The Alexandrian

Posts tagged ‘d&d’

JDJarvis at Aeons & Augauries has the really interesting idea of randomly determining the source of your PC’s starting wealth. Click through for a full table that gives you everything from petty theft to rich uncles to grave robbing.

I’ve seen a lot of “random background tables”, but what caught my eye about this one is that it leverages a common mechanic and seeds the mechanic with interesting narrative hooks. Any of y’all have interesting answers to the, “Where did you get that money from?” question?

In other news, I’m back from Gencon! I ran 5 games and played in 4:

  • Numenera: Into the Violet Vale (ran 3 sessions)
  • The Strange: Eschatology Code (ran 2 sessions)
  • Cthulhu Masters Tournament (played in 2 rounds)
  • Eclipse Phase: Detente
  • Eclipse Phase: Overrun

This was more intense but considerably less varied than last year, when I played in 6 games (including Call of Cthulhu, Lady Blackbird, Eclipse Phase, Shab-al-Hiri Roach, and Numenera). The lack of variety was not so much by design as accident: Reaching the second round of the Cthulhu Masters Tournament knocked out two other games that were originally on my schedule. (Although the decision to run 4 games for Monte Cook Games prevented me from participating in Games on Demand this year, which is a variety killer.)

… and by that, I mean that they should be inspiring good, old-fashioned awe with the things that they do.

This is something I first talked about in D&D: Calibrating Your Expectations and I developed the theme in E(X): The Many Games Inside the World’s Most Popular Roleplaying Game.

Recently I was speaking with someone who was unhappy with the “crazy scaling” of Perception checks he was seeing in the arms race of high level Pathfinder games: The players crank up their Perception modifiers. The GM responds by simply cranking up the DC necessary to accomplish previously much easier tasks. The result is “silly” and “ridiculous”.

This is what I said:

FIRST, CONTEXTUALIZE THE NUMBERS. Instead of just blindly cranking up the numbers, think about what those larger numbers really mean. If a DC 30 check reveals a “well-hidden secret door”, then what does a DC 40 check really mean? Well, it means something that no one in the real world without special tools would ever be able to detect. So maybe that means that the door has been phase-shifted onto the Ethereal Plane; or painted with the illusion-infused blood of a demon; or covered with the alchemically-treated hide of an animal that has evolved the ability to make people psychically ignore its presence.

In other words, embrace the fact that the PCs are doing awesome things and really emphasize how awesome it is.

SECOND, EMPHASIZE NOT CHANGING THE NUMBERS. Instead of trying to keep the same old tasks challenging, focus on the paradigm shift that’s occurred.

Yup. They’re really, really good at finding hidden things. Similarly, they’re really, really good at killing 1st level goblins. Instead of resisting that change by leveling up all the goblins in the universe to match their new abilities, focus instead on exploring how their interaction with the world shifts.

A mechanical option along these same lines would be to include guidelines for improving the quality or speed of a check by accepting a penalty on the check. For example, I have a generic set of guidelines for “quick checks” that drop the time required for the check by one category in exchange for accepting a -10 penalty to the check. (High level characters, for example, can make successful Gather Information checks in 1d4+1 minutes instead of 1d4+1 hours by accepting a -20 penalty on their check.) For Perception checks, you might apply a -10 penalty to allow characters to notice hidden doors/objects/etc. without actively searching for them. (They just walk into a room and spot the hidden door in the corner.)

An extreme example of this sort of thing Doctor Who: The Doctor can open the door of the TARDIS, sniff the air, and instantly identify the atmospheric content, the planet he’s standing on, and the time period. (I like to imagine that this is based on complex spectrographic analysis compared to charts which Time Lords study in school much like we study multiplication tables.)

ALTERNATIVELY, PUT A CAP ON THE AWESOME. If you don’t want to embrace the awesome, on the other hand, you’ll be much happier simply stepping out of the arms race. Cap their advancement before they become “too awesome”, either drawing the campaign to a close or finding other ways of advancing their characters. (This is where E(X): The Many Games Inside the World’s Most Popular Roleplaying Game comes back into the picture.)

Tagline: The Accursed Tower is a fairly solid module, with a handful of potential problems.

Forgotten Realms: The Accursed Tower - R.A. SalvatoreR.A. Salvatore is best known for his novels dealing with the drow character Drizzt Do’Urden – one of the finest swordsman in all of literature. There are some who worship these stories; others who revile them. Personally, I find them to be possessed of both significant strengths (such as Salvatore’s outstanding description of fight scenes and some of the soul-searching for Drizzt found in the Dark Elf Trilogy) and significant weaknesses (such as the repetition of some of the plots and several weak characteristics to Salvatore’s writing).

Similarly these novels are set in the Forgotten Realms, a campaign setting which some worship and others revile. As with Salvatore himself, I find the Realms to be possessed of both significant strengths (breadth of the setting, the wealth of detail and support) and significant weaknesses (some ridiculously bad supplements, over saturation, and general silliness).

I therefore approached The Accursed Tower (an adventure for 4-8 characters of level 1-3) with a fairly open mind – Salvatore and his original gaming group (the Seven Swords) “return to the Savage Frontier” of the Ten-Towns in the Icewind Dale. The characters get a chance to explore a well known area of the Realms, while running into some well known characters of the Realms.


The PCs are in Luskan, the City of Sails, along the Sword Coast (with that (in)famous “it’s up to the DM to determine how” that seems to be present in every D&D adventure I’ve ever read). They sign up to guard a merchant caravan which is going to the Icewind Dales. When they get there the caravan owner reveals that he has an opportunity for them to earn a great deal more money if they help him out with something.

