Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Session Report – Barrowmaze – Session 1

[I’ve had a hankering to run a fantasy campaign for a while.  I have an idea for a campaign set in the Holy Roman Empire around 1640, but the system I want to use is new to me: Adventure, Conqueror, King System.  It has been nearly a decade since the last time I even looked at a BECMI-based system and I never actually ran or played Basic D&D when it was being published.  I played ADVANCED Dungeons and Dragons, not BASIC.   As a result, while I’ve read the rules, I’m still learning them just slightly ahead of the players, most of whom started D&D with 3.0/3.5.  One player also played 1st edition, but, like me, hasn’t looked at the rules for decades.]

[So before I run my politics and adventure campaign, I’m running Barrowmaze as a warm-up.  I have the Labyrinth Lord version, which should need the least amount of translation to run under ACKS.  So far, it’s just AC changes (I think LL uses THAC0 while ACKS just adds monster AC to player To Hit for a target number on a d20), but monster selection has been limited so far.  I’ll need to spend a little time to prep ahead, but it shouldn’t be onerous.  I wish ACKS was in Hero Lab, it would make this easier.]

[One other note – I will be the only GM for this.  The Other GM might decide to run something else in ACKS later, but Barrowmaze is all me.]

[OK, two other notes - Barrowmaze write-ups will appear on Tuesdays, a week after the game happens, while the Shadowrun write-ups will appear on Thursdays until I catch up to where we switched games.  This will take about 20 more entries, including this Thursday's posting.  What happens after that depends on where I am in 4-5 months.  Meanwhile, the job hunt continues...]

Brock – male Dwarven Vaultguard, exploring Barrowmaze for the loot
Tripp – male human Thief, exploring Barrowmaze for the loot
Harkyn – gender fluid Elven Nightblade [yes, I said “elf” twice, 😉], also exploring Barrowmaze for the loot
Radagast – male human Mage, exploring Barrowm…you know the rest
Brother Thaddeus – male human Cleric, pillaging pagan tombs for the glory of St. Ygg! [Read: “exploring Barrowmaze for the loot”]

Norman – male human guide, hired to lead the adventurers to Barrowmaze but not fight
[Generated using Meatshields!]

Monday, April 1, 23rd year of the reign of King Shurik the Nimble
In the village of Helix, a recently arrived group of adventurers [Brother Thaddeus is local, but met the rest on his return to town from being ordained in the Church of St. Ygg] are ready for adventure, but none of them knew exactly where the Barrowmaze was, other than “a half day south of Helix, in the marsh”.  Not wanting to get lost in the marshes, they decided to hire a guide from the Mercenary Guild.

While waiting to talk with Osen, the guildmaster, the group overheard another adventuring group, the Boon Companions, finalize their contract.  It became clear that the Boon Companions were paying an “adjusted” rate for their hirelings that was higher than normal.  The adventurers took this to mean the Boon Companions were weak and a small level of smack talk happened between the two groups as the Boon Companions left. [Rival adventuring group, established organically: Check!]

Tripp was able to bargain Osen down in cost an extra 10% in price.  The group hired a guide for only 4sp/day with a 5gp Death Benefit if the guide died while working with the group, death benefit as a deposit to be refunded at the end of the contract [Tripp happily fronted the money himself].  The good deal might have been because Osen recognized Brother Thaddeus as a fellow local and cut the group a deal [but was really because Osen rolled a 1 while Tripp was bargaining - not necessarily the rules as written, but I like to check to see how things go for NPCs in the negotiations].  Osen gossiped with the group some about the Boon Companions, who have a reputation for getting their hirelings killed a little too often, and then agreed to have Norman meet the group early at the Brazen Strumpet the next day.

Tuesday, April 2, 23rd year of the reign of King Shurik the Nimble
The group ate a breakfast of fruit, bread, and some nuts with a small beer to wash it down at the Brazen Strumpet.  Norman arrived on time about an hour after dawn, just as they were finishing.  After introductions, they headed south out of Helix, into the Barrowmoor.

Four hours or so later, a little after Noon, the group entered the slightly raised field that Barrowmaze was under.  There were dozens of barrow mounds scattered across the field, but even at mid-day, there was a mist on the field that obscured the far half or so of the field.  And it was quiet.  No bird song or insect noises could be heard, despite the surrounding marshes.  An overgrown pathway, lined with small stone cairns, led toward a large central mound, encircled with standing stones.

The group discussed with Norman how long they could stay and still make it back to Helix safely.  Norman suggested they had about 4-5 hours before thy needed to leave.  It would still be daylight when they left, but the area was known to be more dangerous once the sun set.  This seemed a prudent plan to the group.

