From Home Dungeon to Published Game, Barrowmaze is a Success

Jonathan Bolding | 27 Feb 2014 12:00
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The OSR is a weird beast, then. It somehow combines a contemporary crowdsourced effort with a folk-gaming tradition. It's a synthesis that has happened because of crowdfunding efforts and conventions - distributed across the world, but in constant communication. "I don't think Barrowmaze would have happened without the Old School Renaissance," Gillespie said. "I enjoy reading session reports of groups playing Barrowmaze. I get a kick out of seeing how some respond to the various encounters and traps and then comparing it to how my group negotiated the same things."

"The blogs and the forums were instrumental," Gillespie said. They helped him distill old school fantasy to its fundamental elements. When he went to create Barrowmaze the philosophical groundwork had been done for him.

"Many people think that old school play is all about Game Master (GM) and GM fiat," he said. "It really isn't about that at all. Old school play is about creating the parameters of a sandbox and then allowing the players to chart their own course through it. In this way the GM allows the play to create the story, rather than having [the GM's] personal story precede play and then ramming the players through it."

So he started with the basics and shot for the moon. His mist-shrouded tombs, his endless labyrinth, and the most basic guidance for his participants on what to do. In his own words: "Players in my game play the role of tomb-robbers and treasure seekers looking to make a quick gold piece on the cheap rather than working for a living." He had four or five consistent players, but ran with a play style that facilitated frequent and cheap deaths for the protagonists alongside new players. "If a player missed a week," he said, "we assumed their character went on a bender instead of an expedition to the dungeon."

In the end, Gillespie had Barrowmaze, a work made by himself, but defined by the culture he made it in. The growing community and the sheer joy of his favorite hobby was what kept Gillespie working on the project - not a drive for word count, module size, or any business instinct. "You cannot replace the creativity and charm of the home-game," he said, a statement that could easily be the motto of Barrowmaze and of the OSR itself.

When it comes to his opinion on the kinds of adventures that don't grow out of home play, those produced for-hire by various companies for their games, he didn't dismiss them outright, but he left a wonderful image: "Many 'official' products are over-produced, lack creativity, and are devoid of player choice. The illustrations are bland and overly-heroic and leave little space, ironically, for the imagination. In that context, the games played at our dining room tables take on greater import, not less. By investing in our games, we invest in the broader hobby. Our games, therefore, pay homage to the past while charting new direction for the future."

You can find the campaign to fund Barrowmaze Complete on IndieGoGo.

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