|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: ** / *****
I got a very Dungeon of the Bear vibe from it. That same pre-standardized thing that I find so charming.ReplyDelete
Well, I certainly love the orc in the cover.ReplyDelete
Thanks Melan - I was pleasantly surprised you saw it. So the story here is that Gerry (Pieces of Eight and Wild West) was one of the founding members of the Schenectady Wargaming Association and would sometimes play in games I hosted there. He told me that back in the 70's he designed all the "White Box" scenarios for the annual SWA convention and that Gygax himself had played one. Intrigued, I asked if he still had them. "No" he said, but he would be happy to write a new one just like them - hence Mines of Wexcham. He then started sending me lots and lots of backstory and the map of a whole continent - I think creating the setting and characters was great fun for him. There's a lot more history material I left out the published adventure when I edited it for him. He began work on another adventure after this involving a much larger sea cave complex, but sadly, all he sent me prior to his sudden passing was some more characters and a story outline.ReplyDelete
Thanks for that information. Very interesting.Delete
Thanks for the additional details! I somehow "knew" this module had a connection to early gaming history, but could not determine where I got that idea even after searching the usual blogs and forums. I thought it was a lost tournament scenario; some of it reads a lot like Bob Blake's GenCon IX Dungeons or even Of Skulls and Scrapfaggot Green. Common yet iconic encounters that feel like the first time meeting a bunch of orcs in a mine, wrestlnig with the adventure format, etc. Even if the connection was personal, this is a fascinating artefact - and it is unfortunate we would not see the sea caves.Delete
Oh wow, this is an interesting turnaround of events!ReplyDelete
BTW, I got around explaining my simple alternative for point-crawl/hex crawl wilderness decision-making and monster whereabouts modelling:ReplyDelete
Thank you! This is something I will read with interest.Delete
The guy I mentioned last time, the best D&Der online has a new update, how to make cheap flockReplyDelete
That's creative stuff, and the videos are good. If I was into the craft side of gaming, I'd probably watch these.Delete
I have watched many terrain crafters online and this lad has a gift for maximising the effect while minimising the cost. His dry humour and modesty are also appealing. In fact he is a younger version of me. I understand your position on use of figures, and so terrain, because I share it. You can describe anything without models and might be constrained with them. And yet of the several thousand euro I spent on gaming material, while I enjoyed reading some of the runequest, TSR, tekumel, and judges guild work I find almost all of un-rereadable, but half my expense was on carefully selected figures and this I feel whas been money well spent. I can look at them, paint them and use them. The way to use figures is to show them to players saying, 'Laddos, come on, aren't these terrific?'. Then put them on the table casually, vaguely 'Right then these buggers have been creeping among the ruins, here on the map.' I don't believe in using them 'positionally' or 'tactically' because the game is fluidly mobile but they can be used as something like photographs with slightly abstracted terrain, or holograms.Delete
The campaign I am working on is in the early stages is a Jack Vance take on the Vietnam War, special forces, lurps, sog, helicopters are longboats piloted by demonologists and powered by their captive imps imprisoned in dangling glass vessels. Have you read The Miracle Workers novella 1958? one of Vance's best.
I am not sure I entirely get the point of making your own flocking. At least in Germany, model railroad quality flocking is available at every corner and it's very affordable. I do some tabletop terrain modelling and gaming.ReplyDelete
But a very interesting video nevertheless!
I could buy flocking here for €15 for a small bag but have used sand and PVA instead for a wasteland of mud and gravel, and looks better on figures when in dungeons than gorgeous grass. Baking powder works better for actual desert sand because of the scale. I admire the young lad's determination to find dirt cheap solutions for any terrain feature.ReplyDelete
Melan, it is hard to engage you in discussion because you tend to declaim in your posts and merely respond to praise in your comments.ReplyDelete
Is there any subject you would like to discuss, as if you were someone who did not know everything about D&D?
Should a girl kiss on the first date?Delete
It is fairly easy to engage me in discussion. Abuse and trickery, I sidestep.Delete
==Should a girl kiss on the first date?Delete
I let them kiss my foot if they are pretty.