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Barrier Peaks
D&D Alumni
Bart Carroll

Far-Go is dying . . . the people are afraid . . . the animals are wasting away . . . the crops are withering in the fields. No one, not even the powerful high priest, Arx Skystone, knows what has caused Far-Go's misfortune.

As we’ve mentioned, we have a good reason to release Famine in Far-Go and Legion of Gold for D&D Gamma World: These were the first adventures for the original edition of the game. The latest Famine in Far-Go, which comes out this month, has seen significant story alterations. These alterations include influences from another adventure, as well. This adventure is the most famous science-fiction adventure of all time, in fact—at least, in the context of Dungeons & Dragons.

Today, we look at the original Famine in Far-Go, as well as how Expedition to the Barrier Peaks impacts the new version, and ways you might now run Barrier Peaks in your D&D campaign. It’s Gamma World, after all, so anything is possible . . . but definitely weird.

The Original Famine in Far-Go

As can be expected from the original adventure module, there’s a famine, in Far-Go, and the heroes are tasked with finding its salvation. A fair bit of railroading takes place in terms of the heroes’ shared origins: They’re youths sent out from their community on a Rite of Adulthood. This Rite happens to involve investigating a meteor crash (well, meteorite, at that point) that appears to have caused the famine. The heroes visit a chicken processing factory along the way. The place is the lair of the famed one-eyed mutant chickens: the gallus gallus. (A more comprehensive summary can be read at the inimitable grognardia.com).

Of more interest to me personally was the wilderness encounter along the way with a pack of badders (or would that be a cete of badders?) who worship an image of University of Wisconsin’s mascot, Bucky Badger—their supreme deity and protector. I attended UW myself, and with TSR based nearby in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, they must have appreciated the in-joke. I’d also like to point out that at the time of writing, UW has just knocked off #1 Ohio State and #15 Iowa in back-to-back wins. (Update: and has since been invited to the Rose Bowl.) Before anyone from Ohio or Iowa disparages that accomplishment, be warned that this would bring down the wrath of the entire pack of badders.

Success in the original adventure hinged on defeating the gallus gallus and supplying the processing factory’s computer with fuel from the meteorite. The computer, in turn, would supply Far-Go with (what else?) a 6-month supply of processed chicken patties, thus ending the famine. Exploring the factory to defeat the gallus gallus involved use of color-coded ID cards, necessary to enter different parts of the facility. Which sounds like another sci-fi adventure (which we’ll get to in just a moment).

The Original Ship

The original Barrier Peaks ship was also populated by a number of creatures, including will-o’-wisps and displacer beasts—suitably alien, since both were also encountered in A.E. van Vogt’s 1950 novel The Voyage of the Space Beagle (yes, that’s a pun on Darwin’s ship, the HMS Beagle; and yes, both were also an influence on Dragon’s Voyage of the Princess Ark . . . there’s a lot of circularity in this month’s article). Displacer beasts greatly resembled the novel’s coeurl, not to mention (in this author’s humble opinion) Avatar’s recent 6-limbed, pantherlike thanators.

A New Famine in Far-Go

Without spoiling too much of the adventure, the new version of Famine in Far-Go still features a famine . . . in Far-Go. This time, the meteorite has changed to a crashed spaceship that has released a host of horrors, including russet mold, vegepygmies, and the dread froghemoth.

Which sounds like that sci-fi adventure again. . . .

Yes, as even designer Robert Schwalb has admitted, this Famine in Far-Go allowed him to bring elements of Expedition to the Barrier Peaks back into the game.

