Monday, October 05, 2020

Chronicles of the Adventurers Guild #1

On the 21st day of Lenzin,

Guild members Moonshadow, Francis, and Kelso (see PC profiles here), with the bearer Lennard in employment, explored the following barrows:

#12 - A large barrow, the cover stone broken, and signs of recent traffic. The party was deterred from entering due to the stench of urine and rotten food.

#18 - A small barrow, the cover stone broken and the floor inside flooded. Here the party was attacked by a giant toad, and Moonshadow was felled by the beast's venom, before it was slain.

#21 - A medium barrow, its entrance covered by earth.

#20 - A small barrow, the cover stone broken, and within it a false sarcophagus that hid stairs to a series of tunnels below! Following the tunnels eastwards and then north, the party was assailed by skeletal warriors, which they vanquished. The hour being late, the party returned to the Guild.

Treasure recovered assessed to be 32 Gros in value, of which 12 Gros was disbursed to the party according to the terms of the contract.


Jeras, Guild Chronicler

Prepping and Running the Game

Barrowmaze is a huge dungeon, with some 70 surface barrows, a few of which lead into the titular dungeon complex underground, which in turn has over 300 locations, many of which had separate sublocations! It is thus impossible to prep for the whole dungeon beforehand, or even if one did so, hold the descriptions of all the locations in one's head.

What made it even worse was the fact that while most traditional old school dungeons had a single entrance, and the difficulty/level of the encounters became higher as one descended into the lower levels, Barrowmaze had multiple entrances, and was effectively a single level once you got underground.

While I liked the basic premise of Barrowmaze and its metaplot, many of the encounters were still too high fantasy for me, and as I had devised a system to award treasures and experience points based on that given in Five Torches Deep, many of the locations became inapplicable to me. I went through the whole book, trimmed off more than half of the locations, and re-drew the map of the whole complex.

As I went through this process, I tried to recreate the history of Barrowmaze in my head. In my imagination it must have started out as burial in natural caves during the Stone Age, and then expanded by succeeding Bronze Age civilisations that moved into the region, and then by the Iron Age civilisations that came after them. I divided the dungeon into several zones, each belonging to a separate civilisation. The forms of burial for each civilisation would be different: some practised inhumation, some cremation; some urn burial, some had sarcophagi. I tried to make the monsters match the burial practices of the civilisation, so a civilisation that practised cremation may have fire-themed undead or magical guardians, while one civilisation that practised salt dessication of bodies featured undead that inflicted damage by dehydration. As the value of grave goods became progressively higher, no doubt tomb robbing became a concern, and traps and magical guardians became a feature.

In Barrowmaze, the level of the encounter became higher the further east one traveled - this can in part be explained by the fact that the source of what animated the undead lay in the east. The author had perhaps therefore deliberately place the entry point to the west of the map, but there is really nothing to prevent a novice party decide that they want to explore the overground barrows from the west, and potentially descending into the maze below and meet high level monsters early in the campaign.

For a GM, this was a real cause for concern, and despite my years of experience the idea that I did not know where the PCs will start at made me nervous.

Fortunately for me, my players decided to start in the west, although they did nearly discover the entrance to the maze below in the first barrow they visited! Thankfully, the description of recent traffic and the description of the smell of urine and rotten food convinced them that it was a plundered tomb with little to discover, and they did not even enter.

They did in fact find their way into the maze below towards the end of the session, but by then, with a combat encounter under our belt, I felt more relaxed - plus by then it was unlikely they would go much further in the maze.

This being a dungeon-crawl, there is much less role-playing involved. Fortunately, the players employed a bearer, which allowed me to insert a voice into the session.

The style of play is definitely different from our usual, and it remains to be seen if we will stick to it, but so far I am enjoying the challenge.

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