Barrow of the Forgotten King

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    Barrow of the Forgotten King

    By Ed Stark
    Wizards of the Coast product number 959767400
    64 pages, $19.95

    Standard warning time: This is a review of a D&D adventure, and as such will contain some spoilers about parts of the adventure's plot. (It's kind of hard to write a detailed review without doing so.) If there's a chance that you'll end up as a player sending your PC through this adventure, do yourself - and your DM - a big favor and stop reading now.

    Barrow of the Forgotten King is a D&D adventure for a party of 2nd-level PCs. It's the first in a trilogy but can also be played as a standalone adventure - or so the text says on the back cover, anyway; personally, I think even if you don't go through the next adventures in the series, you're going to have to come up with something to finish off the storyline in this adventure, because it just kind of leaves you hanging. (More on this later.)

    The cover is a painting by Steve Prescott depicting an action scene of three adventurers (Lidda the halfling rogue, Mialee the elven wizard, and what I can only imagine is supposed to be Krusk the half-orc barbarian, although he's really only recognizable by his axe and his feet - seriously, he looks to me more like a barrel-chested human with oddly-shaped ears) in the next-to-last room of the adventure, fighting a skeleton dude on a skeletal horse and the oddest-looking undead I've seen in a long, long time. It turns out this is "the Betrayer," a unique undead, whose body is composed of pieces of armor fused into his undead flesh and bones. I suppose that's supposed to explain why this guy has an axe head growing out of his left knee, or is wearing a "crown/helmet" that looks to be made out of a sword hilt, and has a second left hand growing out of his left wrist. In any case, he's quite the goofy-looking individual. The PCs don't fare a whole lot better; while Mialee and Lidda are at least recognizable, Lidda (the halfling, mind you) for some reason seems to think it's a valid strategy to charge a rearing horse skeleton while throwing her knife at it. "I'm-supposed-to-be-Krusk" seems more interested in striking a heroic pose with his axe than, say, actually using it in combat, even though the Betrayer's blades are headed for his noggin. (Mialee ends up being the tactical wizard here - no pun intended - as at least she's firing off a spell at the mounted skeleton guy.) To his credit, Steve does a good job with the background architecture, and he really gets across the idea that these are moldering ruins the PCs are having their fun in, but the overall painting doesn't strike me as being his strongest work.

    The interior artwork consists of 10 black-and-white illustrations by Wayne England and Joel Thomas. These are also in the "pretty much okay" range - they get the job done, but there's nothing particularly exciting about any of them. I'd say the best inclusions were the varag on page 15, the nagatha on page 19, the tomb spider, broodswarm, and web mummy on page 57, and the plague walker on page 59, as these are all from sources outside of the Monster Manual - so it's helpful for DMs who don't have those books to at least have a picture of some of the monsters that show up in here.

    That leads to an interesting point: Barrow of the Forgotten King does its best to make use of a bunch of newer monsters; besides the ones mentioned above, there's also the clockwork mender, flotsam ooze, runehound, lesser water weird, lurking strangler, giant Stygian leeches, Stygian leech swarms, harrier, assaulter, distracter, fossergrim, and huecuva. Not that I'm complaining, mind you - it's always nice to see some of the newer creatures get some use - but it would have been nice if the creature stats included at least the name of the book in which the monsters originally appeared, in case the DM wanted to read up on them or at least get a peek at what they're supposed to look like.

