Thursday, May 4, 2017

Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (Why this is my favorite adventure ever)

I’m going to take a minute today to tell you a story about how i fell in love with the Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.  I was still in middle school when my brother dropped off a giant assortment of 1st edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons books at my mom’s house (evidently his college girlfriend at the time wasn’t a fan of fun).  With my usual calm approach, i tore through the books like a house afire and learned the game quickly.  I fell in love with the old art work, and the math, and the ideas behind the game.  I would eventually grow out of this phase, but i look back on those old books fondly (and i’m still only missing one book to have a complete set of 1st edition, Curse you Dragonlance Adventures!).  

I was reading through one of the adventure modules, S3, and i noticed that it had a picture book that went with it.  I started looking through the pictures and was like...hey that’s a robot.  There were more scientific elements and they were interspersed through the adventure and then i finally saw what i was looking at for the first time.  Someone had crammed an alien starship into my beloved fantasy adventures and i didn’t quite know what to do with it.  So i put it down, and went back to reading through the Temple of Elemental Evil.  

It was about a month before i picked up Expedition to the Barrier Peaks again, and i read through the adventure with the critical eye of a juvenile gamer looking for the fat loot and the monsters i could smash.  I barely noticed the effort to integrate the sci-fi with the fantasy (a genre mashup i would later discover to be Science Fantasy), but something with it resonated in the parts of my brain that think deep thoughts, and it was one of the most thought provoking adventures i had seen.  Years later i would pick up the 2nd edition boxed set (remember those kids?) Tale of the Comet.

Tale features a campaign based off of the premise that an artificially intelligent life form has declared war on its creators and has chased them across a sea of stars to the campaign setting of the characters.  Slowly at first, the Intelligence sets its minions to work gathering resources with a goal towards taking over the world and destroying its ancient enemy.  

This (along with Night Below) was one of my favorite campaigns, and i tried to run it several times over the years.  I think the good guys won the final battle once...I think (it’s been 20 years).  

I really enjoyed the approach to mashing up genres, and this became something i started to look for in my later gaming days.  It’s part of what pulled me into Deadlands, and a host of other games that i spent countless weekends playing (Fading Suns is on this list, and i fell hard for Post Apocalyptic games like Tribe 8 and Gamma World).  My interactions with the gaming hobby have been cyclical.  I will play something, tire of it, and cycle forward to something else.  It took me about 15 years to realize this was a cycle, when i picked up Iron Gods for Pathfinder.  Iron Gods feels very much like a re-imagining of that original idea behind Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.  What happens if we add a crashed starship full of things to a low technology fantasy world full of magic?  

S3 (Expedition to the Barrier Peaks) sparked that love of pushing the boundaries of what fantasy gaming was for me.  I would never have looked beyond my narrow view of Elves plus magic is good, everything else is stupid and dumb without it.  It took that one little spark of seeing how things could blend and come out better that made me start to look at gaming as more of a spectrum of fun rather than a series of discrete game types.  Now i’ve probably rambled enough for now, but if you’re interested in S3 you can find a digital copy on DM’s Guild here.  

A brief explanation of Tale of the Comet can be found here

Iron Gods can be found here  

Jason Thompson put together a wonderful series of comic maps of a bunch of classic modules including Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.  His work is absolutely amazing and you can find a bundle of those maps, (including Expedition to the Barrier Peaks) Here

I hope this gives you a little insight to the things that i enjoy and might broaden your horizons a little when you think about how your adventures are put together.  Game on, Game Fans

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