Welcome back to our series of reviews of some of the works from the Fall 2020 RPG Writer Workshop. Each review will be followed with a brief chat with its author(s) where we will be delving a bit deeper into some of the aspects that most intrigued me. Every two days there will be a new review and mini-interview out, so keep tuned to discover some of the amazing things that these bright new authors are coming up with.
Spoiler warning: It is simply not practical to review a product without mentioning anything about it. I have attempted to remain vague where possible, however I can not guarantee that you will not learn something about the adventure by reading this review
Declaration of interest: This article contains affiliate links.
A Town Called Mud: The Haunted Mine by Benedict Hall
An adventure for D&D5e, included in RPG Writer Workshop bundle 4.
Leaning heavily into its Wild West setting, this adventure delivers on its promise of shaking up standard fantasy tropes. Advertised as “six-guns and sorcery”, A Town Called Mud: The Haunted Mine provides not only setting appropriate descriptions but also fonts, and even mechanics. Specifically, the author provides ways of manipulating luck during the adventure, such as shaking up initiative using a deck of cards. These little touches really make the Wild West influence come alive beyond just the descriptions.
The adventure itself is relatively simple in its structure, as its flair and sophistication can be found in its execution. The characters start in a town straight out of your favourite Western, complete with saloon, sheriff, and jail. There are a few touches to shake up some of the more traditional D&D tropes, such as goblins being friendly (if unscrupulous) and a pair of dwarf twins. Depending on exactly what adventure hook the characters follow, they will either make their way directly to the titular Haunted Mine, or they will make a brief detour by a halfling homestead. Whatever path they take, they will start to realise that something might not quite be normal when they are accosted by an unusual combination of attackers. The characters must then make their way through the mine, piecing together what has transpired, and face off against a very nasty boss in a climactic battle.
This boss battle against a wannabe lich is worth spending a bit of time on, as it highlights the way that this adventure has layered in little mechanical elements that shake up the normal flow effectively. The boss looses and gains abilities and power depending on if the characters have left his henchmen alive or not. This is an interesting way of doing things, as it means that killing all enemies may not end up being the best plan for the players. The boss fight also uses its environment to challenge the characters, as the ritual circle presents a danger to those that like to get up close and personal with enemies, and the increasing number of skeletons will make it hard for those that like to keep a distance. These different elements make the final fight chaotic, memorable, and provide an excellent example of how to finish on a high. The adventure is announced as difficult to deadly in terms of combat, and can definitely be observed here. Given this, it is quite helpful that the author has provided a conclusion detailing what happens if the characters fail, as well as if they win.
While there might be a few minor niggles (like certain title fonts not being the easiest to read, and players might need a bit of a push if they fail to pick up on clues), I think it is safe to say that this adventure delivers on all its promises, providing an immersive western experience adapted for D&D, culminating in a highly engaging final boss fight that should challenge even experienced players. All in all, a rip roarin’, rootin’ tootin’, whale of a time!
Behind the Screens
Howdy Benedict, and thanks for agreeing to this interview. We should probably start with what I’ve got to assume is the adventures biggest selling point: the setting. D&D in the Wild West. You’ve put in a lot of work to make the most out of the setting. You’ve chosen fitting fonts, you use words and phrases suitable to a Western film, and you’ve even proposed extra mechanics such as using a deck of cards rather than rolling for initiative. What made you want to set your adventure in such an iconic local?
Hi Sam, thanks for giving me the chance to throw some more of my thoughts out there! I’m actually trying not to use the term ‘setting’ when I’m referring to the adventure. I’ve had a homebrew world going in my head for a few years that I call Out West (with all the West Marches-style gameplay that implies), but for publishing on the DM’s Guild I tried to make the adventure setting neutral. I included ideas of ways to slot it into Forgotten Realms and Eberron. Instead, I’ve been thinking of it more a theme that the adventure boils down to – focusing on a couple of tropes from Westerns like desperation in industry, the ends of a gold rush (kind of), and the uncertainties and dangers of frontier life. The Dungeon Master’s Guide for 5e has all kinds of ideas for flavours of games and has rules for firearms, but it doesn’t really give any examples of how to use them other than ‘maybe put scifi in it like Barrier Peaks’. There’s actually a great piece of art that looks like a cowboy using a wand to defend a wagon train (my copy is page 29, I don’t know if that got moved around or not).Editors note: The image referenced is in the Dungeon Masters Guide – Chapter 1: A World of Your Own – Campaign Events – World-Shaking Events – 4. Assault or Invasion
Firearms have a complicated history in D&D. You’ve made an interesting mix in this adventure, where you have included mechanical guns, but also the Boomstick, which is a magical staff. What was the reasoning behind having a mix, rather than going one way or another?
