Friday, August 18, 2023

Review: Meanderings of the Mine Mind

Spoiler warning - this is a review of an adventure, players stay out!

The set up of this one is fairly simple - some miners are on strike, some heavies from the local guild are trying to get them back to work, and the adventurers show up.  There's a random table that provides several ideas on why the players have come to the mine - the Church hired them to destroy some cave art!  A child went missing in town and is supposed to be hiding out in the mine!  That kind of stuff.

Meanderings of the Mine Mind is an introductory adventure written by Mark Sable; it comes in at 32 pages, and it presents a short mind-bending dungeon.  The overwhelming vibes it kept giving me was somewhere between 1960's Star Trek and the movie "Night at the Museum" - imagine a Star Trek away team ending up at the OK Corral, or Nazi World, or Teddy Roosevelt running into Sir Lancelot and the pharaoh.

This is basically a fun-house style dungeon with some quirky historical encounters, like Roman centurions or World War 2 German Wehrmacht soldiers with grenades and rifles.  The idea behind it is this:  beneath the mountainside is the ancient corpse of a gargantuan alien creature - I picture a Marvel "Celestial" - and the miners have dug tunnels through the thing's fossilized brain.  The silver they're mining once functioned as the creature's neurons and synapses.  The tone of this is more weird and gonzo than horror - it's lighter fare than your typical LOTFP excursion.  While it could work fine in LOTFP's default early modern setting, it could also be used in a traditional fantasy setting.  If it had a detachable cover and those pale blue maps from 1980's TSR , this could have fit right in with the charming "B Series" modules that took place somewhere on Mystara.

However - I have some nitpicks!  Let's start with the maps.  Every room in the dungeon has 3-4 subsections, lettered such as area A, area B, area C… and directions like "A:  A makeshift bunker here houses German soldiers from World War II".  The text is written to make you expect to see where area A, B, C, and so on are placed on the map… I spent too much time looking for them.  Maybe there was a mix up between the maps, the text, and the directions given to the cartographer.  If you're going to run this one, it'd make sense to put annotations on the map so your descriptions don't get crossed up during game play.

The other peculiar thing in the dungeon involved a "diamond encrusted mining pick".  Every room has a silver vein, and it's implied the players can bust out their Skyrim or Minecraft moves and do a little ore mining along the way.  However, I couldn't find anywhere in the text where it describes how much silver can be gleaned from a silver vein.  This seems like a question the players will ask.

When players do some mining, there's a large random table of weird effects that can happen.  The effects are flavorful - they could experience alien memories, have their brains zapped or altered, gain superpowers, all the way up to waking up the big fella who goes and destroys the countryside.  But I was mentioning the "diamond encrusted pickaxe".  Yes, a diamond pickaxe is a treasure in one of the areas.  Besides being a fine treasure on its own, it lets the players mine silver without triggering the random effects.  It made me wonder, if a miner had enough money to bling out their mining pick with diamonds, why are they in a mine?  My "Stan Lee No-Prize" explanation is that the diamond crusted pickaxe was manifested by the alien's mind - it can be used later in the adventure for something special.  But that's the kind of detail you'd expect the author to share or an editor to catch.  Maybe I'm overthinking things - we're talking about a dungeon with cavemen and a Renaissance painter in the same room - but these are the important questions that keep me up.  Watching the fan spin on the ceiling in the middle of the night, and turning the question over and over again in my brain… why, why is there that diamond encrusted pickaxe lying on the floor?  I have to know.

Like most Lamentations of the Flame Princess physical books, the production quality is very high - hard cover, heavy weight paper, fantastic art, layout, a beautiful map.  If this were a PDF on DriveThruRPG, perhaps an author's first adventure, and it had a few loose ends in the text or some misses on the map, you'd say "this is a really great first effort, and there's the bones of a fun adventure in here".  After all, it's easy enough to update a PDF and send it back out into the world.  But LOTFP is an experienced publisher putting a lot of effort into their physical books.  It's fair to expect the maps and text to be a little tighter.

This was LFP0096 out of the new releases.  Going in order, the next one up is LFP0097 - Temple of the Wurm.  It looks quite strange - looking forward to discussing that one!

1 comment:

  1. Hey John - Mark Sable, the writer of the module here. I swear I don't have this set on Google Alerts and that I actually read this blog regularly, so it was a treat to see this reviewed.
    First off, thanks for taking the time to read and give such a thorough, well-thought out review.
    I wanted to quickly respond to two of your (very fair) critiques. As far as the map needing more notation, I agree. To give some context, the genesis of this book was that 5 or more years ago James Raggi put out a call for introductory adventures for the upcoming LotFP Referee Book. Each was to be basedon a location (I think it was something like a mine, a tower...can't recall the third). I pitched for all three and James liked my mind idea.
    The map was already drawn, but I wanted there to be three things in each room - something to interact with, an NPC and a threat.
    The new Referee Book isn't out yet (although I hear it's getting closer), but earlier this year James reached out and asked if he could publish it as a stand-alone adventure. I said yes, and while I did another editing pass, the writing, editing and playtesting had already been done for years and seemed to work with both me and other DMs running it.
    Looking back, I did think maybe that I should ask for the map to be changed, but I didn't want to make more work for the cartographer (who I believe is Glynn Seal, who also did the layout). In retrospect, just keying it with A, B, C etc. would have been a simple solution and I wish I'd thought of it.
    But the fault lies with me, not with the cartography or editing.
    As for as the diamond encrusted pickaxe, it never occurred to me or the playtesters to ask where it came from. But, as a comic book writer who has written for Marvel I hereby grant you a no-prize:)
    Anyway, I write all this by way of explanation and not of defense, hopefully the window into how this is made is of interest to you and your readers. Your critiques are certainly helpful to me as I continue to write game modules.
    Thanks again - Mark