Saturday, 26 December 2015

The Tower of Broken Gears: An introductory adventure for ATWC

Sometimes, when I'm reading through someone else's RPG setting, I find myself thinking: 'yeah, OK, fine, but what do you do? What does an adventure set in this place actually look like?' A good sample adventure can really help communicate what a setting might look like in play; a bad sample adventure, on the other hand, can make the most dynamic of settings look utterly dull. I really liked the Eberron setting for D&D3.5, for example, but the sample adventure was absolute garbage: a linear walk through a series of boring fight scenes, which totally failed to demonstrate why anyone might want to play in this setting rather than a hundred others.

So here's my attempt to sketch out a sample adventure for ATWC. It's my first attempt at writing something like this down in a format that other people might use; my session notes usually just consist of a few scribbles on a piece of paper, which would be meaningless to anyone else. It's written for the ATWC setting, but really it should work fine in any fantasy setting as long as you don't mind including some gunpowder and clockpunk technology. The PCs are assumed to be level 1, though it would work for a slightly higher-level party if the opposition was made a bit tougher.

Note: this post is super-long. 

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The Tower of Broken Gears

Hook: The PCs need some reason to go out to the remote tower of a famous artificer. Maybe they've got some kind of clockwork junk that they're hoping she'll repair, or identify, or know how to operate, or (most likely of all) be willing to buy off them for a decent sum of hard currency. If you need a 'one-size-fits-all' motivation, just have them approached by a merchant who has a cargo of machine parts to ship out to her; the caravan he was supposed to be travelling with is being held up for some bullshit reason or other, but he knows that he'll lose his contract with her if the gear isn't delivered on time, so now he's looking for a handful of freelance guards (i.e. the PCs) to help escort his merchandise out through the deserts. He's heard rumours about bandits in the area, but actually the trip to the tower is uneventful. The tower itself... rather less so.

The Tower: The artificer, whose name is Anara, lives in a five-story tower out in the middle of nowhere; she and her clockwork robots built it so that she'd have somewhere to carry out her work in peace and quiet. When the PCs arrive, the doors are shut, and no-one will answer any calls or knocking. It's made of stone, and wouldn't be hard to climb. There are windows on every level, but they're all barred to prevent thieves getting in: still, a stealthy and agile PC could easily climb up it and peek through the windows on each level to get some idea of what's going on inside without alerting the occupants to their presence. The tower is circular, and wider at the bottom than at the top: level 1 is about 30' across, and narrows by 2' per level to 22' across at level 5. Apart from level 1, each level has just one room, connected to the levels above and below by spiral stairs built into the walls. There's a trapdoor on the roof that leads directly to level 5.

The tower's only outbuilding is a stable, which currently houses six horses: two patient workhorses which belonged to Anara, and four wily, shaggy steppe horses which belong to the bandits. A faint trail indicates several more horses were driven away from here recently. A skilled tracker, such as a ranger or traveller, could follow this trail to the bandit's den up in the hills. 

What's Going On: Until recently, Anara and her apprentices lived there peacefully enough, building clockwork marvels and getting blitzed out of their skulls on arak whenever Anara felt like celebrating. Unfortunately, Anara's most long-serving apprentice, Umid, had been growing increasingly discontented with her 'strong drink and hard work now, graduation never' style of instruction: after seven years he was convinced that he deserved to be made a master clockworker, and yet she still refused either to issue him with a certificate of mastery or to share with him the highest secrets of her craft. (It didn't help that she'd also been shooting down his increasingly unsubtle romantic advances.) On a supply run to town, Umid fell in with some bad company, and came up with a hare-brained scheme to help a couple of thieves rob the tower; they'd loot all Anara's jealously-guarded clockwork wonders, he'd finally get his hands on all those precious blueprints she'd been refusing to let him study, and once they sold their haul he'd use his share of the money to set up as a master artificer someplace else. Unfortunately for him, the thieves turned out to be skull-wearer bandits led by a psychopathic cannibal named Farrukh: when he let them into the tower they didn't just rob Anara, they also killed and ate her, before demanding that Umid help them round up the rest of the apprentices for butchery. Horrified, he fled upstairs and locked himself into the top room of the tower, and the bandits settled down to starve him out.

