[No-Artpunk] #9 Perlammo Salt Mines

Perlammo Salt Mines
Trent Foster
AD&D 1e (w. UA, Monsters of Myth and Heroic Legendarium add-ons)
Lvl ??? (2-4 is probably a good sweet spot to star with)
48 pages

Once upon a time a man named Prince hosted the world’s best dog show. It was such a good show that people from all over the world would bring their dogs and compete in all the different divisions. They would play fetch, they would sit up, they would roll around and they would deliver the best hugs. Among the contestants was farmer Trent, and he brought along his giant hog Bessie. The people mocked him and laughed, but farmer Trent said, ‘just wait.’ And lo, Bessie would play fetch better then the best of them, and it would sit up straighter then a flagpole, it would roll around like a boulder and it would deliver the sweetest hugs a man ever did see. The people were stunned to silence. ‘What did you think?,’ asked Trent of Prince. ‘Trent it’s a Pig. This is a dogshow.’

With that parable I enter into this behemoth of an entry by previous year’s runner up Trent Foster. It breaks literally every rule and contest stipulation laid out, with one exception. It is, most certainly, fantastic, magical and fun. It is also the world’s best Gygax impression between the years of 1976-1980, and employs a level of detail, Gygaxian naturalism and versimilitude that I had considered extinct. Even the style is similar, to the point where the verbosity and density might scare off younger (or perhaps not so younger) readers. Yet it never falls to the level of slavish imitation or adherence to form. Somehow, through a combination of decades long obsession and divine inspiration, Trent has captured an echo of the style of those golden years of the creator of DnD in the form of a low-level Kilodungeon.

Short Evocative Description Be Gone!

The work is a bit rough, as the introduction, any sort of rumors, hooks and whatnot have been excised from this mighty work, probably to get the old girl into some semblance of fighting weight. However, none of the essential components have been cut, this is a fully functional work, with strangely inspired keying. The division between monster lairs and regular rooms for example, seems quintessentially TSR-ian and very useful but I cannot recall having seen it in any published work. Was this an extrapolation? Consider minor details like the keying. Weird but room 124 being room 24 on floor 1 is somewhat easier.

Enough layout kvetching, we are here to discuss the bulk of the work. Perlammo Salt mines describes an open ended location, long abandoned Salt Mines, now home to all manner of beasts, and serving as the hideout for a gang of Lotus Smugglers among other things. Presumably the PCs have been sent down here to bust the gang, in true western fashion. As the PCs descend, the gygaxian naturalism, this weirdly believable eco-system of bands of humanoids, giant vermin, oozes and criminals living together in abandoned tunnels is gradually intruded upon by the TRV supernatural, and soon you are wandering the fetid corridors of a temple to The Demon Lord of Slime, you are fighting the hideous clockwork Janusarians in some runaway exercise in automation, or you thread in abandoned tunnels where the Plane of Shadow is intruding on the waking world.

If Melonath Falls is an echo of B2 on steroids, a humanoid lair taken to its Gygaxian apex, then Perlammo Salt Mines is a spiritual hybrid of Tsojcanth and G2, an intricate, multi-layered labyrinth, with its intelligent inhabitants using a fraction of the place and living in uneasy peace (and sometimes war), and gatherings and packs of monsters lairing on the periphery. Into this comes the slow intrusion, in some cases literally, of the true supernatural world, of the likes of G3 and WG4. There is even the intimation of something unfathomably greater, a whole world awaiting to be explored. When I compared Melonath falls with true Gygax to a fellow fantasy adventure gamer, all the points of deviation that I noted between it and something of the true Gygax of that era, they are herein made manifest.

This Gygaxian style, it has a certain ponderous weight, a density and granularity to it that modern convention is deeply hostile too. The result is an improvement in utility but with it comes the sacrifice of depth. The glut of material that is easy to use but shallow, forgettable, this is the inevitable result, and only a virtuoso could combine the depth of the first with the new utilitarian standards of the second. With the rest, the Standard is kept, so depth is always sacrificed. Consider a simple pier.

The northern jetty is in disrepair and any attempt to moor a boat larger than a canoe to it has a 1-in-6
chance (check each day) that the rotten wood will break loose and the boat will drift away. Likewise any
weight over 250# on the jetty has a 5% chance (+5% per additional 100#) of breaking through the rotten
wood and falling into the water below (no damage, but the water is 10-20’ deep so characters in armor or
who aren’t able to swim risk drowning).

