spell and declares that he is not fooled by puny Elf magic, and that he finds roast Elf a great delicacy. Then Blooberton walks up the staircase, and the adventurers do their best to ignore the wizard's enraged shouts as they pick their way through the room.

They find a bronze hovering disk, and figure out that it operates as a magical elevator, locating two unexplored floors below them and two above. Blooberton examines the Star Crystal, and prepares to push it out of its holder with a weapon haft when Zoltar stops him, saying that it risks disrupting the salt circle. Instead he gingerly picks it up, apprehensive that it could be trapped, and places the heavy crystal into his bag. Meanwhile, Zoltar finds a book on Calcidius' desk and throws that into his bag, and the rest of the party determines nothing else in the room is worthwhile.

Root and Jermandry ascend to the fifth floor, reasoning that there should be a fighter in both groups, and find themselves in a large domed chamber with a cupola to the north, three large bins to the west, and pool of liquid in the south. They first walk up to the cupola and find another book sitting there, which they send down to Zoltar. Next, they inspect the pool of fluid and find it filled with bizarre fish, which have a set of six fins, a corkscrew tail, and eyestalks. Jermandry crumbles off a bit of hardtack and throws in three pieces. Two are intercepted midair by leaping fish, while the third hisses and bubbles as the fluid dissolves it. Both decide that they won't be sticking their toes in.

Meanwhile, Zoltar goes up alone to the fourth floor, finding two doors and deciding to open the eastern one, which is encased in a heavy rubber gasket. A rush of cold air greets him as he gazes on a small metal chest and another gasket-cased door to the north. He pries open the chest with his blade, and is hit by a gust of even colder air. Inside are forty-seven vials of some kind of frozen red fluid. He decides that anything kept frozen in an already-freezing room can't be good, and opens the door to the north.

Below him, Blooberton tries unsuccessfully to taunt the wizard, who simply jeers at Blooberton's unfortunate appearance. The dwarf soon tires of this and ascends to the fourth floor, deciding to open the western, normal door rather than follow Zoltar's path through the frozen room.

On Level 5, Jermandry and Root throw a couple coal hunks into the fish pool. Some are eaten, only to be quickly spit back out. Others hit the fluid and dissolve. Next they find that the third bin is filled with a small amount of a fine black powder, which they unsuccessfully attempt to scoop up with their blades. Root scoops up some with her right hand, and, suffering no ill effects, throws the clump into the fish pool. The fish ignore the powder, which also dissolves into the fluid.

After opening the second gasketed door, Zoltar finds himself in a large library, filled with glass and metallurgy works. He finds a second door in the south wall, and opens it to meet Blooberton shuffling into a kind of reading room. On a table in the room is a thick book called “Surviving the Interorbular Ether,” which he quickly ascertains as complex enough it could take a week for him to read. Instead, he opens the other two books and quickly pages through them, discovering that one of them is incoherent and clearly written by a madman, and the other seems to be a fairly lucid description of creatures on the sphere Necropoli Centauri.

Upstairs Root and Jermandry run out of ideas of things to throw into the fish pool, and take the elevator to the first dungeon level. They find themselves in a large room, with a door to the west and one to the south, an alcove to the north with five mirrors, and a lab space with tons of dissected animal and bird bodies – and one human. They move up to the mirror hall, where Jermandry stands with weapon readied as Root steps up and peers deeply into the northernmost mirror. The glass brightens, and then bursts – unable to resist, she falls back, face and upper body covered with serious burns. Jermandry runs back to the elevator shaft and shouts for help.

Zoltar and Blooberton had already descended to the lowest dungeon level. They had spent only a couple minutes browsing the Eldritch Library, which they found filled with scrolls about knots, books about alien creatures, and strange encyclopedias. Zoltar defeated a ghost in a hand of poker (a foregone conclusion for this Referee) in order to gain access, but they were uninterested in spending much time browsing the contents. At the very bottom of the tower, however, they found what they were looking for – over 40,000 silvers worth of gold and jewels!

Rushing back up to the first dungeon level, they perform first aid on Root and Blooberton washes her wounds, bringing her up to one hit point but leaving her still very exhausted and disoriented. The party then moves to the south door, and Blooberton rushes into the room, weapons readied.

