Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday 27 May 2023

An Elvish Endeavour

Long ago, at the beginning of the 13th Age, war raged between the Elves and the Dwarves. The Elf Queen commanded the magic of the wild and the fey capable of defeating her people’s enemy, but could not truly control it. Liris, a nature goddess, voluntarily underwent a ritual to contain this magic by binding her into a vault. The ritual was a success and it bound both the magic and the three elven districts—Greenwood, Darkwood, and Lightwood—to the Elf Queen’s own Thronewood. With the magic, the Elf Queen helped withstand the Dwarven assault and as time passed, the relationship between the Elves and the Dwarves eased and they became allies. Yet the power which Liris helped contain and control and so save the Elves corrupted her and drove her to attempt escape and wreak revenge upon those she blamed for her imprisonment—even though it had been voluntary upon her part. The Elf Queen and her greatest spellcasters from all three districts offered a Key up to perform a great ritual which would ensure that the vault imprisoning Liris would remain closed. Then the Keys were returned to their respective districts and placed in three mystical towers, hidden from those who did not know the means or routes to find them. More recently, the Elf Queen senses that the ritual keeping the vault containing Liris is weakening and needs to be performed again. For that, she needs the three Keys from each of the three districts, but relationships between the Elf Queen and the three districts were not they once were and many of those who readily knew the locations of the three towers have long since died. As the magical bindings on Liris’ vault weaken, her dark influence is being felt across the Thronewood and beyond as shadows and sorrow deepen. With her strength dedicated to withstanding Liris’ influence and preparing for the forthcoming ritual, the Elf Queen needs agents she can trust to find the three mystical towers, assail their heights (or depths), and return in time for her to perform the ritual which will save her kingdom.

This is the set-up for Elven Towers, an adventure for the Champion Tier for 13th Age, the roleplaying game from Pelgrane Press which combines the best elements of both Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition and Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition to give high action combat, strong narrative ties, and exciting play. The adventure requires access to both 13 True Ways and the 13th Age Bestiary to play and mostly obviously, will hook in Player Characters with Icon relationships with the Elf Queen or her allies. Options though are suggested for involving Player Characters with other Icon relationships, even ones so adverse to the Elf Queen that they would be prepared to betray both her and the efforts of their fellow adventurers should the need arise! Several ways of handling the interaction of the Player Characters with Court of Stars are offered, each of varying complexity or detail. The simplest is to run it as a group test, but alternatively, the Player Characters can attend the court and get involved in its activities and events, fully interacting with the various courtiers and hangers-on. There are plenty of NPCs detailed here as well as some nice means of handling the effects of Liris’ growing influence and the Player Characters being unsuccessful in their interactions with the Court of Stars. This includes increasing the amount of time it takes to get information, temporary penalties to saving throws, and temporarily delaying the increase of the Escalation Die in combat.

Once the Player Characters have worked out where the three Keys are located, they can set out to each of the locations. Consisting of the Tower of Memory in Greenwood, the Tower of Dreams in the Darkwood, and the Tower of Fate in the Lightwood, they can be tackled in any order, but they all adhere to the same format—a montage travel scene followed by three or four encounters between the Court of Stars and each tower, and each tower consists of four encounters before a finale. The encounters, inside the tower or outside of the tower, are essentially big set pieces, each different, but themed along the lines of the region the Player Characters are travelling through and the tower they are trying to reach. The format provides room for the Game Master to insert encounters of her own, if thematically appropriate, but to fair, the given encounters will be challenge enough. The Tower of Memory and the Greenwood are home to the Wood Elves and are forest-themed with the Tower of Memory being a giant tree. The Tower of Dreams and the Darkwood are home to the Dark Elves—or Drow depending upon the Game Master’s campaign—and the Tower of Dreams may be entered via a tree, but is actually in a spire protruding down into the Underworld. Many of its encounters veer between dreams and nightmares. The Tower of Fate is in the Lightwood and is home to the High Elves, with the Tower of the fate ascending to the Overworld. Many of the encounters in the Lightwood and the Tower of Fate relate to oracles, fate, and destiny.

The design of the scenarios as a series of big set pieces, means that the author gets to be inventive. For example, in the Tower of Memory, the Player Characters have to race across a rope bridge high above the forest floor, the missing slats of the rope bridge hidden by illusion, harassed by a Pixie knight and a Drunken Sprite Swarm; on the way the Tower of Dreams in the Darkwood, an ambush involves a Player Character being dragging back and forth behind an enraged wild boar and then back again after confronting equally enraged Owlbears, the whole encounter threatening to collapse into chaos; and a surprisingly creepy encounter in the Tower of Fate in the Lightwood in a cave of birthing pools left over from the Elves’ first creation of the Orcs a very long time ago, that should really resonate with any Half-Orc Player Character or Player Character with Icon Relationships with the Orc. The final encounter atop each tower always includes facing agents of one or more of the other Icons and there are stats and suggestions on how to tailor the forces of each Icon to each encounter. This allows the wider involvement of the Player Characters’ Icon Relationships, including both those with Icons who oppose the Elf Queen and those who might have interest in limiting or disrupting her power and influence.

Not all of the encounters in Elven Towers involve combat, though most of them do or will result in combat. Answering riddles or sharing secrets are a common feature, and is making trades. The sharing of secrets involves a roleplaying upon the part of the players, whilst riddles some deductive reasoning, though rules are given for skill checks and rolling dice for those players adverse to riddles. Trades will often see the Player Characters give up minor magical items, Revives, even Icon Relationship rolls—temporally!—and more. All of the encounters include advice on staging them and if necessarily, scaling them up to make a tougher battle.

Finally, the Player Characters will return to the Court of Stars with the three Keys—or not. The Player Characters may not necessarily gain all three Keys to Liris’ vault and the fewer Keys they have, the more difficult and dangerous the ritual that Elf Queen has to perform, becomes. The Player Characters get invited to a big party before the ritual to celebrate their success in obtaining the Keys and an even bigger party if the ritual is a success. The Player Characters are, of course, invited—or is that expected?—to help defend the ritual, which leads to a big boss, end of adventure-level fight. There is scope here too, for the Player Characters to betray the Elf Queen, if that is what their Icon Relationships demand. How that plays out is down to the Game Master, but if the betrayal succeeds, or the ritual as a whole fails, there could actually be a change in one of the Icons! However, if the ritual succeeds, there are rewards aplenty, including powerful magical items, the Elf Queen’s favour—which mostly means she will use them as her agents again, no matter what their Icon Relationships are, and even gaining or improving an Icon Relationship with the Elf Queen.

Physically, Elven Towers is well presented. The artwork is excellent and individual encounters are all easy to use and reference. However, some of the maps are a little dark and murky; the text requires a slight edit in places (one monster inflicts over three hundred points of damage, when it should be just over thirty); and an index would have helped. There are lists with page numbers for all of the monsters.

Elven Towers is an adventure that the Game Master will want to run if she has an Elf amongst her Player Characters or a Player Character with a strong Icon Relationship with the Elf Queen. The adventure is harder to run without either of these, but once involved in the adventure, Elven Towers is an entertaining, often exciting affair, with plenty of opportunities for roleplaying alongside the big, sometimes bigger, fights. Elven Towersis a grand quest in traditional fantasy and fantasy roleplaying style, well designed and executed with plenty of variation that reveals some of the secrets and nature of the Elf Queen and her realm.


Pelgrane Press will be at UK Games Expo
from Friday 2nd to Sunday 4th, 2023.

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