It turns out that the caravan dealer is searching for a ruined tower where a mage died while researching a healing salve with the potential to help a great many people. If the PCs help him get the notes from that research, they will not only be helping in his humanitarian quest – but will also share in a significant portion of any recovered treasure.

The PCs track down the location of the tower with the help of a few familiar faces – Regis and Drizzt from Salvatore’s books – and then go off to obtain the diary. They do so. End of story.

Except, that’s not all that’s going on. The caravan driver isn’t actually a humanitarian — he’s an evil mage who has killed the actual caravan driver and taken his place. The research he’s after isn’t for any healing salve – it’s for becoming an immortal lich.

It’s time to insert the dramatic music.


The set-up is intriguing and provides a solid base for the adventure. Salvatore and his gaming group construct a complex plot with several different hidden agendas and machinations going on behind the scenes – wheels within wheels is the order of the day. First, you’ve got the dual nature of the NPC who hires the PCs. Plus, one of the people the PCs get to help them out is actually an ancient barbarian sorceror, who once fought against the evil mage who owned the Accursed Tower and was responsible for his downfall.

The adventure is also blessed with some remarkably strong NPCs. Drizzt and Regis, of course, get an extra boost thanks to their literary background, but there are several others – including the father-son team from the caravan who befriend the PCs, the barbarian sorceror, and several others.

I was also impressed with a number of hooks which were left open for future expansion at the DM’s discretion – such as a scroll the PCs find half-buried in a snowdrift, with no ready explanation as to how it got there or why.

Finally, the entire package is strong one. As per usual for a TSR book the production values are high, the art is of decent quality, the book has been thoroughly proofread, and the lay-out is clear.


First, there’s no excuse for recycled art in a 32 page book – even if you are just filling up the quarter page of blank space left on that second-to-last page. This is particularly true if you’re TSR. They’ve published hundreds of books. Surely there was a piece of art from some other book they could have recycled instead of copying the art from page 17.

Second, the book suffers from that perennial Realms problem: Silly names. Maybe some people don’t have problems with names like “Peddywinkle” in their fantasy campaigns, but I do.

Third, random encounters are not a substitute for meaningful plotting. Although the first part of this adventure deals with a caravan trip, absolutely nothing happens on that caravan trip of any significance. The only planned event is a goblin encampment, and that only happens if the PCs follow a specific set of tracks. Everything else is a random encounter. I wasn’t too impressed with this – you could just as easily have said “the PCs are in the Icewind Dales” instead of “the PCs are in Luskan”.

Fourth, the “healing salve” cover for the archmage’s true intentions was a little annoying. It is described as “healing any wound and curing any disease”, and the guy goes on to say how he wants to “make this salve known to all, so that the world would be free of sickness”. Yeah, right. Did the Realms suddenly become devoid of healing potions?

Fifth, the map on the inside front cover is of the caravan route. Along this route are numbers. What these numbers are supposed to be is never mentioned, but you can interpolate and figure out that these represent how far the caravan gets on each day of the journey. This has relatively little importance (after all, it is a set path), especially considering the complete unimportance of the caravan drive to the overall adventure in general. The book would have been better served with a map of the Icewind Dales, where the PCs have to trek all over the place to figure out the location of the tower.

Finally, the early part of the adventure is fairly railroaded (except for those sections where nothing of importance is happening). The last part of the adventure, where the PCs have reached the tower, is nothing more than a standard event-by-location dungeon.


The primary appeal to The Accursed Tower is going to be for those familiar with Salvatore’s writing. The basic plot and elements of the adventure are nothing to get excited about (and are, in fact, possessed of several drawbacks) – but this can be mitigated when the PCs run into characters well known to them from their favorite books. It’s the same kind of rush you got from the line, “Anakin Skywalker… meet Obi-Wan Kenobi.” Or from those Howard stories where you’re following some unfamiliar character and suddenly they run into Conan.

So, The Accursed Tower gets an average rating overall. Those with an interest in Salvatore’s writing might want to pick it up; those with an undying hatred of Salvatore, Drizzt, or the Realms should avoid it at all costs.

Style: 3
Substance: 3

Author: R.A. Salvatore and the Seven Swords (Mike Leger, Brian Newton, Tom Parker, David Salvatore, Gary Salvatore, and Jim Underdown)
Company/Publisher: Corsair Publishing, LLC and Sovereign Press, Inc.
Cost: $25.00
Page Count: 168
ISBN: 0-9658422-3-1

Originally Posted: 1999/08/16

I honestly have no idea what my problem with the name “Peddywinkle” was.

For an explanation of where these reviews came from and why you can no longer find them at RPGNet, click here.

If you’re trying to figure out what the credit line should read as next to “Creator of Roleplaying Games” you’ve got two options:

(1) Dave Arneson, for creating the fundamental gameplay in his Blackmoor campaign

(2) Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax, for co-authoring D&D

You’ll notice that neither one of these is “Gary Gygax all by himself”. That’s because there is no functional argument or logic by which Gary Gygax gets that title to himself.

Quick question: I’m probably going to be releasing an adventure module in the near future. I’m trying to figure out if I should stat it for 3.5 or if I should make the jump to Pathfinder.

You can select both answers on this poll. Basically, if you would buy the module if it was for a particular system you should select that option.

Pathfinder or 3.5?

  • Pathfinder (73%, 141 Votes)
  • 3.5 (26%, 51 Votes)
  • I would never buy an adventure module from you (5%, 9 Votes)

Total Voters: 193

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