Deep in the Ivory Tower: A RuneQuest Pirates Adventure

by Lev Lafayette

With thanks to Stan Polson, Ralph Lovegrove, and Steven The Red

Part One: The Treasure Map

As these stories often do begin, "Deep in the Ivory Tower" starts with a treasure map. However the placement by the GM should be undertaken with some care with two key considerations (a) the map should be found in possession of distatesful, if not downright evil individuals and (b) the map should be a obsfucated puzzle in its own right or, as a simpler alternative, as a jigsaw puzzle. The map itself is on the reverse of a parchment ascribed to Abramelin the Mage.

Some examples could include (a) among the accounts of a corrupt town alderman, (b) in the possession of a thieves or assassins guild, (c) a ritualistic wizard who commands a band of orcs. Another essential element is that the treasure map makes great promises not only of wealth, but also of esoteric knowledge that provides one special insight to the world, unavailable to lesser beings.

For example:

"... thou wilt therein find certain examples and other matters which will be most profitable unto thee to learn the Veritable and Sacred Magic, and unto the practice of that which I, ABRAMELIN, THE SON OF SIMON, have learned, in part from my father, and in part also from other Wise and faithful Men, and which I have found true and real, having submitted it unto proof and experiment. And having written this with mine own hand, I have placed it within this casket, and locked it up, as a most precious treasure; in order that when thou hast arrived at a proper age thou mayest be able to admire, to consider, and to enjoy the marvels of the Gods"

... and so forth. Make the treasure map and its text something for the players to figure out through obsfucated language. If they throw their arms up in complete frustration allow an appropriate skill roll for a few hints. The major elements is that:

(a) the great treasure is to found on the isle of San Lorenzo. This can be expressed as the "the island holds the esoteric knowledge of the greate martyr, the First and Last of the Seven Deacon of Rome", i.e., Saint Lawrence.

(b) on the island of the great martyr the esoteric knowledge will be found in a dungeon. This is from "it will be found from she who has eyes like the pools of Heshbon by the gate of Bath Rabbim" (i.e., the Biblical reference to the "ivory tower", i.e., an inverted ivory tower that is made from bones).

In something that might be a hint to the particularly insightful, the location of this treasure is located on the isle of San Lorenzo, for those using a fantasy-Earth or similar environment. This island and its religion of Bokonism are described with some completeness in the novel by Kurt Vonnegut Jnr., "Cat's Cradle" of which elements appear in this scenario, although in a modified manner for the purpose of the scenario.

If any characters bother to do some appropriate research (and they surely will) they will discover that San Lorenzo is a tiny, rocky island located in the Caribbean Sea, positioned in the relative vicinity of Puerto Rico. It has no resources, no industry, and a population of miscreants. The one township, Lugar de Madeira, is a ramshakle collection of hovels with remarkably poor sanitation and is usually described by its few visitors as Lugar de Mierda, instead. In a nutshell, the place is worthless. The very idea that a great treasure could be found there may seem strange the say the least.

The written history of the island begins with Cristóvão Jacques as the first European man to land San Lorenzo. Jacques and his men came ashore for fresh water in 1519, named the island, claimed it for Manuel I, and never returned. Subsequent expeditions came for gold and diamonds and rubies and spices, found none, slaughtered most of indigenous population entertainment and heresy, and sailed on.

The Spanish challenged Portuguese rule in 1535, but there was no objection from Portugal. The France claimed San Lorenzo in 1540 with no objection from Spain. The Dutch claimed the island in 1634 and faced no objection from Spain, and England claimed it a mere ten years later in 1644, with no objection from The Netherlands.

In an environment where good fortune could be achieved by Anglo and French privateers sailing under a letter of marque, a handful of surly individuals who were rejected of such a normally loose license and could find no other place to inhabit, ended up in San Lorenzo. There was no complaint from the British either.

Part Two: San Lorenzo and Brawl at the The Flying Shuttle

The Flying Shuttle is, without doubt, the worst public house in the worst city in the world. The famous latrine from "Trainspotting" is positively immaculate compared to what will be encountered (and GMs should endeavour to mention this to a random character who just so happens to feel the need to visit such facilities; e.g., make a Resilience check). The beer is like making love in canoe, the wine can be used a paint-stripper, but the gruel - despite a taste on par with the rest of the fare - is surprisingly nutritious. Weapons must be left at the door with a particularly burly bouncer emphasising this point.

