The Grand Duchy of Geoff has recently been plagued by a rash of unusually weird and terrible monsters of an unknown sort. This western area, particularly the mountain fastness which separates the Grand Duchy from the Dry Steppes, has long been renowned for the generation of the most fearsome beasts, and it has been shunned accordingly -- save a handful of hardy souls with exceptional abilities. Within the last few months, however, a walled town not far distant from the area, and four small fortresses as well, have been destroyed by mysterious attacks!
This adventure was the official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Tournament scenario at Origins II. This version has been carefully revised and updated to conform to AD&D games system rules. Included herein are background information for players, statistics for a party substantially the same as that used for the tournament, DM notes, six level maps with encounter matrices, and numerous full color illustration of scenes from the adventure in order to enhance the enjoyment of participants. There are also many new and special monsters designed for this scenario, and they appear nowhere else.
For characters level 8 to 12.
S3: "Expedition to the Barrier Peaks" (1980), by Gary Gygax, is the third "Special" adventure for AD&D. It was published in February 1980.
About the Cover. On the cover by Erol Otus, a fighter fires a raygun, giving away the premise of the adventure.
Origins (I): A Ship Called Warden. The story of "Expedition to the Barrier Peaks", begins with Metamorphosis Alpha (1976), a science-fantasy game that James Ward was designing in early 1976. When Gary Gygax saw some of Ward's "rough notes", he decided to "introduce the concept" through a tournament scenario: "Expedition to the Barrier Peaks".
"Barrier Peaks" is about a spaceship crashing into the world of Greyhawk. Gygax was very clear is saying that the ship was not the Warden from Metamorphosis Alpha: "The size and the technology in this vehicle should make such speculation quite misplaced, in fact. The downed space ship is far too small, and its science quite different from that of the famed starship Warden." The connection between "Barrier Peaks" and Metamorphosis Alpha is thus more of a thematic one.
Origins (II): A Level of Machines. When Gary Gygax sat down to write "Barrier Peaks" he sought help and inspiration from another source: Greyhawk co-GM Rob Kuntz and his "Machine Level". Kuntz originally created the Machine Level for his own Castle El Raja Key, to challenge Gary Gygax's characters. He later moved it to Castle Greyhawk when he became a co-GM of Gygax's campaign. This allowed players like James Ward to explore the legendary level; Ward wrote about the experience in Dragon #17 (August 1978) when he spoke of the conveyer belts, cellophane machines, die press, slot machines and levers found in the original level.
Besides contributing machinery to "Barrier Peaks", Kuntz also provided content for the garden level of the spaceship.
Origins (III): A City of the Gods. There may have been one other inspiration for "Barrier Peaks". In 1976, Rob Kuntz and Gary Gygax explored Blackmoor's "City of the Gods" when Dave Arneson ran a session for them at TSR's Dungeon Hobby Shop. Gygax's Mordenkainen and Kuntz's Robilar rather famously wreaked havoc on the City, got in way over the heads, and barely escaped with their lives.
As it happens, that City of the Gods was actually a crashed spaceship!
Origins (IV): A Convention Called Origins. After Gygax completed "Expedition to the Barrier Peaks" it became the tournament module for Origins II (1976). This was a simple one-round tournament, unlike the multi-round tournaments that would follow. The winning group was GMed by Tim Kask and led by a cleric. The goal of the tournament was to find the plans for the ship, and though the winning group didn't manage to do so, they apparently did well enough.
The manuscript for the tournament was apparently quite mature, including references to the world of Greyhawk, drawings to show to the players, and impressive plans of the ships. Very few copies of it still exist; one sold for $1,436.12 in 2010.
At the time that "Expedition to the Barrier Peaks was run, TSR wasn't yet producing standalone adventure modules, so that manuscript was filed away … for the future.
Origins (V): Adventures in the Warden. That wasn't the end of Gary Gygax's crossovers between Metamorphosis Alpha and D&D. The next one occurred at the Winter Fantasy 2 convention (1978) in January 1978, where Gygax was continually running Castle Greyhawk adventures for a variety of players. By Sunday, the group included several Greyhawk regulars: Mark Ratner, Ernie Gygax, and James Ward. When the players read a curse scroll recovered from gnolls, a tired Gygax suggested that there was a 1 in 10 chance that the PCs would end up on the Warden … and rolled a 1! When the adventure continued in March, it was James Ward running for Gary Gygax, Luke Gygax, Ernie Gygax, and Brian Blume. That adventure is detailed in "Faceless Men & Clockwork Monsters", also in Dragon #17 (August 1978).