The southern jetty looks superficially the same as the northern one, but has had some discreet repairs and
reinforcements made (more obviously visible from beneath) and no chance of collapsing. No boats are
ever moored here during daylight, but at night there is a 1-in-8 chance for a boat to be moored here loading or unloading a load of lotus blossoms. If so there will be four guards on or near the jetty keeping watch, and a 2-in-6 chance each turn for another 1d4+4 to arrive from inside the mine tunnel. See chamber 3-G for more details.

Why all this superfluous detail you ask? But therein lies the key. The detail is not superfluous. The area has been made and described so that there is indeed a certain amount of gp’s worth of Pollen that is going out on a certain day (procedure included to do so randomly if not set), and before you know it, you are awaiting a shipment, or ambushing one and returning on that day to infiltrate into the dungeon, and the dungeon has been made with such versimilitude in mind, like it is a real (but fantastical place), that such tactics actually work and make sense. Consider a game where you can look at the minor repairs on a pier and infer from that the existence of intelligent inhabitants and when questioning the GM will never get the ‘it’s just a game lol’ from the GM, but only an inscrutable stare.

There are mine carts that can be manipulated, integrating with the granular ability score system of AD&D, and before the adventure starts properly it covers conditions throughout the mine, namely random noises, the effects of trying to collapse tunnels and elaborate random encounter tables. Every level has a helpful overview with particular conditions covered but also what is happening or going on on the level. Who is in power, is there any information that makes the entire section easier to run etc. This concession to utility is vey much necessary, as Perlammo can be somewhat dense and would require careful reading and even note-taking before running it.

It is almost insulting to go over basic mapping techniques, but yes, there are multiple entrances and exits from this complex pseudo-megadungeon, there is adequate, some would say subtle use of secret doors, there are plentiful natural hazards that one would find in a mine, that is to say, crumbling ceilings, flooding, gas, vicious mould and deep shafts (with an excellently placed nest of winged vipers halfway down!). The first level eases you into it, with groups of thieves inhabiting sections near the elevator (yes there is one!), and a tribe of goblins (and another tribe of goblin deserters) living on the same level with a sort of quiet animosity.

Now is probably as good a moment as any to discuss the use of intelligent creatures. Trent captures the concept of Intelligent creatures in a way that is also highly rare in this fallen age. Intelligent creatures set ambushes, barricades, means to prevent being blindsided. They have goals. They domesticate other creatures (say, the goblins hold kennels of wolves, and yes, yes you can let those out), or they feed them and figure out how to use them to their own best interest, like the Formorian in level 3B using some of the monsters to guard treasure. It goes beyond simple tactics, into a level of detail that is wonderful to see. What if you charm the Formorian? Well now you can bypass all of those dangerous guardian monsters!

I am sometimes compelled to niggle at the a certain monotony of some of the monster lairs but whenever I am tempted to do so, Trent throws a minor wrench into the workings, or adds some tiny detail that shakes things up. It’s like there are two or three major population centres or features of a level, and these are surrounded by disparate monster layers with occasional relations to the central feature or to eachother. There is an underlying logic, the iron arithmetic of risk and reward, but then there are deviations or elaborations from that formula of such richness that I struggle to follow. The result is a density and a granularity to the world that is almost tangible. Things have a weight, and thus an order to them, yet you have an impression of vast possibility, to which the humble entries in the MM and the DMG are but a doorway. With well in excess of 100 rooms, a formula is absolutely neccessary.

Intelligent monsters can be bargained with but this module never falls to Halls of the Blood King syndrome. There is a lingering uncertainty, and as often as not, inhabitants cannot be trusted, and will only feign friendliness. My point of criticism was going to be that Gygax would not hesitate to occasionally throw a mean left hook, but Trent, while more merciful, has his share of dirty tricks up his sleeve. Winged vipers in a deep shaft, poisonous monsters attacking from ambush, fox men that appear friendly and offer you wine but its drugged and they will just rob you, fucked up poison gas traps, new weirdo monsters or trap doors that will propel you to a lower level etc. etc. I think for a lower level module this thing is no slouch.

Besides there are two sub levels on the second floor, away from smugglers, one leading into a den of iniquity inhabited by belligerent slave-keeping fox people on the one hand and another sub-level, the site of runaway alchemical experimentation, now a horror show populated by self-replicating automatons, powered by a human heart, endlessly carving out tunnels at the behest of their new master, a crysmal from the plane of earth and turning all those living men they capture into their own. Janussaries, with two faces, which Foster notes are based on the ‘scoodlers’ from the Road to Oz but will come across as Cyber-men to anyone who is familiar with Doctor Who.