Expedition to the Barrier Peaks

And here we come to the adventure that many remember for bringing sci-fi to D&D. In our interview with James M. Ward, he discussed the intersection between Barrier Peaks and Metamorphosis Alpha—an intersection specifically laid out in the opening of Barrier Peaks’ re-release:

This module was begun early in 1976 when TSR was contemplating publication of a science fantasy role playing game. Jim Ward had already shown us some rough notes on Metamorphosis Alpha. I thought it would be a splendid idea to introduce Jim’s game at Origins II, and introduce the concept to D&D players by means of the tournament scenario. I laid out the tournament from old “Greyhawk Castle” campaign material involving a spaceship, and Rob Kuntz helped me to populate the ruined vessel. Both this scenario and Metamorphosis Alpha proved successful, but while the latter has been continually available since mid-1976, only a few copies of the tournament dungeon used for Origins II have been around. Metamorphosis Alpha is currently being rewritten and expanded for a major new edition, and (the) Gamma World game is highly popular too. Since this module offers a unique and challenging blend of fantasy and science fantasy role playing, it seemed logical to reintroduce it to the public.

You can see quite a collision of influences within Barrier Peaks. It too featured colored cards used to access various parts of the ship. Scattered throughout the ship were creatures associated with Metamorphosis Alpha (lizardoids, baboonoids, mad robots), the more alien creatures of Dungeons & Dragons (a Swamp Thing/Man-Thing-esque shambling mound, an intellect devourer—and what could be more alien than a mind flayer?), and even some classics of D&D (a bulette, umber hulk, and even trappers, lurkers above, and rot grub . . . or gotcha, gotcha, and gotcha, respectively).

I would argue that the sheer joy and nostalgia surrounding Expedition to the Barrier Peaks never came from the design of the ship itself (a leveled, open-ended affair) or from the storyline (there wasn’t one). Arguably, there was that single mind flayer near the end, but he hardly constituted an epic villain to conquer. The adventure itself ended abruptly with the heroes being unceremoniously dumped out of the cargo hold along with a dazed bulette—hilariously illustrated, but not the most dramatic of conclusions.

Rather, enjoyment came from the simple thrill of exploring a spaceship in a Dungeons & Dragons game, searching for the different colored cards to access the different sections, and—best of all—figuring out how to use the advanced weaponry against a strange host of robots and creatures.

All of which can be replicated in your game.

Crashing Spaceships into D&D

We’ve belabored this analogy (yet still use it): Barrier Peaks crashed sci-fi into D&D’s fantasy. If you’re looking to do the same, the following presents a few ideas for how to accomplish it. It’s ground we’ve covered before, but still love to consider.

The Premise

Much like we stated in Against the Cult of the Reptile God, a faithful recreation of the original adventure is less useful than using the adventure as a template. “Barrier Peaks” as a place and adventure concept can be placed anywhere you wish in your world. A mysterious ship has crashed somewhere in the mountains of your world, slightly buried over time until its entrance resembles that of any other cave—until your players’ characters are called to investigate and quickly realize this adventure is going to be different.

You might even start with the original premise; to paraphrase:

A local duchy has recently been plagued by a rash of unusually weird and terrible monsters of unknown sort. This western area, particularly the mountain fastness bordering the duchy (known as the Barrier Peaks), has long been renowned for the generation of the most fearsome beasts, and it has been shunned accordingly.

Within the last few months, however, a walled town not far distant from the area, and four small fortresses as well, were destroyed by mysterious attacks! The remaining barons and lords have preserved in brine several partially decomposed corpses found on or near the sites of the ravaging. While these strange bodies are assumed to have belonged to the forces which were responsible for the destruction, the remains were too far gone to learn anything other than they were of creatures heretofore unknown to even the wisest sages. The urgent plea for aid which accompanied these gruesome corpses could not be ignored.

It has been learned that several unconfirmed reports have related that monsters have been disgorged from a gated cave at random intervals. The entrance to this place is high upon a rocky face, and sheathed in armor. This protection has purportedly frustrated all attempts to explore the space beyond the metal valve—although several search parties have entirely disappeared, so it is possible they entered but never returned. Your expedition must find out exactly what this cave is, what is causing the monsters to come forth, who is responsible, and how to prevent future incursions. In addition, any other information regarding this mysterious locale, its strange denizens, magical devices, or unusual weaponry is highly desirable.

