Saturday, September 25, 2021

Wintercon VIII: The Ghost Tower of Inverness

Wintercon VIII, sponsored by the Metro Detroit Gamers, was held at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan in November, 1979.  The AD&D tournament was "The Ghost Tower of Inverness" by Allen Hammack.

Advertisement for Wintercon VIII in the Oakland University campus newspaper "The Oakland Sail" (November 12, 1979)

As with Origins 79, the tournament adventure was made available for sale at the convention, the second in a series of special numbered collector's editions (see this post at Wayne's Books for more details).

In the tournament version, the setting is an unnamed empire,* and the PCs are sent on their mission by the emperor, himself (as opposed to the Duke of Urnst in the subsequent, color version, published the following year).

*the cleric pregen, Zinethar the Wise, is described as the high priest of Osiris, in keeping with the pantheistic nature of Hammack's personal campaign world

(Also, check out this post on the Metal Miniatures blog for a look at painted miniatures used for each of the five pregens)

The dungeon map in the tournament version appears to be the same as in the subsequent, color version (see this post on Dyson Logos blog for more recent, VTT-friendly, versions)

Gaming Origins:

When tasked with writing the tournament adventure for Wintercon VIII, Hammack turned to a previously created dungeon as a starting point:

When my campaign started I had completed one dungeon and Inverness was underway (being built slightly ahead of the players’ explorations), but I was under time pressure to build a world to place them in. Using some techniques from wargame maps, I crammed in countries, rivers, and city names from three or four fantasy series that I was reading onto a large hex-grid posterboard and decided I’d fill in details on the countries and cities if and when players went there. I followed rough similarities to the books—the Witch World areas had a lot of female magic-users, for example.

(November 24, 2016)

There were deeper levels of the Inverness dungeon, not used in the published version.  Much of this material is now archived* in the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York.

*Hammack also collaborated upon a subsequent megadungeon inspired by Gormenghast, a part of which was allegedly used in "The Ghost Tower of Inverness" (according to this post on the Strong's website).  However, when I reached out to fact check this, Allen stated that "The Ghost Tower of Inverness" was drawn entirely from his Inverness dungeon, with some new parts

Sources of Inspiration:

In the same interview, Hammack discusses various sources of inspiration for the classic adventure, including the significance behind the name:

What was the greatest literary influence on Ghost Tower? Well, the name (and only the name, not the plot) was suggested by and a hat tip to a weird radio serial. As I’ve said before, it’s not related at all to the real city of Inverness in Scotland. I have always enjoyed time-travel stories, so inspiration was found in "The Time Machine", Bellamy’s "Looking Backward", Heinlein’s "The Door Into Summer", L’Engle’s "A Wrinkle In Time", Vonnegut's "Timequake", and Gerrold's "The Man Who Folded Himself". Cheesy though it was, I also liked the TV show "The Time Tunnel". I was not aware of Doctor Who at the time, but it’s now a favorite of mine.

(November 24, 2016)

The "weird radio serial" mentioned above was "The Fourth Tower of Inverness", a radio drama that aired on college radio stations from 1972-73.

Poster for "The Fourth Tower of Inverness" (1972) radio drama, which can be downloaded for listening at Moonlight Audio Theatre, here

According to the wikipedia entry, "The Fourth Tower of Inverness" is in reference to a farmhouse in Quebec, Canada named "Inverness" after the original home of the owner in Inverness, Scotland.

The time travel aspect of the adventure may have been suggested to Hammack by his involvement with the 4th Dimension board game, completed prior to his work on the tournament module.

A room involving a giant chessboard also appeared in the AD&D Masters Tournament dungeon "Doomkeep" at Gen Con XII in 1979 (see The Dragon #34).

For those interested, Hammack discusses "The Ghost Tower of Inverness" in an interview on Grogtalk (March 2, 2020) from 45:30 to 54:50

Sequels and Derivative Works:

"Return to the Ghost Tower of Inverness" (2003) by Creighton Broadhurst and Steve Pearce was released as part of the Living Greyhawk campaign in the d20 era.

A 4e adventure "March of the Phantom Brigade" (2011) by Rodney Thompson involved the Ghost Tower of Inverness.

A 5e adventure "Return to the Ghost Tower of Inverness" (2019) by Elisa Teague was released for the D&D Adventurers League.

Other Settings:

Like "White Plume Mountain", I feel that "The Ghost Tower of Inverness" has a B/X aesthetic, and could be run using the Expert Set rules.

The adventure can be situated anywhere within the Empire of Thyatis, possibly using the introduction from the tournament version involving the emperor, himself.


  1. I'm intrigued by the archived materials. Wish they would or could scan those documents.

    1. I agree!

      Still, it's nice to know they're available. I've been to the Strong a couple of times, on my way to visit the in-laws. Might have to plan another trip, sometime soon!