Thoughts on Barrowmaze (Part 2)

Last week I posted some of my thoughts on Barrowmaze, and it turns out that I still have a ton of notes jotted down about the game.

Today I’ll write about some of the ways in which I customized Barrowmaze for my own purposes, how I maintained the pace to ensure closure to the adventure, and some more thoughts about maps.

(By the way, the image at right is by Von Allen and is entitled “fleeing from Barrowmaze”. I put a printout of it on my referee screen to remind the players that not every encounter can be defeated.)

Customizing Barrowmaze

In my previous post, I already mentioned some of the ways in which I adapted Barrowmaze to the Dolmenwood setting. I tried to keep a “Wormskin” vibe for any of the above-ground encounters too – Blair Witch stick figures in the trees, flute-playing skeletons frolicking in the Barrow Mounds, and weird-ass Drune imagery.

The biggest adjustment I made, though, was to the finale. Since I was a kid, I’ve been obsessed with the cover image from the AD&D module H2: The Mines of Bloodstone. I wanted to use this as the grand finale to my Barrowmaze game. Luckily, Greg Gillespie already included this setpiece encounter as area #324 in Barrowmaze Complete.

The backstory that I gave the players was that the old god of death (Nergal) had died in the Barrowmaze centuries ago and that the Drunes were harvesting his remaining divine essence (godsblood) to create their own deity. However, one of their rituals had gone horribly wrong and the necromantic energies were now rampant in area. This attracted the attention of the Acolytes of Orcus, who sought to use the power of the dead god to summon their demon lord (or at least a proxy) to the Dolmenwood. (If harvested, the godsblood would be treated like Azoth from Dwimmermount.)

Everything in the final three sessions led up to this big finale, which ended up playing out more-or-less how I wanted.

Maintaining the Pace

I’ve got about a 10-session attention span for any of my games. If you look at any of my previous adventure logs, you’ll see they typically don’t last much longer than that. Since Barrowmaze is so large, I needed to keep up the pace to make sure we didn’t become unfocused and run too long.

I set up the struggle between the Drune and the Acolytes of Orcus early on, and made sure that the situation progressed between each game session. In their explorations, the PCs wiped out most of the Drune (I had originally thought they might establish an uneasy alliance, but one finger of death ruined any chance of that). I also introduced hints about the Fount of Law and the previous expedition of Sir Guy de O’Veargne.

I got lucky, though, when the party stumbled on the ghoul warren and recovered the Fount fairly early on. The Fount urged the PCs northward, towards the Pit of Chaos, and I made sure that there were signs that the Acolytes of Orcus were preparing for a pretty major ritual. Once the clock was ticking, it only took two sessions for the characters to fight their way to the “final encounter” and complete the “primary” adventure.

There’s still a lot of unexplored areas in the Barrowmaze (plus all the material from Barrowmaze II / BMC), so I’ve left things open for further adventures. But I’m glad I was able to tie up the main storyline in a reasonable length of time.

More About Maps

In general, I really like the layout of the Barrowmaze I map. However, there are some areas of the dungeon with very limited access. The Mongrelmen zone in the south-west corner, for example, can only be accessed via a single hallway through room #28. Likewise, the entire northern third of the map only be accessed via area 110.

I therefore introduced the concept of “ghoul tunnels” to jaquay the map and connect different areas. I placed these at the bottom of pit traps or in rooms that already contained ghoul encounters. My idea was these were “back doors” into areas that would otherwise be inaccessible, and also give me a way to introduce “new” parts of the dungeon (like some areas from Barrowmaze Complete that were cool).

However, the players viewed these tunnels as murderholes & deathtraps and avoided them entirely. Oh well.

One other issue that came up several times was door descriptions… When the party entered a hallway I would usually describe any doorways that they could see based on the map. As the PCs ventured further, I would quickly check each room description to see if there was anything pertinent to their explorations (usually they would listen at doors and I would see if there was anything noisy inside).

However, there are a fair number of doors that smashed, burned, spiked opened, or otherwise “different” – but this info was hidden in the room description. Often I wouldn’t catch this before I had already described it as a standard closed dungeon door. At this point I would highlight or underline the door description in my copy of the module, and if the characters ever returned to the area I would use the “correct” description. This was a good cover – it definitely felt like other factions were present in the dungeon when the doors changed between sessions.

I wish, though, that any “unusual” doors were marked slightly differently on the adventure map – some notation to signal to the referee they should refer to the description.

This post has gotten too long as well, so I’ll stop here.



About K-Slacker

Gamer and 5th-level magic-user.
This entry was posted in Campaign Setting, DolmenBarrow, Game Sessions and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Thoughts on Barrowmaze (Part 2)

  1. Von Allan says:

    First, you just made my day! That’s a really old piece, but it’s still really neat to see it being used like that! :)

    Second, I really like your mash-up of the dungeon. That’s seriously genius and a really neat fusion. I haven’t gotten my hands on Dolmenwood or Wormskin yet. I have to admit I hesitated over the “dark faerie” aspect of it. I generally prefer non-faerie but I’ve been hearing really awesome things about Gavin and Greg’s work on this and I’m really intrigued.

    I also love how you are “Jaquaying” the map. That, along with a lot of Bryce Lynch’s comments on adventure design, are huge influences on me. Bryce in particular has made me really conscious of how critical a good map is. And how important it is not to hide key text in the map. My wife and I have been playing the “Grave of the Green Flame” module (kinda doing a co-op version instead of solitaire) and the lack of bolded or otherwise highlighted text DOES make it hard to find key pieces of information in a hurry, especially when I KNOW the information is there…somewhere. GAH!

    Thanks again!

    • K-Slacker says:

      Thanks! The “Oh, Shit! Run!” image is great, as is the rest of your art.

      My previous campaign was more of a grimdark Swords & Sorcery flavour, so I was looking for a change of pace with DolmenBarrow – more humour and some whimsy. I’m not sure how effective I was at maintaining this tone – it’s a bit outside my comfort zone in play.

      Since I used a printout for my “game copy” of Barrowmaze, I was able to highlight and make notes very easily on the pages themselves. With such a big dungeon, it’s hard to “read ahead” and note important features, but for “setpiece” encounters I tried to highlight key details ahead of time.

  2. Von Allan says:

    I have to admit to enjoying a certain amount of humour in my games. I can’t quite explain why, though it might have something to do with growing reading AXEL PRESSBUTTON comics and whatnot. I’m certainly not against grimdark. Rather, it’s that tone is very hard to maintain. It’s kinda similar to something Patrick Wetmore wrote about a few years back (

    I actually haven’t read my copy of BARROWMAZE I in quite some time (I have it along with COMPLETE in PDF form, but I’ve stuck with the latter). I’m curious to see the differences. Greg Gillespie really captured something with it, a vibe and a philosophy, that I really love.

    Thanks again for the kind words!

  3. Pingback: Thoughts on Barrowmaze (Part 3) | Mutants & Magic

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