The Mountain Tollkeep

By Peter Lattimore
Garblag Games

High on a mountain side where the pass skirts the flank of a massive peak sit two towers standing proud against the sky. Between them a thick wall and portcullis bar the path of anyone seeking to sneak from one land to another, for whatever purpose. The walls of this structure have witnessed many things: diplomatic envoys hell-bent on trade deals, generals on horseback with declarations of war, displaced peasantfolk hammering on it’s gates with malnourished hands.

This ten page “locale” is not an adventure. It describes a location, barely. Two towers with a wall running between them, closing off a mountain pass between two countries. It is devoid of any but the most basic location information.

Not an adventure. It is basically a map and then some text describing the map in a VERY basic way. Like, the map shows murder holes and the text says “there are murder holes on the wall”, or the map has two rooms on a floor labeled “bunkrooms” and the text of the product says “there are two bunkrooms on this floor.” IE: the text almost always adds nothing to the map and, while it doesn’t describe room dimensions, it does essentially the same thing with everything on the map EXCEPT room dimensions.

There are no NPC’s. There’s no garrison commander, or drunk soldiers, or anything like that. When it mentions people, and it seldom does, it mentions them in the most generic way possible. “The commander might …”

And it’s full of “might.” It contains useful advice like “you can change the walls from stone to something else to fit your campaign better” or “defenders are most likely to be seen on the walls”, or, in a hook “we’ll leave the blackmail option up to you.” So, basically, this product is a one page map expanded to ten pages with almost nothing else.

And even the map suffers. The two towers are called Falcon and Eerie, but the maps generally don’t note which tower is which.

I bought this on DriveThru and was gonna print it out, but it says i can’t reproduce it in ANY way unless I contact the designer, and I can’t find contact information for them. Yes, I’m being an ass.

There’s nothing here. I’d say it’s not even a location, but rather just a map.

This is available on DriveThru for $2. There’s no preview, otherwise you might know beforehand what you’re buying.–The-Mountain-Tollkeep?affiliate_id=1892600

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18 Responses to The Mountain Tollkeep

  1. Eric says:

    Yep, Garblag Games draw map resources for TTRPG games, which by their nature are usually framed as adaptable foundations for GMs to expand upon (hence the many “might”s).

    On their Patreon they held a vote as to which recent map will get expanded to an “adventure” as a tier reward. This was the result.

  2. Slick S. says:

    I wonder if this is the result of the pressure of consumerism in the RPG industry. The guy is clearly talented (the map is very well drawn), but a glance at the community at large reveals all these other talented people *selling* things. As far as I’m aware there’s no established marketplace for selling just maps, and generally maps don’t get the same clout as whole packages like Deep Carbon Observatory, so what are you supposed to do to make a buck off your work besides tack on some bullshit paragraphs and sell it as an “adventure” instead. Not saying someone deserves to make the same profit off a map as someone making a complete adventure, but at least that’s my hypothesis of where the rationale for making something like this comes from.

    • I think the marketplace for selling maps is on Patreon. Just type maps in the search function. Matt Jackson, Dyson, Garblag Games, the Forge–several good ones…Venatus Maps making over $1,300 per map, 5 maps per month…I think they are doing just fine, if not better than the whole package.

      • Slick S. says:

        Huh. Makes you wonder why they bothered with this then, but given the info Eric provides above I guess it wasn’t meant to “scam” people into paying for a map so much as a genuine attempt at making an adventure?

        I’m not sure if that’s better or worse.

  3. Dave says:

    Salvaging this adventure concept:
    The two towers are in the hands of two warring factions, for [reasons]. They’re both trying to sell access through the gate. Neither one is willing to sell it too cheap or there’s no point, but they’ll both try to make a deal with the party, and dealing with one angers the other.
    There’s a dungeon crawl underneath if you want to bypass that shit. Natural crevasses snake underneath, but it’s longer, there’s monsters, and a risk you’ll get lost.
    Why don’t we just fly over? You can, but there’s a roc nest on the highest peak. Locals warn you at the bottom that you should do the whole climb staying low to the ground and close to cover so you can’t be snatched up (and the main trail is placed so you can do that). Flying over the gate means either doing it low, quick and quiet, or being high enough level you can stand off a roc.

    Elapsed time, with typing: 5 minutes. Longer to actually write up and stat out the monsters, but still, the above doesn’t seem like too much to expect. In fairness, I’ve run some pretty basic adventures myself, so maybe there’s something about taking someone else’s prompt, after you’ve just seen it critiqued, that makes you go one step further.