That was three days ago.The tower is now divided between different people occupying different levels: one apprentice hiding in the basements, the bandits roaming across levels 1 and 2, Umid barricaded into levels 3 and 4, and level 5 occupied by Anara's clockwork assistant, who is refusing to let anyone else in until its (dead) mistress explains what's going on. By climbing up the outside of the tower, the PCs can communicate with all these different groups, but the only way to actually reach them is to fight their way up or down, one floor at a time.

Unless the PCs approach the tower in a stealthy fashion (e.g. sneaking up on it under the cover of darkness) the bandits will be aware of their presence, but won't do anything to draw attention to themselves: there are too few of them to risk an open confrontation, so they're hoping the PCs will just go away. The tower's other residents won't be aware of the PCs until they are actively contacted by them. 

Getting In: The only ways into the tower are through the front door or through the trapdoor on the roof - for information on the trapdoor, see Level 5, below. The iron double-doors at the front of the tower have a fantastically complex clockwork lock, which was why the bandits needed Umid's help to break in; but once it was open they had no idea how to relock it, so they've just hung a beam of wood across the inside of the door, resting on a couple of hooks, and called it a day. As a result the doors hang about half an inch open, with only the bar holding them shut: the fact that whoever closed the gates clearly had no idea how to use the lock should be the first hint that something is badly wrong. PCs might get in by sliding a blade between the doors and using it to lift the bar, or even by slipping a narrow saw-blade between them and sawing through it. Once the door is open, mechanically-adept PCs could remove the lock mechanism, which could be sold for 100gp. (Less mechanically-adept PCs who try to lever it off the door will just end up with a heap of broken scrap worth 10gp at best.)

Level 1: Once inside, the PCs will see an entrance hall with stairs going up and down and doors to the left and right. The left-hand door leads to a kitchen and dining area; the right-hand door leads to a living area. Both have been thoroughly and obviously looted.

In the kitchen, there is one piece of valuable technology which the bandits chose not to remove: a steam-and-clockwork coffee-making machine. (They plan to take it when they leave, but until then they're leaving it where it is for fear of breaking it.) If removed and transported with great care, it would be worth 250gp intact, but any rough handling will cause it to break, halving its value. It makes really great coffee.

In the living area, a clockwork woman with copper skin lies on the floor, her casing smashed wide open, gears spilling out of her like blood. This was Anara's clockwork servant, who tried to stop the bandits looting the place. Repairing her would take days of work even for a skilled clockworker with a fully-stocked workshop, but PCs who know something about clockwork will be able to salvage about 50gp worth of intact mechanisms from among all the broken gears.

Basement: At the bottom of the stairs are two doors, both locked. The locks can be picked, or opened with the keys carried by Farrukh (see Level 2). The left-hand door leads to a very boring supply cellar full of grain, flour, firewood, and other uninteresting stuff. The right-hand door leads to the coal cellar, which also contains Anara's supply of gunpowder.

As soon as anyone touches the door to the coal cellar, or tries to pick the lock, they will hear a weak, rasping female voice from the other side saying: 'I'll do it! I swear it! Don't you dare come in!' This voice belongs to Golnar, one of Anara's apprentices: when the bandits attacked she fled into the cellar and hid, and when followed she held them off by threatening to drop a match into the gunpowder and blow them all up. They responded by locking the door and leaving her down there to die of thirst, planning to retrieve the powder at their leisure.

Three days spent in total darkness without food and water, startling at every sound, have left Golnar a total physical and psychological wreck. She's very weak, and very scared, but with some patience the PCs should be able to convince her that they mean her no harm; severe dehydration have left her almost unable to talk, but she'll rasp out a few words to warn them of the bandits upstairs. If the PCs enter the cellar, either with the key or by picking the lock, without first persuading Golnar of their good intentions, then she'll carry out her threat by striking a match and dropping it into a barrel of gunpowder, causing a huge explosion that blows her to bits and causes 4d6 damage to anyone else nearby. Otherwise she'll beg them for water, and happily let them take the gunpowder. She currently has 1 HP, and will need at least a couple of days recovery time before she's in any state to help them in other ways.