Your party set forth a week ago, and for the past two days have been climbing higher into the crags of the Barrier Peaks. Last night was spent in the keep of the only baron remaining in the area—and he was fulsome glad for your company. This morning, as the eastern horizon turned from pearl gray to rosy pink, a score of the baron’s retainers guided the expedition towards the unknown area. It is now afternoon, and you have set up camp in a hidden dell but a few bowshots from the strange entrance. The men-at-arms have been detailed to guard the supplies and mounts at the camp while you go onward immediately. They will await your return for four full days before returning to the keep.

Gathering your personal gear, you are now climbing the steep slope of the dell’s north side, passing the rim, and forcing your way through a dense growth of trees and undergrowth. There, across a field and beyond a rocky rise, awaits adventure. . . .

The Ship

To recreate the interior of the spaceship, plunder freely from the Gamma World poster maps, supplemented by dungeon tiles (dungeon corridors standing in for metal hallways of the crashed ship; round tower pieces from the Arcane Towers set serving for rooms bordering the ship’s hull). This also works especially well using Star Wars Galaxy Tiles.

Using your maps and tiles, caves and caverns can become large gardens, zoological decks, and other open spaces. d20 Modern’s Critical Locations featured a wealth of maps that you can use for interior pieces, since the original ship featured libraries, game rooms, gymnasiums, a large theater and auditorium—even bars and cocktail lounges (those aliens flew in style).

Populate these areas as you see fit, assuming that D&D creatures once contained on the zoological deck have broken free. Naturally, pilfer freely from the new Gamma World material, as well. Along with robots, Famine in Far-Go provides statistics for the vegepygmies, the froghemoth, and zombified creatures infected with russet mold—and these monster stats are completely compatible for D&D adventures. You even have stats for “visitors” in case you wish to include aliens that have somehow survived in stasis (and might be freed by the characters—inadvertently or otherwise).

The Visitor

(1.0 Mbs PDF)

Those Wonderful Toys

Let’s get to the part of Barrier Peaks that players remember best of all—finding those wonderful sci-fi weapons and armor. This is also fairly easy to recreate: Gamma World, with its compatible rules, provides the tools to help do so. Instead of the usual treasure parcels, place Omega Tech cards around the ship; they replicate many of the items from Barrier Peaks: blaster rifles, ray guns, energy weapons—and, of course—power armor. You can also add several advanced suits, including the heavy-lift harness (coincidentally showcased in Nodwick’s lampooning of Barrier Peaks). Plus, since this is a crashed ship with potentially leaking fuels and hazards, it seems like a perfect excuse to also introduce Alpha Mutation cards (and the mechanics of Alpha Flux) as well.

In the original Barrier Peaks (and Gamma World as well), sci-fi items required a byzantine process to figure out their use, occasionally resulting in the death of the user. These items were also limited by their number of charges. Although Omega Tech items are balanced in game terms (albeit slightly at the higher end), you might wish to employ similar methods to discourage their general infiltration into your campaign. Perhaps, as with drow gear that once dissipated in sunlight, Barrier Peaks’ items function only within the ship (where a stasis field keeps them constantly charged).

Then again—and we’d like to end on this, emphatically—the point of Expedition to the Barrier Peaks has always been a break from the norm. We say you should let your characters find and use these items freely, at least within the context of the adventure. Let them experience mutations aboard the ship.

If you’re planning to run a Barrier Peaks-style game, have fun with it. We would love to hear how it goes. As an added challenge, we’re also providing the stats for the original power armor, the most coveted item in the entire adventure. The armor offered so many tricks that it’s impossible to express with a single Alpha Tech card. However, if you have a write-up of your own for the suit, we’d love to see it; send your power armor design to dndinsider@wizards.com, and we’ll publish our favorite!

Bart Carroll
Bart Carroll has been a part of Wizards of the Coast since 2004, and a D&D player since 1980 (and has fond memories of coloring the illustrations in his 1st Edition Monster Manual). He currently works as producer for the D&D website. You can find him on Twitter (@bart_carroll) and at bartjcarroll.com.