From Home Dungeon to Published Game, Barrowmaze is a Success

Jonathan Bolding | 27 Feb 2014 12:00
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Greg Gillespie wasn't really planning on doing much of anything but running a game of old school Dungeons & Dragons, but he ended up with a few published books anyways. "I began Barrowmaze as my home game" he said, "It didn't have a name." All Gillespie had, really, was "a specific vision of a field of mist-covered barrow mounds and a megadungeon beneath."

He started designing with the enthusiasm you can only associate with hobby movements - because, you see, Gillespie is a diehard in the Old School Renaissance, or OSR, which has been focused on reviving old editions of D&D for about a decade now. They did it, at first, whatever way they could: Either getting their hands on battered old copies or digging them out of closets. Later, they played retro-clones of the game like Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry.

Gillespie released the first part of Barrowmaze - the dungeon - as its own ebook. This is all, of course, a hobby effort for him --a longside but not directly related to his own work as a college professor.

He got a lot of positive responses from fans, and a request that he continue the dungeon - finish it - from more than a few other members of the OSR. He wanted to go bigger, he wanted to bring back old artists who had worked on Dungeons & Dragons products back in the '80s and '90s, so he ran a successful crowdfunding campaign for Barrowmaze II.

Now, in 2014, he's going for a victory lap. He wants to combine his two books into one, and bring his megadungeon together into a single volume. Sharing your dungeon with others is one of the oldest practices in the hobby of fantasy RPGs, and Gillespie is fulfilling the ultimate dream: Having what you made in the confines of your own home be beloved enough that others want to own it. It's a dream that, sadly, not evenD&D creator Gary Gygax got to accomplish in his lifetime. Gillespie was far more modest than that about his accomplishment: "Barrowmaze has become part of the shared subcultural experience of the OSR and those who enjoy playing older editions. You can't ask for much more than that."

In some ways, it's what Gillespie has done differently from others before that made him successful."I had read about the importance of the megadungeon in the early history of the tabletop RPG hobby and I wanted to create something similar," said Gillespie, "but with my own personal twist. So instead of dungeon levels stacked vertically on top of each other, I wanted a sprawling horizontal dungeon."

In some ways, it's the consideration of his design and the design that came before it that made him successful. In some ways, it's because he's perfectly serving a niche that feels underserved. Gillespie, and designers like him, are selling the gaming equivalent of pre-1985 Coca-Cola.

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