Consulting a partial map of the nearer barrows they bought back in Helix [and I lifted from here], the group decided to apply The Left Hand Rule, and approached the first barrow on the left [Barrow #1 as it turned out].  Twenty noisy minutes later, Brock’s sledge hammer cracked open the stone slab sealing the barrow.  Descending into the single-roomed barrow, the group found two skeletons laid out on stone slabs.  Each had an amphorae and a bowl with gold coins.  Tripp scooped the handful of coins from each bowl into a sack, but left the amphorae until later.  They were very fragile and he had nothing to safely pack them in.  Brock scattered some soil on the steps down to the barrow so he could tell if someone entered the barrow while the group was looting a different barrow.

At this point the group took a rest.  Breaking into the barrow and thoroughly searching it had taken 50 minutes, so a rest was needed [ACKS rules require a 1 Turn rest after 5 Turns of dungeon activity].  During the rest, they worked out they could easily check another three barrows before needing to leave, possibly four if they were all single-chamber barrows like the first one.

After the rest, the group went over to the next barrow on the left [Barrow #2].  Brock spent another 20 minutes hammering away at the sealing slab of stone before cracking the barrow open.  [My random encounter die liked the players and again rolled no noise-generated encounters.]  Down in the barrow was a single chamber with a large stone sarcophagus.  Brock, Tripp, and Radagast used crowbars to pry the lid off and over, releasing the zombie within!  Brock and Tripp dropped their crowbars and drew weapons to attack, Tripp taking two points of damage for his troubles [the zombie rolled high for initiative and tied Tripp in initiative order].  Radagast tagged the zombie with a magic missile spell on his action.  Then Brother Thaddeus called upon the power of St. Ygg and compelled the zombie to flee.  The zombie fled to cower in a corner [the PCs were between it and the exit], while the adventurers pelted it with ranged attacks and quickly destroyed it.

Brother Thaddeus used his healing knowledge to place the sloppiest bandage on Tripp’s wound [he rolled terrible on his proficiency check].  It probably stopped the bleeding.  Amongst the treasure found, Radagast identified a magical ring of protection [+1] and the group unanimously agreed that the unarmored mage needed it the most.

Back up on the surface, the group took an early rest and then headed over to the next barrow mound [#3 for those following along at home].  This barrow had clearly been looted already, but out of habit, the group searched anyways and found a gold ring missed by the previous looters.  The adventurers were confused as to why the ring had been missed, but accepted their good fortune and headed on to the next barrow, ahead of schedule.  There was some discussion of when the Boon Companions might arrive and the group estimated they had another hour or so alone here at the site.  [This wasn’t accurate, but the PCs didn’t know that.]

Brock hammered away at the slab sealing this barrow until it was broken.  The group entered the barrow, leaving Norman and Harkyn at the surface as lookouts in what was quickly becoming a standard operating procedure.  Just as Brock, Tripp, and Radagast started searching the single chamber, Norman and Harkyn came running down the stairs, saying a patrol of six skeletons, apparently attracted by the noise, was right behind them!

The adventurers took defensive positions with Brock at the base of the stairs to bottle up the skeletons, backed by Brother Thaddeus.  The rest took cover behind the single stone sarcophagus, bows and spells at the ready.  When the skeletons came down the stairs, they were limited to two at a time.  The group concentrated attacks on the first skeleton, destroying it, then Brother Thaddeus once again called down the power of St. Ygg and compelled the skeletons to flee.

This gave the adventurers just enough time to search and loot the barrow, taking some bottles of antique perfume, and then hoof it to the next barrow.  This barrow was off the edge of their map, but close enough to get to and set up with ranged weapons.  As the skeleton patrol marched back to the recently abandoned barrow, Tripp started plinking them with arrows.  The patrol turned and marched at the adventurers, but with 100 feet of clear space to attack the patrol from range, the adventurers destroyed all of the skeletons before the skeletons could close for melee.

The adventurers rested a bit and retrieved what arrows and darts they could.  [I could not find rules for this in ACKS, so I improvised a 50% chance of recovery.  Anything rolling over 50 on the percentile dice was unusable or lost, the higher the result the less useful and more likely completely lost the missile.]  Tripp retrieved about half of his arrows, but Radagast lost both darts he had thrown.

