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Friday, 20 August 2010

The Tower of Horglin

Well, I asked Paul Mason about running his quarter-century-old Dragon Warriors scenario and he didn't say no. So here it is, almost exactly as it appeared in imazine #14 (the summer 1986 issue). "Papa Don't Preach" was in the charts and Guy Ritchie had recently left school. There's a lot I could say about the scenario itself, but let's save all that for the comments...

The Tower of Horglin
by Paul Mason

This scenario is an exercise in irony. It is also designed to give maximum scope for the legendary-medieval atmosphere of Dragon Warriors to come out. For this reason, it may well be considered too high powered by players used to traditional games and the concept of game balance. This is a recreation (not a simulation) of folklore - the likes of The Mabinogion, and the Grail stories. Magic is powerful, but unreliable and dangerous. An adventurer must rely on his or her wits and self-confidence to avoid a violent end. Do not be afraid to kill any player character who treats the adventure as an exercise in strategy.

There are relatively few NPCs in this scenario. It should therefore be easier to invest each one with a distinct personality. Guidance is given in the character descriptions - it is up to the referee to interpret these.

The adventure requires that the Wight Wood be inserted into your campaign setting. The stream which flows by the wood has been called the Fringa stream - you will probably have to rename it as appropriate to your local environment.

The adventure is designed for a group of chivalrous individuals (preferably knights), It commences in a con¬venient town, with the player characters being accosted in their place of accommodation.

The player characters encounter a woman, clearly distraught. She explains that an evil sorcerer has laid a curse on her. She persuades the heroes to assist her by travelling to the sorcerer's tower and killing him. They journey towards the wood, encountering a deadly black knight, who disputes with them over the bridge he guards. Within the wood, they may encounter a ghoul and some centaurs, and will be ambushed by a malicious band of goblins. Finally reaching the tower, and braving the menaces therein, the gallant band will discover that their quest was pointless. The sorcerer is already dead, slain by the demon from whom he had learned his Black Arts.

One of the most cliched methods for involving characters in an adventure is to use the 'little-old-man-runs-into-the-inn' technique. Without any shame at all, therefore, I present the opening for this adventure. A woman accosts the player characters wherever they are staying, She introduces herself as Edira of Cronwic (see Character Descriptions). She is in a very emotional state. She explains that she has appealed to all who bear arms in the town but none was brave or valorous enough to help her. Any NPCs in the vicinity will be edging away from her as she speaks. It is clear that no-one has any intention of assisting her. Perhaps they know something?

Edira will use as much emotional blackmail as she can muster. She will play on the sympathies of the heroes as well as appealing to their honourable natures. She will tell, with much dignity, the tale of how an evil sorcerer called Horglin has laid a curse on her because of some slight he imagines she has done him. Every month, a black-clad rider with a fiery sword burns her crops, kills her livestock, and destroys her possessions. She has appealed to the lord of the manor for assistance. Baron Melius has a suspicious and unsympathetic nature, however - he will have none of it.

She describes her freeholding, several miles down the road. Finally, begging for assistance, she explains that she can offer nothing in recompense to those who free her from the curse, but she begs the heroes to help in the name of chivalry and compassion.

Edira's freeholding lies a few miles away, along the highway for the most part, then along a short cart rut. Once there, the first thing the player characters will notice is the smell of dead meat and rotting vegetables. In the farmyard lies the corpse of a goat, while three very young children sit in the dirt, crying hopelessly. Edira tells the characters that the Black Rider last appeared three days ago. She has reason to believe that Horglin, the sorcerer who cursed her, lives in a tower in the middle of the forest. She points to a large, brooding wood about two miles away. This is known as the Wight Wood, a place shunned by the locals. The trees are in the main large, old pine firs, many of them dead.

As the adventurers arrive at the freeholding, dusk is falling. Edira offers them pallets for the night, should they wish to stay. Alternatively they may like to chase straight off for the wood.

