Wednesday, June 5, 2019

A Tower Unto Heaven

Joos de Momper

I wrote this for a flash fiction assignment back in college, during the middle of an obsessive bout of  Binding of Isaac: Rebirth and during the early days of my tiptoeing around the blogosphere. It wasn't (originally) meant as a gameable text, but when you go about channeling roguelikes it happens anyway.

Troika and Into the Odd feels like the way to go, here, with a nice pointcrawl / Ynnian depth system to make the megadungeon more managable. I do have a page of notes describing how I'd do an OSR version of it from a year+ ago, which I have at hand but have not applied directly to this just yet. Those plans can be saved for a follow-up post.

A Tower Unto Heaven

You are alone.
The world dies around you.

A Tower rises unto Heaven

At its roots:
The dead
The scavengers
Those consumed
Those who linger
And you

Salvation waits at the top.


  • Jackal – Starts with the 9mm and the Duffel. Unlocked by default.
  • Zealot – Starts with the Tower Shield, the Inscribed Axe, and the Homemade Shotgun. Unlocked by a massacre of the enemy. 
  • Ferdinand – Starts with the Embedded Bullet and the Tome of Kings. Unlocked by lifting not a hand in violence.
  • Running Boy – Starts with the Package. Unlocked by witnessing a disaster. 
  • Sickley – Starts with the Troubling Cough. Unlocked after meeting the Coagulation in the Runoff. 
  • Anchorite – Starts with the Book of Forgotten Prayers. Unlocked by finding a hidden place. 
  • Duster – Starts with the Tattered Headscarf, the Bullet-Sprayer, and the Sack of Coins. Unlocked by extensive patronage of the Bazaar. 
  • Armiger – Starts with the Tarnished Saber and the Cannonade. Unlocked through an act of treason. 
  • Deserter Hua – Starts with the Assault Rifle and Little Min. Unlocked by finding the Old Phonograph.
  • Bookburner – Starts with the Pile of Ashes and the Handful of Embers. Unlocked by destroying a sign of false hope. 
  • Sentinel – Starts with the Guardian Module and Attendant Drone. Unlocked by awakening the heart of the Tower. 
  • Evangelist – Starts with the Good Book. Unlocked after finding the truth. 
  • Burnt Man – Starts with the Charcoal Heart and the 0K Mind. Unlocked when the gods are challenged. 
  • Angel – Starts with the Smiting Rifle and the Nimbus. Unlocked when the rest are dead. 
  • Spiral (Hidden Character) – Starts with the End at the Beginning and the Beginning at the End. Unlocked by descending.


  • Old Can of Beans – A scavenger’s meal. It will keep you alive a little longer.
  • Handful of Screws – There are points on the skull where they might be twisted in, to pry the mind open. 
  • The Nuclear Gospel – “And lo, I saw a rider upon a glowing glass horse, and the rain was like fire…” 
  • Lost Days – A grimy stuffed toy with a limp neck. Still smiling. 
  • Tattered Flags – Pulled from a ship stranded on a dune. They spell an unknown word. 
  • Occam’s Razor – One cannot afford to make undue assumptions when shaving. 
  • Holy Woad – The zealots wear it as a second skin. Blood and fury are mightier than any armor. 
  • Snail-Shell Necklace – A trinket of no outward worth. 
  • Bloody Hands – Survival comes at a cost. 
  • “For the King!” – An ancient dirge, inscribed in wax and tattered parchment. 
  • Gold and Sulfur Fiddle – A gift, from the dark man at the crossroads. He’s dying. 
  • Crown of Teeth – The authority of a decayed queen rests on your brow, a hive for errant enamel knights. 
  • Homemade Sutures – Make do with what is available. It will have to be enough. 
  • Rust – There’s no telling what it once was, but it might still have some use. 
  • Joker’s Deck – 52 cards, all wild. Draw one, and see what happens. 
  • A Song from the Moon – Pulled from an Angel’s holy lungs. 
  • Right Hand Stone / Left Hand Stone – Two parts of the same whole. One leads, and one follows. One supports, and one undermines. 
  • A Punctured Mask – The remnants of an unlucky scavenger. Will you avoid their fate? 
  • The Machine Code – The rune-voice of the Tower. Learn its mantras, and speak with metal and stone. 
  • Melting Lantern – As it gives light, so it dies. The puddles it leaves glow for a time. 
  • Waterlogged Enchiridion – An ancient manual to beasts and beings. Some knowledge might still be discerned from the smeared pages. 
  • The Professional – Spend a single bullet for a single death. Be clean and competent. 
  • Great Macahuitl – The weapon of an ancient demigod. It can barely be lifted. 
  • Plastic Jug of Water – Mind the worms. 
  • Cracked Black Pyramid – The blue fire within has died, but the channel to its master remains open. 
  • Taboo – They hold power, and release it when broken. Once broken, never returned. 
  • The Last Mammoth’s Legacy – A vast and trunkless leg of bone, from an antique beast. 
  • Sack of Whitefire Grenades – Let them burn. 
  • Heretic’s Heart – It is still warm. Let its power become yours. 
  • Head of a Dead Man – It will show you safe passage. It feeds upon flesh, though it has no stomach. 
  • What Came Back – Draw upon the power of a soul without rest. 
  • What Remains – Shape the form of a body undying. 
  • A Piece of the Tower, Upon a String – A remembrance.