The precaution is proven necessary when four cadavers, which had been resting in the prison Blooberton finds himself in, rush forward, shouting “FREE US!” and rending with vicious ectoplasmic claws. Blooberton crushes one with a single heavy blow, and Zoltar pushes forwards as Blooberton's shield and heavy armor ward off the corpse ghosts' blows. Root comments that these ghosts are irrational, as she can't save them if they try to kill her, but I as Ref said that it could be like how drowning people are liable to drown their rescuers in their panic. Despite these humanizing comments, the party has no trouble destroying the ghosts, although some of their lesser blows do annoyingly pass straight through, and the party stands triumphant in the long prison hallway.

First, they approach the strange fifteen-armed skeleton, visually inspecting it and fearing that it could jump up and attack them. It doesn't, and they take special note of the cobwebs spun throughout its bleached form.

Next, they gather around the fifth cadaver, which is dressed in rags and didn't attack when they entered the room. Blooberton moves forward and pokes it with his 10' pole. Unfortunately, nobody notices the cadaver's throat squirm before a large slug-thing leaps majestically from its mouth, aiming directly for Blooberton. Fortunately, he (somehow) ducks and the thing lands on the floor, and escapes into a drain before anyone can react.

Finally they return to the workshop room and examine a lab table with an intricate microscope, slides of red liquid, and a rack of red vials, similar to those in the freezer room. Jermandry decides that looking at the slides probably isn't a good idea, but he takes one of the vials to compare it to the freezer vials and see if they can figure out what's in them.

The group next opens the western door, finding hundreds of crates of strange bones, and a rope ladder hanging from a trapdoor in the ceiling. They decide that opening the crates won't be necessary, and split up again – Blooberton and Zoltar returning to Calcidius' bedroom to attempt an interrogation, while Jermandry and Root ascend to the fourth floor to compare vials.

Calcidius proves to be as unresponsive a subject as ever, his disposition being completely unchanged as the party makes various threats, like setting two of his metallurgy books on fire and describing plans to sell the Star Crystal, buy a bomb and bring the whole tower down. He says only that he'll bring their puny lives crashing down far more painfully than any explosion ever could, and tells them that sooner or later he'll be out of the circle, and then he'll string them up by their entrails.

On Level 5, the whole party turns to the cupola and its control panel, succeeding in opening the roof, extending the telescope, and retracting the lens. The fourth switch only causes a hum to start, but then stop after about thirty seconds. Zoltar peers through the telescope and watches strange creatures bop across an orange horizon under a fuchsia sky. They retract the lens but leave the roof open to the lightning-filled sky, and turn back to the fish pool.

Zoltar and Blooberton return to the workshop and pick up on. of the vials, planning to pour it onto the sewn-up cadaver there. To Zoltar's surprise, once he uncaps the vial, the pungent blood inside takes some kind of strange snake form and begins attacking, leaping past his head and glancing off Blooberton's partial medium armor. Their weapons are ineffectual, and Zoltar's attempts to set it alight with his torch are clumsy and the blood creature easily dodges them. Blooberton tries splashing it with water, to no effect. Zoltar then drops his blade and unfurls a burlap sack, and then – critical hit – scoops the blood up mid-air and ties shut the bag.

Jermandry and Root pick up a frozen vial, and hear Zoltar and Blooberton shouting up from the bottom of the tower not to open either one. Instead, they move to the top of the tower and throw each one into the fish pool, where they both dissolve – a black puff of smoke rising from where the blood burned.

Downstairs, Zoltar and Blooberton try throwing the wriggling bag of blood at one of the mirrors, but are disappointed when it fails to get blasted. They reunite with Jermandry and Root on the bottom level, where they begin trying out all possible combinations of the force-field machine.

After a couple pulls, Blooberton is shocked by a charged lever and begins manipulating them from afar with the 10' pole. However, none of the combinations result in any visible changes to the fields, and none of the party attempts anything other than a visual inspection, so after several dozen attempts they decide to grab the Star Crystal, the remaining china, the bottles of wine, the blood vials, and any books they can carry and flee. They also pause to unravel the gold thread from the cadaver, making short work of the “John Carpenter-esque” entrails which leap to the attack.

Final Thoughts

I'll post reviews of 52 Pages and Tower of the Stargazer tomorrow with more thoughts, but in short – I thought it worked pretty well. The players felt that their haul (the “obvious” treasure) was a tidy profit, even if it was only about 5-10% of what's in the module. Zoltar said that he would try hawking the stolen blood vials as a kind of instant attack device – definitely a novel solution – or else they could try to rig a contraption to get them to kill Calcidius. I liked that the tower actually supported a couple of different motivations – the players weren't just focused on the gold, but also were drawn into the mystery of the place's magic, technology, and especially the fish.