Just before bed, I looked on drivethrough RPG, I don’t know why . . . But I found this gem. I may have been one of the first people to buy it. I like Deep Carbon Observatory and thought I might like this too. I downloaded the pdf and read late into the night. . . .
. . . Reading it for the first time moved me deeply! It was something akin to a religious experience! I will never look at the Underdark the same way again!
It starts with a monster manual of 52 new monsters. The first few a really liked! And the next section is on Underdark societies. But after reading a few monsters, I skipped over these sections and dove into the rules.
Veins of the Earth portrays a world very different from most people’s vision of the Underdark. It’s not a series of 10 foot high tunnels that your party can have a Marching Order for. It’s Caves that have to be navigated three-dimensionally. You have to climb and repel and squeeze through spaces so small that you have to stick one arm in front of you and tilt your shoulders to fit. Food is so scarce that your body is worth its’ weight in silver as a source of meat. (LoFP is on a silver standard)
And over shadowing it all is the Dark . . . the Deep, Deep, terrible Darkness . . . “Dungeons are puddles of darkness. This is the sea.” Down here infravision/darkvision doesn’t work very well. There are several ways given in the book to adjucate this. Down here, Light is initiative, Light is the ability to navigate, Light is money. The amount of Light you have left is a measurement of time. The amount of Light you have to consume to get there is a measurement of distance. There are twenty new kinds of lamps offered in the book. And rules about what happens when you get lost in the dark.
There is a new character sheet with an easier system of encumbrance than the LoFP standard. It also has a section for the starvation rules. How long has it been since you ate? 4 days? Then you have to either buy/steal 600 light hours worth of food or eat one of your companions.
Also, climbing in the caves is a very important skill. And non-specialized (non-thieves) only have a 16.66% chance of making that climb. Fortunately, you can improve you chance of climbing by studying the route of your climb. The longer you study, the better your odds, with a 82% chance if you spend more than an hour studying the route. (but you are burning Light while you do so!) Or, if the DM doesn’t want to roll for every climb, there is a way to roll for exploring and the time it takes. And if you fall from a climb there is a highly varriable chart to roll damage with the maximum roll of 1-600 hp. (so you might get lucky a survive that extreme fall. Or up to 5 of your friends might catch you, sharing the damage amongst them and you.
There is a new way of making caves, a sort of 3D line drawing that allows you to cover lots of rooms quickly. I’m currently using it as a player to map Maze of the Blue Medusa. There is also a method to use this to quickly generate random caves. There is also a section of mapping larger scale features like rivers and mines. There is also 100 described caves that you can use on the fly.
There is also a random name generator, 100 works of art, and twelve kinds of darkness.
After reading the rules I went back and read the sections on Cultures in the Veins and monsters. The tone on Cultures and monsters was highly variable. Some of the Monsters I like a lot and would want to use whole cultures of them. Others, were described too poetically for me to use.
I am an older person. I find small print hard to read and electronic format hard to use as I like to flip back and forth when using a book like this at the table. So I usually print out my pdf’s. Also there is the art. I am not a fan of Scrap Princess. But her art on Deep Carbon Observatory is starting to grow on me . . . it sets a certain mood. The art in this book is mostly black and white with little splashes of colour. It looks much better on the tablet than the art in Deep Carbon Observatory and I can tell that on glossy pages it would look much better. And there is a lot of this art throughout the book. Also the book has many many large sections of white text on black background. I could tell that it would use a lot of ink to print this out, all 368 pages! So I ordered the actual book. . . .
. . . . When it arrived, It was extremely high quality, with a glossy cover that shows off Scrap Princess’ the way it was meant to be seen! The cover looks much better than the one of Maze of the Blue Medusa! There are not one, but, two ribbons attached to the book, a red one and a black one to mark two different spots. And the most commonly used charts are on the inside covers. And the pages are thick . . . almost thick as card stock! . . .
. . . but the book is smaller than expected . . . half-page sized. . . . even smaller than Maze of the Blue Medusa! It doesn’t fit with all my other RPGing books. Smaller pages means smaller print. Hard to read small print. The pages are not white, but grey and I have to turn on the lights brightly in order to read the book. Many of the White (gray) print on black background are hard to read. Also, there is a faint pattern on the pages that I initially thought was bleed-over of print from other pages. Also the pages are flat, not glossy. So Scrap Princess art (except the cover) does not look as good as the electronic version.
After I had had time to digest the book, I realized that there is a lot missing in the content. Several peoples are covered in the Cultures section. But there are no descriptions about what individual members of that race are like. Using this book will take a lot of extra work on my part. There is a table of 100 random encounters. But, to use the table, I will have to flesh out most of them. There is no equipment list telling how much do things cost. It is stated that meat is worth its’ weight in hours of Light. (silver equivalent) But how much are mushrooms? Are there extra big mushrooms that can be used to make things as a subsitute for wood? Or do you have to use large bone? How much is real wood worth as jewelry? How much are things from the surface worth, especially highly addictive things, like tobacco? If Light is money, how long does a candle last. How much oil will fit in a lantern? There are 20 different lamps listed. But no costs. Some of them are permanent or semi-permanent sources of Light. How much do they cost? How long do the various fuels last? And with 350+ pages, you would think they would be at least a sample village in a cave or mini-adventure.
In closing . . . I highly recommend this book as a reference. But not as book at the table. I plan to print out the tables and character sheets for use at the table though.