Ref Tips for Running Tower of the Stargazer

I'm a big fan of Tower of the Stargazer (you can read my review here). I think it's an excellent introductory adventure, and it gives a lot of good tips to help a Ref run it. I used some of the suggestions in the commentary and added a few things of my own. Each challenge was tense, and the way my players went about exploring the tower ended up finishing the adventure with a big bang. Since there's so much to do in the tower, I'd highly recommend prepping beforehand, so here are the things I did that came in handy.

As always, pre-read the adventure. Additionally, I always find it helpful to print a copy of maps to reference without flipping through the adventure constantly, and I highlight things such as interactive items within rooms, treasure values, traps, and other stuff I want to be able to find quickly among larger blocks of text.

Here are the steps I recommend taking based on my experience with the adventure:
  1. Make an interesting adventure hook
  2. Pick out a board game
  3. Give Calcidius a plan
  4. Personal touches
1. The hook: Because this is a "classic" style adventure, it may not seem terribly distinctive to your players. Mmhmmm, mysterious wizard tower with treasure. Got it. Yaaaawn.

The module suggests a few traditional hooks like tavern rumors. Some others which may be more interesting to players or have more connection to the content of the module:
  • A historical figure associated with astronomy or another scientific discipline tells the party he has heard of technology Calcidius has developed (such as his powerful telescope or harnessing of electricity)
  • An associate of a thief who went to rob the tower tells the party what he knows and that his friend has gone missing (Del Lorenzo, the corpse found outside the tower)
  • The players are sent to fetch a different item, such as the statue of the medusa and king, possibly blindsiding them as to what else the tower contains
  • Run the players through Death Love Doom before and have them discover the letter from his niece, Sabrina Newguard. Even better, use this adventure to set up DLD, as it is much stranger, more difficult, and gorier than this adventure
I've had great success with this hook on both occasions I ran the adventure: a remorseful old man, the former servant of Calcidius who will share his knowledge of the tower and confess his terrible sins (also cataloged in the journal within the servants' quarters) to the PCs if they will gather an herb for a tea which will ease the pain in his bones. If the players comply, he tells them his tale as he drinks, gradually fading until the players realize that they have just assisted a suicide. This sets the tone for a dark and foreboding adventure and gets the players' minds racing with thoughts of what could be so terrible about Calcidius and his tower as to drive an old man to suicide from guilt. If this appeals to you, feel free to use it.

2. The board game: The challenge in the upper level of the tower with the ghost will require one or more players to play a game against him. This is a cool touch, and you'll want to have a game on hand. Raggi's commentary suggests chess or other games multiple players can play.  It could be anything, but hopefully playable in a reasonable amount of time (no Axis & Allies) and even better if it's flavorful. I chose Hnefetafl, a chess-like Scandinavian game for two players which plays very quickly and simply, and I thought its Norse origins might fit the flavor of our campaign. I used a print & play copy of the game which I folded up and kept in my game bag, ready to go.

3. Prepping and Planning with Calcidius: Have his spells ready. He is a 13th level Magic-User and in traditional spell systems will have 5 first, 5 second, 4 third, 3 fifth, 3 sixth, 2 seventh, and 1 eighth level spells. Plenty to work with, but a massive pain in the ass to roll at the table.

If you use the Weird Magic system in place of traditional spells like me, you might want to consider giving him just a few spells in order to avoid overlap with the PCs' spells and keep the mystery and novelty of the occult. I gave him 3, the same as a first level Magic-User and was worried he wouldn't have enough options to engage the players if it came to that. If you want to do the same, you could give him a few Cantrips to flesh him out.

In my game, once he was freed and learned the PCs were stealthily robbing him he laid a trap with his spells (Morbid Metal, Funeral Fog, and Those of the Unlight), since he didn't have anything like Magic Missile with which to do direct damage. He used Funeral Fog to increase damage dealt within it by a multiple of 13 and put Morbid Metal curses on the PCs' weapons without their knowledge so even if they were able to use them it would likely kill them. He was prepared to suck blood to recover hp as backup. With a limited number of spells and a little quick thinking, he came out on top and caused a total party kill, albeit aided by a few boneheaded decisions by the PCs. So roll spells beforehand and figure out how Calcidius would use them effectively, because it will be pretty lame if he goes down like a bitch.

4. Personal Touches: There are plenty of opportunities to sub things of your own creation instead of what's in the module. Personally I'm not a fan of the 10,000 worthless rocks painted like copper pieces or the room full of randomly generated combinations of bones. These are definitely old-school, but also a little boring. Maybe he's made something a little more like the pic on the right to make a ritual chamber.

Being a wizard's tower, it is full of books. It's hard to stock a library with things that seem in keeping with the campaign, useful enough that a wizard would keep them. A lot of the books & scrolls in the module are on boring subjects, with literally 200 of them being solely about knots. One or two named books are on interesting subjects, but a few more might interest the players. Raggi suggests in the commentary that you may want to find or create a method for generating books. As with so many things, Vornheim has an excellent table for generating book topics.

Perhaps you'd like to sub a riddle in place of the board game, or add in a few more items in the servants' quarters to imply their personalities, or turn one of the two secret door entrances to the basement into something different, like a portal which must be activated elsewhere.


  1. And here's my key. It makes it much easier to run,once you've read the book.

    1. I was actually thinking of your key as I posted the review. Thanks for adding it here!

    2. Thanks for your work as well, and for not minding my comment.


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