Veins of the Earth Pt. II (Lotfp); Praxis

A continuation from the previous post. We begin with something of a leftover from the previous post. Cultures of the Veins. Veins somewhat sensibly assumes you are already in possession of one if not several different versions of statts for the various stereotypical underdark cultures and instead just hits you with the re-interpretation, fluff only. There’s some good stuff, but I was much less impressed by this section then the Monstrous Manual. After being blown away by the preceding section, I think it is up for debate whether or not re-introducing classic Underdark antagonists with a twist was the right way to go.

Drow have been turned into refugees and invaders from the Land of Dreams, (The Aelf-Aedal) with an eternal hatred for mankind, to which they are symbolically linked. The depths of the Veins are dreamlike enough for them to exist in. They seek to disrupt the boundaries between Dream and the Real. This is one of the more interesting takes.

The most interesting re-imagining is that of the Deep Janeen, a species of deep Djinn with the opulent decadence of Arabian Nights magnified and turned up to Eleven. Vathek on bath salts. Maze building demi-gods with the wealth of Empires, the power to remake reality and the petulant tempers of spoiled princelings. They create mazes as symbols of status, art and they are actually pleased to have talented adventurers pass them.

Amusements.
d6. 6. Forcing scholars to debate the merits of a grain of sand. Winner rewarded,
loser killed

Expect encounters to involve nervous flattery, the placation of impossible demands and the weathering of divine displeasure. Part of what I appreciate is that when Stuart re-invents he somehow manages to retain and magnify the original. Deep Janeen are hyper-djinn, Arabian-nights neutronium, burning your mind with cinnamon-flavored, incense-scented gamma-rays.

The rest is not as good. The Derro do not get a write-up but instead a paranoid schizophrenic breakdown of their ideas about you along with a list of bio-tech. The deep Gnomes are different with their own philosophy but even Stuart can’t make Gnomes interesting, the Dvargir are distilled Deep-Dwarves, sentients craving automaton-status, viewing all reality as a medium or vessel for work being done, the Substratals are a grab-bag of Elemental Beings, probably more vast and diverse then a thousand parallel veins thrown together, who visit the Veins like tourists visit backwater places. I found the Substratals a throwaway idea that had been explored in the bestiary already with the Silichominds.

The whole section is a little…meh. I like it that in his re-imagining Stuart does not commit the cardinal sin of abandoning all form of archetypes altogether and instead focuses on magnifying some traits but in comparison this section almost seems to normal.

Praxis. 

This section is really devoted to adding optional rules, which deserves some credit. It’s one thing to tell everyone your game is taking place in an alien milieu. It is another thing altogether to subtly adjust the game so the difference becomes noticeable WITHOUT TURNING THE GAME INTO AN UNPLAYABLE PIECE OF SHIT. Veins SORT OF succeeds.

Light is made a big fuss off, and this is appropriate. The Veins are total-darkness, never-ending, never-relenting. Light is life and running out of it means you can’t climb, can’t fucking find your way, can’t do shit. If you have light and your opponent doesn’t you win initiative. You can’t cheat your way out by having dark vision or a readily available source of illumination.

This is taken so far as to introduce the Lume, a unit of currency representing an hour’s worth of light worth 1 sp. This would be brilliant IF FUCKING FAGRICK HAD NOT SKIPPED ENCUMBRANCE IN THIS DELICATE CONSIDERATION OF LIGHTING SOURCES LIKE A FUCKING 4E PLAYER. The whole idea of this subsystem is to make us aware of light-sources and their importance in a way beyond the normal dungeon crawl yeah? Why isn’t there a Lume tracker on my character sheet? ENCUMBRANCE IS HUGE IN VEINS. THE WHOLE SYSTEM IS OVERHAULED. WHY HASN’T THIS BEEN TIED IN WITH THE LUME, THE FUCKING QUEEN OF UNDERDARK RESOURCE MANAGEMENT? BECAUSE PATRICK IS NOT AND WILL NEVER BE A SYSTEMS GUY. A sickening waste of potential. More time on the backburner next time. You wasted everyone’s time.

