Friday, 28 May 2021

Thoughts on C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness

 

“This used to be a funhouse but now it's full of evil clowns.”
― P!nk

A shadow from the past, the Ghost Tower of Inverness has loomed ever larger in the mind of the great Seer of Urnst. Now he has convinced the Duke that an expedition should be organized to go to the ancient keep and recover its greatest treasure - the fabled Soul Gem. [C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness - 1]

Most adventures begin long before the PCs get involved. They powerful wheel and deal, plot and plan; and it is only when they see a clear and present danger to their own wellbeing do they involve others.
For many years legends of the Soul Gem persisted. And so it happened that one day, not long ago, while researching in some ancient tomes, the great Seer of Urnst discovered the strange account of the Soul Gem and the legend of its master. He recognized the power of the stone and through further research unlocked the secret of its control. Armed with this knowledge he took it upon himself to recover the gem and went so far as to investigate the ruins of the keep. But even with all his power he was turned back from his quest by several unfortunate encounters in the upper ruins.
The Great Seer of Urnst
Turning to Justinian Lorinar, Duke of Urnst for aid, the Seer recounted to him the story of the Soul Gem and of the magician's own unsuccessful attempt to recover it. He convinced the Duke that the gem could be both a very powerful protection from one's enemies and a great tool with which to battle the forces of evil. He confided that he, the Seer, knew how to use the gem's power and could teach Duke Lorinar this knowledge, if he could but obtain the jewel.
The Seer advised Lord Justinian that a small band of powerful and experienced adventurers might succeed where he alone had failed. He assured the Duke that with the power of a geas, or means of more subtle persuasion, he could insure that the quest would be properly carried out. [C2 - 2] 

It is only then that they gather the bold and foolhardy to do what need be done, be it foil the foe, save the damsel, or retrieve the McGuffin; after all, no one truly knows what powerful adventurers might do. They may abscond with the prize, if unchecked, unless presented with an obvious reason not to.
You don't know what time it was when you were awakened, for the room stayed in had no windows. All you know is that you have been roughly d ragged from your cot by the palace guard, and that you now find yourself walking down a long, dimly-lit corridor. With you are four people whom you have never met before, each escorted by several heavily-armed guards similar to the ones who walk by your side. You wonder what the others could have done to deserve so dubious an honor.
In front of you a great iron door swings open, filling the corridor with an almost blinding light. Before you stretches a huge room ornately decorated with elaborate columns and finely detailed wall hangings. One of your group, a simply clad woman steps out onto the finely polished floor before you and into the throneroom ahead of her guards. The rest of you follow behind her, urged forward by the spears which the guards impatiently press into your backs. Across the chamber sits Duke Justinian Lorinar of Urnst. To his right, partially shrouded in shadow stands his advisor, the mysterious magician known only as the Seer. At a motion from the Duke your party is urged forward to stand before the ducal throne.
A smile creeps across the Duke's face as he speaks to your small band. He seems strangely pleased with the turn of events. "I imagine you are wondering why you have been brought to appear before me today." His eyes sweep approvingly over the five figures in your group; none of you betray any apprehension about what is to come. "Most of you," he continues, "have been convicted of crimes for which you should spend the greater part of your lives in my dungeons." [C2 - 4]

The miscreants?
Hodar, a mage who dared dabble in forbidden sorceries.
Lembu, a warrior of high skill, and high temper, who killed a captain of the guard while deep in his cups, then 11 others, resisting arrest.
Zinethar, the religious leader of a Temple Coalition revolt.
Discinque, a skilled cat burglar, if an unlucky one, caught absconding with the Crown Jewels.
The only innocent is Li Hon, a monk of a monastery, there to settle a debt.
Their task? Brave the ruined tower of Inverness, and collect the Soul Gem the Seer could not.
But they were “assured that your former stations shall be awaiting you if you return without the gem." [C2 - 5] 

So begins C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness. It’s a classic adventure. Truly thousands have braved it. I imagine quite a few have not survived the experience. But such is the way of tournament modules. They were meant to challenge the very best players. And they were meant to be lethal.