    And hey, I mentioned creature stats, didn't I? Well, this wouldn't be an official John Cooper review if i didn't mention the creature stats, now, would it? In a nutshell: it's more of the same level of quality I've come to expect. Here's my unofficial errata, for those of you out there who prefer slightly more accurate creature stats with their adventures:
    • p. 32, Choker: Size should be Small, not Medium. (The stats all reflect the creature's Small size, though. Weird.) Also, there's no mention of the choker's 10-foot reach, which is one of the things that make it special for a creature of its size.
    • p. 34, Varag Zombie: Upon conversion to undead (when the zombie template is applied), the varag loses its "(goblinoid)" subtype.
    • p. 34, Sargus, male varag rogue 1: Initiative should be +9, not +6 (+5 Dex, +4 Improved Initiative). Special Qualities doesn't list his trapfinding class ability.
    • p. 38, Garjuk, male wererat (hobgoblin) rogue 2: Bite attacks should be at +2 melee, not +1 (+1 BAB, +6 Dex due to Weapon Finesse, -5 secondary attack). Skills should include Diplomacy +3 [0 ranks, -1 Cha, +2 synergy bonuses from Bluff and Sense Motive], Disguise -1 (+1 acting) [0 ranks, -1 Cha, +2 conditional synergy bonus from Bluff], and Intimidate +1 [0 ranks, -1 Cha, +2 synergy bonus from Bluff]. In dire rat form, bite damage should be 1d4+1 plus disease, not 1d6+1 plus disease (as a Small dire rat).
    • p. 45, Fiendish Large Monstrous Spider: This guy hasn't decided whether he wants to be a hunting spider or a web-spinner. Since he has a web attack listed and doesn't have the hunting spider's +10 ft. of movement, let's assume he's really a web-spinner. In that case, drop Jump back down to +2 and Spot to +4, since only hunting spiders get the added bonuses to those skills. Climb should be +11, not +10 [0 ranks, +3 Dex, +8 racial]. "Hide +3" should be followed by "(+7 using webs)."
    • p. 46, Giant Stygian Leeches: BAB should be +2, not +1 (as a 2-HD magical beast). Grapple should be -4, not -5 (+2 BAB, -4 size, -2 Str). Bite attacks should be at +4 melee, not +3 (+2 BAB, +1 size, +1 Dex due to Weapon Finesse).
    • p. 47, Stygian Leech Swarms: BAB should be +2, not +1 (as a 2-HD magical beast).
    • p. 50, Magruug, male varag scout 3: Hit points should not be "+2" as listed, as that doesn't make a lick of sense; assuming the scout class uses d6s for Hit Dice (which I'm pretty sure is the case), average hit points for Magruug should be 3d8+6 (as a 3-HD humanoid) plus 3d6+6 (as a 3rd-level scout) = 36. Feats aren't alphabetized. +1 composite shortbow attacks should be at +10 ranged, not +11 (+4 BAB, +5 Dex, +1 magic weapon bonus). The scout class has a Battle Fortitude ability that adds +1 to Initiative and Fortitude saves as long as the scout wears light or no armor; while the description states that Magruug's stats include these modifiers, they actually don't - as a result, Initiative should be +6, not +5 (+5 Dex, +1 Battle Fortitude), and his Fort should be +5, not +4 (+1 as a 3-HD humanoid, +1 as a Scout 3, +2 Con, +1 Battle Fortitude).
    • p. 52, Sigur, male fossergrim cleric 1: Masterwork silvered battleaxe damage should be 1d8+2/3, not 1d8+3/3 (+3 Str, -1 alchemical silver). Masterwork silvered handaxe damage should be 1d6/3, not 1d6+1/3 (half of a +3 Str bonus = +1, -1 alchemical silver).
    • p. 58, Huecuva: With 3 HD, he should have 2 feats (plus the bonus Toughness feat from the template), not 3 feats plus the bonus feat.
    • p. 61, The Betrayer: Feats aren't alphabetized. Skills should include Disguise +3 (+5 acting) [0 ranks, +3 Cha, +2 synergy bonus from Bluff].
    • p. 61, Mounted Skeletons: It's worth noting first of all that these are specifically stated to be a skeletal rider and a skeletal horse fused into a single Large creature. AC should be 16, not 17 (-1 size, +2 Dex, +5 chainmail). Touch AC should be 11, not 12. Flat-footed AC should be 14, not 15. Lance attacks should be +5 melee, not +6 (+2 BAB, -1 size, +4 Str). Longsword attacks should be +5 melee, not +6 (+2 BAB, -1 size, +4 Str). Hoof attacks should be +5 melee, not +6 (+2 BAB, -1 size, +4 Str). Bite attacks should be +0 melee, not +1 (+2 BAB, -1 size, +4 Str, -5 secondary attack).
    • p. 62, Jeroog, male hobgoblin fighter 3: He spent 16 of 12 skill points. Jump should be -4, not +1 (6 ranks maximum, +2 Str, -6 armor check penalty, -6 speed). Climb should be +2, not +1 (6 ranks, +2 Str, -6 armor check penalty).
    • p. 62, Xeron, male yuan-ti pureblood sorcerer 4: Flat-footed AC should be 16, not 18 (+1 natural, +1 deflection, +4 mage armor). Grapple should be at +5, not +6 (+6 BAB, -1 Str). +1 spear attacks should be at +6 melee, not +9 (+6 BAB, -1 Str, +1 magic weapon bonus). Touch of fatigue spell attacks should be at +5 melee touch, not +9 (+6 BAB, -1 Str), and its save DC should be DC 14, not DC 13 (10 + 0-level spell + 4 Cha).
    For those of you interested in the percentages, that was 14 stats blocks with errors in them out of a total of 42, or an even one-third of them.

