Storm King’s Barrows: Tombs and Crypts of the North is a DM’s Guild product with ten dungeons in the northern Sword Coast area. This is the first in a five part series of reviews. I will cover the first two dungeons in this review. The first is Breve Heeros Onli! by George Sager. The second is Geschmalig’s Tomb by Christian Eichhorn. Each dungeon will receive it’s own, standalone rating and I will also give an overall rating for the entire Storm King’s Barrows product upon completing the series.
Storm King’s Barrows: Tombs and Crypts of the North
Writer(s): Jason Bakos, Matt Butler, Andrew Dempz, Christian Eichhorn, David Flor, Edward Gioffre, Darren Parmenter, George Sager, Rob Twohy, Christopher Walz, and Micah Watt
Publisher: DMs Guild
Product Length: 135 pages
First things first. This review is of version 1.3 of the product so if there are any inconsistencies between any factual comments I make regarding Storm King’s Barrows and what you believe to be accurate, please ensure you are referencing the same version I am. Additionally, this product comes with high-resolution maps for each adventure (.png format) as well as a Map of the North. All of these maps are also at the end of their respective adventures. And, finally, there is an ink-friendly version which you will want to take advantage of if you plan to print any of these adventures on your home printer as the background for the high-res PDF is sure to be an ink hog.
1. Storm King’s Barrows: Breve Heeros Onli! by George Sager
There are two primary elements at the heart of Dungeons & Dragons. Those two things are…wait for it…dungeons and dragons. Storm King’s Barrows wastes no time beating around the bush and gives us both of these elements in the first adventure. Dragons aren’t ones to sit around and pine about their disabilities. They still adore their hoards and dream of acquiring more and more wealth. To what end? Well, because they wants it!
Shevra is a vindictive black dragon who slaughtered a clan of kobolds upon finding her mate, Grystix, slain. In the process, Shevra, loses her only good eye and the kobold clan’s sole survivor, Heep, made an agreement with the dragon. She would guide unwary adventurers through the network of tunnels under Mount Black. The dragon would receive treasure, the occasional softened game, and she’d regain control over the mountain as the hapless adventurers killed other denizens of Mount Black. And, of course, Heep would get her cut. She would also get her life.
Using deception and misdirection, Heep‘s plan is to gather intelligence on travelers and convince them to buy rigged equipment from her and then decide where best to advise the group to go within the tunnel network (generally to an encounter that is just a bit too challenging). Most noteworthy is the fact that she’ll send a group directly to the dragon by exaggerating her disabilities if she deems the group foolhardy enough to follow through.
Originality (5 stars)
Overall, I enjoyed Breve Heeros Onli! Heep is an interesting character. I happen to count kobolds among my favorite monsters. Probably from nostalgia—my first AD&D adventure involved killing some kobolds who were attacking a small supply caravan. Nonetheless, I still like them and seeing George Sager bring an enigmatic character like Heep to Storm King’s Barrows was great! I loved her double-crosses, scheming, and charisma. She carries the bulk of my rating in the Originality category.
The encounters were nice too. You won’t find standard dungeon fair in this dungeon. Sager has taken the effort to put in some creative monsters that I wouldn’t ordinarily associate with dungeons. Consequently, there are weretigers, grimlocks, as well as the black dragon, Shevra, found within. I typically associate black dragons with swamps and bogs but I don’t find this one in the mountains to be all that misplaced. And I guess I haven’t really ever considered where I’d most likely encounter a weretiger. A jungle seems fitting but I liked them here in Mount Black all the same. Also, there are great opportunities for role-playing. Particularly where it concerns those weretigers.
Writing (4 stars)
George Sager’s writing was concise and easy to read. There were no unnecessary superlatives or flowery language. He gets his point across and is able to be thorough without bogging things down.
Production (4 stars)
The maps included with this portion of Storm King’s Barrows are sufficient enough for my liking. I don’t have to have excessive detail on these images to appreciate the dungeons. I do wish they were in line with the adventure instead of just at the end. This is a minor issue but it might’ve been helpful. Especially if you consider the separate high-res .png files. A sharp-eyed reader may notice the second map has no grid lines and want to cry foul. However, there is a grid version in the high-res maps.
I would have loved a portrait of Heep as well as one of Shevra. After all, a blind dragon would be something to behold!
