So last night I rolled up a couple of characters to take through a dungeon based on Patrick's Veins of the Earth setting/sourcebook. This was kind of a playtest I guess - I don't know if I'm the first person to encounter some of these creatures and situations in the wild - but it was all new and different and weird to me.
It was just me going to go through the Sky-Stone-River-Place (there's a link at Patrick's blog to this dungeon/scenario but I haven't read it). I rolled up four level 3/4 characters to make a little party:
Ajax is a 4th level Fighter, pretty big and armoured, heavily scarred on his face, and pretty handy in a fight (+6 Melee Bonus).
Beru is a 4th level Magic-User, mousy-hair, twitchy and tiny, stays out of combat but has a good spellbook.
Chester is a 3rd level Cleric of the god Gotan (the god of the life-force in all living things) and is mostly useful, although he had a sheltered upbringing.
Dude is a 3rd level Specialist and the party's nominal leader. He has a short red mohawk and carries a gentleman's pipe as an affectation.
Dude did most of the talking last night. The party had been travelling for weeks underground and came across a strange mixture of Old (blind salamander-people) and underground-dwelling merchants. The Olm live in Sky-Stone-River-Place and act as guardians for merchants. Merchants leave their goods with them, the Olm secure them and protect the contents. Sky-Stone-River-Place is in complete darkness, and so the Olm can protect things fairly well. Something has come into their domain though, or some things... It is difficult to know. In any case, the Olm and the merchants have evacuated, leaving their possessions in there and a difficult problem. How to go in, be sure that bad monsters have all been killed and cargo returned to rightful owners?
Lucky the party came along really.
The merchants all trade really weird and interesting valuables - some of it practical but by necessity light (everything comes in bundles that can be easily carried in the darkness), some of it heavy and logically very valuable (because it has to be to justify carrying it over long distances). The Drow have weird rules about what can and cannot be carried, and how things like spider silk may be held. The Olm describe things in a language with phrases that only approximate ours.
Parts of the temple - a temple which is utterly ancient - come to life when light touches it. Statues that have been long broken thrash disembodied limbs as lantern light bursts onto a scene. The noise of the river is everywhere. Mosaics burst out of the art and attack; a painting of a leviathan almost kills the party (by throwing them from a great height). When it is killed it turns to paint and ink, splashing everywhere. Killer bonsai trees hassle the party and are crushed and burned to make sure. Silken shrouds with screaming faces on them descend noiselessly on the breeze and head for the physically weakest member of the party, Beru. Luckily she has the Web spell (from LotFP) and traps them all. Setting the web on fire burns the silk-form creatures.
Travel is interesting. Things aren't just north and west, they are up and down. A column leads downwards to a sandbank, but first you have to avoid the animal heads that snap at you as your torch illuminates them. A zip-wire leads to a column top with a strange glow; paintings of fish on the column swim frantically and avoid the glow completely. The party realise too late why (heh, not spoiling it) but survive. Brass rings in the ceiling creak as the party swings one to another to move on.
Making accurate maps seems pointless. The temple is an alien place. The people who built it have been dead so long that their names are not remembered. The Olm have lived there since before they had stories. It feels safe just to keep moving, to see what we can see, and then make our way back to try and get an accurate sense of what needs to be brought out of the temple. Dude goes ahead all the time, testing that ways are safe, hoping that his Specialist skills can tip the balance in his favour if a rope breaks or something else jumps out. The rest of the party are essential to his survival. Sky-Stone-River-Place cannot be explored by one person.
I don't know what Patrick's immediate plans are with Veins of the Earth; I haven't seen any monster details or place ideas that haven't been on his blog (it's well worth a read) and I don't know stats of his creations. What I can say from a player's perspective is that last night was a fun and weird underground exploration - weird in a very good way. The people I met were different; the details they gave, their motivations and needs were truly alien to human/demi-human characters. The creatures and monsters were unpredictable. The way some areas reacted to light lead to situations that had the potential to be lethal in very short order - but we needed the light in order to see at all - if my party had been four 1st level characters they would have been dead several times over. We survived because we had more than level 1 hit points, and because the Fighter had a +6 for melee.
I'm hoping that I can go back to Sky-Stone-River-Place next week. For starters, I don't think I explored more than a quarter of it, and I want to see what else is there.
People have been saying good things in comments on Patrick's blog for the last few months, and saying that Veins of the Earth is shaping up to be something good. It is. Patrick is really, really on to something with his take on underground spaces and strange underworld people and monsters. He is making something different, something interesting, something that is going to give GMs a lot of flavour for games and players a heavy (and heady) dose of challenge and enjoyment.