Level 2: This was the main workshop area. It's now where the bandits are holed up. They have guns, but they used up almost all their gunpowder blowing up the automaton which Umid unleashed on them yesterday; now they only have enough left for six shots between them, which is why they don't just shoot the PCs from the windows as soon as they arrive. They're waiting for Golnar to die so that they can resupply from the stock in the basement.

The door at the top of the stairs from level 1 is barred, but not locked. If a PC climbs the tower and looks through the window, they'll see an artificer's workshop, with four men and one woman inside it: One of the men is tied to a chair, and looks badly injured; the rest are rough-looking types wearing travelling gear, with swords and guns dangling from their belts. All but one of them wear masks made from human skulls. (In fact these 'masks' are sewed directly onto the skin of their faces.) On a worktable lies what little remains of a butchered human corpse - all that is now left of the unfortunate Anara. The wreckage of some kind of shattered clockwork robot lies at the foot of the stairs going up to the next level.

The people in this room are as follows:

  • Farrukh: AC 15 (chainmail), to-hit +4 (melee) or +2 (ranged), damage 1d8+2 (sword) or 1d8 (pistol - only enough powder left for two shots), 14 HP, FORT 12, REF 14, WILL 17. The leader of the bandits: skull-wearer, cannibal, sadist, and all-round psycho. He underwent the skull-wearer rite willingly; if his skull-mask is ripped off then he'll spend a few days weeping and gibbering with shock, but as soon as he pulls himself together he'll start looking for a new victim from whom to make a new mask. Will try to flee if it looks like he's losing, but will never surrender.
  • Nurzhan: AC 13 (leathers), to-hit +3 (melee) or +1 (ranged), damage 1d8+2 (sword) or 1d8 (pistol - only enough powder left for one shot), 6 HP, FORT 13, REF 15, WILL 18. A luckless traveller whom Farrukh forced to undergo the skull-wearer rite at gunpoint years ago. If his skull-mask is ripped off he'll be totally overwhelmed by the horror of his actions, although after a few years of devoted care he might recover enough to return to his old life. As long as the mask stays on, however, he's a savage brute who will fight to the death.
  • Inkar: Same stats as Nurzhan. The only female member of Farrukh's band, who, like Nurzhan, was forced to perform the skull-wearer rite. She and Farrukh have been locked in a horrible, loveless, mutually-abusive relationship ever since. She hasn't been a skull-wearer for nearly as long as Nurzhan; if her skull-mask is removed she should make an almost-total recovery after a few months, and she'll be extremely grateful to her deliverers. She'll try to flee if Farrukh does, and surrender if he escapes or is killed.
  • Ruslan: AC 13 (leathers), to-hit +0, damage 1d8 (sword) or 1d8 (pistol - only enough powder left for one shot), 3 HP, FORT 16, REF 16, WILL 16. The one non-skull-wearer in the band: a skinny teenager, previously a petty thief, who is hopelessly out of his depth. He is totally horrified by the depravity of his comrades, and knows that Farrukh is itching for a chance to force him to put on a skull-mask of his own, but he's so terrified of them that he doesn't dare run away. If the PCs seem to be winning the fight he will immediately throw down his weapons and beg for mercy. 
  • Talgat: The man tied to the chair is one of Anara's other apprentices. Farrukh caught him in the initial attack, and has been starving and torturing him ever since, trying to force him into becoming a skull-wearer by eating the heart and drinking the blood of his beloved mentor. (For this reason, they're the only parts of her that Farrukh and his band haven't already eaten.) Talgat is half-mad with horror, but he would rather die than become a monster like Farrukh. He has 1 HP left.
If the four bandits see PCs looking in through the windows, they'll try to run over and stab them through the bars, but won't waste gunpowder unless they have to. If the PCs enter the room in an unsubtle fashion (like smashing the door down), the bandits will all open fire on the first person into the room, catching them in a withering crossfire which is likely to be fatal; intelligent PCs will use shields or smoke to protect themselves as they charge in. (If they don't bother, the bandits get +4 to-hit on their opening volley only.) PCs who have already freed Golnar might prefer to blow the door open with gunpowder and charge in while the bandits are stunned and reeling from the blast.

