Thoughts on Barrowmaze (Part 3)

This is my third (and final) post about Barrowmaze in my recent DolmenBarrow campaign. You should probably start by reading my first and second posts on this subject.

Before I begin, I’d just like to say that this Barrowmaze campaign was closest I’ve come to running a “canonical” dungeon in D&D. For that alone it deserves great praise. I’d like to thank Greg Gillespie again for publishing this adventure and making it awesome.

Today I’m covering escalation of wandering monsters, setpiece encounters vs. Quantum Ogres, and thoughts on material from other modules.


Wandering Monster Escalation

One detail that I noticed from the Forbidden Caverns of Archaia is that different random encounter tables are presented for “low level” and “mid level” adventurers. I think that this is a great idea and I wish I’d used something similar in my campaign.

As the PCs grew in experience, the random encounters began to lose their edge. Instead of being a challenge, a bunch of skeletons or zombies just became a distraction. I spiced things up by using the d30 Skeleton Variations and similar tables by Richard LeBlanc.

But I wish that I had ramped up the undead power level too. The PCs never even got to encounter or wight or spectre during the campaign, or got to see my house rules for level drain…

I’m sure that in the text Barrowmaze suggests changing up the encounter tables too, but it’s nice to see the Caverns of Archaia providing them directly.

Setpiece Encounters in Barrowmaze

This one’s a bit of a random thought…

When I was first reading Barrowmaze, I was concerned that some of the setpiece encounters could be Quantum Ogres. A “Quantum Ogre” is when you provide the illusion of choice to your players: asking “Do you take the left hand or right hand path” when both directions lead to the same encounter – the titular Quantum Ogre. They’re a bad symptom of railroad adventures, so should generally be avoided.

There are a couple spots in Barrowmaze where the party can encounter an “event in progress”. The battle between factions in room 110 is an example, and so is Kelmok’s ritual in room 41. In my own campaign, the “final battle” in room 151 was another case.

After some further reflection, I decided that these events are not Quantum Ogres. In my own campaign, the party had a meaningful chance to learn about these areas in advance (either through hearing the sounds of battle, or being warned about the “Necromancer” by an NPC adventuring party). And in Barrowmaze the characters are not forced to follow a particular course of action in any of these events. They’re not “railroady”, and instead force the players to make decisions and take actions as part of a “living dungeon”.

In my campaign, the PCs helped to defeat the Drunes in the faction battle and killed the High Drune Kelmok in the midst of his ceremony. This destabilized the Drunes’ hold over the Barrowmaze and allowed the Acolytes of Orcus to claim control.

Adding Other Material

With the “main mission” of Barrowmaze I complete, I had some thoughts on how to proceed. One of my ideas for an ongoing DolmeBarrow campaign was to introduce the Ruined Abbey of St. Clewd from Wormskin. The PCs had acquired a reputation as undead experts; “busters of ghosts”, per se. The Abbey is within a day’s travel of Prigwort and could be used as a launchpad for other Dolmenwood adventures.

There are also two modules that I wanted that I wanted to tie into Barrowmaze, but never got the chance…

The first is Tomb of the Iron God by Matthew Finch. Since the forces of Orcus were defeated in my home campaign, I’d replace the Iron God with Orcus. The “Iron Priests” would instead be the former servants of Orcus, cursed by the demon lord because of their failure. The “Eater of the Dead” would be a competitor to Orcus, haunting the catacombs. I’d merge the catacombs from the Iron God module with the Temple of Orcus in Barrowmaze II and make it accessible as a “secret area” off of the main Barrowmaze map.

And the second is Death Frost Doom by James Raggi. I have an idea of using the Shrine as a deeper, older adjunct to the Barrowmaze. It would be associated with the original worship of Nergal and provide hints as to why the old God of Death needed to be killed… Characters would need to piece together forgotten secrets to gain access to this area, similar to reaching the Tablet of Chaos in Barrowmaze II

There’s also a lot of small one-page adventures set in crypts and barrows – such as the Burial Mound of Esur the Red by Dyson Logos – that would be easy to incorporate into the Barrow Mounds. You could keep a campaign running for quite a well just using these smaller barrows.


Well; that’s it. That’s about all I have to say about Barrowmaze (for now). Hope you enjoyed my posts.

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About K-Slacker

Gamer and referee for online gameblogs.
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