This is the great thing about Perlammo Salt Mines. The style is good enough so that just making it 7 levels of Humanoids, criminals and mine monsters would be enjoyable in play but it would suffer from a certain monotony, a stuntedness. There is herein an ambition to reach higher. Level 3A, cut off from other levels, not easily accessible. A faded place, inhabited by a lone priest, once a follower of a good god, now corrupted by the chaotic Staff of Slimy Dominion, with a convent of slimes, oozes and puddings. And then it goes into the possibility of restoring him in the town, one of many hooks leading out of the dungeon and into the surrounding world. Threads of consequence linking everything together, leading to further adventures.

3B is where it is at, smugglers, led by what appears to be a merchant, but actually an adept ‘of the Order of the Crimson Sash’ [definetely not any sort of Scarlet Brotherhood], a tamed formorian, a secret stash and a complicated lotus refinement process to turn it into a full blown medieval mythical meth lab, a captured Alchemist. There are prisoners to free (as there are in 2A now that I think about it), secrets to learn, and immense rewards for the best. The dullard and the brute is starved, the cautious but bold are rewarded. The description of the gang, led by a vaguely oriental merchant but actually martial artist in digsuise and his empire of opioids, is a delightful nod to the pulps, intentional or otherwise.

There is but one more place to cover. The 4th level underlies it all, and it is a place where men do not go, where torches flicker and grow dim. This is a place of shadows, literally. The ecosystem here is intruded upon by a nebulous thread. Beyond a great underground lake is a wall of mist, beyond which lies the Plane of Shadow. Trent has included a short appendix on its properties and inhabitants, and from his descriptions I glean he plans to one day to continue what Gygax set out to do, and recreate this realm, doing it the justice that 2e TSR could not or would not give him. Big, insanely big, if true.

Every level increases in deadliness, to the point where going venturing into the 4th level is fraught with peril for a party ready to tackle the 1st and 2nd level, and considering the traps that propel characters into the muddy lake at the bottom, Trent knows this. A full blown Shadow Dragon, the hideous Eyeless Stalkers and a particularly brutal encounter with 12 giant crabs near the lake, as well as a new breed of Siren (the Mud Siren) make venturing here quite hazardous, quite good.

I have conceived of another point of divergence. There is little in the way of riddling or puzzling elements. Any clues to secret doors must be gained holistically or by interacting with the natural environment. This is why I specified the G series, the zenith of Gygax’s career, as the point of greatest similarity. It adheres too closely to the dungeoneering format to merit comparison to WG4 or something like the D series, but this is hardly a fatal flaw. One would think pure dungeoncrawling in the grand, high style of the golden age is what is craved for, and this is delivered with virtuoso performance. I do not lie when I say none could approximate this style as closely as Trent.

As a No Artpunk entry, it must lamentably be disqualified, but as a shining beacon for the spirit of No Artpunk, it is a worthy adornment, worthy of study. If you are in the mood for Gygaxian D&D outside of Gygax, you aren’t going to get much closer then this. Call my scientists, nay, my philosopher-assassins, and have them bend their heads to the conundrum of the OSR: Can we have complexity without density?
This thing will be too heavy for anyone who is looking for something to just fuck in their campaign, but for the connoisseur it is spectacular. It is not convenient. Is its conveniance in proportion to its depth.
I think my only criticism would be that some of the monster lairs feel, not quite superfluous, nor quite disconnected (since they fit their environs quite well), but not particularly meaningful. But then again that is the lesson of TRV D&D perhaps, that we cannot have meaning without mundanity. Not everything is relevant. Only unique monsters and unique magic items renders everything boring. I must meditate on this.

Publish this.


18 thoughts on “[No-Artpunk] #9 Perlammo Salt Mines

  1. Congrats Trent, this looks really solid.

    …and now I’m realizing that instead of writing up something new in a time crunch I could have converted to OSE and submitted the first two levels of my currently played kilodungeon.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I feel seen! I know this didn’t qualify for the contest but decided to send it in anyway both because it’s what I spent my time working on this summer instead of a proper contest entry and also because I hoped Prince might like it and be inspired to say some nice things about it (which he has done in spades).

