Let's talk about Barrowmaze

The1True

My my my, we just loooove to hear ourselves don't we?
The more I run Barrowmaze, the more I enjoy it and see the nuances to the game design.
Like the last few sessions, I've been running the Temple of Set portion of the dungeon. During that bar-crawl downtime procedural I ran a little while ago, the players stirred up a nest of Necromancers of Set and ended up following them back to their secret entrance to the Barrowmaze. They rested up (in the Barrow Moors; never smart) and then headed in. What has ensued has been a fantastic time for all.1661926144962.png

(sorry about the messy Snip'n Sketch from Roll20. I'm misusing my work computer atm.)

The top left is the stairs up to the Barrowmoors. The large area in the middle is the temple with its barracks full of low-mid lvl necromancers and their Bugbear and undead guards. The room descriptions clearly laid out a defence strategy for the temple as well as possible routes of movement/escape/reinforcements from allied monsters to the south (which I duly noted on the Roll20 map). Absolutely amazing. Instead of chaos, the characters hit organized and escalating resistance almost immediately and were eventually forced to flee into the deeper dungeon.

Then to reinforce that; the monster roster for this region of the dungeon is mostly necromancers and their undead servants. So, every time I rolled a positive on the wandering monster table there was a high probability of encountering necromancer hunting parties, hounding the characters around the dungeon. This led to some really rewarding play as the players were constantly reminded of this nagging loose end while they crawled the quieter crypts around the temple.

Eventually, they circumnavigated the temple almost entirely, probing its defences. The final assault was brutal, with wave after wave of monsters and a final desperate stand at the temple-proper (215). I juiced things up with a summoned demon (having established earlier that the necromancers can perform rituals of group suicide in order to summon powerful Set-themed outsiders) and the final fight ran them through most of their resources (I had been fretting about various wands and staves allowed to fall into the hands of the wizard in various Barrowmaze treasure hordes) and even killed (or reduced to unconsciousness) two guys. One of them, a duskblade (yeah yeah, candyclass) reduced himself to 0 hp casting a hp-draining spell into this sword so he could hit the demon. He killed it with his final blow before collapsing into unconsciousness! drahma! spectacle!

It just all fell into place naturally without explicit instructions from the author, and I think that's what people have been getting at here regarding the best terse designs. Maybe I'll dig around later and see if I can copy/paste some text examples from this section of the book to illustrate what I'm saying. Anyway, the more I run this adventure, the more sublime I find it to be.
 

Johann

*eyeroll*
Sounds great! I ran Barrowmaze many years ago and have nothing but fond memories -- it's a great module!
 

squeen

8, 8, I forget what is for
This sounds perfect!

It reminds me very much of the protracted battles we had against various factions in my old DM's "first level" dungeon. It was nearly always the case that we stirred up a hornets' nest of clever foes that quickly "ruined" the dungeon for first-level forays. When things eventually got bad enough (and we had finally gotten a player or two up a level or two), we'd head into another dungeon of his that wasn't polluted by our mistakes. :)
 

The1True

My my my, we just loooove to hear ourselves don't we?
I've got his latest hardcover in the pile on my bedside table. I'm looking forward to reading it. Forbidden Caverns and Highfell are full of good stuff, but neither of them could touch the original work. I suspect it comes down to playtesting. Like he learned the elements of serious adventure publishing, but he's been pumping them out too fast to actually try them out. We've had the playtest debate elsewhere in this forum. It's obviously always best to thoroughly playtest, but in practical terms, especially with these BIG productions, not always possible I think.
 

Beoric

8, 8, I forget what is for
Other than the cover, is there any difference between Barromaze Complete and the 10th Anniversary Edition?
 

The1True

My my my, we just loooove to hear ourselves don't we?
Other than the cover, is there any difference between Barromaze Complete and the 10th Anniversary Edition?
All I could find was a 4 yr old post saying not to buy the 5e conversion which is missing the critical Dungeon Restock Table for some reason. Greg updates his PDF's a couple times a year though, so that may have been sorted since then...
 

Beoric

8, 8, I forget what is for
All I could find was a 4 yr old post saying not to buy the 5e conversion which is missing the critical Dungeon Restock Table for some reason. Greg updates his PDF's a couple times a year though, so that may have been sorted since then...
Yeah, there's a LL version of both Barrowmaze Complete and the 10th Anniversary Edition, so that isn't really an issue. I note the question was asked several times on DrivethruRPG, without ever getting answered; I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that there is no difference except marketing. Will probably pick up the later version on the assumption that it is at least exactly the same, with some possibility of there being editorial cleanups.
 