Same with the lamps. 20 different Lamps with different drawbacks. Very good attention paid to the fact that if you don’t have a lamp you move on the initiative of a guy who does. Or what trained groups will do if they run out of lamps. Different Light ranges too, different complications or drawbacks make it dangerous but potentially advantageous to use. Fantastic idea. NO TABLE WITH SP OR LUME ESTIMATES. NO NOTES ON SOME LIGHTS USING MORE LUME THEN OTHERS. I feel at this point I should be hitting you in the face with a belt. You know how to make a fucking roleplaying supplement. You introduce a mechanic and don’t tie it into several mechanics that are core elements of OD&D. Encumbrance. Cost. This is a core mechanic. You want us to use this. Do. The Fucking. Work.

Parties running out of light while exploring the Veins have to pick a type of guide and suffer an ordeal of ability score tests, every failure introducing some drawback as the players stumble in the dark in search of succor, from lost equipment, terrible falls, encounters in the dark to having to start over. This is probably more interesting then the realistic outcome, starvation and death, and its well implemented. There’s a table of possible reasons for you to be alright again, from encountering a tiny enclave of peaceful Funginids to finding a dead adventurer with his Lumes miraculously unscathed. Some type of note on how many Lumes you get back would have been a good idea here.

You make this mechanic so you have an alternative, game-play generating, to immediate death if your players run out of light in the Veins, which is bound to happen over X amount of time. What is the success-state of this mechanic? Your players being able continue exploration. What is the pre-requisite and supposedly central resource of this exploration? Light. Why haven’t you added a note how much light they get back? X per player character or enough to reach the nearest settlement. You. Stupid. Island-dwelling. Buck-toothed. Fuck.

I get it that Veins gets credit for being brilliant and the Bestiary certainly is. Doesn’t fucking matter. Someone should have busted Patrick’s balls over this section.

Encumbrance has been re-made to be vastly more complicated and less intuitive but it works in a meta-sort of way to simulate the careful distribution of weight as players must assign their items to different ability scores. Gimmicky but pretty interesting and it allows you to carry more weight then usual, but inflicts a harsh penalty of encumbrance level per item extra. No note on how armor and Big Items affect this new system, do we assume old rules apply in this case? Was this considered?

The problem with artsy-pants people, even talented ones like Stuart, is that they are not systematic thinkers. They have trouble extrapolating the complex intersecting dance of systems as they are applied to the table. They are generally creative and have an appreciation of aesthethics so they make decent module writers but for systems I will always prefer my ACKS, SWN or even fucking Lion & Dragon over Mjörk Börg or Lotfp, which has good ideas in it but just doesn’t follow through. No fucking work ethic the lot of you.

Enough ranting. Exploration rules for getting lost are interesting in a similar fashion. One person acts as a Guide. Then six ability score checks, different complications to your journey depending on which ones fail, the more you fuck up, the more time you spend. It’s not binary and there’s even tactical considerations to be made on who to select for the role. Having a low Con Guide is disasterous in any case but you can risk, say, having a low Str Guide getting everyone tired before finding the place you were looking for versus having a Low Wis guide getting everyone to the location but having no way to get back.

Climbing is great. You can tell research went into it. It’s another element that Stuart wants to include and it’s given much more depth then your basic binary roll to succeed system. Difficulty is set based on either climbing skill or the time you take to prepare. This means even non-specialists CAN try vertical ascents and descents as long as they take enough time AND HAVE LIGHT. The farther your light, the more you can cover in one go.
Only specialists can even attempt super-vertical climbs, giving them a niche in the Veins. If there’s someone blazing a trail with ropes you can follow on his climb skill. Insanely difficult things like a reverse overhang can still be attempted but are much more dangerous if you fuck up. Once again the ability score check system is used to give more grain to failure. You might slide down, you might get stuck until someone helps you etc. etc. The same type of failure with a reverse overhang might mean you fall and land on your head, causing you to fucking die. Falling damage has been made more volatile so its harder to predict whether or not you will survive a fall.

This entire system? Used only if people fuck up their rolls so no heavy burden is placed on the system. A fine addition. Exactly what it needed to be.

There’s a last little subsystem for platemail. Platemail in caves doesn’t work unless you are near a place to repair it. It’s folded into the encounter rolls so extra book-keeping is avoided, excellent work. Every once in a while your armor will start to rust, necessitating hours of maintenance, get dented so your limbs lose articulation, slow you down because you can’t fit through tight spots or give you hypothermia. Platemail in the Veins. Bad news bears.