The Ghost Tower of Inverness
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 his 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. [C2 - 6] 

The remains of the tower walls are in bad shape. They are centuries old, after all. So too the tower. It has long since collapsed, and is a no more than a pile of rubble. It’s a wonder that the walls have not, or the towers, for that matter. One would think that narrow spans, anchored by tall, spindly towers would have been the first to succumb to the ravages of time, but such was not the case.
An enormous pile of rubble, 20' tall, lies in the center of the courtyard. It consists of old but worked stones which range in size from pebbles to 6' boulders. Ancient carvings are visible on some stones. They are now worn but clearly show traces of ancient magic. [C2 - 6]

Did it come under attack? Was it deliberately pulled down?
If this does not inform the PCs of the need for caution, one wonders what will. 

Shall I detail what follows? Could my doing so reveal the plot? The riddle? The key to success? Could I? It’s an old module, after all, written and initially played and published in 1979. I’m sure Allan Hammack wouldn’t mind, sure that everyone of a certain age is familiar with its contents.
But I shall not. Why spoil the surprise for those who have not braved its wonders and horrors.

What I will say is that this is a classic funhouse dungeon. It’s not for the sort of PCs who enjoy breaking down doors and sending evil monsters to their just rewards.

As my party was when we played it. Three letters. T. P. And K. We rushed in, and tried to muscle our way through it. We failed. But we were young, and we lived by the sword. And died by it. We learned the limitations of living by the sword, and the folly of brazen sorties, cutting our teeth on modules like The Ghost Tower of Inverness. 

***

Okay, I lied.

Be aware that there will be spoilers. Then again, this is a 40-year-old adventure, and unless you’ve been out of the game for decades, never ran or played this, lived under a rock, or are new to the hobby and only invested in 5e, I cannot imagine how I can spoil anything.
But you never know, do you?
Forging ahead, I have to say something, or all these module “reviews” will amount to a few introductory passages, an invitation to buy it, read it, and come to your own conclusion as to whether they have withstood the test of time.
Does The Ghost Tower of Inverness?
That depends.
That sounds like a copout, but bear with me.
Consider the design. The Tower is a failure in its context as a seat of power. Granted, the Upper Ruins are vast, and could presumably have once housed far more than just the Tower. But there’s no mention of what might have been within the confines of the walls. Therefore, we must assume that Galap-Dreidel suffered no other presence there. The introduction goes so far as to assume that Inverness was his very home and seat of power.
The walls of this castle were said to be proof against enemies and all things magical or natural. Know you also that here was said to dwell the great wizard Galap-Dreidel at the height of his power and glory, and that he did lift the Castle Inverness from the very foundation of rock upon which it rested. [C2 - 2]

Inverness is not even a castle. Indeed, its design is not fit for habitation, as shown. There are no living quarters, no kitchens, no hall, no stores, no privies. Fail!
Inverness is “little more” than a dungeon. And a death trap. A place to stow a prized possession.
Does it withstand the test of time as an adventure? Maybe not. It has no plot beyond its initial set-up. It is an elaborate riddle and trap, whose only purpose is to secure a McGuffin. Does the McGuffin deserve such a secure vault? Probably not. It’s not an artifact; but it does other things that an evil sorcerer might value.
Does it succeed as a riddle and trap? Sure; so long as you enjoy classic funhouse modules. Do you? Or are you the sort that loves long, epic, adventure paths. If you prefer those, then you may not appreciate a funhouse. 