Johnny F. Normal

A FreshHell to Contend With
Yeah, there's a LL version of both Barrowmaze Complete and the 10th Anniversary Edition, so that isn't really an issue. I note the question was asked several times on DrivethruRPG, without ever getting answered; I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that there is no difference except marketing. Will probably pick up the later version on the assumption that it is at least exactly the same, with some possibility of there being editorial cleanups.
Cover and an essay. No difference in actual content.
 

Johnny F. Normal

A FreshHell to Contend With
It took my crew a few years and a number of side quest diversions but they eventually defeated the great Barrowmaze.
We had lots of fun in the tomb of tombs.
For those playing or considering, giving some thought and planning to faction action can create a host of fun via manipulation, misdirection and general malevolence.
On the playtesting front it is obvious that BM had lots of play, I actually own Bryce's copies of BM 1 & 2, and by the time complete was published it had lots of play. With the followup MDs we get to the conundrum or produce or play test for years. With Caverns I have and will use bits and pieces. Highfell I would like to use in its entirety. Dwarrowdeep is still being chewed on and I'm trying to ignore the 'it's not Moria' claptrap from the blog. The followup dungeons were obviously made on much shorter timelines and I have accepted that more imperfect things that require some work or can be used piecemeal is likely better than having less.
 

The1True

My my my, we just loooove to hear ourselves don't we?
For those playing or considering, giving some thought and planning to faction action can create a host of fun via manipulation, misdirection and general malevolence.
I'm finding these factions are kind of intuitively running themselves without a great deal of prep which is nice since usually faction play requires a lot of fleshing out NPC's and motivations or reading and highlighting long-winded write-ups. One of the better examples of this is a long wide hallway where a group of Necromancers of Set are battling a posse of Priests of Orcus. The PC's can choose to take sides or sit it out and just observe the capabilities and motivations of their enemies. So much information conveyed with such a simple encounter!

I actually own Bryce's copies
Sorry what?

Highfell I would like to use in its entirety.
You know what bugs me the most about Highfell? It's weird, but the buildings on the floating island are supposed to be various colleges of wizardry built above ground, but he basically treats them like above-ground dungeons. It makes NO sense that none of these buildings have windows.
Also, Barrowmaze is wide open, so technically your PC's can go almost anywhere right from the outset, but in practice it's arranged in a way that PC's are more likely to explore lower-level encounter-areas early on and gradually encounter greater threats (and have a chance to flee them) as they go along, and I'm not seeing that on the floating island.
 

Johnny F. Normal

A FreshHell to Contend With
I'm finding these factions are kind of intuitively running themselves without a great deal of prep which is nice since usually faction play requires a lot of fleshing out NPC's and motivations or reading and highlighting long-winded write-ups. One of the better examples of this is a long wide hallway where a group of Necromancers of Set are battling a posse of Priests of Orcus. The PC's can choose to take sides or sit it out and just observe the capabilities and motivations of their enemies. So much information conveyed with such a simple encounter!

Sorry what?

You know what bugs me the most about Highfell? It's weird, but the buildings on the floating island are supposed to be various colleges of wizardry built above ground, but he basically treats them like above-ground dungeons. It makes NO sense that none of these buildings have windows.
Also, Barrowmaze is wide open, so technically your PC's can go almost anywhere right from the outset, but in practice it's arranged in a way that PC's are more likely to explore lower-level encounter-areas early on and gradually encounter greater threats (and have a chance to flee them) as they go along, and I'm not seeing that on the floating island.
1) Yes, that encounter on the 'highway' is excellent and tends to be the first introduction to the two cults if the party is exploring the dungeon in a linear fashion from the beginning rather than 'going down the well'. What i am getting at is consideration towards what the factions are doing and where they are going. For example I was moving about the mongloids, Orcus, Set and Griselda fairly well at least once we were spending more time in their zones. However, i sorta fumbled with the harpies, gargoyles and Renatta. Greg does a very good of providing motivations we just need to breath the next level of life into them.

2) A number of years back our host was liquidating some of his collection (2014?) and acquired some items, including the original BM 1 & 2 books.