If the bandits are defeated, PCs can find 500gp worth of artificer's equipment and assorted clockwork mechanisms in the workshop, although some of them are so heavy that they'll need a cart to carry them: if they're limited to what they can stuff in their saddlebags, they'll only be able to take 200gp worth. (Of course, all this assumes they know which bits are worth taking: PCs who just grab any random junk will be lucky to get one-tenth of this value. Talgat or Golnar would know, but will be reluctant to assist in the looting of their mentor's property.) Farrukh carries 47gp worth of coins in a belt-pouch, and the keys to the two basement doors; the other bandits have 1d10gp each. The clockwork robot at the foot of the stairs to level 3 is pretty thoroughly wrecked. It was obviously destroyed by a barrage of improvised black powder bombs.

It'll be a while before Talgat is able to do much more than sob, but once he's had a chance to recover he'll be able to tell the PCs the whole story of the bandit attack, Anara's death, Umid's flight upstairs, and Farrukh's subsequent butchery and cannibalism of Anara. He also knows that Golnar is hiding in the basement, and will beg the PCs to rescue her if they haven't already. He holds Umid responsible for everything that has happened, and demands that the PCs go upstairs and 'bring him to justice' (i.e. murder him). In exchange, he promises (truthfully) that he will tell them which of Anara's clockwork devices are most valuable, and let them loot them without complaint.

Farrukh, Nurzhan, and Inkar are all wanted in several nearby cities, and are worth 100gp each alive or dead. No-one cares about Ruslan one way or the other. 

Level 3: The door up to this level is locked with a complex clockwork lock (worth 100 gp if removed intact) that Umid activated when he fled upstairs. The PCs could blow it open with the gunpowder from the basement; alternatively, once they've had a chance to recover, either Talgat or Golnar could open it if given 1d6 hours and access to tools from the workshop on level 2.

This level was the apprentice's sleeping quarters. It's one big room, with one-quarter of it divided off from the rest with drapes. (This was Golnar's corner, to let her dress and undress in privacy.) Three corners of the room contain beds, each with a chest, wardrobe, and table; the fourth contains a big table with four chairs around it. It's also full of clockwork traps.

Umid has spent the last three days feverishly filling this room with everything he can think of that might slow the bandits down once they break down the door and come for him. As the PCs advance across the room, from the stairs down to level 2 towards the stairs up to level 4, they'll have to contend with the following:
  1. A spring-gun aimed at the door. Anyone who runs through the door gets shot by a spring-loaded musket pointed at it, and must pass a REF save or take 1d10 damage. (Only one shot, obviously.) Anyone who doesn't run straight through will probably just see the trip-wire and step carefully over it.
  2. A clockwork soldier armed with an axeblade, which lurches out from behind a wardrobe to attack anyone who makes it past the tripwire. Any PC who responds to its emergence by saying 'I jump back!', or words to that effect, will set off the spring-gun (unless it's already gone off, of course). Smart PCs will just step back over the tripwire and lure the automaton into the spring-gun instead: it automatically fails its save. It has AC 16, +2 to-hit, 9 HP, and does 1d8 damage with its axe.
  3. A clockwork snake hidden under one of the beds, which will attack anyone who gets more than halfway across the room, with a 5-in-6 chance of surprise unless they've already thought to look under the beds. (If they do look under the beds and spot it, they can just shoot it to death at their leisure: it won't move, even if it's being destroyed, until someone gets more than halfway across the room.) It has AC 17, +3 to-hit, 8 HP, and does 1d4 damage with its metal jaws. The first person it bites will also be injected with venom, and must pass a FORT save or lose 1 HP per minute for the next 1d8 minutes. 
Note that the spring-gun (although not the automata) is easily spotted by PCs looking in through the windows, and that the clockwork snake will happily attack the clockwork soldier if it ends up in the far side of the room. PCs looting the room will be able to retrieve 2d10 gp worth of trinkets and jewelry from each of the three chests. There are also three calligraphic scrolls with encouraging messages on them ('Study hard!' 'Don't give up!', etc) hanging from the walls around Golnar's bed, drawn for her by her elder brother, who happens to be a calligraphy teacher; the quality of their penmanship means they'd be worth 20gp each to a collector. Finally, someone who knows about clockwork (Talgat, for example) could salvage 2d10gp worth of components from both the snake and the soldier even after they've been 'killed'.

