Vicious Venues
The Ruined Tower
By Skip and Penny Williams

The broken shell of an ancient tower stands, forlorn and forgotten, on a hilltop that rises from a trackless wilderness. The tower's once formidable gateway stands empty. A few bits of a portcullis remain in the dark opening, like rotted teeth in a corpse's mouth. Weeds and moss grow where sentries once walked.

Background for the DM

The tower stands on a hill located on the fringes of a civilized area. It is at least a hundred miles to the nearest city, and it is more than 20 miles to the nearest village. The tower once served as a border fort, but boundaries have shifted since then. A small settlement that the residents called Fryeburg (after the tower's first commander) nestled nearby, but the people abandoned the settlement when the garrison withdrew. Today, nothing remains of the settlement except for a lidless well, and a few hearthstones and cornerstones lost in the weeds. The wattle and daub huts and wooden cottages the settlers built had dirt floors for the most part, and they possessed no foundations to speak of. The tower still stands on its hill, but it is merely a roofless shell.

In spite of (or because of) its dilapidated condition and isolated location, the tower might provide an appealing home for any number of creatures. For many years, one Pandirus, a half-fiend elf, called the place home. Pandirus was an eccentric scholar and inveterate collector of anything and everything. He had a bad habit of never throwing anything away. Objects that no longer held his interest wound up on the tower floor, and over the decades, Pandirus built up a veritable mountain of junk. Treasure seekers who came to the tower looking for a fabulous treasure rumored to be hidden underneath it made heroic efforts to clear out the junk and explore the tower's dungeons, but the pile's sheer mass invariably defeated them.

Pandirus did little to discourage these treasure quests, since he didn't care at all what happened to his discarded junk. Often, he was away collecting more bric-a-brac and thus absent when the treasure hunters were at work. Whenever he returned to find junk strewn over the hillside, he'd merely toss it all back into the tower.

Pandirus might be long gone when the PCs arrive on the scene (perhaps his bones lie mingled with his discarded junk), or he could still be dwelling in the ruined tower. Even if Pandirus is gone, several gargoyles (once Pandirus's attendants) still make their home here.

The Setup

The PCs might hear any number of rumors that could draw them to tower, and some of them might even be true.

  • The area around the ruined tower is deserted because the tower itself marks a gateway to the lower planes. Periodically, hordes of fiends issue from its depths and spread out over the countryside, killing and maiming to satisfy their lust for violence and blood.

    A gateway to another plane could be in the tower (most likely something Pandirus created to expand his ability to collect things). Treat such an area as a gate effect that works a maximum of once per month if the user has the proper triggering item (most likely something like a magnifying glass or history book). If your campaign is set in the Forgotten Realms, this is a standard portal, as described in Chapter 2 of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. It functions once a month and requires a key, as noted above.

    The reference to "hordes of fiends" reflects various sightings of Pandirus over the years and to the gargoyles that call the tower home now.

  • The tower once served as the abode of a great wizard who held sway over many elementals and fiends. The wizard disappeared long ago, but his valet, a bizarre and hideous creature with fiendish blood, still guards the tower and seeks to slay all trespassers. A village once stood near the tower, but in the wizard's absence, the valet slew every villager who did not flee.

    This one is pretty much false. The references to the wizard and fiendish valet both reflect a distorted memory of Pandirus. Tales of mass murder in the area could be mere fabrication, or they could refer to the gargoyles' activities.

  • The lord of the tower once found a fabulous treasure, which still lies in a hidden vault. An ancient curse on the treasure wiped out the lord's family; however, the curse will be broken if the people who find it carry it on their heads and walk backwards around a temple three times while chanting a prayer for protection.

    Indeed, a treasure might be hidden in the tower. The treasure could be a collection of trinkets and coins that Pandirus stashed away and then forgot about, or the tower gargoyles might have collected it. The curse is most likely a fanciful invention, but if you can get your PCs to do something really silly to avoid it, go for it.

  • The real treasure of the tower lies in its well. Water dipped from it in a silver ewer during the dark of the moon can cure any ill.

    This refers to the well inside the tower (see Visiting the Tower). The rumor could be true. If so, one must draw water from the well with a silver vessel, and nothing but the silver must touch the water. A character can accomplish this by tying a cord to a silver vessel with a handle and dipping the vessel into the well. It takes a DC 15 Dexterity check to draw out any water without dipping in the cord or knocking loose something from the well shaft. Successfully drawn water has the effect of a heal spell, but it remains potent for only 10 minutes, and only the first creature to drink from the silver vessel gets any special benefit. It's a good bet that some creature is on hand when the well is active.