A big part of an alien campaign setting is making that weirdness known to the player. In terms of giving you the rules needed to make the Underdark come alive, I’d give Veins half points. The Encumberance needed some follow through and is a bit gimmicky, the Lume-Silver standard needed to be tied to weight in order for it to be fully integrated, and provide a little altered equipment right? Climbing rules have been expanded to become a much larger part of the game, very well done.

In the next part, we are going to take a look at some of Vein’s Underdark generation rules. Stay tuned!

EDIT: My copy came in. I looked over LUME again. While I think my butthurt r.e. loose ends is justified for the most part, the I did come across this paragraph.

“The Lume is most perfectly expressed in oil. If you have oil, you can always trade
it underground as if it were silver. If you have other means of making light then you
can trade that as well.”

So a flask of oil in this game is…4 Lume, meaning 4 sp, or 8 times the cost of a regular bottle of oil, which I assume is being used despite various weird lamps. Using regular Lotfp mechanics and assuming lamp oil is not a small item, that means it’s 1 item for every 4  Lume if stored as a source of wealth. The average bear can carry about 15 items, 20 max. so you are limited to a maximum of 60 Lume per person, or little under two days of light per person each.  The advantage being that unlike food, as long as one guy is carrying, everything is peachy, and oil won’t spoil. All the other lamps described don’t really use lamp oil but fuck it.

So under the current system we could just treat it as a replacement for SP and use Oil as the most common type of currency and the standard weight, with other, more valuable sources taking up less weight per hour of light. Phosphorescent algae, Radium, phytoplankton or slow-burning phosphor etc. etc. As a store of wealth 60 Lume per person max is not a lot for D&D terms so it while it will be ubiquitous we can assume Veins traders will still carry copious amounts of precious metals to do their actual serious trading with. In terms of weight Oil is about 25 times less efficient then the Silver, putting it below copper.

The irritation comes from the abstraction. Patrick makes it clear there are many different light sources and the Lume is an abstraction over all those light sources in which case he should have just given a blanket number (like 1/4 item per Lume) so you can abstract it into carrying capacity no biggy. My criticism is valid and this section needed an editor who wasn’t checking his phone every 20 seconds or tripping balls on mescaline. Zak.


20 thoughts on “Veins of the Earth Pt. II (Lotfp); Praxis

  1. I always felt the Substratals and Silichominds to be like America vs Europe tourists. It sucks we don’t see the cultures cities, Patrick noted them down in his blog, as well as make weapons for them.

    I’m actually surprised of your observations, didn’t even consider these questions when I read through Veins. But hey, that’s why you’re the reviewer and I’m the gormless monkey who reads them.

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    1. I think it’s fair when you try to make changes to core mechanics, to expect those changes to leave prior functionality intact. Coming up with a rule and going ‘wouldn’t it be awesome if criticals caused people’s heads to explode’ is pretty easy, it’s integrating that rule within the existing framework and anticipating how it interacts with prior rules that’s the hard part. In this case he did Climbing and platemail degradation really well, one by just expanding the failure state (from fall to roll based on type of climb) and the other by folding it into an existing diceroll so it’s not a pain in the ass. The Lume is intriguing but as it is it really needs an abstracted weight score, which I guess could be expressed as plain oil, but then it sucks. It reads like 3/4 of a rule. For a blog post that’s fine, for a finished product that’s dogshit.

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  2. [Race/Species/Culture/Oh No The Problems]

    I don’t hate that take on drow, in a sort of edgy-Pratchett vein – the idea of the elf as supramundane parasite tickles me a lot more than “like us but better and in this case better at being cartoonishly evil.” The Dvargir feel like a transhumanist flip of Skyrim’s extinct dwarves – “they live underground and machines and that” with a little bit more substance than “vaguely Nordic steampunk aesthetic.” Gnomes are as ever superfluous and I wonder if this isn’t a fault of the D&D taxonomical approach – a gnome must be distinct from a dwarf must be distinct from a deep-elf, when in the Literature these were perhaps effective synonyms?