Aside from these two issues I don’t have any complaints to speak of.
Design (5 stars)
Have I mentioned Heep yet? I love her! PCs will spend a fair amount of time engaged with her making Insight and History checks. She may double-cross you. But in an effort to save her own skin, she may double-cross the dragon. The encounter with the weretigers gives ample opportunity for Stealth, Investigation, and Survival checks. And defeating the dragon will take more than waltzing in and kicking ass. She may be blind but that only means she has a heightened awareness of her other senses. With the dragon mentally enervated, there are alternatives to a standard toe-to-toe battle.
Cost (4 stars)
Storm King’s Barrows costs $14.95. It may seem prudent to take that price and divide by 10 to calculate the appropriate cost per adventure. However, I believe a more useful means is to go by page count. Breve Heeros Onli! is 10 pages long. So this adventure has an allocated cost of just under $1.11. This is a great price for such a wonderful adventure.
Overall Rating: 4.4 Stars
2. Storm King’s Barrows: Geschmalig’s Tomb by Christian Eichhorn
Geschmalig’s Tomb is the longest adventure in Storm King’s Barrows. Including all the maps, stat blocks, and appendices, it is 22 pages. However, when I read it I didn’t think it overstayed its welcome. In fact, I quite enjoyed it. This story involves an undead army hellbent on conquering northern settlements in Geschmalig‘s name.
According to legend, Geschmalig is the mortal son of the Raven Queen. She left him in the care of uthgardt barbarians and as he grew he developed a reputation as both a bruiser and a lady’s man. Ultimately, his tribe grew tired of his ways and prayed that Uthgar would do away with him.
This didn’t happen. Instead, Geschmalig met a kindred in a man named Udiken and the pair soon set out to wage war on weaker tribes. Stricken by a mysterious illness, Udiken dies an agonizing death. A grief-stricken Geschmalig abandons his ambitions and can think of nothing except returning his friend to the land of the living. In an odd twist of fate, Geschmalig dies trying to help his friend. Now a hundred years have passed and an undead Udiken has returned the favor to his friend. But not unlike Dr. Malcolm Crowe in The Sixth Sense, Geschmalig doesn’t know he’s (un)dead.
Originality (4 stars)
As I’ve stated already, I enjoyed Geschmalig’s Tomb. It is ultimately a story about kinship. Brotherhood. Even in undeath these two men have remained loyal to one another and feel a deep sense of compassion and indebtedness to one another. Players will find themselves with good options during each encounter and even some potential hooks for future adventures with the treasures they find. I love a good redemption story and if run well-enough a DM could easily make this a touching and memorable story of regret and sorrow.
Writing (4 stars)
All in all, Christian Eichhorn has written a solid adventure. There are a few nagging spelling errors and comma splices but nothing that takes away from the narrative. That narrative, by the way, is gripping and well-paced. Geschmalig is not exactly a likeable character. At least I don’t think that was the intent. But ultimately I found myself rooting for him.
Production (4 stars)
Similar to Breve Heeros Onli!, the maps are at the end of the adventure so I won’t reiterate where my preference for them is. The formatting is good. The art—a sketch of one of the scenes and picture of a journal—are nice additions with the former being a bit amateurish but charming nonetheless. The dungeon maps follow the same design as the previous adventure and are effective. The unmarked dungeon maps included along with the PDF are particularly useful for using in VTT (or to print) and not giveaway trap locations.
Design (5 stars)
A full 5 stars for this category! Eichhorn went to great lengths to make the characters experience his adventure with all the senses. Constitution checks and howling winds will remind the players of how bitterly cold it is here. Smells permeate the tomb. Both Geschmalig and Udiken are imposing figures. Players will want to consider their choices and role-play as befitting their characters. They should prepare themselves to fail at some tasks. The DCs are sometimes really high. Not impossible. But high enough to be incredibly memorable if the party succeeds. Furthermore, the magic items gained are excellent hooks for future adventures. Some of them even have long-term ill effects.
Cost (4 stars)
Geschmalig’s Tomb is 22 pages long. So this adventure has an allocated cost of roughly $2.44. Still less than the cost of a coke and a bag of chips from a convenience store.
Overall Rating: 4.2 Stars
Thanks, Christian Eichhorn, for the review copy of Storm King’s Barrows: Tombs and Crypts of the North.