|How Do You Intend to Proceed?|
The Mines of Wexcham (2012)
by Gerald D. Seypura, PhD
Published by Southerwood Publishing
Low- to mid-level characters
Published for the OD&D-inspired Champions of ZED system, this module (also referred to as The Mines of Wexham) is a fairly odd combination of a short wilderness trek, a dungeon crawl at an abandoned mine site, and questionable attempts at writing fantasy fiction. It has a certain charm, if you care to look deeper into it. In the functional sense, it is a modular “orcs in a mine” scenario that makes more sense on its own than as a tournament exercise. This is a lot, so let us unpack the details.
It is generally a bad sign if an adventure module (a play aid meant for use in an interactive game) begins with an introduction written in the form of a piece of fiction. It is even less promising if a 19-page adventure module goes into a full-page treatment of the history of a fallen empire who can be summed up as “they were Romans”. (They are called… the Reman Empire.) It becomes positively ominous if it then starts to lovingly detail a home base which will, actually, have no role whatsoever in the actual adventure, then presents a list of pregen characters with backstories and all. The Mines of Wexcham does all of this and then some, lovingly detailing pieces of political and personal intrigue of barely any relevance; pseudo-historical trivia without a bearing on what goes on, and PCs/NPCs (more on this below) of no interest. Hitting all the wrong notes in story-centric adventure design and taking up a good 1/3 of the adventure while doing so is certainly an accomplishment of sorts. If I had not already printed my PDF, this is where I would stop – but it does get better.
There is something slightly off about the adventure that has a non-standard touch, similar to the occasional 1970s tournament weirdness Judges Guild would sometimes publish – pre-standardisation D&D, and a pre-standardisation way of presenting a packaged scenario. “How do you intend to proceed?” This enigmatic question is repeated dozens of times in the text. What is this cue for? It is hard to determine if it is a reminder for the GM to tell that much to the player, or something else that only made sense to the writer.
In The Mines of Wexcham, the characters are after the rumours of a lost mine with rich ore deposits. The ore is of strategic and political importance, and multiple interested parties have taken note. One of these parties are the player characters – as an innovative touch, if the PCs do not play them, the GM is instructed to make them the rivals, and the pregens as a party they must beat to the score. The rivalry is handed in a fairly ad hoc way, without turning it into a mini-game or player-vs-GM contest. There is, however, a wilderness trek with three main options, played as a mixture of random encounters, until at last the charactrs reach their target. There is not much to it, but it has a decent sense of discovery – finding an old, abandoned road in what now counts as untamed wilderness is a classic touch.
The main adventure site is the heart of the publication, taking 8.5 pages with three full-page maps: a ruined mining village, a small set of troll tunnels, and the mines proper. Unlike the introduction, it is simple, to the point, and iconic. There is nothing especially strange here (most keyed locations are flavour or monster encounters), but the mining village captures the feeling of an eerie, abandoned Roman-style mine site quite well, and this continues down in the mines. Here, we have a conflict between two sides, either of which pose mortal danger to a low-level party (including a 70-orc lair), but which can be evaded or leveraged against each other. There are signs of former habitation, and a few fantastic encounters that spice things up. There is also a sense of discovery that’s classic. It feels a bit like the first orc mine you cleared.
Altogether, this is a weird one – burdened by poor design decisions, and ultimately fairly lightweight, but offering an interesting location you could drop in a corner of your word and use without a second thought. It is also a sort of look into early OD&D, and how it might have felt back then, when it was all new. How do you intend to proceed?
No playtesters are credited in this publication.
Rating: ** / *****