Welcome to the Flaming Faggot

Callovia is called "the boundless empire" yet you have managed to find its northern border - a notorious roadhouse deep within the Madrasan Marches on the edge of the wilds of Llanvirnesse. The sign above the door reads "Flaming Faggot," which would suggest a cozy, homey inn with fresh biscuits served at teatime if not for the severed troll heads mounted on pikes at the gate.

As you cross the threshold the raucous din quiets momentarily as all eyes dart to the door and calloused hands drop instinctively to well-worn sword hilts. The threat, instantly assessed, is dismissed and roadhouse patrons go about their business hardly missing a beat.

Grim, hard-eyed men huddle around tables in close conversation thick with conspiracy; caravan guards gamble away their earnings; Caemric rangers sit close to the fireplace cooking the damp of the Black Annis from their clothes as they warm their innards with Red Dragon Ale; minstrels play and buxom wenches dance for the pleasure of men who pay them little attention - until they need a companion to warm their bed.

As you approach the bar, a huge, bald barman with a greatsword slung across his back slides a mug of freshly-pulled ale towards you, its frothy head dripping over the rim.

"Pull up a seat, lad," he says, "and let me tell you a tale of high adventure."

Friday, February 24, 2012

Delving into the Barrowmaze

Last week I posted a preliminary look at Greg Gillespie's new dungeon adventure, Barrowmaze.  Owing to the fact that the pages were still hot from the laser printer as I wrote it, I wasn't able to delve very deeply into the dungeon, but in the week since, it is fair to say that I've become a Barrowmaze fanatic.  Many in-depth reviews have been already been posted, including a recent one on Grognardia that sums up my take on the adventure perfectly, so I don't feel the need to write another.

What I would like to do is describe what it feels like to descend into the Barrowmaze, which I had the privilege of doing last night as a guest player in Greg's own Barrowmaze campaign (anyone interested can read the session report here).  In short, it's scary as hell.  Remember the first time you ever played D&D when you were a kid?  Recall the apprehension and nervousness you felt when you cautiously descended the steps of your very first dungeon?  That's what this felt like; everything old was new again, and with thirty-three new monsters, many of them new creations, even hoary old veterans will tread carefully and take nothing for granted.  I spent most of last night's session on the edge of my seat; I felt like I was actually in claustrophobic confines of the dungeon with death waiting around the next corner.  The tension was only slightly lessened by Greg's players taunting me by waving donuts in front of the web cam then making yummy noises as they ate them.

Obviously, since the object of the adventure is to explore ancient catacombs beneath a field of barrow mounds, there is a strong undead theme, which is always popular - at least in my gaming group.  Moreover, the dungeon is filled with details that add to the atmosphere and suspense; cursed sarcophagi, mysterious runic tablets, dead gods, dark cults, amphorae and canopic jars, and inscriptions carved in the Black Tongue.  This dungeon isn't just a map filled with static encounters, it is a dynamic and believable setting that draws you in and holds you tight until you run screaming in terror.  Which is exactly what our party did last night - yelled, "Oh, shit, run," then hauled ass out of the dungeon and back to town as fast as our legs would carry us.

The picture above is an example of the excellent and evocative art that profusely decorates the adventure's interior.  I'm not usually keen on lots of art in an adventure module, because it is usually gratuitous and only the GM usually ever sees it.  But in this case, the art so well-illustrates the dungeon that it greatly helps the GM to get into the mood and describe the setting.

This is also a very well-supported adventure; you can go to the Barrowmaze website to download extra goodies, like an expanded map of the barrow moor, a custom character sheet, and I know that Greg is working on barrow geomorphs and stocking tables for parties that hex-crawl in the moors.

So, if you haven't already done so, head on over to RPGNow and pick this gem up - you won't be sorry.

(I couldn't help notice, as I copied the Barrowmaze URL on RPGNow, that many customers who bought it also purchased Megadungeon! so thanks to all of you who have done so.)


Dienekes said...

Great review. You convinced me, I'm off to get it. I just received Crypts and Things and this sounds like a perfect companion.

Sean Robson said...

Oh, yeah. Barrowmaze goes perfectly with a Sword & Sorcery rpg!

Gavin Norman said...

Ok I'm buying it right now, thanks for the inspiring words! :)

Dan said...

I will be picking this up, but not till after we've been through it Sean... :)

Kiltedyaksman said...

Thanks Sean.

Actually the image of the halfling lifting tail is both a reflection of a scene in the adventure but also a tip of the helm to an image from a certain early boxed set :)

Barrowmaze is sorta like an episode of the Simpsons, insofar as there are layers of detail and homage that can be peeled away, if so inclined.

burnedfx said...

I love the session report you linked. I know that the sessions there are not all focused on Barrowmaze, but I've enjoyed reading them so far.

Based on your previous post and this one, I was about to purchase Barrowmaze, but was annoyed to find that it's only in PDF. It does not look like RPG Now will let me preorder the print version, which sucks since I pulled out my card and was ready to purchase.

Greg, take my money!

Anyway, thanks for sharing your experience, Sean.

Dienekes said...

@kiltedyaksman; That is the reason I'll be buying it when the print version comes out. It's nice to see a product that has this kind of thought put into it.

@burnedfx; yeah I'm in the same boat. I want to buy both but there is no discount for the physical copy if you buy the PDF. I wish I could pre order and get the discount on the PDF. Maybe some sort of package deal option?

Sean Robson said...

It would be nice to have both the print and pdf versions; that way you can print off the maps without defacing your print copy. And the artwork is so lovely that it would be nice to have a print copy.