By Greg Gillespie
Labyrinth Lord
Levels 1-

Local villagers call for aid! An eerie green light appeared atop the Dwimmerhorn Mountain. The light came from HighFell – the ruins of an ancient wizard school. The infernal blaze grew until a great explosion rocked the mountain. Like a massive floating island, HighFell pulled away from the mountaintop and now slowly drfits across The Great Salt Reach. What happened to HighFell? Why does it float errily across the landscape? Are you brave (or foolish) enough to explore the ruins of HighFell: The drifting Dungeon?

This 248 page “lost valley” adventure location details twenty wizard towers, ten dungeons, and a small overland region in about 120 pages. Lots of interactivity and a mix of every element that D&D contains are surrounded by text that is just a step beyond minimalism. It’s good.

There’s this Land of Wizards on this mountaintop. A bunch of wizard towers, buildings, etc. The wizards generally move on/out and the one day the wizardland rips off the top of the mountain and starts floating through the sky over a little region. When it reaches a certain boundary it teleports back to the far side of the region and drifts over it again. That was awhile ago, now the top of the mountain still floats across the sky, but the plateau is mostly ruins … except for all those wizard towers sticking up …

Got it? Big regional map. Over it a small “lost valley” floats. Your party gets it ass to mars and loots all of the wizard school remains they can. Most of the wizard towers are level 1-3, with some 3-5 and 5-7 thrown in. They tend to have about twenty or so rooms on several basic levels above ground. About half the wizard towers have dungeons under them with about sixty or so rooms. And then the plateau has wandering monsters in its 300’ wide hex-full-of-rando-ruins-in-between-the-wizard-towers. And sometimes instead of teleports to the “upwind” side of the regional map, when it reaches the “downwind” side it will instead teleport in to an elemental plane or a demi-plane for a day or so, mixing up the rando encounters with some of THOSE inhabitants. 

Interactivity is high. These being wizard towers, etc there is a lot of shit to fuck with. Force fields, constructs, levels, and buttons. A corpse on the ground, wiggling a bit? Wonder what’s going on there? And I fucking LOVE IT when the party is presented with things to wonder about, even something as simple as a wiggling corpse on the ground. Things to do beyond hacking! Some light factions with some agendas, especially as higher-level play is reached. Challenges here go up to level 9 or so, I’d guess? 

The overland map is full of landmarks, things to see in the distance to draw your eye towards travel there. There’s a little illustration book with an illustration of each wizards tower WHICH I FUCKING LOVE! Greg usually has some new mechanic/feature for his dungeons. In this one its a bunch of Wizard Hats and and a system for looting books and spell components, with an extensive table of book titles provided to add detail. He’s got a little section covering all of the various ways folks can get up to the floating plateau, from potions, to spells, to mounts, to teleport, etc. This anticipates a need of the DM and takes care of it … providing them the information they need during play. Exactly what a designer should be doing. 

Who’s a jerkfaced jerk? That’s right! Me! And now let the bloodletting and wailing begin!

The hooks and rumors section are mostly perfunctory to get the party TO the region to see the floating place. It doesn’t feel integrated at all, and while a homebase town is provided it, again, doesn’t feel integrated in to the adventure. Sure, there are some ties between the town and plateau, but other data, that the party is likely to want to search for an find answers to, is not really present. The main content is the plateau and the towers/dungeons. 

Cross-references are few and far between and there’s not really a way for the party to NOT get in to trouble with the higher-level towers early on. The lower level ones are generally visible and near the edge, but you could walk in to something dangerous. Which is ok, but putting the level ranges on the Wizard reference sheet would have helped the DM guide the players a bit by dropping hints rather than hiding the level ranges in the main body of text. I just penciled mine in on the map, which does what I need it to do.

Rooms descriptions are a hair above minimal. “The hallway is empty with the exception of some

rubble debris and leaves blown in from outside.” Ok, blowing leaves. I can work with that a little. Another room says “Two partially-destroyed beds and a wooden box sit against the eastern wall. There is nothing of value.” The rooms are easy to scan and run because of this, but also come across as more than slightly generic. Giving each room a title like “Destroyed Bedroom” or “Once opulent bedroom” or something may have helped with this. Further, I noted a lot of “this room was”, “this room has” and so on in the adventure text. It’s like there’s no context assumed. Yeah, it’s a room. This just pads out the text and I think I recognize, in my own writing a weakness in this sort of description. A kind of passivity in the text.

It makes repeated but infrequent references to both Barrowmaze and Arachia for certain monsters and/or rules, so be aware of that. It’s not really anything important that can’t be handwaved though.