  4. Reason says:

    How about if you try to fly over the tower guys are pissed you bypassed their (perfectly legal) toll & have their ballistae & wizard take you down? The one thing they WILL co-operate on is keeping their racket going so expect a squad to hit your camp the next night- using tactics all set out for dealing with that sorcerer they know you have…

    Or the giants just love to smash floaty flying things with rocks?

  5. Melan says:

    Selling non-adventurers by non-players to non-players may be the best kind of RPG business out there. Money is being exchanged, artists earn a living, and no innocents get hurt. I wholeheartedly approve!

  6. squeen says:

    It’s funny, we are just about at a point in the home campaign where I need a mountain pass toll/keep. Unfortunately, this doesn’t sound like this is it.

    I was think that a cult of stargazers lives up on the pass in monastic seclusion, making money off passerby’s and sending a cut of it to the regional trade guide who are perfectly happy not having to pay someone to shovel snow. At first blush, they are just a religious order.

    I haven’t been able to decide if they are just a bunch of seemly harmless tripped out hippies with a quasi-controlling cult leader, or a bunch of thralls with a (hidden) vampire master who knows its smarter to lay low (with respect to the guild caravans) and just feed off the occasional vagrant travellers (PCs). Either way, nothing really “sparks” my imagination for game play—with the latter getting blatantly Gothic-weird and almost forcing a confrontation whereas I’d prefer something more “well…you couldn’t resist sticking your nose in to this, eh? Probably should have left well-enough alone.”. Either way, a cool (secret) hook is missing.

    Funny thing is, sometimes when you start writing/keying an area, an idea pops out unexpectedly. A villain suddenly emerges and you think to yourself, “Hello! I had no idea YOU were there.”

  7. squeen says:

    Maybe there’s a vampire, but all the cultists aren’t thralls. They just donate blood to him because they think he’s cool to have around, like an aging movie star in retirement.

    Ug. Writer’s block.

    • squeen says:

      Maybe I could play it for comedy, with a Jeff Bridge’s “The Dude” vampire and all the cultists insisting he’s an elf.

      • squeen says:

        OK. A slightly more sketched out notion:

        The cult leader and original inhabitant is a genuine wack-o who renovated the abandoned monastery because he is trying to open a portal “to commune with the Creator” and is not above pilfering an occasional magic item for The Great Work. He’s relatively harmless but in real danger of accidentally gating in a demon that will kill everyone.

        The cult is a bunch of low-energy lotus eaters (Millennials), who came to monastic B&B because it was trendy and stayed because it was much better than getiing a real job.

        The resident Guild Representaive seems like the only sane person but is secretly workng for the regional bad guy, tipping off the river pirates several days down the trail of easy picking, and with the ultimate mission to blast open/close the gate when given the order. He’s got a hidden cache of blackpower situated in caves to take down the moutain top.

        Lastly, the hipster vampire is just “abiding” there because he likes easy living, is immune to the cold, enjoys “getting it on” with the cult-girls, has convinced everyone he’s just “like an ordinary elf, man”, and has no better place to go. Sure, an occasional girl goes missing when he gets carried away—and he feels really bad about that, but a dude has got to “sustain, ya’ know?”, and besides, “I guaranty she died happy.”

        All setting. Some potential energy, but no required action. The PC just pass through on their way to more important things, or not…

        Maybe fun. Definitely stupid. Its success at the table would depend entirely on what the players make of it.

        Any sugestion?

    • I like the cult of Stargazers idea actually. Maybe they have summoned/welcomed something from the stars…and it acts similar in ways to a vampire, but gives more of a ‘wtf’ is that! for your players instead of another vampire. Locals say there was a beam of light emitting to the sky/space, coming from both towers, just a month ago…

      • squeen says:

        Cool. Jeff Bridges was also in “Starman”. Hmm…coincidence?


        • squeen says:

          Yes. I like that…there are 2 identical “Dudes”. One is a lazy vampire and the other is a changeling from the stars that is particularly bad at acting human. The party keeps running into one or the other and doesn’t know which.

          Meanwhile cult leader that accidentally summoned the latter (and detests the first), is acting like Basil Fawlty trying to cover for “the emmisary from the stars”.

          Could be a blast, but I wonder if I have the chops to pull it off.

          • squeen says:

            And the cultist are too busy skiing and smoking “mountain wild flowers” to notice or care

          • squeen says:

            OK. Last thing. Promise.

            There are crypts below the monastery, but no one knows anything about them (except maybe the vampire who’s got a coffin hidden just past the entrance).

            They pose ABSOLUTELY no threat at all unless some stupid party goes down there and wakes something up by poking around—then all hell breaks loose.

  8. Gnarley Bones says:

    There are so many -many!- maps out there on the IntarWeb, even if a DM truly had “mappers block,” I find it a little hard to believe there is a market for this.

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