Kobold Press has consistently produced high quality products for a number of tabletop role-playing games for a number of years now. I’ve grown to love the Midgard setting which I was initially exposed to through the fabulous Tome of Beasts and later the Midgard Worldbook.
Kobold Press have recently released “12 Peculiar Towers for 5th Edition”, a collection of (as you’ve probably already guessed) tower based adventures for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition.
Towers have always fascinated me as a DM. There’s something appealing about the confined space involved in a tower scenario, combined with the fact that worst things seem to lie at the top of towers as opposed to the bottom in more traditional dungeon adventures. However, creating towers, and in particular tower maps, has always seemed to pose me an insurmountable set of challenges. As a result, I approached this collection with some interest.
Before I go on with this review, I should state that I am reviewing the PDF of this adventure (very kindly sent to me to review by Wolfgang Baur at Kobold Press) so I can’t comment on the quality of the printed article. However, given that I own a sizeable number of Kobold Press products, I’m confident that the print quality will match the high print standard of their other products.
“12 Peculiar Towers” consists of just that. Twelve tower adventures, tailored for parties ranging from 1st to 15th level. Each tower would seem to be ideally suited to a single session (depending on how long you play) or as a side adventure you could easily slot into an ongoing campaign. The setting for each of the adventures would appear to be Midgard but these scenarios are self-contained and flexible enough to fit into any campaign setting. I’m currently DMing Curse of Strahd and I found myself lamenting the fact that my party are currently 9th level and that Barovia has no coastline, because the 1st level adventure “The Old Marblehead Lighthouse” with it’s haunted theme, would be ideal in that setting.
The full range of adventures contained within is as follows:-
- The Old Marblehead Lighthouse (1st level)
- The Midnight Tree (3rd level)
- Usurper’s Tower (5th level)
- Ragannis Redoubt (6th level)
- Ruins of Grimspire (7th level)
- Respite at Rough Run (8th level)
- Solanna Bael (9th level)
- The Guildmaster’s Retreat (10th level)
- Spire of the Sun God (11th level)
- Stormcaller’s Tower (11th level)
- Bloodstone Tower (13th level)
- Court of the Lunar Knight (15th level)
All of the adventures within the collection are presented in a similar format. There is a paragraph detailing the background to the adventure, some information on recent events along with a selection of adventure hooks and then a more in-depth description of the tower itself. This is then followed by a map of the tower and the various individual area descriptions.
The maps are one of the real highlights of this collection. I should preface this by saying that normally, I hate isometric maps. Years of struggling with Ravenloft and Curse of Strahd’s isometric maps of Castle Ravenloft have left me with a deep seated dislike of them. This is compounded by the fact that I DM mainly through Fantasy Grounds where isometric maps are as much use as a chocolate teaspoon. However, these isometric maps may have actually won me over to the idea.
Firstly, they are beautifully drawn. They really are glorious pieces of artwork. The detail really is fabulous. You can see chips out of the stone walls and the grain on the wooden tables and chairs. No mean feat, given the overall small size of the illustrations.
Secondly, the maps are really usable by the DM. My biggest criticism of the Ravenloft maps is that a lot of time is spent trying to work out which staircase on one map joins up with which landing on the associated upper or lower level. That’s not an issue here. Now, I can’t give the artist all of the credit for this as this is partly due to a straight up and down tower being a lot less complex overall than a sprawling edifice like Ravenloft, however design choices have been made with these maps which really help understanding. Sometimes as a DM, even the relationship between levels on simple maps can be troublesome. The way these maps are drawn out really simplifies this greatly. It does remain to be seen how I would use these in Virtual Tabletop play. I strongly suspect that I would need to recreate some of these maps using a mapping tool like Dungeon Fog, or rely solely on theatre of the mind – not something that my groups are particularly fond of.