Random tables. Weird ass sky-lost-valley adventuring site. Hexes. Towers. Dungeons. Interactivity. Terseness. Some social. Rival parties. Elemental planes. A homebase. New magic items (to go with the boatload of generic book ones) and new monsters. This adventure takes just about every element D&D has that makes it good and exercises it a bit. Better bring a lot of food, torches and hench with you when you make it up top to the plateau … you probably gonna be there a bit and need to manage your resources …

If I were running this I’d make some generous printouts. One for the new monsters. One for the wanderers and demi-plane stuff. Print out the “plateau wind drift” paragraph and attach it to my chart. I don’t see a lot of need to make notes or highlight text, but rather print out stuff already there for “situational” references. I’ll happily add this to my dungeonland campaign, and pay the cash for the PDF. My biggest complaint is that I’d prefer just two-three more words per description, for some evocativeness. This is a great example of how the D&D elements work together to create emergent play in a non-linear fashion. 

This is $35 at DriveThru. That’s for the PDF. There’s no preview and Greg explains why in the DriveThru description. But, still, a link to another preview in the DriveThru description would have been nice. $35 is a bit much for a PDF blind buy. 


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23 Responses to Highfell

  1. Gnarley Bones says:

    Now that’s a cover!

  2. Edgewise says:

    I had the same general impression as you, Bryce. One issue I have with some of Gillespie’s stuff is that it can be so dry that reading it can be a bit of a slog.

  3. Greg Gillespie says:

    Thank you for the fair review. Pulling and pushing existing game in different directions is where it’s at for me, in order to stay true to the original creators. Appreciated.

  4. kmswope69 says:

    Our group finished/abandoned Barrowmaze a few months ago. They were thinking about mucking around Archaia (all are 5th-7th level now), but maybe we” tackle this instead. Sounds like there are enough mid-level encounter areas and the sandbox style will be appealing since we sometimes switch games/campaigns. I had backed it; forgot it was coming out and then just remembered and got my pdf with the hard copy en route. No matter how many other games I try, we always end up back at original D&D/Labyrinth Lord. Guess I’m too old to learn new systems…

  5. PyroArrow says:

    Bruce Heard’s, recently released, “CAL2: On the Wings of Darkness” would be a good companion book for Highfell! It deals with the realm of Caldwen where Mages and their demons servants live & contains some Mage personalities! I had recently received this from the Kickstarter! https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/275823/CAL2-Calidar-On-Wings-of-Darkness

  6. Anonymous says:

    Sounds as awful as Barrowmaze. Hard pass.

  7. jamesnake says:

    I’ve tried to run barrowmaze in my open table and it felt well short of my expectations: bland and confusing to run. Maybe the “mage towers” setting is more inspiring than caves and tombs but – considering the steep price – is really worth more than to carefully randomize your dungeon with standard content?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for writing these!
    I love the fact that you take the time and effort to read, think about, and review so many modules and other materials. You also take the time to talk about why you like what you like and how something might work at the table, which many other reviewers fail to do and which I really appreciate.
    The only thing that I think would make this even better would be a quick proof-read of the reviews before posting, to catch typos and the like. I know you didn’t ask for any advice so forgive me if that’s out of bounds!
    Thanks again for all you do!

  9. PyroArrow says:

    Got my hardcopy book today! Looks nice aside of 3 scuff marks along the front cover’s bottom edge, probably during manufacturing.

    I might play all 3 of Greg’s books as one big campaign!

  10. BACLF says:

    This one looks like it has great potential for domain level play. What high level character wouldn’t want a flying, plane-hopping stronghold? The ‘adventure of the week’ practically writes itself every session.

    • Jeff V says:

      As written, the stronghold moves randomly. I couldn’t see any rules for getting the thing under control (although I haven’t read the whole adventure in detail).

      However it would be easy enough to write some, and give the PCs a motive for a more focused exploration of the ruins.

  11. squeen says:

    Thanks for the review. It’s definitely an important reference point of my procurements.

  12. We love all of Gillespie’s work. We’ve run in barrowmaze and a nearby Archaia for months. My girl friend is currently using her character to heist a pack of goblin wolf mounts from one of the dungeons to pay tribute to a kobold chieftain in another dungeon that promised to rebuild a bridge to a myconoid kingdom where she can return a lost fungal prince she rescued. Gillespie’s settings challenge me to be improvisational while giving a fantastic canvas to work with. At the same time it gives our group leeway to create and pursue their own version of adventure. I look forward to eventually utilizing Highfell in our game world.

  13. Kaique says:

    I’ve just noticed that the hexcrawl map is part of the Outdoor Survival map that Arneson used in his Blackmoor campaigns.

  14. Badmike says:

    Running it now, having lots of fun. The village needed some more in depth description (there is no bowyer/fletcher in town, apparently) but that’s the job of the DM anyway. Players are loving looting the towers and sometimes running from a high level encounter. Another gold star for Greg.

  15. sunsin1592 says:

    We just finished running through it tonight, or at least some of it. Just planned on doing a couple of the mage towers but then the party got into the dungeons and started teleporting all over the place. It was a blast! They actually lost a PC down a moon door right at the beginning, which taught them a valuable lesson. But later they freed the Clockwork Paladin and he joined their party, which was perfect since their original paladin had been killed in Barrowmaze. Think they’ll try some of Archaia next to complete the trilogy as it were.

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