Origins (VI): Finally, An Adventure. Two years later, in 1980, Gygax returned to "Barrier Peaks" one more time. Just as the original tournament adventure was a prelude to Metamorphosis Alpha, now "Barrier Peaks" was able to support a new science-fantasy game: Gamma World (1978). In fact, the charts for figuring out how to use technological items in "Barrier Peaks" would have looked pretty familiar to Gamma World fans.
"Barrier Peaks" was also the third of the "Special" adventures. Because it wasn't put into the "C" line (1979+) of tournament adventures, Gygax clearly felt it had changed considerably from its competitive origins. Its placement in the "S" series also revealed that it was a one-off, unlike the "G" (1978), "D" (1978), or "T" (1979+) series.
About the Book. "Barrier Peaks" also shares another characteristic with some of the "S" series: like S1: "Tomb of Horrors" (1978), it includes a book of illustrations, meant to be used as player handouts. In fact, it has an extremely impressive 32-page book of handouts, with 63 total handouts, four of which are printed in full-color. It was altogether an unprecedented publication, showing how quickly D&D was expanding in the early '80s.
Genre Tropes: Science Fantasy. "The Temple of the Frog" adventure from Supplement II: Blackmoor (1975) hinted at science fantasy themes, but "Barrier Peaks" was the first full-length adventure to embrace the genre.
That doesn't meant that the science-fantasy genre was a weird inclusion. Early adventures like Rob Kuntz's Machine Level, Dave Arneson's City of the Gods, and Gary Gygax's journey to Barsoom all show that the use of science fantasy was pretty common among D&D's creators and early adopters. Gygax said that he played with the genre because "the quasi-medieval fantasy milieu becomes staid without some variety". He also said that science fiction "is really no more than future fantasy". Kuntz takes a different tack saying "It was all fantasy to us". In other words, the fantasy and science fiction genres of the '70s were less differentiated, and so crossing between them was less taboo.
A few years later, Don Turnbull said that "Barrier Peaks" "was criticised by some purists when it was published". He makes the somewhat odd claim that it was because fans thought that science fiction belonged in Basic D&D, not Advanced D&D. Certainly, Basic D&D did more broadly embrace science fantasy in later years, particularly when it incorporated Dave Arneson's Blackmoor, but it's hard to understand how players could have made the distinction back in 1980, when Basic D&D had only seen two adventures (neither of them science fantasy).
Adventure Tropes. "Barrier Peaks" is a pretty classic dungeon crawl — or rather a spaceship crawl. It's a rather enormous one too. It also makes use of a trope more common in later computer games: plot coupons. Players must collect a rainbow of access cards to advance through the dungeon.
Exploring Greyhawk. "Barrier Peaks" is set in the world of Greyhawk, primarily thanks to its location in the Barrier Peaks, and the fact that fallout from the spaceship is menacing the Duchy of Geoff.
However, the majority of the adventure takes place in the actual spaceship, spewed forth from another universe.
Monsters of Note. A few weird monsters are introduced in "Barrier Peaks": the froghemoth and the vegepygmy. Robots and androids also make their first appearances in the D&D game. However, it may be the mind flayer that gets the most important spotlight. There's just one of them, and he's an escaped specimen, but the drawing on the cover of the art book, which shows the flayer fully kitted out in futuristic gear, apparently made an impression; it's likely what pushed the mind flayers toward a more futuristic role in Spelljammer (1989).
Future History. Some of "Barrier Peaks" was updated as part of a campaign arc found in S1-4: "Realm of Horrors" (1987). The whole module was reprinted much later in S1-4: "Dungeons of Dread" (2013). However, the adventure is not particularly horrific or dreadful.
An "Expedition to Barrier Peaks" novel was planned as part of the Greyhawk Classics line. It was to be written by Roland Green, and it must have gotten quite far along because web sites all over the world claim it exists (but it was never printed).
About the Creators. Gary Gygax was of course the co-creator of D&D. By 1980, he was working hard on The World of Greyhawk (1980), which would be published a few months later; the evidence of the increased focus on a well-detailed world is apparent here.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.