Haunt of the Barrow King

By Peter C. Spahn
Small Niche Games
Levels 1-3

[…] A few weeks ago, an adventuring company named Legacy Flame came to the Oldwood to reestablish a shrine to St. Galwren—patron saint of one of the fallen noble houses of the Kingdom of Nine. They erected a stone shrine near a Jaldtic burial mound and the leader of Legacy Flame, a warrior-priest named Father Krembers, performed an ancient ritual to invoke the blessings of St. Galwren. This ritual awakened several undead creatures that had been laid to rest beneath the old barrow . .

This 32 page digest adventure describes three wilderness encounters and eight inside of a barrow. Low on descriptive text and high on fluff. The concept is fine and the execution, if most pages are ignored, will do in a pinch.  Spahn is interesting. When he hits well he REALLY hits. Think Inn of Lost Heroes. Or, we could write something mind numbing. He’s all over the place. This one hits somewhere in the middle. 

Ok, so, hang on for this ride. Long ago the kingdom of the nine gets invaded and destroyed by the Jaldt barbarians. They build a burial mound on top of a destroyed castle. They don’t know it had a crypt under it. Of some important saint of the kingdom. So, yeah, they built their burial ground on top of a burial ground. Now, some fuckwit rival murder hobos show up, with a cleric on a holy mission to bring back worship of the saint, as we rebuilds shrines to him. Which causes everyone in the burial mound on a burial mound to come to life. An undead knight fights a barb lieutenant and his clan every night, and fails. Meanwhile, the undead barb king roams the roam, kills folk, and their zombies come back to the barrow to help the lieutenant fight the undead knight. Enter the party.

So, 32 pages. For what is essentially ten or eleven encounter areas. And how can this be? Well, that rival NPC party? They get a six page write up. That seems pretty lengthy to me. Expansive.  There are, essentially, four things you can to in thie adventure. The rival party is one. The undead barb lieutenant is another. He gets a decent sized  write up also. Then he’s got a few living people in his undead horde that don’t get much and then there are some bandits at the start who get essentially no write up at all. A little inconsistent here. But, perhaps, indicative of how important the encounter is? You know what the party makes of important NPC’s though, right? 

There’s also the Victorian mania for complete inventories. Five horse two oxen and two wagons, with GP values. Or, a half page write up that lists everything of value, or no, at a campsite. Including “assorted eggs and produce (worth 10gp at the market,) 

I turn, again, to the misplaced page count thing. A disproportionate page count, or word count, reveals a design that is out of balance. The designer is emphasizing, and put effort, in to things that are tertiary to the adventure. Instead of spending time on a six page backstory, what if instead that effort was put in to the adventure proper? There’s no long backstory here, but, the same concept of misplaced effort applies, I think.

Room seven is The Crypt of Honor. The description of this page long room is “This is the resting place of six renowned knights of galwren.” So, not a description. The sarcophagi get the following description “the hawk and sword standard is carved into the lids of their elaborate stone sarcophagus and a red ruby is mounted on each.” Not much a description. And so it goes. Elaborate is a conclusion. DESCRIBE it. That’s how you write a description, with specificity. 

It’s an ok adventure that should only be a couple of pages long that is padded out to 32. I find that annoying. But, also, there’s nothing really wrong with the adventure. The undead barb warband, with the lieu, zombies, and few traumatized humans is pretty nice and a highlight of the adventure. I’m not really sure it’s going to result in much in-depth play beyond maybe one rp event that evolves in a combat, but, it’s fresh anyway. 

So, it’s fine. I’m annoyed at it, but it’s fine.

This is $5 at DriveThru. There’s no full preview, just the quick one. Uncool.


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10 Responses to Haunt of the Barrow King

  1. Learning from your reviews, like crafting from negative space. I see your critique of description of ‘this is the resting place of six renowned knights of galwren’ as an issue of titling? In that, at an H2 Heading, author could’ve writ: ‘Resting Place of the Knights of Galwren’, and below gone on to detail knobby friezes and surprisingly loose lids.., then let there be six of them on the map?

    Seems as ever, you’re eager for minimalism, and for the author to erase themselves. I would’ve had to have written that phrase [the resting place] in order to get -myself- into writing that scene, and then would’ve had to go back and say: what in here is explicitly necessary for the DM.

    Not the author, but I think I always put myself in their position when reading your reviews.

    Delightful, as ever.

    • Anon says:

      Eager for the author to erase themselves? I’d say Bryce vehemently wants the opposite. He doesn’t want the “nothing”/“filler” phrases like the one you quoted. I’d say it almost doesn’t have “authorial voice” because it’s so empty of information. 11 words that evoke only the barest mental image.

  2. Dave says:

    “lists everything of value, or no, at a campsite. Including “assorted eggs and produce (worth 10gp at the market,) ”

    Shameful as it may be, this kind of thing is useful to me in a low level xp for gold game. Gives me a value if the players take everything that’s not nailed down. Saves me from going “uhhh” and listing off basically the same stuff as last time I improv’d; often a published adventure will have different random stuff then I’d pull for. So if its presented concisely I appreciate it for an OSR game.

    I agree its not the adventure, its not the point and shouldn’t get in the way of the point, but I rate it a very minor grace note rather than an offense.

    • Anon says:

      To put on my fortune teller hat, I think Bryce would have loved it if the chicken eggs had been the whole thing, and not a 10gp aside. Bandits are going to have food of some kind, and it’s not usually going to be relevant. So if you’re going to mention it it probably should be: weird or big.

      It’s like saying in a modern game, when you rob a house that there are groceries in the fridge. It’s fluff. But something like a whole pig head in the fridge is interesting. Or this could have been much more interesting if the bandits had crates and crates of eggs indicating they’d probably recently robbed someone on the road. That could be very shortly written and is packed with potential energy because it comes with built in worldbuilding.

      I agree that it’s nice to have some “local flavor” items to BS off of when players ask, but “eggs and produce” is so… if it wasn’t included it wouldn’t be missed and it’s an example pointing of the type of “fluff” in the module. Isn’t it?

  3. Gnarley Bones says:

    I find it’s inclusion charming.

    The Author is allowed to have a voice and quirks.

  4. Vorshal says:

    Where can I find the ode house style guide?

  5. Chainsaw says:

    Bryce, what do you think’s the ratio of low, mid, and high level modules out there?

  6. Pete Spahn says:

    Heh, heh.

    ///So, 32 pages. For what is essentially ten or eleven encounter areas. And how can this be? Well, that rival NPC party? They get a six page write up. That seems pretty lengthy to me. Expansive.///

    To be fair, these book pages are 6 x 9 (not 8.5 x 11) so with a decent amount of white space for border it doesn’t take much to fill up a page. Each NPC has about a paragraph of description just to guide roleplaying, and then the stat blocks. I’ve run this adventure 3 times and it went a different way each time, depending on what path the PCs took. But each of the paths were wrapped up in under 5 hours which is what I was hoping for from an adventure I had planned to run at a con (until real life interfered).

    I have no control over the preview. I included .zip files of all the maps for easier printing, and if there are .zip files, DriveThru won’t let you include a full size preview. I’m guessing because it can’t decide which file to use, but I’m not a tech guy so I don’t know for sure.

    Thanks for looking, as always. Cheers and good health!

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