|HighFell, Monochrome Version|
HighFell is available in Labyrinth Lord (OSR) and 5th Edition. I will be reviewing the LL edition. If you are looking for a copy of Highfell, find it here.
Gillespie typically sprinkles enough backstory into his books to make it interesting, but little enough that there is plenty of room for the DM to make their own stories.
HighFell has a hex map (15 x 15), the Principality of Brine, with 16 keyed locations. Besides this, Gillespie has slowly been fleshing out a world over several books. In them, he has a pantheon, which shows up here as well.
All of these books also have a home base, in HighFell, this location is Thatchum. A small map of Thatchum appears at the top of page 13. Sixteen locations are keyed within the town. Besides the locations, 10 NPCs have portraits, and the culture has about 1/2 page of discourse. Each of these personalities gets 1-2 paragraphs describing physicality, some motivations/fears and a stat block. For an old school game, there is enough information, without becoming unwieldy. A modern game may suffer with some of the lacking information, however. 7/10
Next, HighFell delves into how to begin the campaign. It lists several basic level adventure hooks. The author begins by telling the referee that they should design their own adventure hooks. Largely, these plot hooks are very generic. It is obvious that the referee is expected to read the entire megadungeon before starting play. A 20 entry random rumor table is also included in the Beginning a Campaign section. 5/10
Moving into the Running HighFell section gets into the uniqueness of HighFell. HighFell's subtitle is the Drifting Dungeon, named because it drifts across the sky northwest to southeast, eventually teleporting back to its original location.
Because of this, the referee is encouraged to create sidequests before the characters enter the dungeon. Finding a way up to the dungeon is the first real puzzle of the dungeon. Gillespie lists 7 possible ways to ascend to the dungeon. 6/10
(I had a hard time scoring this. I really like the puzzle. I just wish the first one was a "freebie.")
Hexcrawling HighFell is the next major section to cover. I hate the fact that it is on page 23, and the map for the hexcrawl of HighFell is on page 240-241. That said, let's dive into the text. Gillespie's roots show here. Highfell's hex map is a well designed one. In addition to the random monster encounters he gives a "Random Natural Hazards" list. Each are detailed in a paragraph. Additionally, there are Special Patrols (which take up a couple of pages with charts). Besides these, there is a "Random Hex Special Encounter Table." This table is really cool, and can create flavor in addition to suspense.
Decay and Collapse is a sub-heading within the Hexcrawling section. This adds a bit of visimilitude to the dungeon. It explains tremors and some collapses/opening that the DM may want to implement. Also, it is noted that HighFell planeshifts (to pocket dimensions by default) occasionally. This adds another dimension to the basic hexcrawl bumping it up a notch. 8/10
Dungeon Exploration covers a lot of the tropes of, well, megadungeon exploration. Wizard Towers and marks are clues that astute players pay attention to (and a great clue system). A note on resources for PCs takes up a paragraph (which feels like it should be a player primer, not in the main book). The tropes of Teleportation Pads, Pits and Moon Doors (pits that fall all the way through HighFell and back to Terra Firma), random monsters, silence (and disturbances), light, sight, and time are all touched on.
Besides these, we see Gillespie's additions to the megadungeon ethos: bricked up walls and bookshelf lists. There are new spell components mentioned, as well as a new treasure: Wizard Hats. 8/10
Next up are the Factions of HighFell. Four are listed and I don't want to spoil anything here. I would have liked another couple of factions, largely because of the composition of HighFell. The last precursor section is "Endgame." It's a good (short) primer on how to run and end the campaign. "Highfell is [the players'] sandbox adventure, not mine, or yours, Let the players choose their own path." 7/10
Next up are the Towers of HighFell. This is where the adventure really begins to shine. 20 towers dot the skyline of HighFell, All of them have a matching illustration. The maps are great: functional, readable and quickly convey information. The illos give each of the towers character and often hint at what is inside. Each are unique, and all give a fun exploration area. 8/10
The Dungeons below the Towers is the next section. Gillespie had a tough decision to make with the layout of this book. Should the dungeons be in the same area as their towers or in a separate section? He decided to do the later. I understand the decision, as the dungeons connect and are closer in theme. This makes an interesting tidbit, though. The "final boss" doesn't appear at the end of the book. The dungeons, however, are exactly what I want in a megadungeon.
I want exploration, discovery and combat within a dungeon. And these all show up well within the dungeons. The factions show up in places, and some magic items are amazing (Libris is my favorite. Look for her). The maps are just as good as the Towers maps. 7.5/10
(Not) Appendices We get 7 new magic items plus the new Mage Hats (27! of them) 8/10. We also get 14 new spells (some of which are familiar, like transmute ice to flesh) 8/10. The "boss" gets a special entry, and is followed by a new monsters section. Several of the monsters are familiar or re-writes from other games (aarakocra and bodak), but that's not a knock. Gillespie balanced the creatures well inside of Labyrinth Lord (and I have run some S&W with minimal tweaks to his creatures). There are a lot of monsters within (over 100!). 9/10
There is a pre-generated characters section. It is nice, but again, I think a separate players section or booklet may be in order. 6/10
Rival Adventuring Parties are plentiful and unobtrusive. 7/10
Character Sheet these are always cool. 8/10
Random Tables: random restock, book and scroll titles and a patron generator make up this section. The book and scrolls list will particularly be useful to any DM. 7.5/10
Illustration Book is great. All of the artwork is outstanding. 10/10
Artwork: 10/10. Gillespie consistently knocks artwork out of the park. HighFell is no different.
Layout: 8.5/10. Putting the HighFell hex map in the hexcrawling section would improve the book significantly. And, I didn't realize how much a player section would help this book until I wrote this review. *I was the layout artist for this book.*
Cartography: 9/10. The only knocks are the hex maps. The Principality of Brine map is a bit simple but functional. The fill on the HighFell hex map is repititious.
I really enjoy HighFell. It is a fun adventure with lots of old school exploration, I enjoy this type of megadungeon immensely, and it fits my play style. There are a lot of great ideas within, and it is a far departure from Gillespie's other works. But, it is still similar enough to feel the author is the same as Barrowmaze.