  • Organelles – All that remain are their knotted innards, stumbling in the dark.
  • Botflies – Their hosts are barely discernible now, so great is the infestation.
  • Black Lung – They exhale the pollution that cooks in their bellies.
  • Ambergris-Eater ­­­– When a whale carcass washes into the shallows, they feast with their bone-needle mouths.
  • Black Pyramid – Slaves of a greater master. They possess a three-lobed eye of blue fire.
  • Censorite – No eyes to see offense, no ears to hear it, no tongue to taste it, two hands to remove it.
  • Shadows on the Wall – Shades burned into the very stone by calamity.
  • Urchin-heads ­– They carve out the skull and use it as a home. They play in tide pools.
  • Celestial Beast – The twelve zodiac species. One can see stars inside their bodies.
  • Consumption Drones – The advertisements linger for longer than the product.
  • FOD – You want FOD? You get FOD. FOD all the time. FOD for you and you and you.
  • Remnants – For some, there is no desire to go on, but no will to die.
  • Shades – A heavy-shadowed soul becomes trapped in its own mindless repetition.
  • Plague Rats – The fiercest grow to the size of men, bloated on their hordes of siblings.
  • Tithe-Takers – Coin makes the gods happy. Their rigid smiles clink and clatter.
  • Guardians, Wardens, Protectors – The Tower’s defenders, long silent.
  • Copper-Eyes – Bullet talismans tied in their beards, their lives bought for two coins.
  • Deathly Merchant – A corpse-medicine seller. He is reluctant to part with his wares.
  • Decidui – Leafy servants of the seasons. Their fruit carries the cost of eternal life. 
  • Tooth Folk – They traded their queen’s gifts for jagged shards of honor. 
  • Shrine-Shield Maiden – They carry the homes of their small gods on their backs. 
  • Muddie-Worms – Take care to remove the burrowing eggs each night upon the flats. 
  • Whitecap Janes – Their fleshy scalps are a common bandit fashion. 
  • Chimeric Mongrel - Years of genetic mastery meets generations of inbreeding. 
  • Water Bandit – Dirty jugs of life, stolen and sold. Each one flies his own brand banner. 
  • Painted Cherub – A faceless clay servant, bright-painted and giggling 
  • Crag Scaler – It plunders the skeletal nests of cliffside birds for what eggs might remain. 
  • Scrapling – Children of the old machines, cobbled together in factory wombs, suckling at electric teats. 
  • Aborted Ascendant – Not all pilgrims reach the divine. Those who fail are pierced with red spears, and wander the path as warnings. 
  • Divine Parasite – The wombs of the gods are barren and riddled with cancers. 
  • Thronekeepers – Since the Tower’s creation they have served at the foot of the Throne. To the end of the Tower, they will still serve. 
  • Stone-Breaker – Slow of mind and scarred of hand, they carve out quarries for blue-eyed masters. 
  • Savings – What is shaved off a product when the first cuts are made. 
  • Feastbringer – Longing for guests, it uses what ingredients its body can provide. 
  • Whitesmith – A worker of metal, coated in ash and dust. Flames burn behind its goggles. 
  • Color Catcher – A collector of shades no longer seen, emotions no longer felt. 
  • Sister Executor – Behind the rusted mail and mask of rags, there is a rare kindness.


  • Inside-Out-Man – He is left vulnerable by an ally scorned long ago.
  • Dappled Woman – She dances in the forest glades, oblivious in her joy.
  • Ten-Knives, Wasteland King – He wears on his belt the knives that failed to kill him.
  • Maid of Autumn – Kindly young death, adorned in dry leaves.
  • Lady of Spring – Heavy with verdant growth, what she births she then consumes.
  • Lord of Summer – A brief respite from the cold, a weakened spate of heat.
  • Miser of Winter – Offer what blood you owe to the turning of the year.
  • Tank-Killer – Her rifle has 110 notches scratched above a red ribbon.
  • Wheel of the Cosmos – The measure of the world had gone askew, the pace slowed.
  • The Dark Fiddler – Keeper of a moonlit crossroads.
  • Master of the Frozen Waterfall – He trained so long that the blood in his veins is now ice. He will not move from his vigil.
  • The Archivist – Long hours wasted stain her face with ink. She pastes together what has been lost, to no end.
  • Conductor of Choirs – Once, the red sky might be rent asunder at the raise of a baton.
  • The Organist – It might rise from earthen dreams to play ivory keys and pipes of stone.
  • Urchin Chieftess and Harem – The tribe is strong, but the children grumble and bicker.
  • Merchant of Merchants – All men pay him tribute, in blood and water and bullets.
  • Cloud Keeper – A shepherd of the sky, a shaper of winds, a mourner unto the dawn.
  • Scab and Clog – Twin killers, sifting through sewage for treasures and baubles.
  • The Highest Elder Trees – The council of roots nears completion, a declaration may come. Perhaps too late.
  • Tornod the Slate – He carries a shield torn out of a mountain, and the weight of ancient sins along with it.
  • Greater Black Pyramid – Its child herds fly over the land, to seek an ending.
  • Lost Delta Strider – Its lonely cry echoes over the mudflats, and goes unanswered.
  • Aggressive Advertisement Unit – Mad without its missing, mindless half
  • Conjoined Septuplet – Father was proud, mother had certain other opinions.
  • Cadaverous Queen – Even in exile, she does not begrudge hospitality to travelers.
  • Migratory Memetic Host – The brain is a womb for embryonic ideas, but it seeks a wet nurse.
  • Ancient Core Overwatch – The oldest metal grandfather, waking from his dreams of war.
  • Lynching-Clock – A machine-tower, frequented by those with no time left.
  • Grand Arsonist – When the fire grows bright enough, hot enough, he will at last see.
  • Overseer of Zygote Storage – There is a plan. There is a plan. There is a plan. Senior Shield-Mother – Wrinkled and bent, she watches her few remaining students with pride and sadness.
  • Sister Superior Executor – She does not wish to do this.
  • The Throne Beneath Heaven – The end. The goal. Finality.
  • The Iconic (Hidden Boss) – You are the last. He was the first.