3) I am using (perverting) Pat Wetmore's Land of a Thousand Towers for the framework of my campaign so wizards are quite mad and exceptionally paranoid. If i have windows in my tower some hobo or nemesis could gain entrance to my tower and steal my secrets - therefore no windows! From a design perspective they are totally vertical dungeons so a compromise was required to prevent 1st level PCs from easily stepping into a 5th level dungeon without fairly warning them (e.g. BM stonework denoting age of the sector acting as a difficulty warning).tempImage9gsUY2.jpg
 

The1True

My my my, we just loooove to hear ourselves don't we?
2) A number of years back our host was liquidating some of his collection (2014?) and acquired some items, including the original BM 1 & 2 books.
Crazy. I'm wondering if I'd pay sweaty fan-boy prices for a 'The Best' or 'No Regrets' with a signed/stamped copy of the review inside... :unsure: :geek:😬
 
Very late to this thread, but since we're talking Barrowmaze here already... or at least were, years ago...

I tried running my group through this about 5 years back and they bounced off of all the fights with undead and the "open the crypt and it attacks" encounters. Leafing through it again today I saw that by section 2 that there's a lot more interactivity and puzzles. I was thinking of doing a kind of "highlights of area 1" from Barrowmaze 1 mashup of a few rooms/corridors for these 3rd level characters, and then grafting it on to the rooms that lead to area 2. Has anyone else done something like that? Do you see any downsides?

I was also considering cutting way back on the surrounding barrow mazes to a kind of greatest hits line up.
 
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The1True

My my my, we just loooove to hear ourselves don't we?
Have you considered just leading them to one of the higher level entrances from the moors?

I guess Area 1 "The Forbidden Antechamber" is mostly picked-over, quiet crypts. If you want to do a greatest hits, you could hand wave the grindy encounters and say they've been cleared by other adventurers. There's no faction play at this point in the dungeon, so you can easily fast forward without missing much. Skim it and make sure you leave in the couple of importent hooks (it's been a while, so I can't name anything off the top of my head other than a couple of map fragments hidden away, but I think there's a ghost looking for his magic item or something that you shouldn't cut).

There's definitely a lot of undead, and it's slow going. It's not a couple of breazy beer and pretzel sessions, that's for sure. I went with GG's suggestion to build up insanity in the characters in every encounter. The rogue eventually broke and we went to some fun online insanity charts. It gives meaning to the unending undead encounters (and his resulting hydrophobia made the Water Weird encounter extra awesome).
 
Have you considered just leading them to one of the higher level entrances from the moors?

If you want to do a greatest hits, you could hand wave the grindy encounters and say they've been cleared by other adventurers. There's no faction play at this point in the dungeon, so you can easily fast forward without missing much. Skim it and make sure you leave in the couple of importent hooks
Ooh, thanks -- that is certainly an easier answer. I appreciate that!
 

grodog

Should be playing D&D instead
I was also considering cutting way back on the surrounding barrow mazes to a kind of greatest hits line up.
I was not deeply interested in BM:C when it was first published, preferring the leaner BM1+2 editions. So, you might consider checking the earlier version out.

Note that I’ve not run BM in any form, either, so take this suggestion with a grain of salt.

Allan.
 
I was not deeply interested in BM:C when it was first published, preferring the leaner BM1+2 editions. So, you might consider checking the earlier version out.
I bought a PDF of the first one when it came out, then the complete Barrowmaze a few years later.

This Saturday I ran Barrowmaze I for a few hours. I invented an item in there that was needed for the ongoing campaign, I circled what I thought were all the most interesting rooms, planning to leave the more grindy rooms empty, and in the party went.

For the first hour or so it worked pretty well... and then my wife got bored checking for traps, waiting to see what was going to attack, and then fighting it. And I got tired of running her against yet more undead, programmed like robots to fight until finished. By the next day I just kind of zoomed on to the most interesting rooms regardless of the map and guided her to the Macguffin so we could return to the main part of the campaign.

I realize that the way I'm gaming may not perfectly coincide with the OSR, although it's not 5E style either. 5E feels like superheroic handholding, or the characters following a story path. We love the kind of freeform hexcrawl thing with various threads that can be followed and I guess my wife and I vibe off of a good Indiana Jones movie. Indy can get beat up, a lot, so he's not quite a superhero even though he makes it through. And those are the sorts of adventures we like to experience, albeit without the tale being on rails.

I grew up in the 70s, playing AD&D (because me and my friends all thought BASIC meant it was for little kids) and my wife -- whom I didn't know at the time -- was still playing it in the '80s. BUT neither of us grew up playing the whole "track your light sources, track your supplies, monitor your encumbrance" etc. any more than we grew up playing that you ran what you rolled up, even if the stats sucked. NO ONE among our gamers wanted to play a sucky character. We wanted things to be cinematic, and in the movies the whole "tracking resources thing" got glossed over for the sake of moving the adventure forward.