The track to the woods leads to a bridge across the Fringa stream, a fast-flowing torrent on its way to join the major river of the region. The Fringa must be crossed to reach the woods. But it isn't as easy as it sounds. On the far side of the bridge, a knight in full armour (with grey accoutrements) disputes passage to everyone (knight or not). If it is not after sunset, the area will be shrouded in a cloying mist that blocks out the rays of the sun. The knight will loom out of the mist as the adventurers cross the bridge.

'You must dispute with me,' a thin voice grates. This is all that is said by the Grey Knight, who will couch his lance and prepare for battle.

The Grey Knight has a terrible secret: he is a Wight. He is bound to the bridge by the same age-old curse that maintains his unliving state. Powerful though he may be, he is vulnerable. Once the players realise that he is one of the undead, they will no longer be under any obligation to behave honourably, and may use whatever methods they may deem necessary. If no magic and/or silver weapons are available, the heroes may like to choose one of the following options: run away (crossing the stream by some other means -use your ingenuities!) or wrestle the Grey Kight over the parapet and into the stream. This heroic action will break the ancient curse upon the Grey Knight, and he will dissolve into dust, washed away in the stream. Details of the Wight can be found in the Character Descriptions section.

The Wight Wood is part of the Mythical Forest. It is the wilderness, the unknown - the symbol of all that is feared. The atmosphere is stifling. Rotting branches, pine needles and ...something else ... combine to create a smell of almost palpable evil. There is noise all about, rustlings, squeakings, birdcalls, and yet it all sounds somehow far away. Despite the noise, there is a feeling of stillness about the wood. There are some things best left undisturbed...

A track leads into the wood. The heroes would be well advised to stick to it. If they don't, then you should treat them to a series of especially nasty encounters, until they flee screaming from the accursed place.

For ten minutes, the adventurers may proceed along the track. They then come upon a fork. The left hand fork appears to lead downwards to a dell in the trees. The right hand path stays more or less on a level, as far as can be ascertained.

The left hand path leads down towards the ghoul's cave, while the right hand path continues to the centaurs' glade.

This section is designed as a little light relief but, true to folklore, it has a dark side. As they approach along the path, the heroes hear a series of shouts and snorts coming from ahead. Eventually the path leads to a natural glade, in which six centaurs are supping of the woodbark brew of which they are fond. As the heroes arrive, the centaurs are in the process of trying to ride each other, which gives you an idea of how drunk they really are. Although rather demented, the centaurs don't seem to be in a particularly violent mood. The heroes may wish to reveal themselves and speak to the centaurs, attempting to find out more about Horglin. The centaurs’ speech is a little incoherent, and they have a habit of stringing unconnected images together in their more grandiloquent descriptive passages, but they seem quite prepared to be helpful.

Unfortunately they know nothing about the sorcerer. They are aware of his tower but they shun it. They have occasionally seen a fey horse riding breakneck along the forest path, with a black-clad rider on its back. Mixed in amongst this information will be various obscure references to the 'Time of Wanting' and 'She who Speaks', but if they aren't pressed about these, they won't elaborate. If questioned further about the 'Time of Wanting' the centaurs get nasty, and the adventurers had better dredge up some tact to get out without a fight. 'She who Speaks' is described by them as their friend, who walks among the trees and appears to them in dreams. They will say no more. ('She who Speaks' is actually Edira, who communicates with the centaurs by means of telepathy.)

This scene should allow you to go over the top in the portrayal of a collection of hedonist headcases. In their drunk state, the centaurs are completely out of their skulls, veering wildly between moods and liable to react violently to a mild affront.

On the far side of the clearing, another path leads away into the forest. If followed, this will bring the heroes to the tower of the sorcerer after a few minutes’ walk.