    [Light, Lumen, and the absence of Systems]

    This is the sort of thing I hold feet to the fire over when I dev-edit. What does not exist in system is not true, no system should be isolated etc. etc. In this case it would have been worth putting the entire project onto the lumen standard, at least during writing and playtesting, to make light as integral to other systems as currency is in yr. basic game.

    I think there’s an assumption that either modules are not games and so don’t need a development edit (foolish when you’re introducing new and sweeping subsystems) or worse that the module author is a lone actor of genius bringing his wares to market via publisher, whose role is to tug forelock and accept monies and not to introduce some naysayer to the process. As the judge from Éire observes, bloggers don’t have editors, and as these geniuses and their enablers have risen from the blogs perhaps they don’t see the point of such.

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    1. I realise I’ve not been clear, and feel compelled to foolproof the previous comment:

      A rule is not a system. The rule that “one lumen equals one hour’s worth of light equals one silver piece” is a perfectly fine rule, but until integrated with the rest of the rules it is not part of a system and remains a valueless claim.

      I see a lot of this sort of thing from arty first-time developers who have good ideas for rules but don’t join them up or have them interact with each other, which is a different kind of thinking from raw ideation. Perhaps I should prize my services more highly: the combination of “arty-farty enough to appreciate the aesthetic vision” and “autistic enough to insist it is properly reified with joined-up systems that work” seems quite rare.

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      1. I feel like a few sessions’ worth of playtesting on Patrick’s part might have revealed these things. I find it hard to believe much, if any of his published material went through that process.

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    2. Three posts?!? New meds doing it for ya?

      Veins isn’t a module, it’s a sourcebook. It wants to teach me, the suffering and patient player, how to have elfgames in caves. Therefore its rules must be compatible with its stated system and it must not stink up the place.

      If I was a betting man, I’d say Stuart probably doesn’t test his modules that well but it’s far more important that he looks at gaming like a poet or writer instead of an engineer or designer.

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      1. I think three posts is a sign I should be back *on* the meds.

        Your hairsplitting re. the term module is graciously acknowledged. In any case, I don’t think a development editor has been near this thing and I do think it would help. Stuart can maintain his Poet’s Eye by all means, but someone with a sense of systemic rigour needs to come in and hammer that into something playable.

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  3. I should bother to look things up before I comment. The Gnome, originating with Paracelsus apparently, is superfluous by accident. A symptom of that “jam everything you’ve read in, cheek-by-jowl” tendency of the undisciplined game-maker, which creates redundancy when similar-but-different ideas from different sources are forced to co-exist. “The Literature,” he says, as if there’s a singular. What a buffoon I am. Tell Kent I am still stupid, he could do with a good laugh.

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    1. As a proud gnome lover, I resent the constant cries of “Gnomes are just reflavored dwarves.” or “Gnomes are superfluous.”
      You won’t d&d find gnomes in the literature or in mythology. The best source to understand gnomes is to listen to Earthencloak albums in complete sensory deprivation. Somewhere around “keepers of the earthencloak” or “gnomish wit”, you’ll understand that gnomes are a core race and dwarves and halfling are actually aurperflous intruders on the gnomes niche.

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      1. Hahaha it’s the repetitive, trance-like quality of ‘earthencloak’ that has elevated your joke from B-rank to A-rank. It does for Leprechaun-themed ambient what Gregorian Chanting did for christianity.

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  4. I dislike Patrick Stuart for his victorian maidenly character, ‘Oh he said a bad thing! I must run away.’ He is not manly. Yes I know men being manly is *sexist* & *racist* & *transphobic* these days. More precisely he is afraid of the slightest opposition, the curse the whole OSR scene.

    If his work is in the top rank of the OSR then he deserves more respect but maybe the genre deserves more opprobrium. In other words perhaps it is *gaming itself* that deserves contempt when individual writers are disparaged.

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    1. His work is top rank but only by virtue of popularity. I think his language and creativity is laudable but he is sloppy and at times half-baked, a problem that permeates all of Lotfp, an artifact of the neurological architecture of its user-base surely?

      As far as modules go, I’d put him in the B-tier, there’s stuff out there like Mines, Claws, Princesses or Many Gates of the Gann or whatever the fuck Anthony Huso is doing that surpass him in terms of prose, depth or design, but doesn’t have the fancy or the woke-creds. But he got a huge Zakboost when it was still worth something and he has woke-creds but a jawline that allows you to leave him alone near a child. I think his latest twitter tussle shows a burgeoning backbone.