Level 4: This level was Anara's living quarters; it contains a big bed, several bookcases, a worktable, a wardrobe, and a bath surrounded by carved wooden screens. The door from level 3 to level 4 has a super-complex clockwork lock (worth 120 gp if removed intact), but it's not locked: Umid couldn't work out how to operate it. In it sits Umid, surrounded by empty arak bottles, sodden with drink and remorse. He's currently spending most of his time trying to work out where exactly his life went so badly wrong.

If Umid sees the PCs climbing past the window, he will eagerly rush over and talk to them: he'll tell them that Anara's been murdered by bandits who are encamped below, and will beg them to kill the brigands and save him. (He will neglect to mention his own role in events.) He's obviously been drinking heavily: he stinks, he slurs his words, and he'll break down sobbing under any kind of emotional pressure. If given anything resembling a sympathetic ear, even from a complete stranger hanging to the wall of the tower outside the window, he'll lurch into a long, rambling, self-pitying speech about what a failure he is at everything, quite possibly giving away his responsibility for Anara's murder in the process. If shot at through the window, he'll hide under the bed and attempt (probably ineffectually) to return fire.
  • Umid: AC 12 (dexterity, travelling clothes), to-hit 0, damage 1d4 (knife) or 1d8 (pistol), 6 HP, FORT 16, REF 15, WILL 15. 
If Umid hears the PCs coming for him from below, and has plenty of time to prepare, he'll try to pull himself together, climb into a clockwork exoskeleton he found in the room, and make a slightly farcical attempt to commit 'suicide by adventurer'. The exoskeleton raises his AC to 16, gives him +1 to hit in melee, and allows him to inflict 1d6+1 damage with his metal fists; but after 1d6 rounds of combat its mainspring will wind down and leave him effectively paralysed. Then he'll burst into tears.

(If the PCs get the exoskeleton repaired and maintained by a skilled clockworker - Talgat or Golnar, for example - they could sell it for 250gp, or use it themselves: it grants AC 16 and +3 strength, but requires 10 minutes of winding for each minute of operation, and will only function for 10 minutes maximum. It's not really intended for combat use, and any hit on the wearer has a 10% chance of wrecking the spring, making the exoskeleton seize up and leaving the wearer paralysed until someone helps them out of it.)

PCs may wish to spare Umid, either because they find him too pathetic to kill or because they want to bring him in for a proper trial. Talgat, however, insists that they should kill him on the spot, and indeed will gut Umid himself if he gets half a chance. If the PCs do spare him, he will develop a rather embarassing fixation on the PC with the highest Charisma score, which manifests as either hero-worship (if male) or a hopelessly one-sided crush (if female). 

Anara's room contains fine clothes, jewelry, and books that could be sold for a total of 250 gp. It did contain some exceptionally fine arak, too, but Umid drank it all.