What is funhouse dungeon, you ask? It’s a wild, crazy, ride; that’s what it is. Think Conan, and swords and sorcery; think of mad, wizened, wizards in crystal towers; and ever more dangerous monsters round every corner. Do they make sense? No. Why should they? They were built by mad wizards of a bygone age, wielding power the likes of which have never been seen since. That is likely to bend one’s perspective a little.
Galap-Dreidel was no different.
Know you that in the elder days before the Invoked Devastation and the Rain of Colorless Fire, when the ancient peaks of the Abbor-Alz still thrust skyward sharp and majestic and the Flan tribesmen were but newcomers to the land, there existed between the Bright Desert and the mouth of the river Selintan a great fortress called Inverness. The walls of this castle were said to be proof against enemies and all things magical or natural. Know you also that here was said to dwell the great wizard Galap-Dreidel at the height of his power and glory, and that he did lift the Castle Inverness from the very foundation of rock upon which it rested.
Most grand and terrible of all Galap-Dreidel's work was the keep's great inner tower; for it was there that the wizard's most prized possession, an eldritch jewel known only as the "Soul-Gem", was said to rest. Legend says that it was like a great white diamond and that it glowed with the brilliance of the sun. In years long past it had fallen from the sky and landed in the foothills of Abbor-Alz where Galap-Dreidel discovered it as it lay in the fires of its glory. Through magicks most arcane and knowledge forbidden to mortal men he d id bend its power and shape the stone to his will. Stories say that the light of the gem dragged the souls of men screaming from their mortal flesh and trapped them within its many facets. Galap-Dreidel, it was said, harnessed this power and used it against those who opposed his will. They also say that he who controlled the gem could call forth the stolen souls of men and make them do his bidding.
For the stone Galap-Dreidel raised up the great central tower and filled his castle with many horrible creatures and deadly traps and, using a great incantation, he did wrest the tower from the very fabric of time and set it apart so that those within would not be affected by the passage of years. Thus it was that his traps never faltered nor did his guardians age or need food. Townsfolk whispered that Galap-Dreidel would, at times, set a prisoner free in the tower merely for the sport of his beasts. Some legends tell that his power was so great that he even taught the gem to protect itself from those who would take it from him.
Guardians
But despite his great power there came a time that Galap-Dreidel did leave on a journey northwest, over the river Selintan, and did not return. At this time there came a great multitude of superstitious peoples from surrounding lands who laid siege to the castle and threw down the great tower. And it came to pass that despite this seeming victory over their feared former master the people did shun the area and it was said that on fog-shrouded nights the great central tower of the Fortress Inverness could still be seen.
[C2 - 2] 
What can we infer from this passage?
Galap-Dreidel is Ur-Flan. He carved his kingdom in the elder days before the Twin Cataclysms, when the Flan tribesmen were but newcomers to the land. He raised his tower, and he did wrest the tower from the very fabric of time. [C2 - 2] Good luck doing that now.
I suppose one might be able to accomplish this with a number of Wish spells, and a few Permanent spells, but I wonder. Only magi as powerful as Vecna, and Keraptis, and Acererak…and Galap-Dreidel have been able to pull off magic this powerful. And those notable few were “contemporaries” of Galap-Dreidel. 

His is a funny name: Galap-Dreidel.
Galap is an American surname, founded in the 1880s, most in or about Texas.
A dreidel is a four-sided spinning top, played with during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. I might add that Galap-Dreidel’s tower looks a little like a dreidel.
I digress. Other than mention of a game within a game, I find no wisdom from so curious a name.
 
The party arrives. They gain entry.
A Game of Chess
What follows is what one would expect from a tournament module: Tricks, traps, and the odd monster. Not many. Too much combat can bog tournament play down; and this, like all tournament modules, was designed to fit into a neat 4-hour time slot.
What is the goal? Descend into the dungeon proper, find and combine the keys, and advance to the truly dangerous part, the tower, itself. Where the McGuffin awaits.
Simple.
I might add that although Wandering Monsters are not part of tournament play, tables are included for non-tournament play. 

In regards to encounters, one stands out: a human male Illusionist.
(AC 4, Lvl 10, hp 35, Algn LE. S 10, 1 17, W 9, D. 18, C 15, CH 7, cloak of protection +2, dagger + 1).
Spells:
First level: color spray, darkness, detect Invisibility, hypnotism, wall of fog
Second level: blur, hypnotic pattern, improved phantasmal force, Invisibility
Third level: fear, paralyzation, spectral force
Fourth level: improved invisibility, phantasmal killer
Fifth level: shadow magic
[C2 - 5]
Unnamed. Lawful Evil. 7 Charisma. Seems like quite a piece of work.
The question begs asking: Why is he there? Is he a guardian left by Galap-Driedel; or is he too searching for the Soul Gem?
The role of guardian fits: Thus it was that [Galap-Driedel’s] traps never faltered nor did his guardians age or need food. [C2 - 2] It’s a scary thought, to my mind: trapped within a dungeon, doomed to road its passages for millennia, oblivious to the passage of time.
One could have fun with this. A rival? A survivor of another adventuring party a century before. Or one from not so long ago. This will likely end in combat, but he might be an opportunity for exposition, too. And betrayal. 