      I think the relatively gormless nature of gaming as a whole, the OSR somewhat less, is understandable but not desirable. It’s a cocktail of nerds, habitual social pariah’s with conflict avoidant tendencies, coupled with a swathe of american progressivism (i.e. stupid and self-loathing), and Ye Current Yeare. Euros don’t really grasp the amount of indoctrination Muricans receive, with the exception of Germans I think.

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    2. “Mines, Claws, Princesses or Many Gates of the Gann”

      Never heard of these but will take a look at the first — ‘pay what you want’ pdf — that’s the style. Huso is a good writer? No idea who this is, does he stick to writing and avoid the blogs/forums? Truly, in the last five years I have no idea where the talent lies. Where do you get your gaming fix online these days?

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      1. I’ll die on Oswalt’s Mines, Claws & Princesses, no problem, the language is powerful, classic mythological tropes etc. etc.

        Guy Fullerton’s Many Gates of the Gann comes the closest to imitating the best of TSR AD&D, and is fantastic from a design standpoint.

        Huso I still gotta cover. Nightwolf Inn looks insanely amibitous. I want to check it out.

        I mostly do my own shit and I’ll get flashes of wanderlust during which i’ll race through a few popular blogs like Yoon-soon but my regular trips are essentially Melan and the tenfootpole.org forum. Bryce I love but reading his current reviews is like reading the diary of the worst gold-miner in existence. “Day 687″Coal Again”” I have respect for what he does because I can’t do it and it helps to have a sort of rosetta stone.

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      2. –I’ll die on Oswalt’s Mines, Claws & Princesses, no problem, the language is powerful, classic mythological tropes etc. etc.

        It is my fault for asking for recommendations. I won’t ask you again.

        –my regular trips are essentially Melan and the tenfootpole.org forum.

        Christ. So there is nothing creative anymore in the OSR outside of three reviewers fascinated by 0-1 / 10 material. And having captured the entire old school gaming market these three are forcing their standards on the genre, ‘do as I say and you’ll get a good review’. Sounds shite to me.

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      3. The problem with you has always been that you are adept at manufacturing criticism but unable to produce any positive examples besides a very small handful like Carcosa, Caverns of Thracia and the three AD&D core books. Since these standards are observably not shared by most if not all of the OSR in which this blog is anchored, they are mostly useless from my standpoint. Their foundation is shit. If you could produce something that would illustrate the value of these standards they would have genuine weight, but you don’t. You are the boy on the sidelines, watching the other boys dance with the girls, clutching your beer like a shield (notice inclusion of alchohol to add extra barb). “Dancing is stupid,” you say, “and I could dance much better then that if I wanted to.”

        Reviews are a good way to keep up with what people are putting out in a shape that forces more diligence then a blog post with some stray thoughts. We haven’t cornered shit, and even if we had, two of those three mentioned puts out material as well as reviews it, it’s very easy to check if what is being espoused is actually to your taste.

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    1. “Goddamnit my buck-teeth and failure to playtest lost me my spot in the ethnostate.” There’s a barb in there but it’s not a mean girls one and its justified since I was ripping into him pretty hard. Sense of humor, wit, perspective, new patrick is a pretty cool guy.

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  5. And now we get to see the main quality that separates A tier from B tier writing. Obsessive perfectionism, caring about the small details, tying up loose ends and avoiding sloppiness. I blame the punk aesthetic that creeps into the osr. It’s liberating to make low production quality and raw creativity into virtues more worthy than corporate slickness but the “DIY d&d punk rock!” thing has overstated its welcome by 5 years and encouraged writers not to spend the extra few months polishing their work before release.

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    1. It feels shitty to say but Stuart seems more like a setting or module writer then a rules supplement. Veins tries to engage with caving with a depth that has never before been attempted. He needed a guy with glasses who works at an administrative office to go over his shit and point out areas where he’d left shit open. It’s an ambitious work but it could have been more then it ultimately ended up becoming. Part III after Kickstarter starts. Spread the word etc. etc. etc.

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