Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Tower of the Stargazer Game Report - York 1630

Play stupid games, win stupid prizes

I had a core group of friends in high school who all played games together - we played D&D, Chill, MERP and Rolemaster, Traveler, all sorts of stuff that was around back in the late 1980's.  I haven't seen a few of them in a long time - 20 years!  We reconnected earlier this summer and were musing "Wouldn't it be fun to fire up a game again?"  I knew one of the guys, Dave, shares my love of horror and the weird - they agreed to do a LOTFP one-shot.  It took a month or so to get the schedules to line up, but we finally ran our reunion game last weekend.  I was having trouble getting our Greyhawk ACKS game fired up anyway due to summer vacations and travel, so this was a great weekend for a pick-up game.

The group made characters during the week after a "session zero" discussion - they brought Blackburn, a Solomon Kane-like cleric; Allister a magic-user from London; Edmund, the burglar; Remy Knotwise, the halfling of Essex.  I'm putting the game in 1630 York in England.  Yorkshire and the northern coast has been on my travel bucket list forever, and it seems like the desolate north of England would be fine for placing a LOTFP adventure.

Billy Brewer, aka Willy the Fox, or Billy B, the local crime boss, who is always referred to as "Mr. William Brewer" in his presence, often arranges things for wealthy patrons, and one of his benefactors, The Doctor, had seen an art piece a long time ago in his youth in the parlor of a tower out on the moors.  It was the former home of an acquaintance who had disappeared many years ago, and the Doctor wanted to know if the art piece could be salvaged and brought to him - he was a collector of rare things.  The tower was out on the moors, away from well-traveled routes.  Mr Brewer would send a few of his thugs along as muscle and furniture movers, along with a horse and cart, but there were enough rumors about the "old wizard" that used to own the place, he wanted to hire several specialists in the occult to accompany his superstitious goons.  Thus, the players came to meet each other and have a job.

By this time, the published adventure Tower of the Stargazer has been out in the wilds for 13 years and is well-known as a fine introductory adventure.  I'm sure you know all about it, so I'll elide many of the details and just focus on the interesting bits that happened.  (And if you're a referee and don't own it already, why don't you have it?  It's great).

Our first casualty was right on the doorstep.  The players performed a search around the door, verified there didn't appear to be any traps, and the thief/specialist (Edmund) boldly grabbed the door handle to shove it open.  The magically trapped handle became a serpent, reared around to bite him, and he died when he failed his saving throw.  Remy, the halfling, said "Perhaps we should knock…" grabbed a spear, lifted one of the door knockers with the spear tip, and watched with a sense of accomplishment as a loud gong reverberated through the valley and the doors magically swung open.

I had everyone make several characters as a contingency, so Edmund's player used the gong sound echoing across the highlands as a contrivance for his replacement character to come investigate the area, and thus Yuri the Elf would soon join the adventure.

The statue the players sought was in the second room, so Brewer's thugs got to work with ropes, block, and tackle, to maneuver it out of the tower and safely stow it on the wagon.  The players began exploring the abandoned tower.  The terms of their employment specified they could salvage anything out of the tower to keep for themselves after securing the statue.  However, if any of Brewer's goons went with them and died, they'd owe a death-benefit to the crime lord out of their share.  They found several trap doors in the floor not far from where the statue was found, and began exploring the basement.

One of the rooms down there is a workshop with operating tables, dissected critters, and a human corpse with a bulbous abdomen, stitched back together with golden threads.  One of the players even said, "This is all wrong - it's going to be John Carpenter's The Thing and turn into a giant maw and start chomping us".  But then the player noticed the corpse was stitched with gold, real golden thread, and caution was thrown to the wind in the interest of loot.

