Telecanter’s Alabaster Tower, and such (session five)

Tonight I ran the party through Telecanter’s Alabaster Tower.

I liked the idea of a parsimonious, puzzle-based adventure. I also thought the vanishing tower fit very well with the slightly surreal vibe I’m aiming for in Telengard. For the most part the players enjoyed it too. Some of the rooms they solved very quickly, and one took far longer than I expected, and a couple dragged on mostly because I had trouble explaining key features of the puzzles (although I think some blame must lie with the very sparse text).

I decided to add a monster to the tower, since there is only one in the module as written. I thought that Robber Bats were a fun idea and used them, originally planning to have them nest at the top of the tower. At the last minute though I moved them to the secret room accessed in the watery hexagon room (which is not otherwise accounted for in the module, as far as I can tell). This didn’t work very well, for reasons which are pretty obvious in hindsight — there is only one exit to the room and the bats, lacking thumbs, can’t escape if someone closes the door. The bats still managed to make off with one of the party’s two potent magic items, and the player who lost the item was pretty upset about that.

Some of the high points (for me) were watching the party wrestle with one of the more straightforward puzzles. The Heptagonal room has a door opened by speaking a password. I chose a random word (“Thelema”) that sounds like a generic magic word to me (in fact it is what Aleister Crowley called his cult). But the party assumed it must be an anagram, and also noticed right away that it has seven letters, which seemed significant to them since the room has seven walls. They figured out that “Thelema” can be rearranged into “A Helmet,” and tried ringing the iron vase and did just about everything imaginable before just saying the password. (On the other hand they rolled right through several other puzzles much faster than I would have, and it’s pretty easy to solve the puzzles when you are reading the solutions.)

Another high point was toward the end, when one of the players suggested all these tricks and puzzles were used to hide the wizard’s porn collection, and he must go through all the mission impossible stunts with the forge and glider and everything to rub one out.

The one criticism a player raised was that the whole thing took a very long time to solve and there was very little XP to be gained (I just rolled some level 2 treasures for the various stashes, along with some potions and scrolls for the appropriate rooms, and the total treasure was pretty meager — 1200 SP and 600 GP, especially when balanced against the loss of a the party’s +2/+3 dagger). The party is effectively three PCs and three henchmen now, so fully 1/4 of the meager XP is lost to the party because henchman only get 1/2 of their earned XP). On the other hand I placed the recipe for the cure for Gold Fever in the tower, making it a significant plot point and providing some non-mechanical boons in the form of the gratitude of the gnomes and dwarves, which the party will likely find very helpful.

So, one player gives a thumbs down for being a slow, loot-poor adventure, another gave it qualified thumbs up for being a change of pace, and the third gave it a fairly enthusiastic thumbs up for providing challenging puzzles without falling into the arbitrariness of an RPGA module (he’s run many of those, so I’ll take his word on it).

I liked the module overall, but being inexperienced as a DM I could have used clearer descriptions of the font/wick trick and the brass device at the top of the tower, which luckily a player recognized as an ancient Greek machine. As far as I can tell the “secret door” in the Hexagon room is a dead end, but perhaps the intent was for the DM to fill in the blanks. I imagine Telecanter can run this effectively, but it is pretty challenging for a novice DM, as you are left to fill in a lot of details to make tower seem real, and it can be tough to decide how much information to give players. I suppose that as I gain experience DMing it will get easier to improvise and even improve on the source material.

In other news I was glad Richard was back and using his original characters, and everyone got along fine. I also managed to get one flier put up at my local library, so we’ll see if that pays off. I realized when I was dropping it off that nowhere does it explain what “D&D” stands for, but maybe that is OK. I don’ mind teaching someone to play but it may be best if they have some idea what D&D is.

I’ve keyed up two full levels of Telengard now too, and I’m looking forward to running that next, if the party goes there, although I also made an off-hand mention of a “Haunted Mine” which peaked the party’s interest, so maybe I should get that ready too. In fact I’ve got enough hooks and distractions to keep playing for several more sessions without further prep, but I like the idea of being able to pull a fully stocked dungeon, mission, or locale out of my notebook, whatever the party decides to do.

Published in: on November 11, 2010 at 10:55 pm  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for this, my first review 🙂 Yeah, that was an experiment to see how little detail is needed for a module and it sounds like I cut too close to the bone.

    Also interesting to me because it’s sort of the culmination of my pre-OSR DMing and I feel I’ve learned tons since making that. I would probably never run a party through it now because its so puzzle heavy and because towers are by nature linear.

    But I still love the idea of a hopping tower. And I always thought this could be interesting for higher level characters because it has gates to all four elemental planes and the astral (in the dead-end room). Anyway, I’m glad it was a change of pace for your players and that they all didn’t get frustrated.

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