  • Cruel Tai – A bent old man on a wheeled throne of IV drips and waste bags. The bandit clans stay far away from his hollow, except to offer tribute.
  • Baba Clink, the Merchant – A master merchant, whose domain is as wide as his waist.
  • The Coagulation – A mass of sick and abandoned flesh.
  • Man in the Hot, Dark Room – An unknown force.
  • Alice, the Witch – She’s always up for a game of cards. A thin pale line runs across her neck.
  • The Chorus – A trio of shrouded beings, watching progress from afar. They will occasionally stop their commentary to pass off a bauble to a traveler.


Departure (Main Menu Theme)
Dealer in Arms and Legs (Bazaar / Shop Theme)
A Moment of Peace (Secret Room Theme)
A Moment Shattered (Secret Room Combat Theme)
Brutality (Miniboss Combat Theme)
The Deed Is Done (Post-Boss Theme)

Coral Dream (Reef Theme)
Knee-deep (Runoff Theme)
Moss and Stream (Deep Woods Theme)
Frozen Dust (The Waste Theme)
Death March (The Long Road Theme)
Skirmish (Outer Ring Boss Theme)

Abandoned Knowledge (Archives Theme)
Star Turning (Zodiac Halls Theme)
Pre-Order Bonus (Consumption Incursion Theme)
Antibody (Sentinel Overwatch Theme)
Under Gods’ Eyes (Temple District Theme)
Further to Climb (Heights Boss Theme)

Gone (Sky Cemetery Theme)
Notes of Moonlight and Fire (Choir Theme)
Without End (House of Years Theme)
“It’s Cold Here” (Apotheosis Theme)
From On High (Summit Boss Theme)

Devil’s Fiddling (Dancer’s Depths Theme)

A Tower Unto Heaven (Final Boss Theme)
Clouds, Be My Home (Credits Theme)


You have died. Your bones remain in the Tower’s cold halls.
He put a crown of scrap on his head and called himself a king.
A squatter in hallowed halls. A tyrant whose domain died long before his ascent.
The Throne grants many powers, but it cannot reverse death.
Her flame of revenge went unsated, and slowly starved.
He witnessed the cosmos bloom before him.
He had come looking for answers. He found all of them.
He placed an offering, wrapped in brown paper, at the foot of the Throne.
His task completed, he vanished, and left his memorial in the snow.
The air was thin here, and it was pure.
He danced with the sun, blind and mute.
For the first time, he wore no shackles.
He shaved off his beard, and was reborn.
His service never wavered, to the very end.
He had fulfilled his father’s orders.
“Min…Min, look. We’re going home.”
She held her daughter close, trying to keep her warm.
Truth might be changed by fire, or so she thought.
But what then, when truth is but ash?
Soon, she had forgotten everything.
Passing fancies filled her eyes and ears.
And she was happy.
Perhaps now, it would be set right. Perhaps now, order might be restored.
It called out to its ancient comrades: Come to me, old friends!
Corroded stone and long-dead metal answered with silence.
Finding one’s gods often leaves one disappointed in what lies beneath the masks they shed.
Their true form is in the journey.
In his final moments, he forgave those who smote him.
For generations, he would be hailed as a saint.
Now, it waited, to see if the cycle had been broken.
Time is but a snake eating its tail. A journey ever repeated, without end.
How many had failed?
You have replaced the first to climb.
You are worthy to sit the throne.
A Tower Unto Heaven is yours. 


  1. The roguelike / roguelite formula of "defeat boss, unlock permanent upgrade" appeals to me on a deep level.

  2. I think this should be an actual game.
    I would play the heck out of that.

    1. It is possible to do, although probably on a simple level, through T-Engine.

    2. The ease of turning it into one is my main reason for digging it up - it's halfway to a game already.

    3. A tabletop game, that is.

  3. This has me itching for some madness.