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