Review: Tower of the Stargazer by James Edward Raggi IV/Spells That Are Fucking Metal: The Butcher's Bargain


Science-Wizards would probably listen to prog metal.

Spoilers: if you intend to play in this module, avoid this review

Tower of the Stargazer, written by James Edward Raggi IV, the publisher of Lamentations of the Flame Princess himself, is an adventure intended to serve as an introduction to old-school style gaming. The tone is somewhat more grounded than a lot of other LotFP adventures, featuring astronomy and real-world technology alongside magic. It offers a dangerous, lightning-blasted tower for players to explore, filled with all kinds of traps, puzzles and hazards, with only a few opportunities for combat. The adventure punishes rash decisions harshly, but holds great rewards for thorough and clever adventurers. When I ran it, it ended in a total party kill. Thanks to the signs and clues placed in the adventure, the players all agreed that their deaths had been fair, the result of a few poor choices. It's not artificially difficult or unwinnable, but inspires creative thinking and caution.

The adventure is full of subtle warning signs that help avert harsh consequences, many of them before they even enter the tower. Not long after, they'll encounter Calcidius, the owner of the tower, who is almost certainly too powerful for a group of low-level characters to defeat. The rest of the tower is just as dangerous. A moment of carelessness can be the doom of a party. Items of value are difficult to find without venturing deep into the tower or finding hidden passages. If the players squander their opportunities or don't search carefully, they'll leave with about 500sp worth of treasure and an angry wizard. The adventurous and clever will encounter magic items that they might not want to touch, if they know what's good for them. No +1 swords, but plenty of unexpected effects that may change their lives for the better or end them prematurely. They're not "gotchas", but things that smart folks wouldn't just mess around with. It's things like this that make it a good intro to old-school- Pathfinder players are going to stand a good chance of dying by the drove if they aren't quick studies.

One of the book's best features is Raggi's commentary explaining the reasoning behind parts of the adventure, advice for preparing to run it, and elements of old-school philosophy to add flavor to the game. It's helpful to an inexperienced or out of practice Ref, and laid out in such a way that it can easily be differentiated from the adventure's text and skimmed or ignored by veterans. It can make pages somewhat dense with text and hard to find info at a glance. I prepped myself by printing the PDF and underlining everything interactive, valuable, or notable within rooms, as it's written almost as prose rather than the terse, minimalist and practical style that's popular with a lot of modules today. It has its advantages, providing flavor and entertainment to the Ref reading it the first time through before running it (and you will want to do that) and giving detail with which to build a scene. Preferences vary. I found myself wishing that it were a bit easier to navigate at a glance, but it's still quite usable.

I really only have a single quibble with the adventure: 10,000 small stones, painted as exact facsimiles of copper pieces. This makes zero sense unless Calcidius has some ritual somewhere requiring this, it's simply a nonsensical fuck-you to players. And strangely I've encountered the exact same thing in an old Judges Guild module called Trial By Fire. I have no idea whatsoever if this is the inspiration for it or what. Upon finding these and examining them, one of my players remarked "So it's in a basement under a secret door defended by a giant spider, behind a door with a trapped magical handle, inside locked chests defended by a demon golem. And then it's worthless. Wow, that's old-school." On the one hand, he's right; it is, in fact, replicated in at least one very old school adventure. On the other hand, fucking why?! (Because Fuck You, That's Why?)

As a whole, this is an excellent adventure. It works like a charm for teaching consequences of carelessness and the rewards of clever play and has a great variety of challenges. I recommend it frequently as an intro to LotFP and old-school gaming in general and would place it among some of the best for low-level characters. Its one weakness (aside from those mother fucking rocks) is that it may not work as well for those players more familiar with old-school tropes and play styles, or those accustomed to more psychedelic, hardcore, weeeeeird shit like most other LotFP adventures. In any case, though, I'd consider it essential in a Ref's collection.

660/666 (6 points deducted for the MOTHER FUCKING ROCKS)

Bonus Gameable Content: A reason for those moooother fuuuuucking roooooocks.

Before his imprisonment, Calcidius prepared a ritual. A member of his family, his niece Sabrina Calcidius who would be born some years hence, would serve as a phylactery for his soul. If he were slain, his soul would transfer into her body, displacing her but allowing him a second life with which to pursue his work. As a second layer of precaution, he prepared a ritual which would allow him to summon her to him if she were in danger: a dangerous bargain with a cosmic entity, but one he was prepared for. Ten thousand illusory copper pieces would serve as his collateral, sufficient to deceive the creature and prevent it from retaining a hold on her silver cord.

That's why he has 10,000 fake copper pieces in his basement.

The Butcher’s Bargain

No./Area Affected: One object or person anywhere in the cosmos, as long as the caster knows its location. 1HD/1000sp of value per Caster Level
Duration: Permanent
In the endless tableau of cosmic emptiness there are beings which would aid men for power of a kind and promises of earthly magics. In a nearby nebula, strewn with asteroids composed of the alchemical elements resides one such creature. Thought to be a demon by those who have made communion with it, it has been given the name of The Butcher, for it is harsh and sadistic with those who are unworthy or unprepared for its dealings. The silver cords which bind things from the astral to the physical plane can be drawn to its domain, and for a price it may agree to find and procure things across the planet or even the cosmos, should the seeker know its location.
The Butcher’s Bargain allows the caster to contact the Butcher, who can summon any object with a silver cord, such as creatures with souls, items imbued with great magical energy, or objects astrally bonded to a person or location. In order to strike a bargain, an offering of pure alchemical metal must be made during the appropriate planetary alignment. The elements and their associated celestial bodies are:
Celestial Body
Element
Sol ☉
Gold
Mercury  ☿
Quicksilver
Venus ♀
Copper
Luna ☽
Silver
Mars ♂
Iron
Jupiter ♃
Tin
Saturn ♄
Lead

The offering required is in proportion to the item desired, and is determined through negotiation between the caster and the Butcher. Items/objects summoned may be up to 1 HD/1000sp per CL. Other terms and conditions may apply. The item can be fetched forthwith, with almost trivial effort on the Butcher’s part.

The Butcher retains a grasp on the item or creature’s silver cord. It is always aware of its location and state, and has the ability to transport it across the cosmos as before at will. Sentient creatures or intelligent magical objects are allowed a save versus Magic to resist, and gain a bonus equal to CL if the caster is present. If successful the subject is immune to the Butcher’s summons for a year and a day.
Miscast Table

1
As normal, but the object is broken down into atom-sized particles of pure elements which retain their magic or sentience, but float entropically across the cosmos.
2
As normal, but the caster’s silver cord is entangled with that of the object, causing them to share thoughts, sensations, damage, etc. They may struggle for control over their actions, as well, at the Ref’s discretion.
3
Spell fails. The alchemical element is animated into a creature with 2 Hit Dice per 1000sp of value. 
4
Spell fails. The Butcher decides it prefers the iron in the caster’s blood and removes d%-CL of their blood. It intends to furnish its nebula permanently with this once-alive meteorite, but may be persuaded to return it, for a favor...
5
Spell fails. The position of the caster and the desired object are switched for the Butcher’s entertainment.
6
Spell fails. The object is transmuted into anti-matter at its original location, causing the explosive discorporation of an equal amount of matter before it is rendered inert.
7
As standard Miscast Table result.

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