You can hear it whispered at night in the darkest corners of lost cities, in the echoes of the howls of nameless things in haunted hills: 'The Dread Tower has five rooms!'. The wise speak not of these things, and harpers shudder and turn away when I ask of them; but there is something behind the legends, and I mean to find the truth.
--from the Ballad of Karlan Light-Bearer, who did not return
The Dread Tower stands in a blasted waste, a waste where no living thing grows or dwells; a few dead and barren tree-trunks point upward from the barren ground nearby, but the silence of the land fairly shouts that this is a place from which Life has been banished, and perhaps in fact never came at all.
There are no maps to the Tower, and no songs sung of it; the seeker must find it by accident, although some lore might be found in blasphemous tomes buried deep in the ruins of lost temples of forgotten gods. Nonetheless, it is whispered that those who seek the Tower cannot help but find it before death finds them...no matter how much they beg for release from the quest.
There are many possible reasons to search for the Tower. One is that it is an unmatched source for extremely powerful evil spirits; there are no weak spirits here. Another is that there is a legend that anyone who spends a night in the fifth floor of the Tower is forever immune to fear, and to all evil spirits. And yet another, of course, is curiosity.
The Tower is made of massive blocks of gray stone. It is seventeen meters across, and stands 39 meters high. No door bars the black archway which gapes wide at the ground floor. The rest of the Tower is smooth and unbroken, with no windows or gaps. At the top of the Tower jagged crenellations give the appearance of cruel teeth against the night sky.
There are five chambers within the Dread Tower, each filling an entire floor. Broad and deep stairs lead upward, spiraling along the inner edge of the Tower. Although there is no source of light, and all light-making objects (torches, spells, other) are at only half strength in the Tower, a faint and wan gray gloaming pervades the space in the absence of other lights. In fact, the presence of torches or a light spell actually make the Tower seem darker, since beyond the shrunken confines of the light all is utterly black.
The effects of the Tower are several.
First, anyone who enters it feels constricted. The air is heavy, and still, and hard to breathe. At times there is a sudden surge of cold, damp, fetid air that momentarily takes the breath away. No one can ignore the feeling of doom that pervades every inch of the place.
Sound, too, is strange in the Tower. At times it echoes strangely, and some have sworn that other voices can be heard saying strange things, if one listens closely. The echoes can become so loud that they seem to be about to shatter eardrums. At other times all sounds are muffled and silent, so much so that you can hear the blood pounding in your veins as you scream desperately to get the attention of a comrade standing only meters away -- deaf to your cries.
An aura of fear pervades the Tower, and it takes a strong will to keep from running in terror. But those who leave cannot summon the courage to enter the Tower again that night. If they are foolhardy enough return to the Tower at some later time, they find that the terror has become much, much worse. And even if they do not return, their dreams will forever be haunted by the shadow of a tall, slender tower topped with jagged dark teeth.
The primary power of the Dread Tower is the spirits which haunt it. Anyone who enters the Tower acts as a beacon, drawing 1d4 evil spirits per person (including noncorporeal persons). Spirits take 1d6 hours to appear, and only appear at night -- at sunrise they vanish. The type and power of summoned spirits varies depending on the floor that the adventurer(s) are on. Spells which protect against spirits work at only half effectiveness (rounded down), and non-evil summoned/captured/bound spirits may not be brought into the Tower; they are either broken free of their bonds, literally cannot be carried into the Tower, or are destroyed. This does not apply to fetches, allied spirits or familiars, although they are also subject to the fear that surrounds the Tower.
Divine Intervention is probably impossible in the Tower.
Only evil spirits dwell in the Tower. Different floors are more likely to contain particular types of spirits, but there is a 20% chance for every spirit that appears that it will be some other type, rather than the type common to that floor -- except for Room Five.
Remember, during the day no spirit will appear in the Tower. There is a gloomy aura of decay and fear, and lights are still dimmed, but not until the sun sets do the spirits start to rise.