About Pandirus

Pandirus is distantly related to Artemus Frye, the last steward of the tower. His mortal mother was an elf conjurer. Always intensely curious and precocious, Pandirus learned to read about the same time as he learned to walk, and soon he was studying magic, history, and geography all at the same time. Though volatile and self centered, Pandirus has never been an evil being; his passion for bric-a-brac and obscure facts has overwhelmed his basic nature. Nevertheless, he's a completely amoral being prone to give in to whatever urges happen to strike him at any given moment. When he meets the PCs, he's very likely to question them at length about some item one of them carries. He is prone to violent rages, especially when contradicted.

Pandirus: Male half-fiend/half-elf wizard 7/loremaster 1; CR 10; Medium outsider (native, augmented humanoid); HD 7d4+7 plus 1d4+1; hp 28; Init +5; Spd 30 ft., fly 30 ft. (average); AC 20, touch 17, flat-footed 15; Base Atk +3; Grp +4; Atk +4 melee (1d4+1, claw) or +9 ranged (1d8/x3, masterwork longbow); Full Atk +4 melee (1d4+1, 2 claws) and -1 melee (1d6, bite) or +9 ranged (1d8/x3, masterwork longbow); SA smite good, spell-like abilities; SQ damage reduction 5/magic, darkvision 60 ft., elf traits, immunities (poison), outsider traits, resistances (acid 10, cold 10, electricity 10, fire 10), secret (lore of true stamina), spell resistance 18; AL CN; SV Fort +7, Ref +9, Will +10; Str 12, Dex 20, Con 12, Int 21, Wis 12, Cha 15.

Skills and Feats: Concentration +12, Decipher Script +15, Knowledge (architecture and engineering) +15, Knowledge (history) +18, Knowledge (the planes) +6, Listen +3, Search +12, Spellcraft +16, Spot +8; Craft Wondrous Item, Scribe Scroll, Silent Spell, Skill Focus (Knowledge [history]), Weapon Finesse.

Smite Good: Once per day, Pandirus can make a normal melee attack to deal +8 points of extra damage against a good foe.

Spell-Like Abilities: 3/day -- darkness, poison (DC 16); 1/day -- desecrate, unholy blight (DC 16). Caster level 8th.

Elf Traits: Pandirus is immune to magic sleep spells and effects. He has a +2 racial bonus on saves against enchantment spells or effects, and a +2 racial bonus on Listen, Spot, and Search checks (already figured into the statistics given above). He is entitled to a Search check when within 5 feet of a secret or concealed door as though actively looking for it. He is proficient with composite longbow, composite shortbow, longbow, longsword, and rapier.

Wizard Spells Prepared (4/6/4/4/3; save DC 15 + spell level): 0 -- detect magic (2), light, mage hand; 1st -- comprehend languages, mage armor, magic missile (3), shield; 2nd -- detect thoughts, locate object, see invisibility, silent magic missile; 3rd -- blink, haste, silent Melf's acid arrow, vampiric touch; 4th -- confusion, ice storm, shout.

Spellbook: 0 -- acid splash, arcane mark, dancing lights, daze, detect magic, detect poison, disrupt undead, flare, ghost sound, light, mage hand, message, open/close, prestidigitation, ray of frost, read magic, resistance, touch of fatigue; 1st -- alarm, comprehend languages, detect secret doors, detect undead, mage armor, magic missile, shield, Tenser's floating disk; 2nd -- arcane lock, detect thoughts, knock, locate object, Melf's acid arrow, misdirection, see invisibility; 3rd -- blink, clairaudience/clairvoyance, dispel magic, haste, tongues, vampiric touch; 4th -- arcane eye, confusion, dimension door, ice storm, shout.

Possessions: Masterwork longbow, 20 arrows, bracers of armor +2, ring of protection +2, cloak of resistance +2, amulet of health +2, scroll of dimension door, wand of lightning bolt (22 charges), wand of scorching ray (19 charges), 73 gp, 12 sp, 38 cp. 500 gp worth of gems

Tactics: In a fight, Pandirus relies on his gargoyle bodyguards for protection. If he has time, he prepares by casting mage armor, shield, and vampiric touch. Pandirus has an Armor Class of 26 (touch 17, flat-footed 21) while the mage armor and shield spells last. Pandirus usually takes to the air while fighting. His first offensive spell usually is confusion. After that, he uses magic missile, shout, and Melf's acid arrow. When he runs out of offensive spells, he uses his wands. If he feels the need, he uses blink to defend himself and dimension door to escape.

