In the spirit of full disclosure, I was given a copy of this adventure for a full and honest review.
The cover illustration by Daniel Matthews (of the @bwbastards) is evocative of old skool D&D and has a simple, intriguing elegance to it. Their stylish art and stock art are used sparingly, but effectively, in keeping with the tone of the adventure.
The supplement opens with a heartfelt forward stating the intentions and effort J Carmichael (@ModifiedRoll) has gone to make this adventure easy to fit into any setting, highlighting the inclusion of some of the main elements of D&D; combat, puzzle solving and roleplay. Carmichael also states that the adventure also works as a one shot on its own, with play tests showing that the whole thing can be played in around four hours, though the knowledge of the players and expansion of the DM can alter this somewhat. With all these elements, this does make this a great adventure for all levels of experience, and could be a good way to introduce new players to the game, though I would not necessarily recommend this for a first time DM. But it does come with a warning regarding the way combat encounters can vary wildly depending on the number of players and party composition, and advice to adjust as you see fit.
The introduction asserts The Dead Wizard's Tower is a Tier One adventure a is designed for a party of 3-6 5th level characters, as well as suggesting that due to its expected 4 hours play time it would work well for conventions.
The adventure background definitely peaked my interest as the concept of a wizards tower filled with all manner of life from around the world and planes, pocket dimensions and experiments in sentience sounds amazing! Throw in the fact the owner is dead and there are a veritable trove of magical goodies and unknown dangers, as well as their frenemy and rival is Avernus bent on getting the dead wizard's spellbook, and we have the potential for some serious fun and dangerous exploration! I instantly was put in mind of the laboratory in the Shinra building in Final Fantasy VII and Newt Scamander's trunk of holding; adventuring through those would be a lot of fun to run and play!
The adventure hooks all centre around heading into the tower to plunder its riches, (something players hardly need a hook to do) or having specific magic items and/ or things relating to your campaign or world, due to the wizard, "Greenstaff", being such an avid collector during his life, and the tower itself being a marvel of magical ingenuity. These is a great suggestions and a wonderful way to ground the tower and adventure in your world/ campaign, as is the advice about placing the tower just off the road between two cities, about as setting neutral as you can get. While there is great advice in the hooks, I do think there could have been a greater variety of hooks, perhaps one of the characters receives a letter which could mention Brann's death and state that they are a relative, heir or Greenstaff could even be a former master/ tutor, so they are invited to the tower for a reading of the will, or even the tower could be bequeathed to them. Any of these could either be true or a ruse concocted by Greenstaff's rival, Rollin Blindlewoll, to his own ends, although this is touched on in Part 1. Just a few additional ideas for more hook flavour.
The adventure summary is informative and covers the important beats and beasties of the adventure.
Part 1 - The Wizard's Tower opens with the party arriving at the tower and meeting Blindlewoll who will make some kind of deal with them to explore the tower (and deal with Greenstaff's defences and menagerie for him). The first section lays out what he knows and what he wants, allowing the DM options for what is offered and discussed upfront, a chance for the party to grill their prospective employer, attempt to understand their motives and wring a whole lot more gold out of them, as well as probably the most important thing - trying to get an idea of what they might face inside...or they could just launch themselves into a almost certainly dangerous wizard's tower they only just heard about and seemingly appeared out of thin air when they got close, before the body's and any attached slippers have had time to cool.
Inside, the party soon discover the tower is smaller on the outside, thanks to the tower actually being succession of pocket dimensions linked together in the form of a tower, rather than a tower in the traditional sense. They are greeted by a projection of the eponymous dead wizard, who seems rather out of sorts, accusative and disparaging. If not before, now is when your adventurers will realise things might not be so easy and challenges lay ahead.
Part 2 - The Lower Levels
The Depository. The first floor contains Greenstaff's collection of ordinary armour weapons, adventuring gear, chests etc. Though this collection is protected by some far from mundane guardians in the form of two animated armours flanking the door to prevent escape, two flying swords mounted on the walls and a rug of smothering in the centre of the room. These spring to life and attack the party if, and very much when they touch any of the chests and gear like Abu in Aladdin. There's a mimic amongst the chests to boot, along with some booty to swag! The encounter comes out as medium for 3 level 5 characters for the animated items, hard including the mimic. I would say, depending on the make up of the party, this is a real doozy of an encounter. One to surely test them and instil a serious paranoia that anything and everything could attack them, which is always a droll state of affairs.
