For fans of traps and hazards, this should be a familiar image:
From the Dungeon Master’s Guide (page 93): A strange, many-faceted gem in the center of the chamber suddenly emits blasts of blinding light. Special: Each round, roll a 1d8 to determine the direction of the blast.
Yes, folks, that describes the soul gem, a formerly deadly object turned into a powerful trap (along with the sphere of annihilation). If you’ve ever wondered where this gem came from, wonder no further! In this installment of D&D Alumni, we look back at the soul gem’s origins in Ghost Tower of Inverness, which features as a key setting in Season 4 of D&D Encounters (March of the Phantom Brigade).
The Original Soul Gem
Let’s cut straight to the end of the adventure. Hidden away in its tower, the soul gem was likened to a great white diamond that glowed with the brilliance of the sun, and the wizard Galap-Dreidel used it against those who opposed his will. The light of the gem dragged the souls of creatures screaming from their mortal flesh and trapped them within its many facets (which recalls, of course, the jeweled skull of a demilich). And yet the goal of the adventure was to recover the gem and return it to the great Seer of Urnst (a mysterious magician not above putting a geas on the party to complete the quest).
Instead of having to overcome a grand villain at the end, adventurers discovered that the gem was the final obstacle. It floated in the center of the room, firing off dazzling white rays toward random d8 sections of the room (sound familiar?). Anyone coming under fire needed to make a saving throw. Make the saving throw, and you were drained of all color and your magic items of all magic—and that’s for making the saving throw. Fail it, and your soul was sucked out of your body and drawn into the gem (again, just like a demilich):
When the white light strikes the victim, he (or she) screams horribly—a long, drawn-out wailing scream. As your vision clears, an image of the character, pale and ghostly, streams out of the body and toward the Soul Gem getting smaller the nearer it gets. As the image shrinks in size, the volume of its screams diminishes. When it reaches the Gem, there is a burst of radiance, and the image is gone. The character’s form lies motionless on the floor; the body is dead white, as are all the character’s possessions.
Winning the gem required beating away on the invisible force sphere surrounding it. And here was one more trick still: Each point of damage done to the sphere inflicted an equal amount against the attacker. Thankfully, the sphere had only 20 hit points to begin with (plus you also gained tournament points for however much damage you dealt).
Yet unlike a demilich, smashing the soul gem (scoring a natural 20 against it with a magic weapon) was not advised. Doing so freed the millions of souls trapped inside, and they would go on a killing rampage against every living creature in the area (and would of course deny tournament points for returning the soul gem). Alternatively, a successful party could return the gem to the seer, who would offer to return trapped characters to their own bodies (if their bodies were recovered) or, less happily, to other bodies if necessary.
The Ghost Tower
And that final encounter concluded the adventure. The bulk of C2: Ghost Tower of Inverness naturally involved finding this gem, hidden away in the namesake tower: a ruined keep filled with all manner of oddities and encounters.
Originally played as a tournament module (back at the 1979 Detroit Wintercon), the Ghost Tower of Inverness provided a number of opportunities to add or subtract to your score (for example, you added +10 to your score for prodding loose rubble; -5 if your characters spent 3 or more turns clearing it). A lot of these scoring opportunities came in the tower’s strange puzzle rooms, which included a room holding bugbears in suspended animation, a room that needed to be navigated as if your characters were chess pieces, and a room with reverse gravity used to access the next level by falling up into it.
The first portion of the adventure involved a “plot coupon” search for four pieces of a key that were necessary to access the rest of the tower, but in reality, the key transported the party back in time to the tower when it was in its prime. From there, characters had to navigate levels of the tower keyed to the four elementals. A medusa in her rose garden guarded the exit from the earth level; a fire giant guarded the fire level; a hierosphinx watched over the air level; and a pack of ixitxachitl protected the water level (and this section included elaborate rules for removing armor and possessions and treading water successfully).
A metal hatch led from the water level to the great domed jewel room, and, as we’ve mentioned, to the dangers of the soul gem.
March of the Phantom Brigade
So, what does Ghost Tower of Inverness have to do with the latest season of D&D Encounters? Plenty. Designer Rodney Thompson admits to using the tower for inspiration within this season’s adventure.
As people of the Nentir Vale know, ghost towers exist as focal points for spirit activity. The Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set (the “Red Box”) mentioned the Ghost Tower of the Witchlight Fens. Now it appears that the Ghost Tower of Inverness has also appeared in the Nentir Vale (along with a third tower somewhere in the vale as well, though the exact location of the third tower is in dispute).
Without revealing too much of the season, we will say that players have the chance to revisit the ruins of Inverness. You might even catch a winking nod to Galap-Dreidel!
March of the Phantom Brigade launched February 9th, but you can join in any week of the entire D&D Encounters season. Interested in playing? Find out more about D&D Encounters on our events page, including the adventure’s backstory, its downloadable characters—and where to find a game near you!
Bart Carroll has been a part of Wizards of the Coast since 2004, and a D&D player since 1980 (and has fond memories of coloring the illustrations in his 1st Edition Monster Manual). He currently works as producer for the D&D website. You can find him on Twitter (@bart_carroll).