Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The White Tower

I wanted to revisit the Forest of Fences (and the follow-up post), largely because I want to toy around with Depth mechanics (a la Ynn, Made In Abyss, etc.). And, because a certain popular HBO miniseries has given me the rare fit of inspiration. First, the concept post. Then the nitty gritty TBD.

Ask The Elf: "Why do men seek The White Tower?"
He will reply, rhetorically: "Why do men seek towers? Or why do men seek this one?"
Ask again: "Why that one?"
Reply: "The answer to both is the same."
"And that is?"
"I am not a man. I cannot know."


Within the Forest of Fences lies a white tower. One sees it miles away, catching the sun like a beacon. It refracts like a lighthouse at sunset - calling the adventurous, beckoning with promise of power and riches. 'What marvels might the Tower hold?' say they, unknowing of the danger. 'What treasures might be found among the ruins of the sarcophagus at the Tower's feet?'

The treasures are all cursed. The lands around the Tower are a wild and cursed as well.

Cursed with the disease-not-seen. It's contagious. It kills everything it touches, and everything that touches the touched. It does not do this immediately. It can take days, weeks, or even many years to manifest, but all those who venture to the Tower and return alive eventually succumb to the curse. Their insides are eaten away bit by bit and they will never know why. Sometimes it effects even those near the Cursed - children in particular. The Elves know why, but they won't tell. They would rather have the subject be taboo than a known risk.

There are no predators in the lands around the Tower, at least not for men. There is risk of injury, to be sure, but there are no monsters. Unless, that is, you bring them with you.

Then why? Why go to the Tower, knowing the risk? Well...

Perhaps you don't know the risk. Perhaps cursed objects still sell well. Perhaps the demons of curiosity usher you hence. Perhaps there's something, or someone, there that you want.
Perhaps you cannot un-hear the call of the White Tower. Not until you see the madness at its depths.

Though strange sights surround the White Tower.

No hostile monsters whatsoever. Maybe hostile people - scavengers like you. Perhaps the errant natural trap here and there. The main threat is the Curse. The closer you get to the White Tower, the worse the Curse gets. The DM should never explain the Curse's mechanics, only telegraph through encounters and the environment that things are getting worse.

The area is divided up into zones, based on proximity to the tower (roughly, following topography and such). Several locations are keyed to each Zone, each one working as a kind of subsetting Depth. All navigation is done in terms of the White Tower. Do you approach the tower? Do you retreat from it? Any other movement, tangential or otherwise, keeps you in the same zone.

Zone Level
The Environment
Salvage/Loot Found Within
Maximum Lifespan*
1 - Red
Old riverbeds and scavenger paths. The Curse around the former far worse than the latter.
Curse Merchants, Scavengers, Normal Wilderness Encounters**
What Washes Downstream, Little Else
10,000 Years
2 - Orange
Ancient towns long picked clean. Fields and woods. Old Elf-roads and hidden villages.
Scavengers, The Elf, Forsaken Living Trees
Elven Trinkets, Weapons,
Trade Goods
1d4 x 1000 Years
3 - Yellow
Ruins taller than trees, living spaces, great punctured cubes sagging with age.
Scavengers, The Elf, Wolf-dogs
Yes/No Curse Detectors, Children’s Toys, Jewelry,
Rare Metals, Cursed Advanced Medicine
1d4 x 100 Years
4 - Green
Young Forests, lush with green in spite of the Curse. Strange creatures thrive here. Nothing grows old.
Scavengers, The Elf, Majestic Watchers, Intelligent Insects, Marsupials, Pygmy Boars
Rare Beasts, Cursed Seeds, Dead Salvagers, Buried Salvager Caches
1d4 x 10 Years
5 - Blue
Industrial Ruin, a concrete jungle littered with ancient machinery. Fences lattice the ruin like siege trenches.
Scavengers, The Elf, Cleaning Engines, Fences
Heavy Machinery,
Low-Capacity Curse Detectors, Ancient Fuel
1d4 Years
6 - Indigo
The Outer Sarcophagus - a tomb for ancient armies. Meticulously clean, except where intruders have tread.
Rare / Dangerous / Curse-laden Scavengers
Automatic Firearms, Grenades,
Body Armor, (Cursed) Curse-Protected Suits, Ultra-batteries
2d4 Months
7 - Violet
The Middle Sarcophagi - tomb built upon tomb, each less grand than the last. Monuments to greater and lesser Ages.
The Meteorite (rare encounter), Nothing
Robotics, Capacitors,
Scuba Gear, High-Capacity Curse Detectors
1d4 Weeks
8 - Black
The Final Sarcophagus - It is hot. Demon light pours from the Portal. Madness. Oblivion.
Discordant Pipes, “Demon” Bodies, Curse-stone.
1d4 Days
*Assuming you don’t immediately turn back once you enter the zone. This reflects spending at least one travel turn in the area. It also assumes you have no protection from the Curse. **Whatever the White Tower zone is embedded within.


The Curse

It should be pretty obvious at this point what the Curse is and what it's trying to replicate. The only thing I suggest for this is to not go the cartoon-y mutation route. I mean... I guess you could, but then you'd need to find another point to this whole nega-zone. Just keep in mind that the initial pull is Huge Risk = Huge, Dangerous Reward. The players and characters should know this. You can find hyper batteries from a thousand years ago, cursed rocks to slowly assassinate your enemies, and assault rifles in an age of spears; however, you'll die of 'natural causes' a lot sooner than normal. Power and Riches for Life. Having, instead, Power and Riches for Growing a Third Functional Arm is less of a conscious old-school risk-reward tradeoff and more of a win-win.

Effects of The Curse:
  • For Zones 1-5, death manifests in the form of lethal, unpreventable Cancer.
  • For Zones 6-8, the symptoms are worse.
  • Protection is gauged in terms of how many categories up the Maximum Lifespan scale it boots you. Category 1 Protection (e.g. respirator) effectively shifts you up by one zone. Category 2 Protection (e.g. a lead suit) shifts you up two zones. Perhaps Magic Armor can boot you up three.
  • Natural traps and hot spots, as well as certain Cursed items, will produce an effect similar to a particular zone when interacted with for extended time. (For instance, falling into a Cursed pool of water unprotected in the Yellow Zone might be the equivalent of entering the Blue Zone. Drink the water, and it'll be like being in the Indigo Zone.)
  • Effects of The Curse are unlikely to manifest during the lifetime of a campaign. It's really not until you get to around zone 5-6 that symptoms start to develop within an actionable amount of in-game time. And by that point, hopefully you've provided enough hints and such that the players (and characters) understand what's at stake.


  1. I very much agree that the Curse shouldn't provide any mutations, especially not useful mutations.

    1. Mutration list: d100
      1. Cancer
      2. Cancer
      3. Cancer
      4. Cancer
      5. Cancer
      6. Cancer...

  2. On and off, I feel inspired to write some Zone exploration. I very much like the lure of the White Tower and the increasing danger of the interior zones here.

    1. I think I'll find it challenging, trying to write a whole exploration zone like this without monsters. Feels like taking a leg off a chair.

  3. I (think) I know almost everything that's being hinted at, except for one thing - in the Black Zone are "Demon" Bodies - what are those supposed to be? Fuel rods? People dead of the Curse, who are contagious?

    1. In retrospect, possibly either one. Intense radiation personified is my best guess.

    2. Oh wait! I remember now. They were the bodies of demons or devils or some such that flew piping around Azathoth to keep it asleep.