The Library. The second floor is an impressive library with all manner of books and tomes, including a Tome of Elementals with a nice but of flavour text, and the possibility of spellscrolls, watched over by a pair of grotesques. (I'm not quite the pedant I used to be, but it definitely brings me joy and I award bonus points for use of the word grotesque)...despite them turning out to be gargoyles (creature). A nifty time and survival puzzle lays in the centre of the room, in which the party face the stone guardians and must hold their own until the door opens leading up.
Part 3 - The Upper Levels
The Arboretum. This level is a huge forest dedicated to Green staff’s study of botany and flora, with its own ecosystem and magical sunlight. This marvel is highly dangerous as the party get jumped by a serious gang of various blights, which is deadly for 3 level 5th level and a tough medium for 5. This can be an epic and truly disorientating and dangerous encounter, but I would advise considering the state of your party from their previous travails and their general makeup, amending this encounter if necessary, as well as being prepared to edit it on the fly to avoid a TPK. The party also come across some of Greenstaff's equipment and notes. This being left to the DMs discretion allows for them to use this as another way to ground the adventure in your own world/ campaign, though I must say I always enjoy the notes and flavour texts that DMs include and it would have been nice to have some of those here. They could have been used to flesh out the demised mage's personality and work further.
The Gardner on the other hand is a wonderful touch and an unexpected Celestial surprise in a human guise who could provide the party with some probably much needed healing and information if their intentions seem pure enough, alternatively they might well find themselves with another dangerous fight on their hands. With that abilities of the creature, this could be a really interesting and deadly combat. I would advise having a plan for if the party are taken out or for it to leave after giving them the spanking they almost certainly deserved.
The study-come-bedroom seems to be somewhere Greenstaff spent a great deal of his time, with books, instruments and magical elements spread about the room, including the last entry of his diary that adds a nice bit of the flavour it would have been nice to see in the arboretum. This room contains a number of riddles presented in a magical fire pertaining to various items in the room that must be completed to gain access to the wizard's magically concealed sanctum. There are extensive notes and advice for the DM with players who find riddles difficult, which is a nice touch.
The Sanctum contains a heart-breaking marvel of a clay golem given true life through the means of magic; Greenstaff's Magnum Opus, Lutum. The party may have some interesting and upsetting conversation with this being, which could easily become dangerous without tact and space. A unique statblock for Lutum can be found in the appendices. Also, within the sanctum is a spectator with some highly amusing quirks and idiosyncrasies. They were hired by Greenstaff to guard his most prized possessions, but upon hearing of his death they will claim the tower and contents as their own, leading to the inevitable boss battle, following the party of they flee. Once defeated, the party vain access to the wizard's eponymous Greenstaff, a pretty nifty unique very rare magic staff, and find departed wizard's research and spellbook, detailed on the appendices.
The party run into Blindelwoll on their way down and there are a number of ways it could go, with a number of them covered. Benevolence sees the party sparing the sentient golem, Blindelwoll taking charge of raising Lutum and offering the party assistance in the future. Death of an Innocent sees Lutum killed and Blindelwoll varying degrees of angry, depending on how the party tells him of Lutum and their sentience. Last and probably most likely, Finders Keepers sees the party renege on their deal and decide to keep everything, resulting in Blindelwoll swearing revenge on the party. This leaves him as a seed for potential future adventures and/ or complications.
The appendices contain the custom clay golem statblock for Lutum, Greenstaff's extensive spellbook, including the custom spell, Green staff Tower also detailed here, and accessible through the Greenstaff.
This supplement closes with designer notes regarding the tower being enchanted to be found wherever it is needed, making it setting neutral, as well as a heartfelt thanks to the reader and request for feedback. Finally there is a plug for Carmichael's homebrew actual play podcast, Modified Roll (@ModifiedRoll)
Through messaging with the author, I learned that this adventure was originally only meant to be run at the UK Games Expo convention, and they simply didn't have the budget to include maps this time, but they are hoping to put sales from this adventure towards further adventures with more maps and art. I was also informed this was their first "properly done" adventure.
The Dead Wizard's Tower is a fun and interesting adventure through a classic trope with a twist. There are sparks and glimmers of genius, bringing the unexpected and adding some delightful details, but there were some elements of lore a flavour I feel could have been expanded upon, as well as greater explanation and assistance in dealing with a number of potentially deadly encounters rather close to one another. These elements do not detract too much from what is a great romp through some varied and fascinating situations, and are the kind of thing that are easy to miss out in converting an adventure you plan to run yourself at a con into a published adventure, especially if it's your first real foray into adventure writing for publication. It's worth pointing out that this is my personal opinion and preference mainly being a 5e player, and these concerns would mean very little to more old skool roleplayers.
A great romp!
Author: J Carmichael
Editor: Mitchell Hodge
Artist: Daniel Matthews