By Michael Moscrip NGR NGR No Level Given
GELLARDE BARROW is a small site based adventure about the joys of robbing from both the living and the dead, wacky hijinx are bound to ensue.
This twelve page adventure details a small barrow tomb with ten rooms in about four pages. Decently interactive with evocative descriptions in places, it does tend to bog down descriptions with minutia. It seems to enjoy testing the limit of how many words you can have in a paragraph and still have it usable. It’s a nice adventure, especially considering it’s a new author, but gets rough to use in places.
The dungeon is small but has several nice features. The creatures inside ALMOST act like factions. Some bandits. A hippo. Some stone golem-like things, and a root monster. And, of course, the undead. While they are not really factions their own little zones feel unique to them and it FEELS like they have some relationship, no matter how small, to some of the others. This, along with the evocative nature of the text, makes the place seem like it has a lot of depth.
The text descriptions in the various rooms do a good job working together to form a kind of cohesive vibe. The same-level stairs inside are steep . 10’ raise in 5’ of space. That conjures up a certain type of picture in your head. A corridor thick with tree roots, giant trilobites, and the undead rising up THROUGH their stone sarcophagus with an erie green glow. This place does a pretty job of both feeling like an ancient barrow (and I LUV barrow adventure) as well as feeling like a classic dungeon crawl adventure.
Interactivity is pretty good also. There’s levers to pull, water to raise and lower. Hallways full of tree roots and caskets to break in to. The key here is, I think, the anticipation. There is an element of the unknown. Of barriers and obstacles, things to play with and challenges to overcome. Most adventures just have combat, maybe with a skill check somewhere. This, however, does things right by having a mix of things in the dungeon. It’s SO much more interesting, as a player, to be able to squeal with horror and delight as things are uncovered and your actions have reactions and/or consequences.
Topping things off is a great magic item: a wooden mallet that lets you hammer two things together. ANY two things. Like nailing an incorporeal ghost to a wall … with suitable example provided in the adventure. The item is described not mechanically, with a skill roll or plus to hit, but rather by what it does: nailing two things together. This is MUCH more mysterious and wondrous, and is the right way to do things with magic items.
On the down side, the headers used for rooms is some kind of weirdo font, hollow, and not the easiest to read. A little Order of Battle, especially for the bandits, would have been nice also. They are just generic bandits, as described, and could have used a gimmick, like royal tax collectors or orphan fund or something to give me a little extra.
But, the length of the text itself is the main issue. It’s using a traditional paragraph format but it’s also trying to be smart about it. It bolds the major features and puts the text after those words in order of things that might be important about it. This essentially mirrors a common format I like to encourage beginners to use. It falls down a bit though because of the sheer amount of detail that some of the rooms engage in. If A then B. If B then C. There are hold 1” deep every 3” along the roofline except on alternate Tuesdays. This is getting in to Trap/Door porn, the condition where some designers seem to believe that a two paragraph description of every trap and/or door is needed. There’s also an element of disconnectedness in places; the first room goes through the description of a large chair as the main feature of the room … only to later note that there may be a bandit asleep on the chair. Now both the chair and bandit are bolded, so your eyes will be drawn to it, but somehow this feels wrong and/or confusing.
Speaking of confusing … parts of the dungeon can be flooded. WHICH parts I’m still not sure. There are text descriptions with “the corridor to the best of the room X up to the height of stair Y” and so on. Reading it twice I still don’t get it. A little shading on the map would have done wonders to show the potential for water. Again this looks like a Dyson map and it feels like people just take his maps and don’t alter them much if at all. The map needs a little context, that would have pretty much eliminated my (continuing) confusion.
This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $3. The preview is four pages and, alas, showing you nothing of the encounters. Bad Zz!