One observation about the isometric maps is that because some of the towers have both above ground and below ground levels, it’s not immediately clear which is the ground floor level (usually where the players enter). Thankfully, Kobold Press have realised this and have always labelled the first area of the tower as area 1. The numbers then increase for subsequent floors in the tower. Basement levels are numbered after the last of the upper levels so it’s really clear which levels are above ground.
Not all of the maps are isometric. There are a number of maps which are standard top down maps. At first glance, these appear to be as a result of certain towers being less traditional in style (e.g. a giant tree in “The Midnight Tree”) and therefore a bit more difficult to easily render in isometric view. None of this takes away from these maps though. The quality is still fantastic. My experience with maps in some past Kobold Press adventures has been less than satisfying (I’m looking at you “Hoard of the Dragon Queen”) so I feel this quality of the cartography in this publication is a stellar improvement.
In terms of the adventures themselves, there are a wide range of encounters here to excite and challenge any party. This is thankfully not a book which is stuck in the cliched “Wizard’s Tower” trope (although there are Wizards and there are towers). Instead, you’ll find yourself and your players exploring the giant tree home of a Ravenfolk clan (“The Midnight Tree”), the sanctuary of a Thieve’s Guildmaster, complete with a fabulously Midgardian glider (“The Guildmaster’s Retreat”) and a lonely tower in a desolate plane of existence (“Court of the Lunar Knight”).
As expected, many of the foes that the players will face are straight out of the pages of Kobold Press’s highly successful “Tome of Beasts” and “Creature Codex” bestiaries. Unfortunately, the stat blocks for these creatures aren’t included in the book, and it’s not clear where to find them. The “Tome of Beasts” stat blocks are available on the Open 5e website, although the “Creature Codex” ones aren’t and this lack of clarity could result in DMs either being unable to use “12 Towers” or having to end up buying “Tome” or “Codex” which is not an insignificant investment, even in PDF format.
Kobold Press are not alone in this approach to stat blocks though so it would be unfair of me to castigate them further. If my memory serves me correctly, Wizards of the Coast have done something similar with “Monster Manual” entries in some of their adventures. The more problematic aspect of “12 Peculiar Towers” is that the requirement to own these two other books is mentioned only on the Kobold Press website instead of in the book, and there is no reference to the Open 5e content at all. This would seem more of an oversight than anything else but it’s always best to be informed of what else you might be committing to when buying a product.
Despite that, this remains a must have product. It contains some of the best cartography I’ve seen in a long time as well as a wide, varied and hugely enjoyable selection of twists to the classic lonely tower scenario. As a collection, it doesn’t have the adventuring diversity of say Prepared or Prepared 2 but that’s not the point of this product. You’re not going to get through this over the course of a few months (well not unless your group REALLY likes towers). This is more of a slow release compilation which you can introduce into your campaigns over a period of years. And that’s the beauty of tabletop role-playing – the longevity of adventures. These will still be fresh and relevant in 10 years time, particularly given the quality of both the writing and the cartography.
To summarise, this is definitely one for the collection, particularly if (like me) you are already a fan of Kobold Press products. It’s good value for money if you already own “Tome of Beasts” and “Creature Codex”, although you’ll perhaps have to give it a bit more thought if you don’t own either of those books and can’t live with just the Open 5e content. Then again, both of those volumes are amazing in their own right so this could just be the nudge you need to expand the range of monsters at your disposal.
What I liked
- Fantastic, well written adventures with great cartography, both isometric and top down.
- Clear and concise “scene setting” introductions to each adventure.
- All of the adventures look like they’d run well in about a 3-4 hour session which in my eyes is the session length sweet spot.
- Good value for money.
What I liked less
- The lack of clarity around the need to own “Tome of Beasts” and “Creature Codex” and the availability of some of the monsters as open content.
- The fact that this isn’t made clear to the buyer of the product unless they purchase directly from Kobold Press.
I am a 40 something DM/GM located in Scotland. In 2016, I rediscovered the joys of tabletop role-playing games. This blog documents my journey back into the fold.