The company of about a score of pirates are a surly lot to put it bluntly. Nevertheless they consider themselves to have some expertise on a surprisingly wide range of subjects, whether it be music and other arts, political institutions and legal norms, various sciences and most importantly, mathematics and statistics. Several conversations should convince the PCs that whilst some of those present may indeed have a modicum of skill in these fields, the most prevalent characteristic (even among those who do know something) is a most disagreeable arrogance that they know *everything* about a subject and are *never* wrong.

It is unavoidable at some stage in the process the PCs will be drawn to a gambling table where a number of people are debating over the relative advantages of a craps-like game where "7" is a magic number to achieved on 2d6 and whether it is better to base the game on a roll-high ("big endian") or roll-low ("little-endian") mechanic. Gamers who are long versed in the debate of high versus low roll systems should encounter some familiar arguments in this debate, such as deeply held (but completely incorrect claims) that row low has a fixed floor whereas roll high has an infinite ceiling. A particularly onery GM may wish to introduce the different virtues of 2d6 versus d12 with their different distributions.

It is important that the GM encourage the players to voice their opinions on such matters. At an opportune moment in the debate, a hush will full upon the bar and a big ugly pirate captain will enter the room. A hissed voice will mention "There be trouble now.. It's Captain Franciscus!". The Captain will lean over the PCs with his incredibly pungent body odour, his gnarled teeth with external fangs and will introduce his most loyal companions - Master Bates, Seaman Staines, and Roger The Cabin Boy - who accord the Captain messiah-like devotion. Any mocking of these fine individuals will result in immediate violence.

In fact, violence in inevitable. The friendlier and more concilatory the PCs attempt to be, the more aggressive and abusive the response will be, especially from the Captain - it as if he was wearing a ring of contrariness, to use the classic D&D magic item. Eventually as voices are raised and push becomes shove, the bartender will call out that if there is going to be a fight on his premises, as there must be between locals and strangers, then there will be no swords, daggers, or clubs - fisticuffs only! The Captain will take that as his cue to land a haymaker on the jaw of the biggest PC.

This is a classic barroom brawl of all-on-to-all. A GM should run it for as long as it is entertaining. Sadly however for the PCs, this is one fight that they cannot win. The Captain in particular seems to have this uncanny ability of being immune to damage, no matter how well a blow is landed. He has, and perhaps not just metaphorically speaking, the hide of a rhino. Eventually the PCs will find themselves unceremoniously turfed from The Flying Shuttle, almost certainly with a number unconscious and perhaps even badly wounded.

Part Three: Bokononism and Deep in The Ivory Tower

After being turfed from The Flying Shuttle, the PCs will be rescued by a bronze-skinned individual named Agueybana, who is descended from original nobility of the islands and slaves brought here by European powers, or so he says. Explaining that he can help them, he will take the party to the small seaside farm house where he and his family of wife and five children raise a few goats, engage in a bit of fishing, and grow cassava root and fruit.

Agueybana is an advocate of Bokononism, who fundamental principle is that all dogma is based on lies. However these untruths, if properly applied, can bring a solace; these lies are called foma. It is, essentially, a recognition that knowledge is imperfect, incomplete, and - when applied to transcendental truths - necessarily so. "Those who live by foma that wants them to believe without doubt will be unhappy as they are damaged within. Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy".

When questions are asked about Captain Franciscus it is explained that he settled on San Lorenzo after several years of being systemically thrown out of numerous other ports. With a small group of lackeys and a larger group of slaves, he took the previously peaceful island and established his rule from the former Bokononism temple and catacombs. If asked if there are any riches or knowledges within the temple, Agueybana will answer that they "beyond imagining". If asked for specifics, he will mention coinage, weapons and so forth - which, in accord to his religion - is a harmless untruth, or rather, a truth when carefully considered. The treasure "beyond imagining" is the sacred texts of Bokononism, and there are coins and weapons which he's happy to see the party take if the temple comes back in the hands of the local people.

The temple itself is on a hilltop graveyard, designed in the style of pre-classic Mesoamerican Architecture. It consists of layers connected by stone stairs at cardinal points all of which reach a seven metres high stone temple at the apex with the floor space of twenty metres by twenty metres. The entrance facing the town (and the dawn) is double-sized. The temple entrances are guarded (one at each minor door, two at the major entrance). Inside the main chamber is an additional dozen members and an equal number of auxiliaries of Captain Franciscus' crew. This space is used as a common room and as a result will have the expected bedding, trinkets, and so forth. There is also, in the middle of the room, a set of circular stairs leading downwards to the catacombs. Taking the temple is an extraordinary challenge in its own right, and clever PCs will consider Bokononist strategy of verbal deception to gain entrance; anyone who attempts this will gain a +25% chance of success due to the holy foma of the place. In addition, any character who goes barefoot on this holy ground will gain an additional +10% to all skill rolls, although that does have the usual risks.

