Dark Tower … the RPG?

The Challenge: to retrieve the Ancient Magic Scepter that has been stolen by a tyrant king. The Scepter is the Power Staff of the Empire, and a kingdom has been offered as reward for its return. The Scepter lies hidden in the Dark Tower, guarded by a fierce band of the tyrant’s Brigands. Three magic keys will open the the tower to you. Find the keys in three foreign kingdoms, and you may lay siege to the Dark Tower.

In search of the key, leave the Citadel in your home kingdom with a handful of warriors. On your journey, you will fight battles, be attacked by dragons, lose warriors to plague and starvation and get hopelessly lost in uncharted territories.

But don’t despair! Visit the Bazaars to buy warriors and other supplies. Stop at the Tombs and Ruins to discover treasures of gold, dragonswords, magic keys, helpful wizards and the flying horse, Pegasus. The Sanctuaries are open to you, too, ready to outfit you with warriors, gold and food.

Once you discover the three keys, begin your siege of the Dark Tower. Start out by solving the Ancient Riddle of the Keys, then fight the Brigands within!

If you have a stout heart, quick wits and undying courage, you will retrieve the Scepter, save the Empire and win a Kingdom. Dare to Lay Siege to the Dark Tower!

–from the game manual, reproduced here.

Gamers of a certain age will remember the Dark Tower electronic board game.  If you’ve never played it, it was fantasy quest game in a “swords & sorcery” setting.  (Also, you can try out a flash version here, or download another version here; you’ll want the documentation linked from here)  Magic is uncommon and weird; the world is generally grim and dangerous, etc.  The game was somewhat simplistic but still did a great job of at least evoking a quest spanning a whole continent, with elements of exploration, dungeon delving, and battles.  In fact it seems a lot like what I have heard about the earliest D&D campaigns at MIT.

I think the “Dark Tower” model could be a really fun sandbox campaign.  The essential elements of the electronic board game were

  • logistics emphasis (food, gold, and encumbrance were a major concern)
  • mini-war game aspect (you had a number of warrior followers that did most of the fighting)
  • exploring tombs/ruins (mini dungeons to recover loot for needed supplies, and possibly magic items like the sword or keys for your quest)
  • multiple “parties” (each player & his forces, really)
  • several important followers/retainers (healer, scout)
  • random encounters (brigands, dragon, wizard)
  • quasi-sword & sorcery setting (nonhumans are monsters, characters are basically fighting men, magic is uncertain and usually hostile)
  • mix of outdoor and dungeon exploration

Anyway those seem like the most important points to me.  To make more of an RPG out of this, you’d probably want to let the players work together.  The really essential bits that would make this different that normal dungeon-crawl style D&D would be the fact that foes are very numerous outdoors and the players will have to command large forces of mercenaries, which will introduce the logistical challenges of feeding them, keeping them plague-free, and not getting lost in the wilderness become very important, since a few lost days is barrels of food & water and you can’t just gather berries.

The over-arching quest to penetrate the dark tower and seize the “scepter” smacks a bit of high fantasy and “adventure paths,” but of course one could easily change the nature of the quest or the Dark Tower itself to fit a more open-ended sandbox model.

Maybe the scepter only represents the throne of the four (fragment) kingdoms.  There would still be other lands to conquer or be invaded by.

Maybe the Dark Tower must be besieged and will take all the player’s forces to have a chance to crack it, leading to a climactic but entirely optional end of the campaign.

Maybe the Dark Tower, casting its ominous shadow over four lands, is a megadungeon (the other ruins & crypts being smaller dungeons), or a portal like a “Black Zigguraut,” or something else entirely.

After reading through some of Jason Vey’s thoughts on Chainmail in OD&D and his Age of Conan supplements, I think there may be real potential.

BTW, what exactly are these things? Aliens? Are they wearing horned tri-corner hats? Or are those antennas? Hair?

For the dungeon crawling, use OD&D and Chainmail.  For outdoors against brigands, use Chainmail, but use the “fantastic combat” rules if a dragon or wizard shows up.  PvP or other duel type fights would be the man to man rules.  Simple. Right?

Maybe.  I’ll be trying out Chainmail to see if it (1) is easy enough to play to be worth using; (2) is easy enough to LEARN to be worth imposing on players; and (3) gives satisfactory results for an RPG (the needs of a war game may not be the same as an RPG, obviously).

I guess I can see a one-shot, hopefully one-evening type game involving a small battle between the players (all fighting men) and some brigands outdoors, using the man-to-man rules. Survivors PCs are promoted to Heroes and they might face the dragon and/or wizard in fantastic combat, and then finally a mass battle siege on the Dark Tower, leading their men against brigands.  If these three systems of rules don’t confuse the hell out of us all, it could be a go.

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Published in: on June 2, 2010 at 8:27 am  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Played the hell out of that game… never got any good at it, though.

    A mini-campaign version of this might be a nice tournament/miniature explosion of awe…

    I wonder if there’s a record set for the largest single group of gamers for D&D at a tournament.

  2. A convention game, that’s an idea!

    I missed a local convention because of I was in CA (and I missed it last year, and the year before that!) but I have been thinking a convention game would be really fun to run. I last ran a game at con in college, and it was ok but under-prepared.

  3. […] whether it is really a good fit for Telengard but maybe it would work for something like the Dark Tower game I imagined last year; but I may keep the idea of ‘large […]


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