E is for Earth Towers

Approximate time to read: 5 minutes.   

the-ruins-boundThe deep-reaching Earth Towers by the Black Leech Rift have a lot going for them, not least that marvellous name. You have Earth Towers – plural – to contend with and a rift, too – well, that sounds like a challenge.

What makes them more interesting is that the Earth Towers descend into the depths, despite their name which suggests something looming and monolithic.

Yesterday’s post on Dungenesis mentions the Earth Towers in passing and how the subterranean splinters might have acted on the location. Truth or just random conjecture, the Towers have a significant draw for the curious in their own right, if simply for the sheer scale and grandeur.

Enter the Unknown

The text of the Symbaroum core book references the legends amongst the barbarian clans that the land around the Chieftain’s seat at Karvosti supported a dense Symbarian presence and that remnants of that great civilisation remain. Much of the area has been mapped and explored by treasure-seekers, with both the Earth Towers and Serand’s Pyramid referenced. I would suggest that this ‘mapping’ amounts to little more than the digging and scraping of academic archaeologists, working a few inches beneath the surface to support a theory.

Why suggest this?

A later comment in the margins states that different estimates exist upon the exact depth of the Towers, with rumors suggesting anything between three and six hundred feet.

Estimate? Rumor?

In my mind, those words conjure the frank admission that no one knows for sure because no one has had the brass or balls to check. Treasure-seekers do it for the glory most of the time and the easy treasure the rest – this isn’t about being thorough, but getting the quick wins and living off the proceeds and the kudos.


What are the Towers

I haven’t spent too much time considering the prospects of the Earth Towers because that seems like a campaign by itself – and I have hardly scratched the surface of happenings in Ambria! I have ideas, but I dare not set anything down just yet under I have it all ordered in my head.

For the moment, I have an image of something like a Mega City tower block from Judge Dredd.

No really.

The alternative would be the power generator sinks from Forbidden Planet. You know, those frighteningly deep shafts crackling with untold energies.

I haven’t settled on the Symbarian grasp of technology yet, but I do have the old Arthur C. Clarke quote in mind about sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic. I’m not out to reinvent Numenera (as Numenera handles that well enough by itself), but I get that vibe.

Great civilisations generally don’t build simply to trap, kill or otherwise terminally inconvenience those who come after them. The Earth Towers might compare with the Mesoamerican settlement of Cholula, but upside down or it could be a place of worship / research (which could be the same thing depending on how you perceive the exploration of the unknown).

The scale is frightening. The structure must have taken many decades to construct, even centuries. It could have been something extended over time, expanded as its purpose became a focus.

Mapping the Earth Towers

We’ll ignore the rumour that anyone has mapped the Towers. Yes, explorers might have put together maps on certain levels and sections, but a detailed study of all Towers seem laughably unlikely. As suggested, treasure-seekers give in all too easily once they’ve found enough treasure to cover their costs!

You could map the whole tower yourself, level after level. A challenge many would relish. However, it occurs to me that many gamers will already have a pile of adventures and supplements filled with dungeon maps, so why not recycle them?

To make things more interesting, the image featured at the head of the article made me thing of the structure like a balcony around a courtyard, a ring of rooms. Except, I think that the interior has cleared over the last millennia through decay and collapse. The very bottom of the Towers would be clogged with mountains of masonry and artifacts unlikely to ever see their recovery.

How to create this? Simple – cut an angular donut from your map. For example, take this level from the Stonehell Dungeon – an ideal supplement for the purpose, given the size and simplicity of approach.

Part of the Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls by Michael Curtis

Crop the outer edges off of the map. Then select the centre and cut that away. You end up with a broken array of rooms with corridors cutting off and rooms split asunder. Chamber with missing sections facing the hole become ruinous balconies with jagged stonework and perilous drops. Passages and out chambers sliced through can face into walls of decay and rubble, suggesting something more lying beyond; or they could have inexplicable blank walls as if the Tower represents a ‘quarantined’ shaft from a yet greater structure.

Your maps will look something like this:

Part of the Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls by Michael Curtis

What do you populate the level with?

I haven’t given it enough thought yet. It depends on your view of the technology, lore and civilisation associated with the Symbaroum Empire. What did they build this place for? What came before and what followed, given the wax and wane of civilisation in and around Davokar?

On a simple level, and to ease preparation for a session, you can read the basic purpose of the rooms left based on the dungeon you have chosen and riff on the subject matter. A temple, a prison, a laboratory, a stronghold… any of these work perfectly well and help determine the backdrop, scenery, sensory feedback and potential inhabitants.

Adversaries could be the dead remains of the original inhabitants given life by corrupting magic, but could also be forgotten experiments, semi-technical contraptions, ritual-imbued constructs, vermin, soldiers…

Earth Tower-426

… or – bizarrely – a desperate free colony from Alberetor.

You could absolutely take the premise of Aliens and apply it in that scenario.

A group of families hoping to find something better in the ranges of Bright Davokar set up home in one of the upper and reasonably accessible levels of an Earth Tower. Perhaps they found the remains of a mechanical lift or lucked out with a well-preserved stairwell? Whatever the means of access, they set up their home and started to fill it with what little comforts they had carried with them – before the horror struck.

When the characters arrive they find evidence of recent habitation, starting with the functional lift or perhaps an area of tilled and seeded land near the throat of the Tower. Once they reach the colony, they find food, clothes, simple wooden furniture, children’s toys… all abandoned. Where did the inhabitants go… and what that distant knocking sound further down the Tower shaft?


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