Moving on, the players find the keys, and apply them to any of the four doors leading to the central room of the dungeon.
When the indentation is filled, a line appears in the center of the blank wall and the door divides into two halves which spring swiftly apart. Beyond the door is a 40' x 40' room with a 10' high ceiling. The walls, floor, and ceiling are all made of the same smooth, blue-gray metal that the KEY and doors are fashioned of. The room is bare except for 8 thickly padded reclining chairs. [C2 - 11]

The doors slam shut behind them, and they feel the room hurled aloft. They are thrown to the floor, if not seated.
Colors swirl before your eyes. Your stomachs churn, and suddenly the pressure stops. You notice that a 5' diameter hole has appeared in the center of the ceiling; it was not there before. [C2 - 11] 

It is here that The Ghost Tower of Inverness becomes the promised surreal ride it was meant to be.
And it is here that to delve to deeply into the PCs fate would be to ruin what is to come.
Although the players don't know it, [the central dungeon room] is a time portal which, due to the arcane magicks which created the tower, transports those within back to the days when the great central tower was still standing. Moving upwards through the Tower, the party will discover 5 levels, one for each of the four elements (Air, Earth, Fire, and Water) and finally the great domed Jewel Room in which the Soul Gem is kept. [C2 - 12]

I’m sure they will figure it out as they rise ever higher into what was a mere 20’ high heap of rubble. 

What awaits them in each elemental layer? That would be telling.
Seriously, this is where you stop reading unless you really want the spoil the surprise.
Skip to the end. 

***

Still with me?

Should the party survive the “elemental” levels, they will come face to face with the Soul Gem in the Jewel Room.
You see a 120' diameter circular chamber with a domed ceiling 50' high at the apex. In the center of the room, about 4' off the floor, floats a multi-faceted, opaque white diamond about the size of a melon - the Soul Gem!! Suddenly part of the room is lit with an intense, dazzling white light. As the spots before your eyes fade (it takes but a moment or two), the room seems exactly the same. The object of your quest is before you!  [C2 - 16] 

The strategy is simple. Beat it with a stick until it breaks.
The Key to Success...
The Gem is surrounded by a 2' diameter invisible force sphere. Although the sphere has only 20 hit points, it can only be hit by hand-held weapons or hand attacks – no spells will have any effect on it. An adjusted roll of 10 or better is necessary for any character to hit the sphere, and up to eight characters can strike at the sphere in any given round (one character in each section of the room). For each point of damage a character Inflicts on the sphere, that character will sustain one point of damage. This is true even if the sphere is "overkilled" in one round (for example. if 25 points are inflicted on the sphere. 25 points must be sustained by those doing the damage). When 20 or more points have been delivered to the sphere, it will become visible, fracture, and fall to the floor in glassy shards.
Once the force sphere is destroyed, the Gem may be seized. After the Gem is grasped by a character, it will not fire any more rays. The Gem can be destroyed by rolling a natural 20 with a magic weapon, but if this is done the Gem will shatter and release the millions of souls trapped inside, who will insanely slay all living creatures in the Tower (unless the Amulet of Recall is used immediately).
If the Amulet of Recall is grasped and activated, the following are instantly teleported back through time and space to the Seer's lab: the character grasping the amulet, all of his or her possessions, and anyone or anything else he or she is touching (including soulless bodies). [C2 - 16]

Honestly, members of the party are going to die should events play out as written:
When the Gem's ray blasts the sector a character is in, any persons within the affected sector must make a saving throw vs Petrification (include only wisdom adjustments). If the saving throw is successful, the character's skin, clothes, possessions, and so forth, are all bleached a ghostly white color, and all magic items (except for the Amulet of Recall) are drained completely of magic. (In non-tournament play, the DM may wish to give magic items a saving throw against being drained.) If a character fails the saving throw vs Petrification, however, the other characters will see the following:
When the white light strikes the victim, he (or she) screams horribly – a long, drawn-out wailing scream. As your vision clears, an image of the character, pale and ghostly, streams out of the body and toward the Soul Gem getting smaller the nearer it gets. As the image shrinks in size, the volume of its screams diminishes. When it reaches the Gem, there is a burst of radiance, and the image is gone. The character's form lies motionless on the floor; the body is dead white, as are all the character's possessions. [C2 - 16]

Which sector lighting up is random. Totally random! Unless you use the tournament sequence: 6, 7, 1, 4, 7, 6, 2, 2, 8, 6, 5, 1, 2, 3, 4, and then random, if more are needed. [C2] And that too is random.
I hate that. The players will too.
Unfair, they will cry.
And they would be right to, in my humble opinion.
Might I suggest an alternative sequence?
Begin with sector 2, and then advance three sectors for each subsequent burst: thus, 2, 5, 8, 3, 6, 1, 4, 7, 2…. A pattern gives the PCs a fighting chance.

