Heroquest Battlemap #12: The Witch-Lord’s Barrow

I skipped making one of these maps the last week, as I couldn’t really get into the groove of it. Fortunately, this weekend, I felt inspired to head back into this and create a new Heroquest Dungeondraft map I can feel proud of!

Interpreting the maps and making decisions

This time, the two maps are once again largely similar. A minor difference can be found in the top-right, where the US version includes a reason to actually go down that hallway by adding another fake door and a trap.

That little stone trap at the top-left is meant to cut off the heroes, so that they have to proceed through the map. This makes a lot of sense, as the central room, marked B, already has the item that the players are supposed to find , so there’d be little reason to proceed from there. The idea is that the players then keep exploring until they accidentally wake up the Witch Lord in D, which requires them to flee quickly. This sets up the next two adventures, combining all these into a final trilogy for the base game. Interestingly enough, if players were very careful, they could actually find the secret door in the central room, explore that hallway, find the two secret doors in the next two rooms, and escape without ever waking the Witch Lord!

Thematically, the map appears to be a decayed tomb set up just for the Witch Lord. Nearly all of the monsters involved are mummies, skeletons, or zombies, and there is little other purpose to the structure other than to lead to the tomb. Given that the Witch Lord was apparently such a fearful enemy, I’d wonder who would bother to set up such a tomb in honor of them. Particularly given the idea that the Witch Lord wakes up as soon as the heroes enter this room, you’d imagine that either an enemy would bury the Witch Lord so deep they could never be found or their allies would try to resurrect them as soon as possible!

The number of secret doors involved to get in and get out suggest that this might be set up by the Witch Lord enemies to contain them. Similarly the rooms at the top right have a number of traps set up, so clearly the people who built this didn’t particularly want people going through here. However, the rooms at the top right are now also closed already, so the place has probably fallen into massive disrepair and has been repurposed.

Particularly given that the Witch Lord’s actual tomb is hidden behind secret doors, I enjoy the idea that the top-left rooms have been used by people who had no idea that the Witch Lord was even here. Perhaps as a small hideaway or a rest area. The monsters here could then actually be just poor unfortunate souls who died here and were resurrected by the Witch Lord, powerful enough even in their torpor to awaken the dead.

That would flavor most of the map as being broken and decayed, with the top-left being repurposed at times. Given that the Witch Lord will have reanimated lost souls, it would be interesting if the bottom left could be a place of worship, as the reawakened corpses would tend to the Witch Lord until they wake once more.

All this provides some good hooks to hang a map from!

Information from the flavor text

This time around, the NL text has a bunch of additional information that isn’t found in the US text anymore. This may very well have been a licensing issue, with references to Games Workshop material spread throughout; however, I know too little of that to make the distinction.

An interesting difference between the NL and US version is in the word used to describe this place. The Dutch uses “Laatste Rustplaats” which translates to “Final Resting Place”—a common phrasing for a burial site, with the usual euphemistic connotations common to words connected to death. It’s a curious choice, as there is a more accurate Dutch word, namely “grafheuvel” (“grave-hill”). Barrows were quite common in the Netherlands from prehistoric times all the way up to Roman times, so historically it wouldn’t be that odd to use and thematically it would match the connotations of the word “barrow” far better: ancient, old, and mysterious.

In fact, the Netherlands has a large number of neolithic barrows, belonging to the tradition of hunebedden found in the Netherlands, north-west Germany, and Denmark. These are structures like dolmen, which would be a large cover stone on top of two supporting stones. Often, there´d be a barrow underneath these. The myth in the Netherlands is that these are constructed by huyne, a race of large giants. The likely reality, of course, is that these are large stones brought down from Scandinavia in the last ice age, which were then used as markers for burial sites. The Dutch word hunebed“, though, has a more quaint connotation than “barrow”, so I can understand why that would not be a preferred translation.

A Larger version of the US text

Barak Tor-Final Resting Place of the Witchmaster

There is a threat of war with the Orcs of the East and the King is trying to find allies to survive the possible battle. For this, he must find the ancient Star of the West, which was carried by legendary kings and by Rogar when, in centuries long past, he fought Morcar. Whomever finds the gemstone will be rewarded with 200 gold pieces. The diamond is located in Barak Tor, the last resting place of the Witchmaster. Better known as the King of the Dead and long since contained by the Ghost Blade. The Ghost Blade is the only weapon that can defeat him.

My translation of the NL text

As far as the texts themselves go, the Dutch text just adds some detail by mentioning somebody called Rogar who supposedly fought Morcar (Zargon in the US version). Also, unlike the US version, the Dutch version specifies that the Star of the West is a gemstone and specifically a diamond at that. I translated “heksenmeester” as “Witchmaster”, but “meester” could equally be translated “master” as well as “lord”, so there’s little change there. The Dutch word does imply that this is a ruler of witches, rather than one with mastery of witchcraft. Another new specification can be found in the Dutch, identifying the Witch Master as the “King of the Dead”. That epithet would explain the preponderance of undead in the map.

Either way, what the flavor text tells us is that this is an ancient structure. The word “barrow” suggests something neolithic in origin, and the Dutch text identifies the Star of the West as having been worn by kings of legend, which also suggest events of quite a long time ago. The proposed image of an old, decayed crypt seems to fit quite well, then.

Translating into a final map

I wanted to emphasize two key aspects in this map: firstly, I wanted there to be an overall sense of oppression and decay; and, secondly, I wanted to make sure that two areas were highlighted: the stairwell and the actual tomb. By emphasizing these two key features, I figure that the touchstones of the quest will really pop out.

I stuck to my earlier idea that the top-right would be a repurposed area. The first room shows evidence of a previous party that camped out here and were murdered in their sleep. The room in the middle, which used to be some manner of welcome area, leads to what has at a later point in time been repurposed as a speakeasy bar. I just loved the idea of some weird thieves’ gang or a group of hipsters deciding to build a secret bar in a tomb of horrible evil. Further in the secret areas, however, we see remains of a more serious settlement. The tomb has a waiting area, a place to perform ablutions to the right, and the tomb itself is clean and candle-lit (where do they get the candles? . . . magic). A ruined area after suggests this used to keep records, histories, or other such administration. Lastly, I imagined that the final room was the room of a warden or caretaker. Perhaps, at one point in history, the barrow was watched over by some cleric or monk, dedicated to discover a way to dispose of the Witch Lord for good?

Lighting-wise, I choose to overlay a dull grey darkness, to add to the oppressive feel. Only the stairwell shows a clear light from above, which should form a stark contrast to the rest of the dungeon (and a relief once seen again at the end!). Similarly, the tomb will really pop due to the lit candles surrounding it. The heroes only needed to recover a gemstone but suddenly they see a fully-lit catafalque? Such a bier would hopefully draw the players’ interest.

Aside from that, I wanted to make sure to place a lot of rubble throughout the map, along with a multitude of smudges and shadows to help darken sections. There are two very small details to be found in the maps, only with careful inspection at a zoomed-in level. Each location of secret doors actually has a very thin line on the floor to indicate the walls being moved, as a reward for an attentive player. Similarly, the spear traps actually have small pointed tips on the walls that a perceptive player might spot as a clue.

The final map for Barrow of the Witch Lord. I wanted it to look dark and oppressive, so I adjusted the light to a darkish grey.

The small map above may give a bit of an indication of the feel of the overall map, but I can recommend looking at the larger version in the Reddit post:

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