Barrowmaze qualifies as a "true" megadungeon, but I don't really care. The fact is that the titular Barrowmaze is huge -- nearly 200 rooms, many of which have sub-areas -- and, more importantly, engaging. While it probably couldn't serve as the focus of a campaign for years, it could certainly do so for months and it contains enough "spin-off" material that it wouldn't be difficult to keep the PCs busy for even longer, should the referee desire it.
Barrowmaze is an 84-page PDF describing a vast warren of underground tombs controlled by several Chaotic cults. Written for Labyrinth Lord but easily adaptable to any old school class-and-level fantasy RPG, Barrowmaze is simply laid out using a two-column format, punctuated by black and white artwork, much by the excellent Stefan Poag. Poag's illustrations are wonderfully evocative of the weird combination of elements that characterize old school play -- equal parts mystery, fear, and black humor, all viewed through a phantasmagoric haze. I can't deny that a large part of my positive feeling toward Barrowmaze was generated by Poag's contributions. That said, the artwork throughout the product is very good, with artists Toren Atkinson, Zhu Bajie, Trevor Hammond, John Larrey, and Jason Sholtis all turning in some terrific pieces.
Barrowmaze has a number of virtues that, I think, set it apart from other dungeons, including some other recently published ones. First, Gillespie's style is spare without being cramped. I know it's popular in old school circles nowadays to praise room entries that read "6 giant rats, 2 gems (25 gp each)," but, especially in a published product, I prefer a little more meat. Conversely, I have no interest in reading paragraphs upon paragraphs of room description, complete with detailed histories and personalities of the monsters and NPCs therein, so the middle road Gillespie took very much appeals to me. Second, the Barrowmaze has lots of empty rooms, unguarded treasures, and tricks and traps. It's, in my opinion, a perfect mix of the elements that make old school dungeon crawling not just possible but enjoyable. Third, Barrowmaze has a theme -- in this case, undead -- that helps to give the dungeon a feel. There are other monsters than just undead here, of course, but the undead, including many new varieties, are its primary antagonists and that goes a long way toward giving Barrowmaze the cohesion necessary to avoid being just a fantasy funhouse. Finally, the dungeon is sprawling. Rather than multiple levels stacked on top of each other, the Barrowmaze fans out in multiple directions on a single level, which not only further contributes to its unique feel but also sets it apart from most other large dungeons.
I'm hard pressed to find any real faults with Barrowmaze. Nearly everything about the product is well done, from the layout to the artwork to the content and cartography. Indeed, Barrowmaze is nearly a textbook example of how to make a compelling, well-presented dungeon module. More than that, it reaffirms my belief that, despite the standard complaints from veteran gamers, the dungeon remains not merely a viable but a powerful locale in which to set fantasy adventures. This hobby was born in the dungeon and, while it's probably good for its long-term health to seek fresh from time to time, there's still much to be gained by returning to its point of origin regularly. If I had to settle on a nit to pick, it'd be that there's currently no print option for the book, which is a shame, because I'd happily pay for a copy to put on my shelf beside Stonhell and the Anomalous Subsurface Environment, two other recent dungeons that made me sit up and take notice.
I suspect the primary knock against Barrowmaze will be that it's "just another dungeon," which is unfortunate, because I don't think that's true at all, for reasons I've stated above. Gillespie has done a wonderful job of synthesizing the wisdom of the Old Ways with more recent theorizing about the same to create something that distinguishes itself from other dungeon modules. And I say this as someone who's preparing to bring his own megadungeon to publication shortly. Given that it's price is only $6.66, I nevertheless recommend that even the congenitally dungeon-averse pick it up, if only to see what a well-done dungeon crawl looks like. It's my hope, though, that Barrowmaze might change a few minds as well, reminding them why it was that so many of us spent untold hours in underground vaults when we first entered this hobby.
Presentation: 8 out of 10
Creativity: 7 out of 10
Utility: 7 out of 10
Buy This If: You're in the market for a new dungeon with which to kick off a campaign or just want a well-done dungeon to loot for ideas.
Don't Buy This If: You really, truly have no interest in dungeons and can't imagine ever using one in a campaign, whether in whole or in part.