It is obvious to me that they knew players would be pissed, so a little deus ex machina is applied at the very end of the module:
If the party successfully teleports back to the Seer, they will be congratulated on their success and then told that (because of his familiarity with the Soul Gem) the Seer can locate the exact facet where the souls of the party members are, and return them to their own bodies (if they were recovered) or, less happily, to other bodies if necessary. [C2 - 16] 


Is this the end? No.
This is a familiar scene. Shackled. Bound. The same faces surround you as the last time you were in this dark, dank cell. Your friends, your party members. You’ve been told that your actions have led to death and destruction near and far, but you were only doing what was demanded of you from those who hold you captive again now. A looming figure goes over your crimes and holds out a glowing gemstone, offering a trade for your lives. “You must undo what you have done and put this back,” he whispers. “You must return to the Ghost Tower.”
DDALCA‐01 Return to The Ghost Tower of Inverness, by Elisa Teague.
(There was another, earlier, sequel of the same name {CORS3-03} written by Creighton Broadhurst and Steve Pearce in 2003, but the one quoted is the Adventure League module for 5e. I don't have a copy of the Living Greyhawk tournament module, so I can't comment on it.)
All but Li Hon return, replaced by a certain bard by the name of Phineas, a braggard and charlatan who claimed that it was he who stole the Soul Gem in the first place.
It seems that the Duke of Urnst found the Soul Gem more trouble than it was worth.
Unbeknownst to our heroes, since completing that task and delivering the Soul Gem to Justinian Lorinar, Duke of Urnst, it has brought death and doom to the entire realm. The governing council, insistent on not taking the blame for the devastation, have turned back to the heroes for help once again. [RttGToI]

***

Do I like this classic module?
I do. But I'm biased. I played it, as noted. It was fun. It was thrilling.
However, it was the first to kill one of my characters. Serves me wright for not being cautious and blundering into the reverse grav area while being pelted by flung boulders. No clue what I'm talking about? Read the module, and you'll understand.


The Adventure League sequel aside, I have to ask: Why does the Duke need the Soul Gem? The Duchy of Urnst is predominately Lawful Good and Neutral Good. What possible good could come from his possessing it?
However, it is not the Duke who covets it, is it? It was the Seer who recognized the power of the stone and through further research unlocked the secret of its control [C2 - 2]; and presumably only brought the Gem’s existence to the Duke’s attention after he had failed to get his hands on it.
He cuts a mysterious visage: Across the chamber sits Duke Justinian Lorinar of Urnst. To his right, partially shrouded in shadow stands his advisor, the mysterious magician known only as the Seer. […] His features are indistinguishable beneath the long robe which hides all but his gnarled hands from view. [C2 - 4] 

I wonder… 

 

You may also wonder, why am I looking at C2 at this time when I’ve been knee deep in the A series and its prequels and sequels? Because it happens to be something of a sequel to the Slavers series.
Not so, you say! Indeed, it is, I counter.
Hodor makes a return within Sean K. Reynolds’ and Chris Pramas’ much celebrated adventure/gazetteer; so, I thought I might slip this in, just to be exhaustive.

 

 

 

 

One must always give credit where credit is due. This post is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is interminable.
Very special thanks to Allan Hammack, without whose imagination, this adventure, and this review, could not have been possible.

 
 
The Art:
All art is wholly owned by the artists.
Cover Art detail, from C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness, by Jeff Easley, 1980
The Great Seer of Urnst, from C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness, by Jeff Dee, 1980
The Ghost Tower, from C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness, by Erol Otus, 1980
Bugbear, from C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness, by Jim Roslof, 1980
Cartography, from C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness, 1980
Guardians, from C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness, by Jim Roslof, 1980
A Game of Chess, from C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness, by Jeff Dee, 1980
Vusual Aid #3, from C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness, by Jim Roslof, 1980
Back Cover Art detail, from C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness, by Jeff Dee, 1980



Sources:
1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
9038 The Ghost Tower of Inverness, 1980
11621 Slavers, 2000
DDALCA‐01 Return to The Ghost Tower of Inverness, Adventure League
Greyhawkania, Jason Zavoda
The map of Anna B. Meyer

2 comments:

  1. Galap dreidel. Worst wizard name ever. Also, most evil wizard in Greyhawk. Dude stole ALOT of souls. Fun module, but on par as deadly as Tomb of Horrors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I submit for your consideration Wimpell Frump, illusionist from Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords

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