One-shot dungeon designs are some of my favorite content to consume on the DMs Guild, and “Storm King’s Barrows: Tombs and Crypts of the North” is one of the biggest dungeon packs I’ve seen.
Taking its cues from the far-reaching Storm King’s Thunder campaign from Wizards of the Coast, “Storm King’s Barrows” includes over 130 pages featuring 10 mini-dungeons from 4th to around 10th level that all share a theme of exploring the dangerous caverns and crypts of the frozen north.
The dungeon pack includes the following 10 mini-dungeons, which I’ve summarized as follows:
- An underground temple full of ogres and a firbolg worshiping a dark god, designed for levels 1-4
- An excursion through a dwarven hall to hunt a xorn, designed for level 3.
- A miniature, light-hearted version of the Tomb of Horrors/Annihilation, designed for level 6.
- A black dragon lair in a mountain, designed for levels 7 to 15.
- A trapped crypt holding an undead wizard, designed for levels 7-8.
- A monster-filled mine in the midst of a hostile giant takeover, designed for levels 8-10.
- A wave of undead attacking a chapel, designed for levels 8-10.
- A cavern where an undead barbarian is rising an army of undead forces, designed for levels 8-12.
- An expanded Great Worm Caverns with undead, a demon, and a dragon, designed for levels 9-11.
- A demon-infested crypt with an evil warlock, designed for level 10.
The mini-dungeons range from meh to awesome, and thankfully it averages much more positive than negative. The dungeons average about 10 pages each, including most with custom monsters and magic items.
Each dungeon includes DM and Player’s maps, but unfortunately these are the Adventurer League style bare-bones maps, featuring black lines on graph paper. A hard pass from me every time.
All of them are specifically designed to slot into Storm King’s Thunder, most of them during the open world chapter that has the players hunting the giant relics all over the the northwestern part of Faerun. Of course, you aren’t limited to using them in Storm King’s Thunder, as much of these caves and tombs could fit in almost anywhere.
Oddly the adventures aren’t organized by level range. Instead I’ll cover them as they’re presented in the PDF.
Breve Heeros Onli is written by George Sager with the rather audacious level range of 7-15. It’s a shame that it’s the first adventure presented as I found it to be the weakest overall.
The PCs meet a fast-talking kobold who tries to lure the party into the lair of a black dragon inside a mountain. I don’t see any party falling for any of these schemes. In fact I see many simply threatening or even killing the kobold, then marching into the black dragon’s lair and murdering her. There’s not much going on here and there’s way too many words spent on the kobold character.
Christian Eichhorn, the designer of the entire compilation, also wrote Geschmalig’s Tomb (level 10). It’s the largest dungeon of the bunch, and also one of my favorites. There’s a huge amount of rich backstory that reveals the titular barbarian’s tragic backstory as his best friend in life returns as an undead menace with an army at his disposal.
The PCs arrive at his lair to ally with some crafty grave-robbers, rescue some tribesfolk, and witness Udiken transforming the living into undead servants via a chemical vat, reminding me of how super mutants were created in the first Fallout. There’s a lot of great custom creatures and loot, as well as a compelling little story between the two undead barbarian war lords.
Grotto of the Death Giant (Eddie Gioffre) is the lowest level dungeon in the pack, designed for 4th level. It uses a lesser known giant god from the Greyhawk universe, Karontor. The giant connection pretty much ends there, as otherwise it’s a cave full of ogres that leads to a small temple where a firbolg is trying to start up a death cult. It’s short and mostly forgettable, though the boss battle with the avatar of the god could prove interesting.
Most of the adventures include giants in some way, but Saving Barbadoo’s Mine (Matt Butler, designed for level 9) uses them more directly than most. It has one of the best introductions: the PCs see what looks like a cloud on fire, only to discover a cloud giant’s house is being attack by a fire giant! They hear a child screaming and rush inside to help defend the 10-ft tall cloud giant child against a wyvern.
That leads them to a nearby mine, where the kid’s father has been taken captive by a rival fire giant who wants the brightsteel mine for himself.
The mine is absolutely crawling with monsters, almost at video game-level proportions, including grey oozes, piercers, ropers, and a bunch of xorn. The end features a nice boss battle with the fire giant, who’s able to control the xorn using the cloud giant’s necklace. A really fun, action-packed scenario crammed into a relatively small area.