Visiting the Tower

Knee-high grass, patches of brambles, and a few scraggly trees cover the hill where the tower stands. The ruined tower crowns the hill. Characters can find several areas to explore.

Village Ruins

The village covered the hill's lower slopes and completely ringed the tower. Today, nothing sticks up out of the grass and brambles except for a few wild fruit trees that have sprouted from the remains of the village orchards. Characters poking through the weeds can find a few stones here and there (cornerstones, hearthstones, and thresholds) where huts and cottages once stood. They also might stumble on the old well, which weeds and vines completely conceal. Unwary characters might fall into the well.

Old Well: CR 3; mechanical; location trigger; manual reset; DC 16 Reflex save avoids; 60 ft. deep (6d6, fall); one target; Search DC 20; Disable Device DC 20. Market Price: 4,300 gp.

The well shaft is blocked 60 feet down, so characters who fall in aren't at risk for drowning. The shaft also is fairly narrow. Huge or larger creatures cannot fall into the shaft. A Large or Medium creature that falls in can attempt a DC 20 Climb checks after falling 1d4 x 10 feet. A successful check allows a character to grip the wall and stop falling. The character still takes 1d6 points of nonlethal damage for every 10 feet fallen. A character who falls all the way to the bottom takes 6d6 points of damage and may become buried.

Well Bottom: CR 3; mechanical; location trigger; manual reset; DC 16 Reflex save avoids; pinned at the bottom if the save fails; Search DC 20; Disable Device DC 20. Market Price: 1,500 gp.

A creature striking the bottom of the well shaft must make a DC 16 Reflex save or become buried there. (The character plunges into loose, rocky material at the bottom of the shaft and more debris falls on top of the character.) A trapped character takes 1d6 points of nonlethal damage per minute. If a trapped character falls unconscious, he or she must make a DC 15 Constitution check or take 1d6 points of lethal damage each minute thereafter until freed or dead. A trapped character is pinned in place and must be rescued. A trapped character lies beneath 4d6 feet of material. A rescuer digging into the mass makes a Strength check for every minute of digging, and clears away 1 foot of debris for each full 5 points by which the check result exceeds 10. A creature with a burrowing speed can free the trapped victim with a move action. The space at the bottom of the shaft is about 2 1/2 feet across, just wide enough for a Small or Medium creature to squeeze in.

Tower Entrance

The tower stands atop a 70-foot hill. A flight of shallow, weed-covered stone steps winds up the hillside to the tower's only ground-level entrance. The stairs follow the only route up the hill that does not require a Climb check to use, but movement up the stairs is hampered because of the slope. Scaling the hill by another route requires a DC 10 Climb check.

Originally, the main tower had a wide arch with an outer portcullis and a pair of ironbound inner doors. A small flanking tower still stands next to the entrance. Arrow slits in the flanking tower and a battlement at its top protected the entrance. Attackers moving up the stairs must cross back and forth in front of the flanking tower.

Creatures (EL 7-9): A few gargoyles lurk near the entrance. They have made the tower their lair. If Pandirus is still in residence, the gargoyles serve as his bodyguards and companions.

Gargoyles(3-5); hp 37 each; see Monster Manual, page 113.

Tactics: The gargoyles spend most of their time sitting as still as statues (and they're very good at it). Although it is difficult to tell a motionless gargoyle from a statue, these gargoyles know that it is best not to be seen at all. They remain hidden behind the many arrow slits in the flanking tower and around the gateway. They have knocked out the stonework in the slits and then piled up the stones again, so that when they spot intruders they can burst out to attack. A DC 20 Spot check reveals the unusual stonework.

The gargoyles are canny enough to use their flying speed to stay away from the party's more formidable fighters, and they concentrate their attacks on more vulnerable characters.

Any gargoyle reduced to 10 or fewer hit points withdraws from combat.

Development: If Pandirus still resides here, the gargoyles tend to stay hidden and observe the PCs while one of their number alerts Pandirus. If possible, the gargoyles refrain from attacking until Pandirus is ready to fight, and Pandirus probably will want to talk to the PCs first.

If the PCs spot the gargoyles, they attack, and Pandirus becomes aware of the PCs at the same time the gargoyles do. Pandirus joins any fight that starts out here as soon as he completes his preparations.

