Sunday, January 18, 2015

Review: 52 Pages & Tower of the Stargazer

Tower of the Stargazer is as great an introductory adventure as everyone says it is. I did go easy on the party (there should have been two deaths) but I'll justify it as a one-off with family, so there's less pressure to use the sheer brutality of the first trap to set the tone of adventure gaming in general. I also really let the players go easy on the ghost, letting my partner's stage-magician brother win with a card trick, mostly because it's the one part of the module I actively dislike. I understand why Raggi put it there, but, damnit, if I sign up to play a game I want to play that game. Running it again, I'd probably just have it be a "ghost barrier" they have to knock out by turning, holy water, magic weapons, or some other ritual. I guess riddles also work. Also, there were a few ambiguities with room descriptions and maps, most importantly being Calcidius' position - the map puts his containment circle very close to the staircase, but the room description says he's in the center, which is probably more accurate, as I went by the map position and found myself momentarily trying to figure out what his reaction would be to the party breaking open the door and then falling back down the stairs in a heap. Finally, I like the delicate risk-reward balance the module has. Failing to get the treasure stash is by no means a failure, as a pretty average 1-2 session haul can be pilfered elsewhere, and the lack of wandering monsters pairs nicely with the deadliness of most of the triggered traps - there are a dozen ways to die, but you can spend a good amount of time contemplating them.

The 52 Pages rules worked very nicely, and I didn't have any trouble integrating them with the Tower. Some adjustment would have been required for Calcidius, as the rules don't approach modeling a magic user of his level, and the magic system is distinct enough from the D&D baseline that I can see myself having to rework any NPC magic users that appear in future modules beforehand. I've put together a PDF compilation of all of Roger's Color Magic posts to help with that, but of course his system has evolved since then. The players didn't really use their knowledge rolls much, although I did pre-roll a lot of their characters which gave them less time to inhabit the world before making their selections. In the future, I think the way character creation is highly integrated with the game rules would be very helpful for quickly getting new players on their feet.

I will definitely be using 52 Pages rules for my next campaign (and hope that the Next 52 will be ready by the time characters start to breach 3rd level!). I'll be running ASE, and although my main group will start out with the suggested ASE intro scenario, I'll probably post a Tower of the Stargazer reskin I'm working on in case I need to do an alternative starting module.