Now I wouldn't mind trying to play in an old school campaign like that, but my wife has no interest being a player in one. She has a demanding job where she deals with fairly traumatic things, and it can be very heartbreaking/frustrating. It cheers her to come home and right wrongs and lop monster heads in an imaginary world. Our RPG paradigm is also more than a little different than most because I end up almost always running a solo game for her. She's LESS interested in fighting monsters than she is meeting interesting creatures and dialoguing with them, experiencing sense of wonder scenery, and solving puzzles. They can be tactical combat puzzles, too, but... as you can see, this means our adventures are going to play slightly different from the norm. In some modules I cut about half the fights because many adventures are kind of endless combats. And because it's pretty much a one woman show with her the main character of the movie, there's not much lethality apart from her occasional side-kicks or minions.

Anyway. Barrowmaze looks great on paper. I had recently run Monastery of the Crimson Monks for her and she and I had a blast, and I didn't even have to cut anything out. But Crimson Monks had a lot more creatures/people to interact with. Barrowmaze, despite its various factions, didn't immediately cough those factions up either via random encounters or via rooms. I asked her why Crimson was better than the Barrows and she said it was just a lot more interesting and that the barrows were just relentless undead hidden behind very similar kinds of traps. She was pretty bored of constantly checking for secret doors, and looking for the same kind of pit trap, etc.

This is the second time I've tried to run the barrows. The first was for a group of 5, and we played for three or four nights and came away feeling the same way. I guess it's just not quite for me, or for the kind of folks I tend to game with. Highfell looks like it's significantly better as far as more variety in encounters and traps. I might try that eventually but likely not before Castle Xyntillan.
 
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squeen

8, 8, I forget what is for
She's LESS interested in fighting monsters than she is meeting interesting creatures and dialoguing with them, experiencing sense of wonder scenery, and solving puzzles. They can be tactical combat puzzles, too, but... as you can see, this means our adventures are going to play slightly different from the norm. In some modules I cut about half the fights because many adventures are kind of endless combats. And because it's pretty much a one woman show with her the main character of the movie, there's not much lethality apart from her occasional side-kicks or minions.

Anyway. Barrowmaze looks great on paper. I had recently run Monastery of the Crimson Monks for her and she and I had a blast, and I didn't even have to cut anything out. But Crimson Monks had a lot more creatures/people to interact with.
Both my daughters feel the same way.
 

The1True

My my my, we just loooove to hear ourselves don't we?
She's LESS interested in fighting monsters than she is meeting interesting creatures and dialoguing with them
Yeah, Barrowmaze is for the boardgamey side of the hobby. My murderhobos love it, but it is definitely not what you're looking for. Sorry man.

You might have better luck with some weird stuff like "Deep Carbon Observatory", "Spiral Isles" (although you've gotta TPK for that), "Gardens of Ynn", "King for a Day" has a whole mini-campaign packed with interesting characters and mysteries laid out, or "The Dark of Hotsprings Island" is super deluxe if you're feeling rich.

On the official products side, there's UK1 "Beyond the Crystal Cave" and of course, S3 "Expedition to the Barrier Peaks". Also, I'm fighting the world when I say this, but if you're all about role playing interactions and drawing wild, mental images; PLANESCAPE. Start with "The Eternal Boundary" move on to "The Great Modron March" and "Dead Gods" and I'll fight anyone who doesn't think these are an absolute trip!
 
Thanks for the recs. I'm running a hexcrawl that mostly based around the 5E Runewild and converting it to a kitbashed OSR system on the fly, but I supplement the fey foresty stuff with other adventures. Rosethrone stuff has worked quite well with it and I just dropped The Webs of Past and Present into it last night to great affect.

But adding some barrow mounds on the far edge of the map wasn't as much of a success. I think you're right -- Barrowmaze is probably more of a resource management/tactical game and my player can groove on that a bit but it isn't her motivating interest.

I have Hot Springs, and it looks fantastic, and because I've done work for Goodman Games I have the OAR version of Barrier Peaks. It's probably a bit gonzo for my wife, and I'd be worried Planescape and Deep Carbon might be similar, but I'll read descrips again. I intend to run Gardens of Ynn at some point because it will blend it pretty well with the whole fey vibe we've got going on here. Thanks for the other suggestions, which I'm barely or totally unfamiliar with. A good time to be checking out modules what with the sale running at DrivethruRPG right now!
 
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