Tower Interior

All that remains inside the main tower is a single chamber open to the sky. A vast pile made up of a staggering array of rotting and rusting junk fills most of the floor. Pandirus collected and discarded these items over several centuries of studying and collecting.

A casual look reveals old weapons and armor (mostly broken or corroded beyond usefulness), wrecked farm implements, a vast array of hand tools, broken vases and pots, moldering baskets, assorted clothing (thick with mildew), bits and pieces of statuary, old barrels and casks, and even a cracked mirror or two. A determined excavation might unearth a few items that are actually worth something, but doing so requires at least a day's work and a few DC 20 Appraise checks. The total value of items recovered should not exceed a few hundred gold pieces.

In the flanking tower is a stairwell leading up to the loft and down to the tower dungeons. The upper stairs remain clear, but the same sort of junk that fills the tower floor blocks the lower stairwell. It would take several days' work to clear the stairs.

Tower Dungeons

These dank chambers include cells, storage areas, and a chamber that houses the tower's well. If you've decided that the rumor about the miraculous well is true, this is it.

A treasure could be hidden down here; if so, it is hidden under a floor somewhere.

Loft

This chamber atop the flanking tower serves (or served) as Pandirus's bedchamber, study, and library. If Pandirus no longer resides here, the whole place feels clammy and damp. A slimy layer of dirt and fungi covers everything, and the furnishings and books are so rotten they fall apart when touched.

If the tower contains a treasure, it might be hidden here instead of in the dungeons. It could be hidden in one of the walls, or perhaps it is hidden in plain sight in the form of Pandirus's books and specimens.

If Pandirus still lives here, all is in appalling disarray, but the furnishings and Pandirus's vast array of books (many written in his own hand) are intact, along with a sizable collection of items that Pandirus is currently examining.

When Pandirus realizes that he has company, he assumes the PCs are some sort of couriers delivering an item that he ordered from a far-off dealer. Thus, he greets them more or less as follows.

"Here now, what are you nosing around there for? The door's right over here. Well go ahead, bring it in! Oh, I've been waiting for that thropwickle for an age! Nothing but delays -- you'd think no one made them anymore. I remember the one my mother had -- of course that was a very primitive model, but it did the job. I can't wait to see the improvements they've made since then. Well don't just stand there! Let me see the merchandise!"

Pandirus looks quite disappointed when he discovers that the PCs have not come to bring him his thropwickle (which could be anything from an obscure article of clothing to a local name for a pot handle, at the DM's discretion). If the characters seem inclined to talk, he grudgingly makes them as comfortable as possible in his chambers. Should they admit to being adventurers, his interest is renewed, since he thinks they might have come across some unusual items in their travels.

"So tell me," says Pandirus, "what have you found in your travels? Anything of interest to a collector of the unusual? The scarf that Alira the Beautiful wore when she was married to Brusk the Barbarian? The mask that General Hathorne wore to the costume ball given by the Marchesa of Pendilthi? Surely you must have uncovered something of historical note."

The PCs can sell Pandirus any piece of junk they wish, so long as they can spin a yarn about its history, but doing so requires a Bluff check opposed by Pandirus's Sense Motive check. Pandirus pays anywhere from the item's normal market price up to two or three times that amount. If he detects the PCs trying to con him, he pretends to accept the item on offer and steps away, ostensibly to get money for the purchase, but really to prepare for a fight (he hates being conned). Even if the PCs foist some junk on him, Pandirus diligently researches whatever item he has bought and quickly uncovers the scam. He'll be spoiling for a fight if the PCs even return to the tower -- he might even hunt them down and try to kill them.

About the Authors

Skip Williams keeps busy with freelance projects for several different game companies and has been the Sage of Dragon Magazine since 1986. Skip is a co-designer of the D&D 3rd Edition game and the chief architect of the Monster Manual. When not devising swift and cruel deaths for player characters, Skip putters in his kitchen or garden (his borscht gets rave reviews).

Penny Williams joined the roleplaying game industry as Game Questions Expert for TSR, Inc. in the 1980s. Since then, she has served as RPGA Network Coordinator, PolyhedronNewszine editor, and Senior Editor and Coordinating Editor for the RPG R&D Department at Wizards of the Coast, Inc. Now a busy freelancer, Penny edits for several game companies and runs the online playtesting program for Wizards products. When not enhancing the cruelty of the deaths PCs will suffer at the hands of designers, Penny puts up jam, works jigsaw puzzles, and tutors students in math and science.


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