Each of the five chambers of the Tower has a name.
Atmosphere: Although the wind often howls and blasts the landscape in the waste around the Tower, once inside the air is unnaturally calm. It is very dim here, and although the walls, floor, and ceiling are bare it always feels as if something is moving quickly just out of sight.
Spirit Types: Passion (Confusion) Spirits, Passion (Fear) Spirits. Frontier+1d6 POW
First Spirit Encounter: The deep hush grows deeper, heavier, with a weight that's almost crushing. The blood roars in your ears, and you can hear your heart pounding faintly through the thick, hissing noise.
The inner cacophony falls suddenly silent as the outer silence is broken. What was that sound from above? The dim light flickers strangely across the staircase. Suddenly a dead broken branch, blown by the wind, scratches across the mouth of the door and is gone. A shadow falls across the archway, and you cannot keep the thought from wandering through your head: Will you ever leave this place alive?
As you stare at the darkened doorway a thick silence falls behind you, so thick that it screams "DANGER"! You turn just in time to see the ageless, twisted, milk-white face of the demon-spirit descend upon you.
Results: Defeat by a Confusion spirit takes away knowledge of spatial position. You cannot find the doorway without making an INTx1 roll, and each person only gets one chance. Defeat by a Fear spirit gives the effect of the spirit magic spell Demoralize.
Atmosphere: It is warmer here, and the quiet air seems to promise safety and peace. Faint traces of dust lie on the floor, and there is a feeling of great antiquity.
Spirit Types: Wraiths, Passion (Pain). Frontier+1d6+3 POW.
First Spirit Encounter: A tiny dust whirlwind spins lazily on the floor, settling away into nothing. To your amazement you see a form sitting on the floor facing away from you, a child, playing with a small furry pet. Faintly you can hear a high, pleasant little voice singing a happy little play-song. But wait a moment -- at second glance, it's not playing with that limp little creature. As you move, the child turns to face you and you see that instead of a face, it has a grinning black void lined with buzzing teeth and tentacles...
Results: Standard for wraiths. Each defeat by a Pain spirit reduces all skills by 5%, and takes 1 point of CON and STR as well (which all return one day after leaving the Tower).
Atmosphere: This room is darker than the last. The shrieks of the child-demons of the floor below fade. But another sound echoes through this room, faintly at first, then louder and louder: laughter. Insane, screaming, painful laughter, drowning out every other sound in the world.
Spirit Types: Passion (Hysteria), Disease (Laughing Sickness - attacks INT), Insanity. Outer+1d6.
First Spirit Encounter: The howling inhuman laughter makes you dizzy; you feel as if your eardrums are about to burst. But suddenly, the sound fades away to blessed silence, and a form teleports in before you. It's a powerful old friend [preferably one who's saved the party before]. He looks grim as he speaks urgently.
"You're in over your heads, and I'm here to pull you out. Hadn't you heard? No one ever leaves this place! Take my hands, I'll teleport us out of here!"
If the PCs take his hands, he grips them tightly and mutters the words of what appears to be a spell. The PCs feel a spell effect wash over them (they may resist or not as they choose). If they are affected, they feel a spell take effect but nothing seems to happen. "Damn," says their friend, "failed! I'll try again in a minute. But could you pull that damn thing off of me, first?"
He turns his head, exposing his neck. On it there seems to be a large red bump. If the PCs look more closely, they see that it has eyes, and a tiny grinning mouth lined with fangs. It is laughing. They feel agonizing pains in their hands, and looking down see that their friend's hands are now skeletal claws, gripping them fiercely. The insane laughter of the Gallery bursts forth again, louder than before.
It is a spirit, of course, and if the PCs fell for his act they find themselves afflicted with a Spirit Drain spell which has cost them each 1d4 personal magic points. Again, the spirits attack.