Again, it was probably that piece of artwork. I actually came up with the Boomstick straight away as a fun inclusion – it took me a lot longer to decide on whether I was going to use firearms or not, or if I wanted them to use different rules to the DMG. I mostly felt like having a more even split kept it as an adventure that was still recognisably D&D, even if it was doing something different too.
Your final boss is, in my opinion, a criminally underused monster: the Deathlock. You’ve also gone out of your way to find some more exotic undead to shake things up a bit, notably Zoblins! Throughout the adventure there are suggestions to change up the enemies that the characters face, to suit how hard the DM wants to make it. Why provide the choice here, rather than just proposing one option and leaving it up to the DM to modify things on their own if they really want to?
Well first off, let’s address the Deathlock. The reason I picked that as an element was I wanted a low-level undead boss that was similar to a lich, but because liches are so high level, I ended up trawling through books for a while before I found that. I’d somehow missed them before, but I’ll be using them regularly now! Now, for the choices. Basically, I wanted to write an adventure that teenage me could pick up, read through and still have an easy time changing, without feeling overwhelmed with having to trawl other books. I’ve been DMing for over 20 years. I still pull stuff out of old 2e books if I want to beat metagamers (which doesn’t always work, I game with some grognards too). But because I’ve got that chunk of experience, I know I’d be able to adapt the encounters more or less on the fly. But I used to be absolutely terrible at that! A few of the options were written as ways to stay thematic (dire coyotes, mountain lions, different kinds of bandits) and the others for ease of running the thing (so many swarms!).
Since we’re on the subject of monsters, there is a part in the adventure where teeth are used to raise skeletons. Is this a reference to the dragon teeth from Jason and the Argonauts, or was the inclusion of Greek myth unintentional?
Completely intentional. I loved that scene on Colchis, and when I decided I wanted undead malevolence I immediately thought of summoning skeletons with teeth.
Why did you chose D&D as the system for this adventure, rather than something that might appear more adapted to the subject? Deadlands is obviously the first to spring to mind.
I’ve been playing mostly D&D for a few years now, and strangely I’ve never played any Deadlands (I’ve read a lot of it). But I also played a lot of d20 Modern years ago, and I own a d20 supplement called Sidewinder Recoiled from back in the early 2000s that probably had a bit of an influence too. As I said, I’ve been thinking about this kind of theme within D&D for a while (I’ve also been working on a Space Viking setting for at least 5 years), so had a good feeling it could still work out well.
Finally, “A Town Called Mud: The Haunted Mine”. The colon in the title is tantalising. Are we to look forward to other adventures in the “A Town Called Mud” series? Or do you want to head out in another direction?
Yes, that colon was there for a reason. I’ve started working on a sequel involving an election for a new mayor in Mud but it’s pretty early days. I’m taking a break from adventure writing currently and I’m most of the way through a supplement of thematic items for Six-guns and Sorcery adventures. So far suggestions for which magic items fit the theme, some ideas for mundane items (portable soup, yum!), and then I’m working on some magic items myself. The spurs of steed summoning are my favourite idea so far, though the gunbelt of Gond is a close second. As for other directions, a lot of the stuff I have half-written currently involves planar adventures and I have an idea that might fit into a Theros or planar adventure to Olympos, but I’m keeping quiet on that whilst I work on other stuff.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Only that I’d love for everyone to check out my adventure, and everyone else from the RPG Writer Workshop. People should definitely be picking up the bundles. If people want to ask me anything about the adventure, they can find me on Twitter at @baelion or my website jotjotiota.com has a lot of other stuff I’ve written going back 10 years.
Thank you again, and I hope that we get to see many more adventures from you in the future!
Until next time, be more kind,