Tower of the Stargazer

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Tower of the Stargazer
It will be fun, I promise.
Module published by
Self published
Rule System Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Authors James Raggi IV

"This may seem like a cruel outcome, but look at everything the characters have to do in order to reach it. The bottom line is it that a character has to do quite a bit to activate this rather complex trap, and there is not a single tangible reason to do so other than curiosity. Such curiosity kills adventurers as well as cats."

– Raggis, calling flipping switches 1 to 4 in that order a "complex trap" and defending adding a deathtrap with a trigger sequence that not only makes it look like you're solving a puzzle, but also one that has no warning it's a deathtrap until after the module's over. The claim that there's no tangible reason to do it is also a lie since the whole adventure is a quest to solve puzzles and be rewarded in loot for it.

Tower of the Stargazer is (allegedly) an introductory adventure to Lamentations of the Flame Princess, written by James Edward Raggi IV. To quote the author, the goal of this adventure was to "be an example to new Referees about how to design and run adventures", which apparently involves being a dick toward your players as much as humanly possible.

The premise is quite simple: an abandoned wizard tower, full of treasures and weird contraptions. It's supposed to be somewhat dangerous because the wizard was paranoid, but (once again, allegedly) unless the PC "fiddle with things “just because” with no actual identifiable purpose", there shouldn't be "too much in the way of danger to be had". Of course the whole adventure not only revolves around fiddling with things that have no actual identifiable purpose (and even things that do have an identifiable purpose can and will kill you with no warning), but the final puzzle you need to complete to get your loot is also based around that. I’m sure this will end well, so let’s go!

The adventure[edit]

Spoiler.gifThis article contains spoilers! You have been warned.

The first step is obviously opening the doors of the tower. We’re already off to a good start: using the handle instead of the knocker will trigger a poison trap. If you fail your save roll, you die. Yep. You can die literally a few seconds after starting the adventure.

There isn’t much to discover on the first floor, except some valuable bottles of wine, one of which is poisoned and requires a save versus poison to not die. (I’m starting to sense a theme here...) It is advised to the GM that “in no circumstances should the poisoned bottle be described any differently from the others unless someone actually drinks from it”. Note that if you sell the bottles, it then makes angry relatives/assassins come after you, because they somehow know you sold the poisoned wine.

The third floor is the wizard’s room (the second floor being mostly empty). The wizard is still here, trapped within a circle of salt after a spell gone wrong. The trick is that freeing the wizard (who acts friendly at first) will more or less end the adventure, as he will give out a bit of money, then ask the players to leave, killing them if they don't. After 5 minutes of play, you’re potentially either getting a TPK or leaving just about empty-handed (well, or with a certain bottle of wine). Fun fun fun! (You do have some forewarning that he's a murderous lunatic off his gourd, but...)

The final floor is the telescope’s room, which is simple to activate: add the gem to the obvious container, flip lever 1-4 in that order, then add gunpowder to the coal chamber when it becomes obvious coal isn't going to cut it. If your players do this and activate the mechanism, you can reward them by LITERALLY TELEPORTING THEM THROUGH SPACE (they will die horrifically at the other end, if that wasn’t clear), because that’s what telescopes do. This is where the topquote comes from; Raggis seems to be in denial that he made a module about solving puzzles, where one of those puzzles just kills you with no reward and no warning. Of course, there’s a fake treasure room (and the chests are, of course, trapped with poison darts, which trigger, you guessed it, saves-versus-poison-or-die).

There’s also a fake workshop with unidentified potions, none of them having beneficial effects (though at least some of them are a great way to open a door to a magical realm). Then there’s the REAL workshop, which will make you regret leaving the fake one. It contains phials of living blood (hope you have a wizard in the group or a torch and a lot of patience, because it’s invulnerable to physical attacks), a mirror which triggers a save versus magic or else you have your soul destroyed, and a zombie whose body is sewn up with golden thread, that a party can potentially attempt to loot. At that point we take a little pause and remind you of that little paragraph in a lot of RPG books telling you that you should ensure that everyone is comfortable with the tone of the game. None of that bullshit in LOFTP: there’s a little textbox advising you to make a very graphic description of the zombie, ESPECIALLY if that makes your players uneasy. We can’t resist giving you this wonderful quote:

The game system is designed for convenience and expedited resolution, not to protect the sensibilities of the players! Nobody can blame people who want some mindless entertainment, but people who want to swing swords and slay the bad guys without ever thinking about the sucking wounds and spurting blood and screams of agony that are implicitly involved are not just living in the fantasy world of a game, they are living in denial.

Anyway, if you try to pull the thread out, the zombie's organs explode out of him and try to kill people. Though, admittedly, it is kind of messed up to try to carve the gold thread out of a corpse for lootin'.

Oh, there’s also a mirror which triggers a poison save for some reason. And a monster who challenges the players to a different game, like chess, which is supposed to be played out in real time. The module actually explains why this is a terrible idea, and how the playtest group, rather than all teaming up to help win, just kind of sat around bored while it resolved, but then doesn't tell you not to do it because... who knows?

The adventure ends with the treasure room (and a leech in a corpse triggering a 'save-versus-paralysis or die'). The treasure room is a semi-standard "figure out the exact configuration of switches necessary to progress" puzzle, and once again, new quote:

For the record, the playtest group failed to collect the treasure. As they pulled the levers, they did nothing more than look at the force fields, hoping for a visual sign of change. There is none. So they destroyed the mechanism, hoping that would drop the force fields. It did not, so they were stuck staring at the treasure but not really having a way to get to it.

Because that’s obviously how you GM. It should also be noted that the whole lever "puzzle" is nothing more than trial-and-error bullshit that hurts you if you do the wrong thing and with no indication that what you're doing is wrong. The few hints you're given only end up leading you down the wrong path away from the solution, and if you reach the real solution you're given no indication you've reached it. The force fields appear to stay active even when they're turned off; they're still visible but become intangible, and there's no incentive to try touching them once they're off, since you would've already found they destroy all inanimate matter that touches them and harms living matter that touches them. In other words, there's no logical way to solve that puzzle because it's designed purely for the DM to feel like they're smarter than you for not having read the script.

In short, flip all the levers then smash the machine. There's a 50% chance that'll turn all the force fields off and it'll be a lot less frustrating, time consuming and filled with significantly less bullshit. That is, unless you're Raggis and have grown so bored of your own fucking puzzle (and decided to still keep it because reasons) that you had this to say about it:

"At that point, as long as they have enough disposable objects, and as long as they have already figured out that having lever IV in the up position is bad for them, it is best just to say that they eventually figure out the correct lever arrangement rather than make them describe every possible combination until they find the right one."

FUCKING STELLAR DM. "As long as they have the puzzle solved 1/5th of the way, just solve the rest for them and say they eventually figured it out because there's no other way to do it besides brute-forcing it."

Well, that's it. It's not a terrible adventure, though it's also not a good one. It's a bit old school, but if you want a good example of why James Edward Raggi IV's writing is infuriating, read it.