    I absolutely intend to publish this, alongside Melonath Falls and a town and a couple other still-to-be-written bits – it’s going to be a 100+ page beast. No idea how soon that will happen (and I confess that since finishing this part up a few weeks ago I haven’t really done any more work on the other sections) but I am determined to get this thing out into the world someday, and hopefully this nice hype-building extended preview will inspire me to get it finished and released (and maybe inspire other people who are eager to see it to start nudging me to counteract my natural laziness and diffidence).


    1. I am fascinated by the minor differences between Gygax and your style. I think there is a greater deal of organization in the relevant G series. More use of alarms, implied fallback positions. You score about equally high with the amount of weird you use, which I have neglected to mention. There’s more ineffable qualities that I do see back, the way information about the dungeon is a vital resource (see the Secret doors in G2). I think Gygax might also be meaner.

      This is going to be a niche product but anyone that is into it will love it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The riddle/puzzle element is definitely a point of divergence. I love that kind of stuff, but am not even good at solving them as a player, much less creating them. So my puzzles tend to be more Sherlock Holmes style deduction exercises (analyze the situation to figure out the element that doesn’t fit) and less “parse this poem for clues.”

        This was written for me to run at home (which hasn’t happened yet, but may still?) which I think helps explain why it’s not as relentless as the Gygax stuff – if I made things too tough it would be impossible for non-expert players; likewise if I stripped out the mundane “filler” lairs of rats and lizards and spiders and beetles and such – that stuff is boring to read (and write) but IMO it’s necessary for pacing especially in a low-level environment: if every encounter is a complicated set-piece with unique or intelligent opponents it would be overwhelming and harder to play. IMO you see some of this in the Hommlet moat house – it’s a little too densely populated and the monsters are a little too tough for the stated levels, and I think it would work better if it were a little more spread out (and wonder what may have been changed or removed between Gary running it at home for his kids and TSR publishing it).

        Liked by 2 people

    2. This looks and sounds so good.

      It would be great if you publish it in ’24.

      I’d love to see a deluge of OSR, &c work to mark the game’s anniversary.


  3. Contract Byrce for edits Trent! Email him and ask, he is great for all this cross reference and usability errors I never saw before especially with the three part product you described above!


  4. Well done Trent, ‘Perlammo Salt Mines’ seems like an absolute stunner of an adventure module. I admire the bare-faced chutzpah of submitting it to the No Artpunk contest whilst knowing full-well it would be disqualified, almost as a CHA 18 flex! Will be working on the module and developing it much further before (hopefully) publishing it? Or is it in a finished state now and just requires polishing / editing? I look forward to laying hands upon the finished article.

    Also, Prince’s review deserves praise for being equally evocative & informative & insightful; the review has really got me excited to run / play the adventure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Prince is treating it as a flagrantly-illegal NoArtPunk submission because it’s funnier that way, but if you look back at one of the comment threads I was clear from the get “I wrote something that doesn’t qualify for the contest but that I’d kind of like to send you anyway to take a look at” and he was all “sure, send it over, I’d like to see it.” I wasn’t even necessarily expecting him to comment on it publicly and figured I might get an email back with some comments and suggested changes.

      Content-wise (in terms of what’s in each room – monster, treasure, traps) I doubt much will change, but the text will definitely get some more polishing and editing. There’s an obvious gaffe in one of the quoted bits “a box of incense worth 50 g.p. that’s stored in a box and is worth 50 g.p.” and I’m sure there are other things like that as well as places where text can be stripped out or moved around. I’m not going to turn it into OSE bullet points but I know it can be tightened up. The maps are also going to be redrawn (not by me), again not to change the layout, just to make them more palatable. I’d like to commission some art as well, but we’ll see – I don’t have the talent to draw it myself or the budget to buy much. There will at least be a picture on the cover, though – stark minimalist covers can work on rulebooks, but not so well on adventures. My goal had been to publish by the end of this year, but I doubt that’s realistic at this point (not least because I’m still writing).


  5. As is my wont, I’ll add my two cents (well, more like $1.25 with inflation and local sales tax).

    I volunteered to do a read of the adventure for Trent, and he was kind enough to let me have a peek, so this is one I’ve actually read. I’d hate to just deliver empty platitudes, but “magnificent” is the word that I found best describes my feelings on Perlammo Salt Mines.

