Situation Burning: “Breaking of the Storm”

The Hanging Tower, written and illustrated by Sam Bosma

Years ago, at this point, I read Sam Bosma’s excellent comic, The Hanging Tower. It’s so very good that it has never left my mind, since – for real, go buy this. You absolutely won’t regret it.

The wild west-like setting excites me, especially as the land is crawling with knights and disenfranchised ex-magicians. The language of the book puts a smile on the face, from the folksy dialect to the way magic is called The Fire. The Fire – it feels good to say. And in The Hanging Tower, the Fire has gone out. Magic may or may not be dead in the world, but humans certainly aren’t using it anymore. Into this set-up, an old woman dons her armor and goes questing for the eponymous Hanging Tower. It’s a simple, but brilliant set-up and its conclusion is melancholy, hopeful, and so very satisfying in equal measure.

Fixin to get Eudora, if she can be got.

It makes me want to play Burning Wheel. So.

From the heights of the Floating Tower, the Witch Whose Name is Ice and Snow rules over the environs with unholy terrors and a silken fist.

Two weeks ago, with a thunderous noise, the Floating Tower crashed to earth. And with its fall, the Well of magic has gone dry.

No one has seen nor heard from the Witch Whose Name Is Ice and Snow since. Her enemies hold their breath and pray she died with her crumbling palace; her loyalists panic, lash out, and make displays of their continued devotion.

No one has been brave enough to check the ruins themselves.

Last night, you — a band of freebooters and locals — set out on the Glaive Road, in search of answers.

Players should make use of the Peasant or Villager lifepaths primarily, but Outcasts have their place in this brave new witch-less world. Emphasize to them that they are locals who either lived in honest fear of the Witch Whose Name is Ice and Snow, or took her rule as an excuse to bully and abuse in her name. Having both types in the group of travelers would make for some very interesting interplay, especially if the Witch loyalist is keeping their devotion under wraps, or if a former lieutenant is being brought along in a Gollum-like role of distrust and necessity. Even better if you can get a good, honest townsperson hoping the Witch Whose Name is Ice and Snow is alive so they can cut some kind of deal.

If someone wants to play a more civilized character, someone with a lot of Noble or City Lifepaths, insist that one of their Beliefs represent the official interests of the city, government, etc that is impacted by the collapse of the Tower. While peasant and villager characters are on the trail for their own curiosity, and the safety of their friends and families, any wandering princes and the like have ulterior motives inked and stamped in some hidden letter, no doubt.

Let your players know that if they’re a Sorcerer or similar, they can still be Gifted but they won’t be using Sorcery anytime soon. The Sorcery skill is still good for understanding the books and sigils and once-magical tools that are littered throughout the Floating Tower, of course; and their Astrology and Alchemy will likewise still come in handy. No Shards, Philosopher’s Perch, White Fire, or the rest, though. Tell them to hold out for that day down the line when the table votes they can scrounge together enough power to take up Practical Magic as a replacement for their lost fireballs.

When workshopping the group’s Beliefs, consider these:

  • a belief about reuniting with someone you love who you know was – but pray wasn’t – in the Tower when it fell,
  • a belief about confirming the death of the Witch Whose Name is Ice & Snow,
  • a belief about saving the life of the Witch Whose Name is Ice & Snow and what this act will get you in return,
  • a belief about what’s to be done with the riches surely waiting in the ruins of the Tower,
  • a belief about how the treasures of the Tower are surely as accursed as their mistress and must all be put to the torch,
  • a belief about bringing back evidence that will send the Witch Whose Name is Ice & Snow’s loyalists running,
  • a belief about bringing back evidence that will once more ignite fear in the heart of the Witch Whose Name is Ice & Snow’s subjects,
  • a belief about protecting someone you care about while they make this foolish journey to and into the Floating Tower,
  • a belief about discovering the connection between the fall of the Tower and the Well’s drying up,
  • a belief about investigating what evils have been conjured in the Fallen Tower,
  • a belief about begging the forgiveness of the Witch Whose Name is Ice & Snow and bringing her home where she belongs

When you start this scenario, pull out a map that you love or a piece of paper. Have the players, in character if they’re feeling up to it, tell you about the landscape between where the caravan sets out and its destination at the Floating Tower. One-for-one, each player should specify a Gateway or Barrier in one of those places: while perhaps not literally doors or walls, either way, each is a product of the Witch Whose Name is Ice & Snow’s spellcraft that made things easier for her and/or harder for those in her domain. Maybe the Witch Whose Name is Ice & Snow saw fit to conjure a bridge across a seemingly bottomless gorge – a Gateway – just as she saw fit to summon a pack of stone devils to patrol her realm – a Barrier.

As the GM, it is your job to twist, skew, or otherwise reveal how that Gateway or Barrier has drifted or been corrupted from its purpose now that The Well has gone dry… the Bridge crumbles even now, held together only by prayer and the last drops in the bottom of The Well; the stone devils have abandoned their posts and now deface and destroy anything baring their former mistress’ likeness.

These Gates and Barriers should, ideally, form the set pieces and backdrops of this quest-style scenario, and the GM should endeavor to move through onto a new locale on the Glaive Road every one or two game sessions – maybe every scene if you’re gunning for a one-shot, something more montage style, or you think the real game begins with the Tower itself.

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