On the way to the ghoul's cave there are several false alarms. A fox will rush out of the woods ahead of the adventurers, startling them. A few minutes later, a bat will fly in the face of the first character in line. The path leads downwards, ending at a rock bluff in the middle of the woods. A cave mouth gapes in the rock. This cave is the home of a newly undead ghoul. Since he has only recently joined the ranks of the undead he might even pass for a particularly decrepit human. The referee may like to decide on a chance of the ghoul being at home (I'd suggest 80%) or choose. If he is at home, there's a 50% chance that he will be sleeping on a straw pallet that litters the floor in one corner of the cave. If not asleep, he will be sitting cross-legged on the floor, munching a bone (actually a human femur). What happens next is anybody's guess. The ghoul is not a complete fool, and won't attack a group of people clearly more powerful than himself. He's more likely to attempt some sort of deception, or try to follow the group so that he can ambush them.

In the corner of the cave there is a rockfall. This actually covers the entrance to a tunnel. The tunnel connects the cave with the sorcerer's tower. Finding and uncovering the tunnel will take a while, and it’ll be hot and dirty work. The tunnel is narrow (4’) and low (3' 6"), and leads, after a half a mile, to a flight of stone steps leading up to a heavy wooden trapdoor. This leads to the interior of the tower, but is barred, requiring considerable effort to smash through.

If the player characters approach the tower from the centaurs’ glade, they will have an unpleasant surprise on the way. As they walk, the mist between the trees thickens and a faint laughter can be heard. On the path ahead, two short, sallow, warty individuals gesture obscenely at the heroes, laughing maliciously. At this point the mist swirls still thicker and these goblins begin to taunt the adventurers. If attacked, the goblins will melt into the mist that cloaks the trees. Their aim is solely to divert the adventurers, or at least one member of the party, drawing them off the path in order to rob and kill them. To this end they will fake voices in the mist, throw stones, break twigs, utter manic laughter, and so on: anything to totally confuse anyone foolish enough to be messing about in the wood. If anyone leaves the path, they will be instantly and totally cut off from all communication with the rest of the group, finding themselves apparently alone in a silent sea of mist. Soon a goblin will come close and begin jeering at the character. After some minutes of this, it will burst out of the mist and attack with its icicle shortsword.

The goblins in this scene should be played as the infantile (though cunning and dangerous) creatures they are in legend. Don't play them in a logical way - the power of faerie is so great that Man's only hope against it is his own determination and steadfastness in the face of pure whimsy. This should be an encounter in which the adventurers learn (if they didn't know already) that even the bravest must run sometimes. No normal group of mortals should be able to capture or defeat such free-willed sprites on their home territory, on their own terms.
If necessary the referee should decide how many goblins there are, and what their powers are. I have left it abstract as I feel this scene is about the mysterious power of faerie. Remember all those fairy tales about not straying from the path? Now you know why!

The Tower of Horglin is apparently made of black marble with a shining silvery dome on top. There are no windows and only a massive pair of doors. These open easily when pushed.

The inside of the tower is suffused with a pinkish glow. It is a shambles of broken furniture, burned books, torn tapestries, and so on. The damage is so complete that nothing of value may be salvaged from the wreckage.

There is one item which may be of interest, however. In the centre of the enormous chamber, painted on the floor, is a red pentagram. Anyone stepping on to this will be hit by a Nova spell: myriad beams of searing light shoot from the pentagram hitting everyone within 5 metres. The pentagram is in fact the spell Rune, set up by the sorcerer as a trap for the unwary.

There is nothing else in the tower. All that remains is the silver dome on the roof – if it occurs to the players to investigate that, as there is no way up to it from inside the tower. The tower is some fifteen metres tall, so scaling it may be a problem. Horglin used to create an Astral Gate to reach it.

