Tower of the Stargazer (2010)
James Raggi IV (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)
The pressures of work-life, my entitled 2 weeks of Dutch Summer, the siren song of short-skirted buxom dutch damsels and the even more alluring siren song of booze and mandatory holidays have kept my reviewing behavior at a relatively low pitch. You may rest assured, that time is now
over completely and totally still ongoing you tossers!
Case in point; Tower of the Stargazer. I actually ran about half of it with some newbies (lass and dude with minor CoC experience, unknown person that showed up and died by the save or die trap in the first half hour and WoD dramafag [not Von, other, even faggier dramafag]), with overall very satisfying results. Prep could have been had and mapping was a little cumbersome but anyways, I am now
sufficiently uniquely qualified to bloviate about its merits and demerits.
Hating on Raggi is sort of a YDIS version of virtue-signalling, an almost quasi-religious rite with deep-rooted tribal connotations meant to identify one as a member of the pack, despite the fact that, I am reliably informed, that pack is composed of SA postmodernist nihilists that would place no value on such antiquated premodernist notions.
James Raggi is a large target, if you will forgive the bon mot. A penchant for grandiosity, cheap thrills and occasionally terrible adventures, coupled with a very entertaining series of dubious kickstarter shenanigans and his devil-may-care attitude attracts our brand of lazy internet trolls like the new Ghostbusters trailer attracts brain cancer (in the sense it causes cancer cells from the Cancerverse to transdimensionally migrate into our brains after being exposed to it, current hypothesis in need of some reworking). The two are just inseparably linked.
What we should never overlook, however, is Raggi’s for the most part deserved prominence in the, admittedly at times rat-infested and leaky, bastion of elfgame greatness that is the OSR. I assert that for every wildly ambitious and poorly realized module (The Monolith from beyond Time and Space) and for every half-assed joke-farce that costs real money (Fuck for Satan), James Raggi has written a solid adventure. Similarly, it cannot be credibly denied that Loftp has facilitated the publication of many works of merit and substance, some excellent, some merely interesting for their novelty but not necessarily superior to anything that came before.
Tower of the Stargazer is meant to be an introductory adventure for 1st level players new to the titillating bouquet of subtle OSR flavours that is Loftp. It serves to not only provide for fun and merriment but also to educate players on some of the tropes and tricks that may be expected in an adventure of this nature. It does so very well whilst managing to maintain a level of challenge to keep it suitable for more experienced groups. Notable encounters are even provided with helpful boxed text explaining the reasoning behind certain traps and encounters, all of which helps one get into the proper mindset of the dungeon master. It is very well done, and combined with the very fun and exciting B1 In Search of the Unknown it could very easily be part of a sort of Oldskool GM starters kit.
Tower of the Stargazer is, unsurprisingly, about a tower specifically, a wizard’s tower, where fun may be had and death may be found. There is even an ample amount of treasure, a somewhat rare feature in later Raggi works.
The mad and assholish wizard who built it has been trapped in a circle of salt by the designs of his treacherous apprentice and now it may be looted. We are given 3 simple but excellent (and appropriately specific!) hooks, involving overhearing a band of rival adventurers (5 day timer added), a rambling old man that gets dragged off by the other inn patrons and anomalous lightning strikes in the distance. Solid as a rock, and only a paragraph (unlike this post, which drags on endlessly and would have been decimated by a responsible editor had I not poisoned his wine at our monthly Ulfire Lives Matter gatherings ).
The adventure is a deceptively simple 26 room-based dungeon. But wait! Everything in it rocks! It is stocked with an elegance that should be required reading for aspiring suckdungeoneers, which, given the fact that it is an introductory module, is not far from the truth. Multiple floors and non-linearity permitting exploration? Check! Puzzles that require player wit instead of character abilities to overcome? Check! Unique monsters to give it that feeling of venturing forth into the unknown? Check! Npc to interact with? Some tantalizing and ominous foreshadowing? Weird stuff to interact with? Check!
It is almost a textbook exercise in what is commonly accepted as good old school dungeon design (I refer to the tenfootpole.org school of Good Dungeon Design). Traditional elements are utilized throughout the work but are injected with a creativity and a novelty that is kind of wonderful. A strange thing for a Raggi module, later iterations of which tend to subvert or even reverse common dungeoneering tropes for dramatic effect or shock value, which leads me to fantasize about a mirror universe Raggi obsessed with maintaining the status quo and restoring the status quo of the OSR to its former Gygaxian splendour. A Raggi that enforces more old conventions with each new module rather then breaking or subverting them. The monolith from beyond time and space would have been a 10 floor megadungeon with copper pieces, orcs, giant rats and
Thulsa Doom Iuz riding Tarrasque at the end. Oh for the road not taken.
Back to the module itself. There is the odd save or die trap including one at the very beginning which may seem harsh but most of the challenges in the Tower of the Stargazer are fair. There is a definite possibility of a TPK, but only if your players are thick-witted morons. Death is meant to educate in DnD! I feel the save or die stuff gets kind of cheap in places, especially in the lower dungeons, where examining a corpse can get you rot-grubbed (or brain-leeched in this case) or a room contains a 3 HD save or die spider that surprises on a 5-6. The first door to the tower proper can actually trigger a save or die if you mess up with very little in the way of clues. Harsh.
For the most part, the adventure provides a nice rewarding mix between exploration, traps, investigation, smatterings of combat and weird stuff to interact with and examine. Very well balanced is the word that comes to mind.
It is hard to describe this thing; It is a curious mixture of the traditional and the novel. It’s like everything after AD&D was never made and all the increasingly boring genre conventions never happened, yet the dungeon is unmistakably a D&D dungeon. There is even a hint of CoC (that’s Call of Cthulhu for muggles) thrown in with multiple volumes to be found and examined over the course of several days, with information that will seriously aid your chance of survival (similar features may be found in Hammers of the God and Death Frost Doom).
It’s kind of hard to find fault with Tower of the Stargazer. It achieves what it sets out to do with flair and polish. It has a bit too many save or die things for my liking, but most of these can be avoided. Screwjobs are occasionally given but there is a method to them, they seldom feel random. Tower of the Stargazer is about the exploration of a wizard’s crazy laboratory that feels like exploring a wizard’s crazy laboratory, complete with cursed artifacts, traps, magical experiments, animate blood and guts and a big tantalizing payoff at the end…if you are savy. A mirror that spawns a doppleganger! A puzzle with levers!
I love you DnD.
Bottom fucking line: While it is no work of genius that will blow your mind and redefine DnD, Tower of the Stargazer is a perfectly fun, if slightly deadly, introductory adventure that should delight veterans and younglings alike. Not a redefinition but an affirmation if you will. There is an undeniable beauty to be found in its efficiency. No room feels wasted or repetitive and there is not a hint of grinding or slogging. I’m guessing you could finish this one in 2 sessions flat, maybe 1 if you hurry the hell up (26 rooms in a 6 hour session is pretty quick though).
For a Raggi module it is even kind of tame; it still has enough gruesome shit to tantalize, but not beyond the boundaries of good taste. Oh for those halycon pre-fuck-you-thats-why days. I’d rate it slightly below Hammers of the God, which I found to be a stronger atmospheric piece.
Final Verdict: Charming and fun little introductionary adventure. 9 out of 10.
Update: I have run this thing, what? Five times now? It’s still not old, there are so many different ways the adventure can go and the creativity of the encounters is absolutely VINTAGE dnd. If you want to show a bunch of people what oldskool gaming is all about, fucking look no further. The best damned thing Raggi ever did.