Barrier Peaks Designer’s Notebook, Entry #1: Of Sleek, Futuristic Design

At our What’s New With Goodman Games seminar at GaryCon, we announced OAR #3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. We’ve been releasing additional details around the project as they’re finalized, including the fact that it will feature new art by Erol Otus, an introduction by Tony DiTerlizzi, and several other tidbits. Today we bring you some designer’s notes from the lead author, Michael Curtis. As we finalize the layout we will keep you updated, and as soon as the book is at the printer we will offer it for pre-order! For now, read on to learn more about Michael’s thought process in converting a classic TSR module from 1E to 5E.

Barrier Peaks Designer’s Notes, Entry #1: Of Sleek, Futuristic Design

by Michael Curtis

When word came down the line that Goodman Games would be converting and expanding upon Expedition to the Barrier Peaks for fifth edition as the third entry in the Original Adventures Reincarnated line—and that it would be my job to do so!—I cracked open my old copy of S3 to revisit Gygax’s original work. It’d been some time since I read the module so a close reading was in order. After all, I was going to have to find places to elaborate on Gary’s adventure and look for ways to include brand new material while still being true to the classic. What I soon discovered was this wasn’t going to be easy.

Unlike our previous Original Adventures Reincarnated releases, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks was written as a tournament adventure. There’s no tropical island with dinosaurs to hex crawl through, providing veritable leagues of unexplored territory to populate, nor is it an expansive cave system surrounded by a small scale wilderness in need of further exposition. Instead, Barrier Peaks was written to be explored in a relatively short time period. Although it’s unlikely even the most expedient group of adventures could see the entire dungeon in a four-to-six hour convention block, they could hit nearly every level and sample the broad array of science-fiction/fantasy mashup the adventure has to offer. Although Gary catches flack for his sometimes purple prose, Barrier Peaks is a superb example of tight dungeon design. The adventure literally starts at the front door to the dungeon and it’s very possible it ends with the party getting the boot out the backdoor (possibly with a bulette to keep them company). At first glance, the dungeon’s lean and mean design doesn’t provide a lot of rough edges to start hanging new material on. Uh-oh. What was I going to do?

It took some doing, but I at last found my entrance point buried in the adventure’s introduction. In the original module, the backstory has the party being assembled by some of the most powerful political, ecclesiastical, and arcane figures in the World of Greyhawk. They are called together because a number of attacks have leveled keeps and strongholds along the border of the Barrier Peaks. Strange creatures have been sighted, but the only surviving evidence is scant and it’s up to the PCs to figure out what is going on. It’s suggested they start looking for a mysterious, metal-walled cave in the mountains….

As introductory text that immediately concludes with the party standing at the cave mouth, that’s all the hook one needs. However, once you read through the adventure, you realize that this topic of raiding monsters is never touched upon by Gygax. Some of it is hand-waved away, implying that the rampaging monsters are alien creatures freed from stasis cages and either released or escaped from the crashed starship. This could account for some of the attacks, but a series of strategic raids suggests that there’s more to the sacking of strongholds than simple monsters run amok. Someone or something needs to be coordinating the attacks. This was the first firm foothold I needed to start scaling this particular peak.

Stemming from this realization, OAR #3 features a new hitherto-unknown seventh level that ties into the invasion threat. It also expands on the landscape immediately around the spaceship, providing possible clues, allies, enemies, and hazards that the party might encounter during their search for the mysterious metal cave. It’s even possible they could blunder upon the very enemy leading the raids against the border keeps, a potentially lethal occurrence even to a high-level party of adventurers. Clearly, in order to defeat such a threat, they might need access to more potent weapons and defenses. If only there was someplace nearby where they might find them….

I’ve done my best to take Gary’s design methodology to heart when building upon what he first presented. Obviously, both game design and player expectations have changed in the more than forty years since Barrier Peaks was written, and gamers of more recent minting are accustomed to larger stat blocks and more expansive encounter description that in the 1970s.  I’ve tried to walk the line between meeting their needs and keeping the old school dungeon crawl spirit alive. With any luck, those brave souls mounting the expedition to the soaring mountains and exploring the miraculous and terrifying dungeon beneath them will be unable to differentiate between the old and the new.

Author: pandabrett

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