Assuming they do reach the roof, and if the pentagram in the chamber below has not been activated, the heroes will find that their efforts were in vain. The dome is opaque and reflective - and tough enough to resist the strongest blows. However with the discharging of the Rune spell, the last of Horglin's power will have passed from the earth, and the dome will then be near-transparent and brittle. It can be shattered by any blow, even a gentle tap. Inside is Horglin's private sanctum. On a stone block lies the body of Horglin the Sorcerer, recently dead, with a gaping wound in his chest, from which his heart appears to have been torn. Horglin trifled once too often with Ayperos, his patron demon, and his soul was forfeit. Scattered around the floor are twenty pieces of silver. These lie on a whitish ash - the calcified remnants of Horglin's various potent magical relics and charms.

You may decide to end the scenario on this 'high note'. The players should be shell-shocked, and probably feeling mighty irritated at you. That's always the best way to leave things - they remember the games which provoke a strong response and will later come to treasure their reactions (or they'll decide to kick your head in - I accept no responsibility for any injuries arising out of the running of this scenario). As I said at the beginning, this is an exercise in irony.

Alternatively you may like to develop events from here. Having discovered that their quest was pointless, the heroes may be feeling badly disposed towards Edira. If they have given pause to the strange inconsistencies in her story (Why would a powerful sorcerer decide to curse her? If he did, why could he not just blast her, or torment her with some nameless evil, rather than letting her live?) they may wish to investigate further. But for now, the tale ends here...

Here is some recommended music for the scenario, arranged by section.
A Cry for Help - Prelude from Tristan & Isolde; Wagner
Arable Rubble - The Death of Melisande from Pelleas & Melisande; Sibelius
A Knight at the Bridge — Witches Sabbath Night from Symphonic Fantastique; Berlioz
Into the Trees — Dawn & Siegfried's Rhine Journey, from Götterdämmerung; Wagner
The Centaur's Glade — Uranus from The Planets; Holst
The Ghoul's Cave — The Firebird; Stravinsky
On the Way to the Tower - Also Sprach Zarathrustra; Strauss
At the Door ... and Beyond - Death March from Götterdämmerung; Wagner.


5th rank Mystic


Health Points: 9
Armour Factor 0

Weapon: none
Cash: 5 pennies

Edira is a proud woman in her late thirties. She is of noble birth, but she married a freeholding yeoman, foregoing wealth and security out of love for her husband. Five years ago she was widowed, and since then she has had to look after her small landholding, as well as her three young children. If she were not a woman of mystic power, this burden may well have broken her when she recently earned the ire of Horglin. As it is, her strong will and determination to keep her freeholding drive her on.

She earned the hatred of Horglin the sorcerer by protecting the centaurs of the Wight Wood from one of his more unsavoury schemes. He intended to bind them to his will, taming their natural free-spiritedness and forcing them to become his servitors. Edira foiled this plot by stealing the enchanted ring which Horglin was going to use to perform the spell. Hence Horglin sought for some method by which to persuade Edira to return the ring to him. He decided on a slow war of attrition, using the spells Destrier and Vorpal Blade to become the Black Rider, regularly riding to wreak more devastation to the holding, yet riding away before the dawn (using the faerie power of the Destrier to leap the Fringa Stream).

2nd Rank-equivalent


Health Points: 2d6 +9
Armour Factor 0

Weapon: Hooves (d8, 3 points)
In all respects these are normal Centaurs (see The Elven Crystals, Dragon Warriors Book 3 for details). They spend their days capering around the wood, drunk on woodbark brew. When drunk they are extremely merry, but will still be very touchy — particularly about their main religious mystery, the legend of the ‘Time of Waiting’, a secret known only to centaurs.

WIGHT 7th Rank-equivalent


Health Points: 21
Armour: Plate (AF:5)

Weapons: Lance (2d4, 5 points), Sword (d8, 4 points).
As explained in the text, the Grey Knight is a wight, cursed to guard the bridge over the stream for the rest of eternity. No-one in the area who knows of his existence will talk of him, believing that this will bring a terrible curse down upon them. Anyone asking about the Grey Knight in a public place in the locality will be urgently shushed, and if persistent will be shunned, and treated in a very surly manner. The sign of protection against the evil eye will be made frequently.