The Boko-maru Calypso

We will touch our feet, yes,
Yes, for all we're worth,
And we will love each other, yes,
Yes, like we love our Mother Earth.

The second level of the "ivory tower" is appropriately named; approximately a third in dimensions to the level above (7m by 7m), the walls are encrusted with bone from generations of individuals who have died and have been buried in accord to the Bokonon faith, giving an appearance not unlike the Crypt of the Sepulchral Lamp in Parisian Catacombs. It is here that Captain Franciscus has made his home, with a large bed adorned with skulls (for the Captain and whatever poor lass he has dragged into his den for the night), along with a stout table with the sacred texts of Bokononism, which also holds a lantern. There is a trapdoor in the centre of the room underneath a rich carpet and, at the foot of the bed, the Captain's treasure chest which contains the following: 3 seats of fine clothes, 2000 Reales, 4000 Pieces of Eight, 2000 Doubloons, 4000 Reales of jewellry, a compass, a logbook (back in the day...), navigator's kit, 4 pocket watches,

As for the books, the title page of the first book opened gives the appropriate warning "Don't be a fool! Close this book at once! It is nothing but foma!" Inside these texts is various marginalia by Captain Franciscus, a review of which will quickly indicate that the Captain is searching through the texts for the means to save his troubled soul. In a future age, the comments will indicate a sufferer of histrionic personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and psychotic schizophrenia.

As can be imagined the Captain will engage in defense of his room, a last line from any invading forces. He also carries a scroll which can summon forth a veritable plague of mindless skeletons to assist him in this process (being mindless and following the Captain seems to go together very well). This scroll, entitled, "pool-pah" must be read aloud to function and through a Spellcharge Enchantment, will Summon the former priests of the temple in skeletal form. It can only be used once.

The third level, deep in the ivory tower, is accessible only by the trapdoor under the rug. A rickety ladder leads down to a cold and dank chamber which measures a mere 3m by 3m. Again like the chamber above it is encrusted with the bones of the dead and if the scroll has been used as above, there will be active skeletons prepared to slay any foreign intruders. Also in the chamber, crawling around the dark - and perhaps considered another foe by the party - is the half-starved and insane wife-sister-daughter of the Captain, Elisabeth. It is probable that she will will attack the party as well unless calmed in some manner.

Appendix: Franciscus The Half Troll and Friends

Franciscus The Half Troll has had a troubled life. He was got in fear by a mother that had a predilection for burly men with big teeth who like to bite. Naturally enough Franciscus father didn't stay to see his progeny develop. Almost as attractive as his father, his mother seduced him, and he fathered upon her a daughter, Elisabeth. When she came of age (albeit barely), he married her under the ceremony of an extraordinarily drunk priest. Tired of having to introduce his wife, his sister, and his daughter when there is one woman present and, as usual, refusing to acknowledge that there might be something wrong with this relationship, he locked her up deep in an ivory tower. For the past twenty years he has kept his wife-sister-daughter in this dungeon prison and subjected her to the usual abuses that one could expect.

Whilst described as a "half troll", in RuneQuest terms Franciscus was fathered by an ogre, who has passed on his Chaotic taint which apart from giving him a taste for human flesh, a contrary nature towards those that have not sworn fealty to him, also has provided him a rare affliction; attacks upon him both heal and empower him, with each point in damage either providing a point of healing or a point of strength (if undamaged) for the following action. Instead, Franciscus is wounded by first aid or magic healing, something which he is well aware of and will viciously attack anyone who attempts this. There is nothing more “damaging” to Franciscus that being healed, and if “killed” in this manner, he will awaken (albeit barely conscious), the Chaotic taint removed and remorseful.

Over the years Franciscus has managed to acquire some considerable loyalty from those impressed with his strength and his imperviousness, specifically Bates, Staines, and Roger. They too, through partaking the foul rituals that Franciscus is fond of, have acquired Chaotic features, although they are hardly of the same ability or depravity as their Captain.