    Trent’s reality bubble seems to be one where the development/evolution of D&D ended circa 1986, and rather than gross modifications or sea changes, he’s worked within the same system for years, thoughtfully refining it. “Thoughtful” is another apt description of Salt Mines: Trent has been working this thing for YEARS, and it shows in the careful design of the adventure. This is not a script to be followed, or a situation to be resolved…rather, it is a location to be explored. one with plenty of depth and capacity to sustain multiple (experience) levels of play.

    If anything, I would call it “Gygax elevated.” I do not say that lightly. Gygax’s adventures, glorious as they are, are often flawed…never fatally so, but (perhaps) due to the circumstance under which he was writing (the need to publish expediently, the need to work within a set page number, etc.). Trent adventure, being a labor of love, has not been constrained by Gygax’s corporate necessities. For a pre-packaged adventure, Trent’s work stands above most everything I’ve seen in terms of technical prowess and thoughtful design. I will give Gygax the nod in, perhaps, sheer imaginative force and evocative writing, but this is really comparing Leonardo to Michelangelo. Mr. Foster has plenty of delightful whimsy and fanciful horrors all his own!

    My harshest criticism was the need to own the Heroic Legendarium to make the best use of the adventure. Fortunately, I *do* own HL, and because of that I was able to get a better handle on the dynamics and interactions with Trent’s originals creations (the Gopine certainly threw me for a loop before I read their description in HL), but without it, a DM will find it much more difficult to run…unless the author wants to resort to an over-large Appendix.

    But that’s about it, as far as criticism (other than there needs to be more salt in the Salt Mines…Trent tells me he can fix that). I’ll respectfully disagree with Prince of this being “too heavy” or some kind of acquired taste. This is about as D&D as one gets…if you’re used to playing old style D&D. Maybe THAT (“old style D&D”) is an acquired taste these days and, if so, that’s a sad, sad state of affairs.

    There are other individuals writing and publishing adventures for 1E (and/or OSRIC) whose works can be found around the internet. I’ve found most of those to be far too over-written, taking their lead from late-era TSR with loooong pages of backstory, huge amounts of prose, and far too much boxed text. Mercifully, Trent does none of that: the text is as utilitarian as it needs to be and it does not trade substance (adventure design) for style (‘story’ and ‘plot’). This is not written to be read (or played) as a story. Perhaps the textual density could be broken up with a bit of white space (or illustration), but I found the organization to be easy enough to follow.

    Trent has said he sees this as a tough adventure for low (1st and 2nd) level characters, with potential advancement up to 5th or 6th level. I haven’t done the treasure counts, but to my eye it looks a bit beefier: challenging for a group of up 2nd to 4th (on the upper levels) and good enough for 7th and 8th level characters down in Mines’ darkest depths. Perhaps I am giving players too little credit, but I’m used to running parties with eight or fewer characters (including henchfolk). Regardless, plumbing the Salt Mines would make for many hours of solid adventuring.
    : )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Becker, first of all, that was easily ten dollars. Second, playing this is pure, unadulterated D&D. Yes we love that. Unfortunately it is not 1986. I am saying for the novice GM palette this is heavy, dense, with plenty of hooks to surrounding environs, an open-ended piece in the basement. You don’t casually fuck this in your campaign somewhere for the same reason you don’t fuck ToEE in there, because it takes a bit of energy to understand it, to work it in, and to understand how everything works together. That is a feature for us, the coinnaiseur, well (or in my case, somewhat well) versed in old DnD, and that is how it should be.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hmm…I get what you’re saying (I think), but…huh, how to put this?

        I don’t think it’s any more difficult than, say running B2 or T1…at least, running them well.

        [now, I could run both B2 or T1 quite “causally”…because I’ve run them (especially B2) so many times before. As such, the prep is light work and fitting it into a campaign fairly simple]

        The Salt Mines is definitely a more advanced piece than either of those, but it is quite sensible and (thus) much easier to adapt/prep. I’d put it about par with one of G-series, certainly more straightforward than either D1 or D3 and a damn sight easier than Mentzer’s ToEE.

        BTW: you made me laugh out loud with the $10 quip. Apologies for being long-winded.
        ; )


    1. Anchored is ambiguous, but it is analogous to established and there were other verb that could have been employed: Torpedoed, forsaken, cast off, demolished etc. etc. I am going to hesitantly assume the statement is positive.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Just a quick note that judging from the excerpts it looks to be well written, rather than heavy. Sentences are clear, not clogged up with too many adjectives.
    I think many readers of this blog are potential customers for the final version.

    Liked by 2 people

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