Level 5: This was Anara's private workshop. It's full of ultra-fine tools, ultra-fine clockwork, boxes full of blueprints, and half-finished clockwork machines. It also contains her masterwork: a half-finished but highly intelligent clockwork robot which takes a very dim view of intruders. This robot doesn't have any legs yet, but sits upright on a worktable, and is able to swivel its torso 360 degrees. It will open fire on anyone trying to climb in through the trapdoor from the roof, which is the reason why the bandits weren't able to just descend on Umid from above.
  • Silver clockwork super-robot: AC 18 (steel skin), to-hit +5, 2 attacks, damage 1d8 (gun-arms) or 1d6 (metal fists), 32 HP, FORT 10, REF 11, WILL 12. 
Taking this robot on in a fight would be a very bad idea: it would probably wipe the floor with a first-level party. Emphasize just how advanced and dangerous the thing looks, and how obviously superior it is to the crude clockwork mechanisms on the lower levels. Fortunately, it will only open fire if people actually enter the workshop: for as long as they remain outside (standing just outside the door, leaning down over the trapdoor, hanging onto the wall outside and calling in through the window), it will be perfectly courteous, although the first thing it will say is to politely warn them that if they attempt to enter it will have to shoot them. It will tell them that it hasn't seen its mistress in three days, that one of her apprentices is in her room below, and that he has been making comically crude attempts to guess its override commands for days now. ('No, the override code is not 'override'. Nor is it 'Anara'. Nor is it 'Arana'. What kind of fool does he imagine my mistress to be?') It does not know that Anara is dead, and will not believe it without proof.

Proving to the robot that Anara is dead will will be tricky, given how little Farrukh has left of her, but it's not impossible: the testimony of her apprentices will count for something, as will her bloodied clothes, her keys, her empty arak bottles ('She'd never have drunk that one! She was saving it!'), and so on. Once convinced that its maker is dead the robot will go into a deep depression, convinced that its life is now meaningless without the person it was built to serve. It will no longer make any effort to stop PCs entering the room, and will even allow them to loot the place, but it will violently resist any attempts to carry it away. It will also ask that they bring Anara's remains to it, so that it can be alone with its mistress. Patient and sympathetic PCs could probably eventually persuade it to do something else with its life; if they can get it out of its existential funk (maybe with the help of Golnar's motivational posters from level 3) then it will 'adopt' either Golnar or Talgat as it's new master, and encourage them to pick up Anara's work where she left off. Otherwise it will just sit there in the dark, guarding the corpse of its dead maker, until its mainspring winds down completely. 

Someone who knew what to take, and was able to transport very delicate clockwork machinery safely from place to place, could loot 700gp worth of tools and materials from this room. Someone who was just grabbing stuff at random would be lucky to get 10% of that. If the PCs have already killed Umid, Talgat will be happy to help them identify the good stuff - although he'll insist on keeping the blueprints for himself, so that he can carry on with her works.

If the PCs do nothing: After another day or so, Golnar will succumb to dehydration and pass out. The bandits will then enter the basement, use the gunpowder to blast open the doors to level 3, and kill (and eat) Umid. With Umid and Golnar dead, Talgat will sink into despair and eat Anara's heart, becoming a skull-wearer. The gang will then load up their loot and ride away to their camp (see below) with their new member in tow. PCs returning after this time will find the tower empty apart from the robot on level 5.

If the PCs follow the trail from the stables: About a day's ride up into the hills, the trail will terminate in a circle of tents in a secluded valley. This is the current lair of Farrukh's gang, and in his absence is guarded by a couple of non-skull-wearer bandits (use the same stats as Ruslan, except they have muskets - 1d10 damage - and plenty of powder). If confronted by a force which outnumbers them and doesn't run off after being shot at, they'll grab the loot and the horses (of which there are six) and flee; if pursued and cornered, they will surrender. In Farrukh's tent are a couple of sacks containing the items the gang looted from Anara's tower, mostly luxury items and bits of precious metal worth a total of 120gp, and a locked box which contains 238gp worth of stolen coins and jewellery from their previous victims.


  1. Very nice. You ought to be sharing this stuff on G+ (if you aren't already).

    1. Glad you liked it! Unfortunately, the words 'create your public profile' at the start of the G+ sign-up process were enough to put me off it, and I'm not clear what additional benefit having this material there would provide. (I'm guessing it would make it easier for people to find?) But I dare say I should give the whole thing another look...

    2. It would create a lot more traffic and get your stuff better known - which it should be, because it's really nice. You can control your privacy settings quite effectively there, and also there's nothing stopping you "creating a public profile" for a completely fictitious identity.