Captain Franciscus The Half Troll
STR 19 CON 16 DEX 11 SIZ 13 INT 13 POW 13 CHA 14
Rleg -/7 Lleg -/7 Abd -/8 Cht -/9 Rar -/6 Lar -/6 Hed -/7
Actions 2 SR +12 Move 4m +1d4 Dam
Unarmed 80% (1d3+1d4), Dagger 90% (1d4+2+1d4), 1H Sword 90% (1d6+1+1d4), Pistols 55% (2d4)
Athletics 60% Boating 40% Dodge 50% Gunnery 50% Influence 70% Perception 80% Persistance 90% Resilience 90% Shiphandling 50% Stealth 35%
Infamous, Vice, Fearsome Aura, Chaotic Taint, Absorption (see text)

Master Bates
STR 16 CON 16 DEX 10 SIZ 13 INT 10 POW 10 CHA 11
Rleg -/6 Lleg -/6 Abd 1/7 Cht 1/8 Rar -/5 Lar -/5 Hed -/6
Actions 2 SR +10 Move 4m +1d4 Dam Buff Coat 1AP (-3% to skills)
Unarmed 60% (1d3+1d4), Dagger 60% (1d4+1+1d4), 1H Sword 60% (1d6+1+1d4), Whip 50% (1d3), Musket 40% (1d8)
Athletics 50% Boating 35% Dodge 20% Handiwork 30% Influence 30% Perception 50% Persistance 50% Resilience 50% Shiphandling 30% Stealth 35%
Infamous, Vice, Chaotic Taint

Seaman Staines
STR 14 CON 12 DEX 11 SIZ 14 INT 10 POW 10 CHA 11
Rleg -/6 Lleg -/6 Abd -/7 Cht -/8 Rar -/5 Lar -/5 Hed -/6
Actions 2 SR +11 Move 4m +1d4 Dam Buff Coat 1AP (-3% to skills)
Unarmed 50% (1d3+1d4), Dagger 50% (1d4+1+1d4), 1H Sword 50% (1d6+1+1d4)
Athletics 40% Boating 30% Dodge 20% Handiwork 25% Influence 25% Perception 40% Persistance 40% Resilience 40% Shiphandling 25% Stealth 30%
Infamous, Vice, Chaotic Taint

Roger The Cabin Boy
STR 10 CON 11 DEX 16 SIZ 08 INT 12 POW 11 CHA 09
Rleg -/4 Lleg -/4 Abd -/5 Cht -/6 Rar -/3 Lar -/3 Hed -/4
Actions 3 SR +14 Move 4m Dam -1d2
Unarmed 50% (1d3-1d2), Dagger 50% (1d4+1-1d2)
Athletics 40% Dodge 35% Handiwork 25% Perception 35% Stealth 40%

Crewmen (17)
STR 12 CON 12 DEX 11 SIZ 13 INT 09 POW 09 CHA 09
Rleg -/5 Lleg -/5 Abd -/6 Cht -/7 Rar -/4 Lar -/4 Hed -/5
Actions 2 SR +12 Move 4m
Unarmed 50% (1d3), Dagger 50% (1d4+1), 1H Sword 50% (1d6+1)
Athletics 35% Boating 25% Dodge 15% Handiwork 20% Perception 35% Persistance 35% Resilience 35% Shiphandling 20% Stealth 20%

Auxiliaries (12)
STR 10 CON 11 DEX 11 SIZ 12 INT 09 POW 09 CHA 09
Rleg -/5 Lleg -/5 Abd -/6 Cht -/7 Rar -/4 Lar -/4 Hed -/5
Actions 2 SR +12 Move 4m
Unarmed 30% (1d3), Dagger 30% (1d4+1)
Athletics 35% Dodge 15% First Aid 35% Handiwork 25% Perception 35% Stealth 30%

Level 2 Skeletons (6)
STR 12 CON 03 DEX 10 SIZ 10 INT 0 POW 0 CHA 0
Rleg 5/3 Lleg 5/3 Abd 5/4 Cht 5/5 Rar 5/2 Lar 5/2 Hed 5/3
Actions 2 SR +5 Move 4m
Unarmed 30% (1d3), Bone Club 30% (1d6)
Dark Sight, Night Sight

Level 3 Skeletons (3)
STR 13 CON 05 DEX 11 SIZ 12 INT 0 POW 0 CHA 0
Rleg 5/4 Lleg 5/4 Abd 5/5 Cht 5/6 Rar 5/3 Lar 5/3 Hed 5/4
Actions 2 SR +5 Move 4m
Unarmed 35% (1d3), Bone Club 35% (1d6)
Dark Sight, Night Sight

STR 10 CON 11 DEX 13 SIZ 09 INT 12 POW 11 CHA 09
Rleg -/4 Lleg -/4 Abd -/5 Cht -/6 Rar -/3 Lar -/3 Hed -/4
Actions 3 SR +13 Move 4m Dam -1d2
Unarmed 50% (1d3-1d2), Bone Dagger 50% (1d4+1-1d2)
Athletics 40% Dodge 35% Perception 35% Stealth 40%