Guest Writer: Nick Monitto
During my main gaming period of the 1980’s, I spent most of my time on the Player side. My friend Tim was the long-time Dungeon Master for our group, taking us through his homebrew world for many years. I enjoyed it a lot, but there were times when I wanted to do something a little different, or with a smaller group. Sometimes that meant branching out into completely different games, such as “Top Secret”. But mostly, I would stay with “Dungeons & Dragons”, and turn to TSR’s modules. They were quite different in content and level challenge from the big campaign, making for a nice change of pace. Because of the random nature of these side sessions, I would not run a continuous party for them, but instead treated them as one-off events. Kind of like I was running convention events before I ever went to a convention!
Which made sense, since many beloved classic modules (such as the Giants “G” series) got their start at the gaming conventions of the 1970’s. Most of these were reworked and converted into more traditional adventures before being published, often becoming part of short series or longer story arcs in the process. A few of them, though, retained some of their tournament character. Perhaps the best known ones are the modules of the Competition “C” series.
The modules from the late 80’s, C3 through C6, were more about the old Role Playing Game Association (RPGA), containing reprints of limited-run adventures, and ultimately (in C6) a guidebook for running sanctioned tournaments. It was the early ones that kept the feeling of old tournament play alive, though, and today I want to look back on one of my all-time favorites: C2 “The Ghost Tower of Inverness”.
This module was written by Allen Hammack for Detroit’s Wintercon VIII in November of 1979. It was reworked slightly and published by TSR in 1980. It runs for 32 pages, about half of which are the module body itself. The remainder includes six full-page visual aids to show to players (one of the early uses of this by TSR), six pages of pre-made characters, and sheets for the DM to make notes and keep track of time. There are two large maps on the inside cover, another in the back of the booklet, and some small reference maps throughout the text.
The introduction is four paragraphs of background on the ancient fortress of Inverness. It tells the tale of the mighty wizard Galap-Dreidel and his prized possession, known only as the “Soul-Gem”. Using powerful magic he created a tower to house the gem, filling it with monsters and traps to protect it. He was further able to shield it from time itself, so that nothing inside would age. Galap-Dreidel did disappear on a journey years later, allowing people to siege the castle and destroy the tower, though on some nights, people did believe they could still see the ancient structure within the fog.
Bringing the story up to the ‘present’ day, we are told that the great Seer of Urnst has been researching the stories and legends of the Soul-Gem for quite some time. He informs Justinian Lorinar, the Duke of Urnst, that he could use the Soul-Gem for protection and battle, if the Duke would somehow get a group of adventurers to retrieve it.
After the backstory is established, the module moves forward with a kind of dual structure. For tournament play, five different characters are prepared for the participants, with a setup that they are here because they have been detained or arrested by the Duke. The Duke and the Seer relate the story of the Soul-Gem, promising amnesty and freedom if they will retrieve it for them. Some other notes specific to tournament play are also included here. As I noted above, the original tournament adventure was expanded some for this module. Eight of the 34 encounters, and the wandering monster tables, are marked that they should not be used in a tournament setting, but rather only if this is being run by normal means. Other key points include knowing that monsters will not pursue a party out of their area, and that all damage inflicted by monsters is at a set average amount.
If you opt to run this in your own campaign, a standard party should be quite strong (5-10 adventurers of levels 5-7) and include at least one Thief, one Magic-User, and one Cleric. It is left to the DM whether to also use the ‘criminals’ idea to get the group involved, or urge them to participate by other means.
After describing the possible wandering monsters for campaign use, we move into the adventure itself. Admittedly, a “spoilers” moratorium of nearly 40 years would be a lot, but I do not want to give away a lot of details, since this is a possible tournament adventure. I will say that in tournament mode the players will face combat in about one-third of the encounter areas; the remainder will present traps & challenges, or just plain exploration. In standard mode, nearly all of the added areas contain monsters for likely battles.
The room descriptions use the then-new idea of setting aside boxed text to read to the players, followed by information for the DM. In every room where the tournament players would be doing something, there is a note on possible points. The first keyed area, at the upper ruins of Inverness, reads as follows:
1. THE GATEWAY
[BOXED] High on a hilltop above the trees and mists that surround Woolly Bay, there stands the ruined Keep Inverness. The Keep’s four towers pierce the dark clouds above, its massive walls anchored deep in the living rock upon which they rest. It must have been potent forces, indeed, that brought this once-proud Keep to destruction. The walls of the Keep are 50’ tall and 8’ thick, with numerous large crumbling holes piercing them at various places. The four towers are each 150’ tall. A large, rusty portcullis blocks the 15’ wide tunnel-like entrance. [END BOXED]
The holes in the walls are at the heights indicated on the map. The portcullis may be lifted a few feet if characters wish to do so (requiring a combined total of 45 strength points). However, much easier entry may be gained by climbing in through one of the low holes in the walls. Although a little dust will be shaken down if a character probes a hole, these entries are completely safe.
SCORING: -5 to Team score if the portcullis is forced open.
A half page in the background area tells the DM how to use the included reference sheets and what notes to make for scoring. Each character earns individual scoring points for hit points of damage inflicted vs. those suffered, the things they do in the encounter areas, and a possible bonus assigned by the DM. There is also a Team score derived from team encounter performance, the value of treasure recovered, the aforementioned character scores, and a deduction for how much time was taken. The intention was that the highest Team score among all groups would denote an overall winner. Individual prizes could also be given by comparing character scores by class (all Fighters together, all Clerics together, etc.).
Put simply, I love this module! Back in the day, it drew me in with the notion of a sort of ‘haunted’ tower. While that may not quite describe it, depending on how you want to use the phrase, the thinking and challenging dungeon it turns out to be was more than enough to keep me as a fan. I ran it in tournament style a few times in the 80’s, and it was a lot of fun. Reading it once more, for the first time in decades, I am thinking that I may try running it again soon!
Nick Monitto is a gaming geek who came of age on the classic games of the 1970s and ‘80s. He swears that he has no information about the present location of the Soul-Gem…