Review: The Barrow of the Old King (w/ bonus D6 Undead Characters!)

Polish black metal. Seems like all the best stuff is Polish these days.

The Barrow of the Old King is an adventure for all levels that can be found in issue #1 of the Undercroft, a zine published by Daniel Sell which has excellent content of all kinds for LotFP. It can be yours for 5 Great British Pounds + S/H, or as a PDF for just under $3.50. I ran it for my group over the course of 3 sessions, which you can read about here (sessions 15-18)

The adventure is location-based and meant to be compatible with all kinds of campaigns. Its default flavor is somewhat Celtic/Nordic, although it could quite easily be re-skinned to many other cultural flavors as well. Chinese or Mongolian springs to mind, as it has a terra cotta army-esque section.

The hook is a magic ring in the possession of the titular King, slayer of giants in times of old. The ring is a maguffin, with no particular powers or purpose, and could quite easily be subbed with anything else if desired. The barrow is a compact, circular structure with almost 30 areas to explore. Among the rooms, players may find chariots pulled by bears, gold-plated semi-animated skeletons,  lines of rather eerie iron statues, and a bunch of Aliens-inspired bugs that will fuck people up. The features of the dungeon are equal parts trap, random encounter, and eerie set dressing. Half of the dungeon is composed of tunnels dug by the Corpse Lions (the Alien things), which gives it a more dynamic flavor than your average tomb of undead, because something moved in here and is living there, with its own strange ecosystem. The encounter table incorporates both undead and corpse lions, including not only creature encounters but sights and sounds of them, and a few conflicts between the tomb inhabitants as well.

The dungeon provides quite a lot of challenge for low-level characters. The creatures are all at least 2HD and there are a lot of them. Some must be activated through rather foolish means, but an unlucky roll on the random encounter table is likely to kill a PC or two. The traps are brutal as well, and very capable of killing characters with less than 20hp in a single go. This should keep players wary, as they'll see quickly what they're in for and should act accordingly. Even so, the best course of action for low-level characters may just be to leave ASAP with a bit of treasure.

Re: the treasure- there's not a lot of it. Almost everything has a randomly determined value. Lots of things are worth variable amounts, and even if you roll the maximum value there's not much. I can't remember exactly, but not more than 2,000sp that's for sure, although stuff like the mercury turned out to be insanely valuable, although it's not priced. But you'd be surprised to find that gold-plated, articulated human skeletons with an enchantment that makes them move (only a bit, but still!) are only worth 200sp each- if you roll the maximum value. Then again there's an awesome magic hammer that I thought should be worth several thousand, so I made it so. These things not having listed values is ok, a Ref can definitely rule it, but so much that is listed is so low that it can be a deathtrap of a dungeon for very little reward.

The adventure is a mixed bag. It has an excellent flavor to it, and the integration of the tomb's original architecture with the corpse lions' tunnels is very cool. Touches like iron soldiers, gold skeletons, liquid mercury and strange blue moss give a very eerie, magical vibe to the dungeon. The encounter table is excellent, although using it as the means of spawning two of the most important treasures makes it even harder, or even impossible to find things of value. I wouldn't recommend it for characters of lower levels, I would say 3+ is suggested to give them a challenge but a fair chance of survival, although cutting and running is an option for lower levels. My own group of level 1&2 characters suffered 6 casualties and left after clearing about half of the dungeon.

  • Variety of set dressing
  • Cartography
  • "Lived-in" feeling due to the interplay between undead and corpse lions
  • Listed as for all levels, exceedingly deadly for low-levels (YMMV)
  • Treasure is hard to find and not very valuable; little xp for high risk

600/666 - Good value for the price, plenty of flavor but it will take some Referee modification to make it shine.

Bonus Gameable Content:

d6 Undead NPCs
Navar the Night Fiend: A ghoul who lurks in the abandoned mill of a small village. He is bound to the place and must return there every fortnight, but he ranges as far as he is able and takes the bones of his victims which he hangs from the rafters of his mill. Navar can exude a poison from his palms and claws which paralyzes victims and causes their skin to become gelatinous and melt off.
Elspeth of the North: Elspeth resides in a great city of the North, haunting slums that cover the rubble of her family's destroyed mansion. She lures victims from the streets and drains them of their life force. Her most recent victim will always be depicted in the locket she wears, and can be resurrected or communicated with via magical means until they are replaced by another and lost forever.
Sarana Silverheart, Death Knight: A decayed corpse of a once-mighty and noble warrior, she wanders the land continuing her fight against evil. She is blind to her condition; her sheer force of belief seems to have removed her ability to see her own undead state, and she has made complex rationalizations for why her skin burns at the touch of silver, she can only see out of one eye, and her joints click and clack with every movement. She's more than happy to help those who approach her kindly, although her mind will quickly rationalize any who attack her as enemies of good and she will fight with all her fury.
Boris the Rotten: A revenant who rose from his early grave to be rejoined with his love. His good looks and charm were intact, but the vermin and carrion worms had already mangled his legs. He spent months and fortunes to try to restore them, but nothing took. His left remained withered and weak, and his right a shredded stump which sheds gore at the most inopportune of times. Needless to say, his love no longer wanted him, his fortunes were squandered, but he carries on, living with the lepers, stumbling along on his crutch and seeking help to restore his body so that he can rebuild his life.
Jacyn the street rat: A stunted man who posed as an orphan beggar during his life, he was captured, flayed and turned to a foul, hunched, ratlike creature of sunken flesh and yellowed eyes. He covers himself in the daylight with a heap of threadbare rags, hiding his appearance and appealing to the kind for pity and alms in exchange for childlike keepsakes. Those foolish enough to give to him he gifts with a misshapen doll or a whittled cameo or some other piece of childlike craftsmanship. These cursed objects cause their owners to wander the streets, seeking him at night, starved and trancelike until they find him and he drinks his fill of their blood.
Dana the brain: Created and later disposed of by a necromancer, Dana sits in a jar on the shelf of a curio shop. She never leaves, though she could; she possesses the shopkeeper, keeping up appearances. She is quite mad, having existed in this state for god knows how long, and will often animate suits of armor, skulls, toys and other objects to have conversations with each other when the shop is empty. She has no discernible motives, and is quite friendly. For now she is content to entertain herself and tend the shop, gathering more toys and puppets with which to keep herself occupied.


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