Results: Defeat by a Hysteria spirit causes the effects of Fanaticism and Strength 4 combined with extreme confusion; the PC must make an INTx3 roll or attack others or themselves. They may attempt to come out of the hysteria by making an INTx3 roll at the end of each succeeding round, but they temporarily lose 1 point each of CON and STR for each round they were hysterical. One point of a lost characteristic may be regained for every hour of complete rest.
Defeat and possession by Laughing Sickness causes the victim to laugh hysterically. All skills and actions suffer a 50% penalty, and the victim becomes extremely fatigued. Eventually the victim's head implodes.
Defeat and possession by an Insanity spirit causes a random insanity taken from Call of Cthulhu tables, or else the GM may choose an appropriate insanity.
Atmosphere: Smells jump out at the adventurer as they enter this room: heady perfumes of all varieties. The laughter from below fades to a soft, sighing murmur. Voluptuous, rounded shadows slide hypnotically along the walls, floors, and ceiling. The air is warm, caressing the skin.
Spirit Types: Lust Spirits/Disease Spirits (Venereal), Inner +1d6.
First Spirit Encounter: It's a party! Incredibly beautiful/handsome spirits cavort around the PCs in a sinuous, curiously appealing dance. They move closer and closer, the music gets wilder, the smells and sights more intoxicating...and they pounce, as you always knew (and hoped?) they would.
Results: Defeat and possession by a Lust spirit makes it difficult for the victim to think about anything but sex. In the presence of a member of the appropriate gender, they must make an INT roll vs. the POW of the possessing spirit each round or fling themselves on the object of their desire with wild abandon. Contributing factors, such as an already-existing or previous relationship, or high APP on the part of the desire-object, penalize the victim's INT (no pun intended). Even if they manage to resist, they are severely distracted; an INTx3 roll is necessary each round, otherwise the victim performs all actions at 50% of normal skill for that round. Also, in males armor becomes extremely tight in the middle area, reducing movement rates by 1.
Infection (possession) by a Venereal Disease spirit causes unpleasant weeping sores all over the body and a painful burning sensation. CON and APP are reduced by 1 point every day, and movement is reduced by half. There is a -10% chance of success for all tasks due to the distraction of the pain. Finally, a foul smell emanates from the infected body, eliminating any chance of successfully Hiding except downwind.
Atmosphere: It is quiet here, and pitch black except at the top of the staircase.
Spirit Types: Special - Doppelgeists.
Spirit Encounter: A form steps forward from the darkness. If there is more than one PC, there is an opponent for each one. It looks like the PC in every way, except that it seems somehow shriveled, corpse-like, and evil. As it advances toward the PC(s), they realize that this is what they will become if they lose this fight.
Doppelgeists have twice the characteristics and skills of their original image, except for APP. If the original has a STR of 15 and a sword attack of 92%, the doppelgeist has a STR of 30 and a sword attack of 184%. On this level, spirit attacks and physical attacks are the same. Room Five lies in the Godtime.
Results: Defeat by a doppelgeist destroys the PC utterly. Their essence remains only as a malignant spirit of evil, trapped forever in Room Five, waiting for a new victim to impersonate and destroy.
If the PCs are victorious, they are immune to the spirits of the Tower for the rest of that day, and may bind any of them they wish. They are also free to leave the Tower. In campaigns which use species maximums for POW, their species maximum has been increased by three points. Otherwise, they automatically succeed on their next POW gain roll, and gain either 4 points or 2d3, at their option (they will not realize this until they actually make the roll).
There is a secret sixth floor to the Tower: the roof. There is a trapdoor in the top of the fifth floor, all but invisible in the darkness. It may also be possible to reach the roof by flight or climbing from outside. On the roof, heroes may meet the Gods of evil spirits. Coping with these would be a challenge even for superheroes, and the GM is invited to make examples of the PCs for the sin of hubris.
[email protected]Copyright 2000 by Peter Maranci. Revised: October 20, 2000. v.2.0