The Usurer’s Tower, The Backwater Gambit Campaign Diary 1


Chapter 1: The Usurer’s Tower

Our heroes awake bound and in prison cells. They are groggy and sore. They have no memory of how they arrived here or even where here is. The last memory each player has, they were in Glencliffe. Filled with confusion, anger, fear, and anxiety, the players’ primary concern is to get out. As they escape, they’ll discover who imprisoned them and why, where they are, and, perhaps, if they want revenge.


The initial party is made up of a human sorcerer (John Doorson), a half-elf druid (Nym Nailo), an aasimar fighter (Roben Dom), and a tiefling monk (Asher Nightwind). Like myself, two players were familiar but utterly inexperienced with the game, one was completely new, and one was very experienced. I wanted this opening adventure to be a way for use to figure out what kind of play we wanted and what kind of players we might be. Overall, I think the group had a good time.

Players rolled to determine the cell they’d start in and then again for initiative to determine who woke up first. As they woke, they examined their cells (each had some small bone remains of rats, a narrow bunk hanging by short chains from the stone wall, and there are no windows) and tried to get as detailed a picture of where they were through the bars of the larger room (there is a large pillar in the middle with a large torch on each of its four sides and doors at either end of the room). Each player was without their gear wearing only cloth jerkins. The trick here was to make it clear what each player could see from each of their angles as well as how far they could call or reach out.

One of the eight cells is open with a dead guard laying face down on the floor before it. A key ring is in his hand with three keys on it. Asher, the tiefling monk, attempted to use his tail to reach the keys but couldn’t get close enough. He decided to break the wooden bunk in the cell, tear the cloth jerkin he was wearing into strips, and tie the broken pieces into a longer, makeshift pole. He successfully rolled a strength check to break the bunk and a dexterity check to reach the key ring. Asher wasn’t able to get it close enough to him to reach, but he was able to get it into the line of sight of John, who then used Mage Hand to bring the keys to him.

John then tried each key until his cell door opened. Once he was free, he went around and opened each other player’s cell. When all players were free, they discussed what steps to take next. They searched the body of the dead guard finding a list of names with each of there’s on it, crossed out, with three more names uncrossed. Players also looted the guard for his armor and weapons (chain shirt and short sword both taken by Roben and the dagger that was in his chest taken by Nym). John, being the only character unable to see through the dark pried a torch from the wall, and the party began to explore.

The outer cells turned out to be larger rooms. Player searched each one finding a mysterious pendant with an inscription of a name on its back (found by John who recognizes a similarity to his religion’s symbol, Pelor), a deed or land transfer missing the name of the land owner but signed by the one to whom it would be transferred to, a map of the county of where they are (Larrissone) and several other ordinary books which John took. Following the hall, they realize it circles the inner chamber and discover a stairway leading up and on the opposite side a stairway leading down; they chose to go down reasoning they were in a tower and down would lead out. 


John casts a Detect Magic and the party continues on. On this level, the players immediately decide to go down a narrow corridor off the main hall leading them to large open room with a tall wooden door facing them. They concluded that this must be the exit. After each character did a strength check to see if they could open the door, John’s turned out to be the only successful roll. As the doors swung open, the players were bathed in golden light. The walls of the room were lined with gold leaf with four large braziers burning brightly around a foot high platform upon which were four chests.

The group tests the nearest chest. Approaching and opening it causes no trap to go off. Roben proceeds to open all the chests. Peering in he sees various treasure and removes an item, an eversmoking bottle, as he does a woman appears in the center of the dais dressed in sinister-looking robes. This woman is incredulous and angry looking the party over. She demands to know what they think they are doing. Party members respond, but the woman is uninterested casting Sleep on them.


Nym is the only one unaffected drawing her dagger and pointing it at the woman. The woman simply waves her hand dissolving the dagger. As the other members are unconscious, the woman threatens Nym saying if she sees them again she they will be sorry. The woman then disappears. Nym takes the eversmoking bottle from Roben’s unconscious hand placing it nearer the chest and waits for the others to wake.

When the Sleep spell wears off, the party decides to leave the room and any treasure that may be in the chests. Backtracking and then proceeding down the main corridor, they discover their taken gear in a series of narrow closets lining the wall plus the gear of two other persons (a butcher’s knife and woman’s clothes and some noble’s clothing). Across from the closets is another room. They enter the room realizing they are in some kind of interrogation or torture room. There are three cages hanging from the ceiling each with a skeleton in differing stages of decay, a slanted table where there are four shackles each with a severed humanoid limb in it, and two large bookcases.

Nym and John inspect a bookcase each. John finds a diary, and Nym three spellbooks. He convinces Nym to trade with him giving her the pendant since she is a jewelry maker. Back to the main corridor, they continue on discovering the only stairway, which heads down. As the party descends, they discover themselves in what looks like a ruined basement. There is a shallow but wide stream running through the level. The party debates whether to go back up or to explore the stream. They choose the stream but then have to decide whether to go upstream or down; they choose upstream. 

As the party moves, they pass Shrieker fungus immediately issuing a harsh scream that echoes through the chamber. The party freeze but then decide to run farther forward to get out of the range of the shriek. Doing so puts them deeper into the upstream tunnel and out of the level chamber proper. With the sound of the Shrieker gone, the party decides to continue on rather than run back through it again. As they are deciding, they do a perception check. Rolling high, they make out the sound of splashing of footsteps but also jumping and gurgling sounds. John can’t see much with his torch but the others can see through the darkness, and they make out approaching enemies. Bullywugs.


Armed with spears, three Bullywugs confront the party. Rolls for initiative and Asher joins Roben at the head of the group attacking one doing a good deal of damage. Roben’s attack fails. From behind Asher and Roben, John casts Light illuminating the tunnel. Nym casts shillelagh on her quarterstaff and moves to confront the Bullywugs. The Bullywug attacks are minimal. The next round, the party does enough damage to take out the first wave, however once they do a second group of three Bullywugs arrive. One Bullywug tosses its spear at Roben doing minor damage while the others’ attacks are thwarted. The third round commences with Asher killing his opponent. Roben again rolls poorly but does some damage. Casting Witch Bolt, John virtual melts a Bullywug and with her attack, Nym kills it. Seeing this, the remaining Bullywug runs away. The remaining Bullywug is too low level to threaten and is dispatched. They party successfully defeats five Bullywugs for 250 XP.

Tower of Usury

The party decides to follow the tunnel leading them to the surface. They emerge just off the northwestern shore of Lake Shonoc seeing the Usurer’s Tower where they were imprisoned on the northeastern side. Having played for about three and half hours, the party decides to make camp, and we stop for the evening. Because they party hasn’t gotten any treasure to speak of, I award them 250 XP for facing the mysterious woman and surviving. Having earned 500 XP, the party levels up to 2.

As my first attempt at DM-ing and first time playing, I thought this went well. Perhaps not entirely by the book, but I think it’ll improve and streamline as we play. I’d love to hear thoughts on improving or adding or just questions.


5 thoughts on “The Usurer’s Tower, The Backwater Gambit Campaign Diary 1

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