The curse on the Grey Knight can be broken. If he is com¬pletely destroyed by a magic or silver weapon, he will not return. Alternatively, if he comes into contact with the waters of the stream whose bridge he guards, he will crumble to dust, which will dissolve in the stream and be washed away.

4th Rank-equivalent


Health Points: 12
Armour: none

Weapons: Dagger (d4, 3 points)
Formerly a crazed hermit, this unfortunate individual was brought to his current condition through his appetite for human flesh. He is a wily old soul, who is unlikely to throw his life away in some desperate attempt to gain the meat he craves. Since he has only recently become a ghoul, he has not yet degenerated to the full ghastliness of ghouldom and can still conceivably be mistaken for a rather pale, lanky and decrepit human. He will probably try to gain the confidence of the adventurers by billing himself as a holy man, and his intense eyes could certainly pass for those of a religious fanatic. If he succeeds in gaining acceptance, he will persuade the heroes that he can lead them to their objective quickly and safely since he knows the wood well. Certainly he knows that the quickest, safest way to Horglin’s tower would be along the tunnel that leads from his cave. His aim will be to get the adventurers to crawl along it so that he can make off with one of them in the gloom, dragging an unconscious person out and into the forest, for a pleasant banquet.


  1. It's great to see this in (virtual) print after so many years. There is some great flavour-text in there. However, assuming that this is Albion, the centaurs seem to be rather out of place... by a whole Legend continent according to the DW rulebook! Perhaps if paul wrote this today he would have chosen to depict perhaps a unicorn glade, instead?

  2. I also wondered whether most players would necessarily care that the wizard was already dead when they arrived. Many might regard that as mission accomplished with minimum risk and effort.

  3. I think they would be more annoyed with the lack of kewl loot, turned to ash as it all was... :)

  4. I think you're right there, Wayne!

  5. There are indeed centaurs as solitary random encounters in the first scenario of DW3, but the description given in DW4 makes think they only live in tribes in hot or temperate plains

  6. I must admit that my initial reaction to the centaurs was the same as Jiminy's, but after checking Wiki (well, yeah...) I see that centaurs were depicted in art from both France and Scotland, so although not obviously in keeping with Elleslandic folklore, they aren't completely out of place.

  7. Whatever you think of where the centaurs are, you have to admit he uses them a lot better than in a typical RPG scenario.

  8. Very true, Gab. Paul immediately got the point of DW, which is that fantastic creatures in Legend are the embodiment of passions and places. An elf is a spirit of the wildwood, not a geezer in green tights with a +1 bow. Likewise centaurs - which have never made an appearance in my campaigns incidentally, but if they did it'd be something like this.

  9. Yup, Centaurs are big in Greek myth where they are famous for getting beered up and murdering I guess the representation here is spot on.

    I quite like this adventure...I might give the heroes some sense of what was going on between the Sorcerer and the Mystic though. Maybe they find a page or two of a half burnt diary in the tower explaining who the "black knight" was and that the Sorcerer wanted "his ring" back. I can see a lot of interesting follow-on adventures :)

  10. "Very true, Gab. Paul immediately got the point of DW, which is that fantastic creatures in Legend are the embodiment of passions and places. An elf is a spirit of the wildwood, not a geezer in green tights with a +1 bow. Likewise centaurs - which have never made an appearance in my campaigns incidentally, but if they did it'd be something like this."
    That's about the only way for fantastic creatures to make sense. For anything else, I've got better and more detailed examples in human history that I can adapt or use as described.
    Excellent adventure, I must say, despite being a bit linear.

  11. Hi Dave! I love Dragon Warriors.

    Is there a 'folklore for RPGs' type book? If so, I would like to read it. It would be a good way incorporating wierd and wonderful creatures and items into an adventure without just making them humans with modified stats. If there isn't one, where do you get all of your folklore knowledge from?