After breaking into the barrow under their feet, they discovered this barrow had more than one chamber.  The main chamber had twenty alcoves carved into the walls with a stone door to the left and the right, plus an iron statue straight ahead.  Starting to run low on time for the day’s exploration, the group held off examining the alcoves and instead forced open the door on the left.  The door led to a room with well over 100 alcoves carved into the walls.  Calling in Harkyn, the group started searching all the alcoves in this room and the first room.  With all five adventurers searching, it took 40 minutes to find all the loot in these two rooms, including: a pouch with some platinum pieces in it, an electrum goblet, some holy writs, 200 in loose electrum pieces, and a dagger of throwing [+1 and returns to the hand of the thrower after being thrown].

It was now about two hours or so before sunset and Norman strongly suggested it was time to go, before really dangerous things rose.  The group agreed.  Brock spread out some soil on the steps for evidence anyone else entered the barrow while the adventurers were gone [there was still that door to the right to open and they wanted to investigate the statue more].

The group walked back over to the first barrow to pick up the amphorae they had left behind.  In the eerie silence of the field, they noticed that they did not hear the sound of any other adventurers hammering their way into any of the barrows.  They made note of this, but were now in a hurry to leave before it got dark.  They found the first barrow undisturbed and retrieved the two amphorae there.  Then they headed north, back into the Barrowmoor and to Helix.

The group arrived back in Helix two hours after sundown, having lit their way with torches and Tripp’s lantern.  They bought drinks and a fine meal at the Brazen Strumpet to celebrate their first foray and good fortune.  [I should have rolled for an encounter on their way back, but forgot to do so.  I've made a note for next session to do that.]

Wednesday, April 3, 23rd year of the reign of King Shurik the Nimble
The group sold off most of the items they retrieved from the barrows the previous day, which took some time, and split the proceeds.  [It was getting late, so we just glossed over this part and awarded XP.  Next time I may make them role-play it out more.]  Tripp also spent the day resting and healing up from his zombie wound.

End of Session

[Observation about Barrowmaze as a product:  It could use a once over by a professional copy editor.  The organization is good in general, but falls down in a few places.  Two examples: 

  1. In the gazetteer portion on Ironguard Motte, it says “Ironguard Motte offers all the services available in Helix in addition to…”.  This would be fine if Helix had been described already, but the section on Helix is AFTER the section on Ironguard Motte.  This is a document flow issue – good flow helps the reader, irregular flow can leave the reader wondering what they’re missing.  
  2. Travel from Helix to Barrowmaze is in a south-southwest direction.  The map of the field containing Barrowmaze assumes the adventurers start in the southwest corner.  For this to happen, the adventurers would need to circle around the field for no good reason and approach from the opposite side.  Adventurers from Helix would much more likely arrive on the north-northeast edge of the map, which would have them stumble onto something they should NOT find until much later.  SPOILERS.  This is a gaffe from not comparing the two maps together and verifying which direction the PCs will arrive from.

A professional copy editor would have caught both of those and similar issues and either fixed them or marked them for the writer to address (and then verified they got fixed in the next edit).]

[Incidentally, 1) could easily be fixed by putting the Helix section first or listing out the services, and 2) could have been fixed by reversing the direction of the compass rose (and checking the text to reverse any cardinal directions mentioned in descriptions) or rotating the map 180 degrees and flipping the labels right-side up (then checking the text for cardinal directions and reversing them).]

[This is a relatively small issue, but it makes some use of the material more difficult than necessary and runs throughout the document.  Page number references in the text for tables that appear in the back of the book (200 pages later) would have been very helpful as well.  Numbering the tables is helpful, but if the reader doesn’t know where those tables are, it’s not as helpful as you’d hope.  Also, bookmarks in the PDF for at least the basic chapter headings and major subsections would be a god-send.]

[All that said, the content is good so far and I’m excited to keep running it.  It has a good balance between complexity and ease of use I need.  I don’t feel I need to spend days working out what happens next and how the giant complex set of machinery moves between sessions.  It really hits that sweet spot.  I also like some other behind the scenes things it details out, but my players read this blog, so SPOILERS.  I’ll talk about them in later blogs, once the players are aware of them.]

[Oh!  But the rival adventuring parties are an excellent feature.  The PCs have already met the Boon Companions and started talking smack about them.  I plan on having fun with that.  Heh. Heh. Heh.]

Session 2


  1. I just started reading your reports. Very entertaining. Barrowmaze is quite an impressive read too.

    1. Thank you for reading!

      Barrowmaze is set out really well. It's not perfect, but the mistakes are of the typo level and not failures to think things through, which I've seen in other products. I've read through it all once already and then refresh my memory for each section as the adventurers enter it. I've been very pleased with it and my appreciation grows the further along we go.