Stone Giant’s Lost Rock (Micah Watt) is the other lower level mini-dungeon, designed for level 3. While a stone giant does indeed offer the party the quest, it’s actually more about a clan of dwarves having a difficult time with a xorn. The dungeon itself is kinda meh but there’s a good betrayal later on by the clan chief’s only daughter who had orchestrated the whole thing, providing an exciting twist at the end.
The Barovian Book of the Dead (Andre Dempz, level 9) doesn’t seem to fit the giant theme much – in fact it even mentions Strahd as the book’s owner. Yet it’s a neat scenario that feels much different than a standard tomb raid.
The PCs investigate a chapel and find an evil book. Upon touching the book (a book-seeking NPC is included in case the PCs are justifiably cautious), a veritable horde of undead is spawned in the area, and make their way to the chapel.
What follows is a Night of the Living Dead scenario (or every zombie scenario) where the party has to survive against waves of undead laying siege to their building. It culminates with a pair of giant skeletons who rip open the chapel to get to the book inside. A very memorable encounter whose concept could be adapted to multiple situations and areas.
The Great Worm Caverns (Christopher Walz, level 10) attempts to re-purpose and expand the same area from Storm King’s Thunder. The frozen caverns are home to several undead, including a goofy yet awesome zombie polar bear. A couatl guardian pleads for the PCs to defeat the white dragon Winterhorn and cleanse the cave of an evil demon.
I was particularly impressed with how much space is devoted to the white dragon’s tactics. Nearly a full page is dedicated to how Winterhorn uses his lair, his flight, and his range do maximize his potential against the party. As someone who often doesn’t use monsters to their full potential, I’m very grateful for these kinds of tactical lessons!
Creating a dungeon crawl by playfully mocking another dungeon is an odd recipe, but Jason Bakos does just that with the Tomb of Mild Discomfort (level 6). It rips entire sections out of the Tomb of Annihilation (not the campaign, the actual dungeon, which is itself a modernized version of the classic Tomb of Horrors). But the deathtraps are more silly and fun rather than horrible and deadly, including a talking skull that follows the PCs around and consistently annoys them, and traps that simply teleport the PCs back out of the dungeon.
It’s an interesting concept that could work very well with the right group and the right context, though it does feel a bit overly silly.
The Vault of the Undying (David Flor, level 7-8) is a mostly straight-forward dungeon crawl into a sealed tomb. There’s some very deadly traps preventing an undead wizard (a mini-lich at CR 6) from escaping. There’s not much story-wise in here but I do like the layout, the traps (including multiple keys, only one of which works correctly), and a very nice secondary boss battle against a giant scorpion construct that animates when the PCs try to leave.
Yancazi’s Crypt (Darren Parmenter, level 10) is yet another crypt, but this one features a lot more story elements, including a friendly NPC who’s mostly there to translate abyssal in case the party lacks that language. The party delves into the final resting place of a warlock who supposedly defeated the Demogorgon, but really ended up becoming a demon himself.
The upper half of the dungeon is filled with some nice environmental story-telling, while the lower half is filled with demons and demonic portals. The dungeon seems to have more in common with Out of the Abyss than Storm King’s Thunder, but it’s a solid demon-slaying excursion nonetheless.
- 10 dungeons with a huge amount of content, mostly for upper Tier 2 parties (levels 7-9).
- Each dungeon has multiple adventure hooks and flexible level scaling for weaker or stronger parties.
- Each of the contributing authors gets a nice paragraph blurb at the beginning.
- Some of the dungeons offer some really interesting and memorable moments and story beats, including an undead barbarian raising an army for his lost love, and rescuing a cloud giant child from a fire giant’s pet wyvern.
- All of the maps are black and white graph paper style with no details. Player versions are provided but none of the maps are designed for digital tabletop or battlemap play.
- A few of the adventures don’t fit as well with the theme of giants or frozen tombs, notably the black dragon mountain lair, the demonic tomb, and the undead assaulting the chapel.
The Verdict: Even if you’re not running Storm King’s Thunder, “Storm King’s Barrows” provides an excellent assortment of mini-dungeons with some very memorable tomb raiding scenarios and battles.