Everyone freaked out with horror mixed with laughter when the animated guts of the corpse started choking Allister, their magic user.  Dave is an artist and posted this sketch shortly after the session, capturing the corpse mayhem:

No one died by asphyxiation, although Allister did almost get choked out.  In the meantime, a couple of Brewer's goons were poking around the lab, too.  The goons were named Barty White, Lucky J, and Zach.  Barty had stayed topside with the horse and cart, but Zach and Lucky J came in to explore with the players.  Zach went to investigate a hallway of mirrors, got promptly sucked into some kind of mirror of life trapping (he looked like General Zod in the phantom zone) and Lucky J tried smashing the mirror to get his buddy out.  Unfortunately that didn't bring Zach back.  That led Dave to make the quote of the night, "Lamentations of the Flame Princess - play stupid games and win stupid prizes."

The players figured out how to work the tower's elevator and made it to the lowest level, where the actual treasure chests were protected by various force fields across a large room.  After a lot of trial and error and frustration dealing with the levers and the different on/off modes, they still hadn't figured out an effective way to negotiate these barriers, and gave up in disgust.  By this point Allister, their magic user, had shocked himself into unconsciousness, and the others decided discretion was the better part of valor, and they would just have to give up on the treasure room and head back to town.

On the way up the elevator, the halfling became curious if the elevator went to a secret spot on the first floor.  He found himself on the third floor instead, face to face with the wizard of the tower, trapped in a thaumaturgic circle of some kind and frozen in time.  There was a hilarious conversation between the halfling and the wizard, as the halfling figured out the wizard was trapped and kept saying, "keep talking, keep talking, I'm listening…" while he rooted around in the wizard's stuff, shoving anything that looked remotely valuable into a large sack (including a 5,000sp "star gem").  That particular scene ended with the wizard howling in helpless rage at the thievery, while the halfling scooted off into the elevator yelling "YOLO, sucker !!!" and escaping with a large bag of loot.

So they missed out on the treasure vault, but salvaged their night with their halfling's daring exploits.  Back in town they'd have to forfeit some of their pay to offset losing Brewer's man Zach, but overall it was a successful first adventure. 

The game rules were very well received (and why not, LOTFP rules are great), the players liked the different vibe of early modern, and the focus on exploration and puzzles interspersed with moments of dread that characterize good LOTFP adventures.  Great fun was had all around.

We had had a "session zero" during the prior week where we talked about character generation.  The question of keeping demi-humans in the game came up.  We ultimately decided to keep them in the setting and play up the idea that they were rare but possible; halflings were a well-known English phenomenon in the south of England, near Kent.  Dwarves were uncommon, but rumored to live in the mountains of Scandinavia.  Elves had left the British Isles centuries ago for some unknown faerie land, but the dark forests of Eastern Europe still had rumored settlements of Earth-bound elves with slavic names and heavy accents.  Thus the player's elf character became "Yuri", a wanderer from a distant land.  (He still has some work to do to explain Yuri's presence in the Yorkshire Moors…)

Sufficient fun was had that they implored me to make this a semi-frequent game, so I'll be running a York-based LOTFP campaign 1-2 times a month, in or around when we don't get together for Greyhawk.  So this won't be the last time you hear about these particular characters or their exploits.  Incidentally, anyone know of a good hex map of Ye Olde Merry Englande?


  1. Hexmaps: Possibly the maps from Glyn Seal’s The Midderlands Expanded might do the job?

  2. There is this site: https://darkagebritannia.weebly.com/
    Haven't tested how large is the map.

    1. That map is amazing - thanks for posting. It's very large. Looks like the author spent a lot of time with hexographer. I don't think I could use it for this campaign (all the settlements are late antiquity) but it could be useful in a Brechewold or post-Arthurian game. One to bookmark and remember. Plus they listed a guide on how to make it on the blog.

  3. Another possibility is the maps in Dark Albion. Not exactly what you are looking for - the setting is nearly two years earlier, in the Wars of the Roses. The book itself is a very mixed bag, but it does have hex maps for Northern England.

  4. Two centuries, obviously - not two years!