The Lost City of Barakus



This is an older product (2003), but one I wanted to review it now, because it's perhaps the best example of a product that doesn't seem to be made anymore. Even the company that almost specialized in the genre, Necromancer Games, seems to have ditched it in favor of shorter modules that no one seems to have (judge by the lack of reviews here for them, or by the constant threads in the message boards about them which go unanswered), super-linear snoozefests like Trouble at Durbenford, or highly expensive, repetitive megadungeons (like Rappan Athuk: Regurgitated).

The name of this sort of product is actually not exactly well agreed on. Mini-campaign or adventure setting is usually what is used. But basically it's a small city or town or region that is detailed very well, but not suffocatingly, and has tons of small adventure as well as a "main" adventure.

I really like these because it gives the players the freedom to largely do what they want. Rather than be railroaded a long a path, the players can explore what they want, interact with whom they want, and set their own pace. Granted, it's not for everyone, because some prefer more structure, but good ones have some of that as well.

Necromancer did a couple of previous modules like this that were really nice. Most notably Grey Citadel and The Vault of Larin Karr. But this was their biggest, and I would say the best. It's really a shame they apparently decided to abandon this sort of adventure.

Getting on with it...

The Lost City of Barakus is a pretty hefty book. It's actually only about 208 pages, but they used thick paper, so it feels bigger. Still, in those 208 pages, they pack a ton of content (even considering they used a large-ish font).

The first 50 or so pages describe the city of Endhome. It's a small-ish city, about 35,000 people in it. It's not overwhelmingly detailed - basically only about 30 locations, but not bad, considering, and you also get 2 city adventures. One of which deals with a family of vampires, so is probably best left to higher level characters.

The next 40 pages describe the wilderness area around Endhome and the lost city of Barakus. It's mostly a forest. There are something like 20 different detailed encounters here. Some are friendly NPCs, others are deadly opponents. Some are ruins - including a neolithic cave, a wizard's tower, and an ancient shrine.

The variety is really quite impressive, and inventive. Although I'm not sure that neolithic cave will fit in a lot of settings. Because in a lot of cases, humans pretty much became civilized right away, stealing from the older races (elves, gnomes, dwarves, etc). Pretty cool idea, though.

Barakus itself gets the bulk of the book (since it is named after it), around 70 pages. The upper levels are pretty much a standard dungeon, but one that is fairly logical and is quite dynamic (that is, creatures move in and out a lot).

The very lower levels tend to be somewhat more static, since they are largely sealed off from the upper levels, and the PCs have to work to access them. These levels also have more in the way of puzzles.

One thing I liked is that to a certain extent, there are some plots or quests that start in Endhome that are resolved in Barakus, or vice-versa. For instance, a lady there wants the PCs to find her lost husband. Sort of a minor thing, but it helps the dungeon feel "realer", and connected to the city of Endhome and the wilderness.

There is something of a deeper story behind Barakus, but I don't really want to give away spoiler. However, the PCs really don't have to do it if they don't want. On the other hand, the lower levels of the place might not be for inexperienced gamers, because a couple of things are potentially tricky.

The rest of the book is pretty much just stats. Monsters get 15 pages devoted to them, including some new monsters. NPCs get about 20 pages. Like pretty much all Necromancer products, in the body of the book, it simply says "See NPC Appendix", rather than direct you to a given page. Which annoys me. But at least in this, they are generally in the same order as in the book, and separated by chapter (and the chapters are in correct order), so finding them isn't that hard. (Still annoying though).


I think I mentioned the large font size a couple times already. I'm not a big fan of that, myself, because in this case, it's almost hard to read. But the layout itself is nice. Good use of bolding, fonts, spacing (but not too much white space).

The book itself though is sturdy, and lays flat. So it's pretty easy to use and durable enough to do so. You also get a pull out map of the area. On the other hand, the dungeon maps are in the inside in various places, so you'll likely end up photocopying them when you run it (at least that's what I did).

The art is also excellent. There's not a lot of it but besides the always excellent Brian LeBlanc, there's some by Tyler Walpole, and a few pieces by Veronica Jones, of Spycraft 1st Edition fame. All top notch, if printed a bit too darkly in some pieces.

Final Thoughts

It's truly an excellent product. It's not without its faults, though. Like I said, the font is rather large, so the page count is probably padded. The players can come across numerous dead people, but in many cases, it doesn't provide any details about them, which can be a problem, since there are a number of spells that PCs can use to talk to the dead or even revive them. Although since it's a lower level adventure, the latter isn't too likely. There is also a certain quaintness to the product, it's hard to say why exactly, I guess partially the NPCs. I'm not sure that's bad or good, though.

But for a lower level adventure that is non-linear, full of interesting places to explore and visit, even some memorable NPCs, it's really hard to beat this. At least I haven't seen anything that beats it. It's so good that I actually resisted making a Mr. T joke in this review, despite the name (and the cover art). So I'm giving it a A, and a 5 here.

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