    Besides the stats blocks, the overall proofreading and editing jobs were a bit wonky, too, with an obvious misspelling ("tjrough" instead of "through"), a few sentences with missing words, a magic item not being italicized, a missing comma, a map on page 47 missing a prominent feature described on page 46 (the "X" marking the location of the gemlike control device), and finally, perhaps the best example of sloppy proofreading, the dreaded "see page xx." This last error occurred a total of three times in the adventure's scant 61 printed pages; definitely not a source of pride for editors Chris Sims and Kim Mohan.

    One of the highlights of Barrow of the Forgotten King is the full-color map by cartographer Mike Schley, printed across the inside of the removable cover. The adventure is a simple dungeon crawl, being the underground chambers connected to a mausoleum in the graveyard in the town of Kingsholm, and being simpler still by being a straight one-room-connects-only-to-the-next-room-in-sequence linear progression. Mike does a great job making the whole complex fit into the space he's been given, since the complex generally goes only north and west up until the end, where there's a little jog to the east. Mike would have had to make a one-piece map considerably smaller than it is (and with a whole lot of wasted space) if he didn't break it up into "chunks" with clearly labeled areas where one "chunk" connects to the next. And, in what is now apparently the standard for Wizards of the Coast adventures, each separate room of the underground complex has been reprinted in its own combat section at the last half of the adventure, where (in theory) the DM can run each combat using only the open two-page spread in front of him.

    Only it doesn't always work that way. For example, one section has a bunch of randomly summoned monsters, and if your percentile die roll indicates either a lantern archon or a hound archon, you're sent to the relevant pages of the Monster Manual for their stats, as there's no room on the two pages for them. (However, while I dislike the fact that they couldn't get everything to fit in their two-page format, given that this was the case they chose the right summoned monsters to give the brush-off to, as the archons are the least likely to get involved in combat with good-aligned PCs.) Another encounter, on page 39, refers to a new magic item found in that room - but the specifics for that item, the ephod of authority, are found over on page 12. There's also going to be quite a lot of page-flipping between the front section of the adventure (where you'll find the majority of the read-aloud text describing what the PCs see as they enter the room) and the back section (where the combat encounter descriptions and stat blocks are, as well as any special features in the area that might affect combat, like rubble complicating movement or statues providing cover).

    The adventure itself is very simple: a group of town guards have disappeared while checking out the town's mausoleum, and the remaining guards want to hire the PCs to go investigate it for them. Once there, they find the guards dead and the door open to the underground sections of the complex, where they discover evidence of tomb robbers and eventually the tomb robbers themselves. Along the way, there are monsters to fight and a puzzle to solve. But the ending is particularly cliffhangery (what do you mean that's not a word?), as the very last room contains a hole leading to a tunnel to the Underdark that the Small-sized tomb robbers have already escaped down, taking the majority of the loot with them. As the hole's just being widened when the PCs show up on the scene (where they get to fight the two Medium-sized tomb robbers who are trying to widen the hole big enough for them to enter as well), it's pretty much a given that the Small robbers are going to get away. Want to know what's at the other end of the Small tunnel? You'll have to buy the next adventure in the series, or make it up yourself. This is particularly irritating as the next adventure isn't available yet, and the end of Barrow of the Forgotten King isn't really a good place for the PCs to just leave, go off on other adventures for awhile, and then pick up where this one left off some months later.

    There are also a couple of funky features to the adventure. Topping this list is the "labyrinth" section, where the DM is supposed to simply make it up himself or else just allow the PCs to make Will saves to try to track the robbers (if the Will save is successful, they then get to make a Survival check, and if they are successful at that they get a point; after 5 points, they find their way out of the maze). Like I said, funky.

    I'm going with a "3 (Average)" for Barrow of the Forgotten King. It's not a terrible adventure, but it's not particularly all that great, either, and suffers a bit with its cliffhanger ending. There's certainly nothing wrong with "adventure path style" adventures, but they should try to be a bit more standalone than this one turned out to be. Even those of you planning on purchasing this adventure, I really don't recommend actually using it until the other two adventures in the series have been published (assuming the second adventure's ending leaves as much of a cliffhanger as this one does). At $19.95 for a 64-page adventure, it's also a bit on the pricey side, considering that Wizards of the Coast also provides 160-page hardbound books for $29.95 - ten bucks more gets you an extra hundred pages and a durable cover (I'm reviewing one of those next). Granted, those usually aren't adventures, so maybe I'm comparing apples to oranges, but still.
    Last edited by John Cooper; Thursday, 1st March, 2007 at 08:39 PM.


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