Review: Mines, Claws, & Princesses
Mines, Claws, & Princesses is an OSR / Classic D&D style adventure module that is compatible with 5E and I have many feelings. Okay, this is probably the hardest review for me to write yet. For the most part I have looked through modern, indie games and adventures. I am on board with the more modern trends in tabletop gaming, but I do recall the things that initiated me into this world. Monsters are evil, treasure is good, and dungeon crawls are awesome. Wanting to get into the review at hand, I want to say this product is not for me, for a few reasons, but in no way am I trying to attack the creator and those who enjoyed this. I even went through a couple reviews praising this module to balance some of my more overbearing thoughts. With that in mind, let’s get into this.
This is a classic old-school style adventure module. It is page after page of rooms and encounters centered around a single major problem. Simply put, orcs interrupt a wedding by kidnapping the princess and the princess’s father calls on heroes to go save her and defeat the orcs. It is simple and driving. It is easily the kind of thing that makes putting an adventure into your campaign easy. It is accessible and it even provides some extra ways to hook in your players. There are plenty of good story details in there without beating you over the head with lore and insight. Personally, I like more explanation than the crowd this module is aimed for, but the way they are included in the older modules and new ones like this is a skill to emulate.
This is where I have a lot of problems with this product. It isn’t the design (landscape is an interesting choice), it isn’t that the product doesn’t have high production value (nice job doing all the art yourself including lots of well done maps!). My problem with this product is that it, and even the full review of it I read, is a heavy handed attempt to be just like some of the oldest modules that are out there for D&D. It isn’t that this product is designed to be OSR in a 5E world. The problem I have is that it doesn’t walk that line very well. Okay, I get it, you don’t want the narrative-based, complex, and meant-to-be helpful intros of modern adventures. That’s fine, you don’t need it for this module. But there is nothing to explain what certain things mean, ahead of or within context. Sure, I can guess that (F) and (T) mean false and true in the rumor section and it might be nit picky but making the first instance actually say (False) and (True) would be nice and these are aspects that get worse from here. There is no age warning and, much as I swear in may daily life, I did not expect to have such language just casually tossed in. Nor did I expect to just go whole-hock savage and naked orcs complete with revealing images. It’s not that act that I even necessarily have a problem with, it’s that I had no idea it was coming. I’m not sure it was really necessary to frame most orc images to feature such revelations either.
Mostly I would like to see this product cleaned up. I don’t want a product that reads like a transcript of the DM running the adventure he has made. I don’t see the point in including things like laxative potions and hidden erotica, and those things only increase the need to warn the people buying it. There are elements here that lend well to making this appeal to more people. There is an appendix that includes some basic instructions on changing the length or flavor of the adventure. Hells I really appreciate the simplistic approach that allows A LOT of material to fit in this space. Things are named, described, and basic mechanics given for dozens upon dozens of things. All of it has no background, lore, or necessity. It is all fruit for the taking to build up and out from. I really love that. But let’s ease back a little on the casual tone of some of it maybe? The casual including of swears as part of descriptions and the needlessly immature inclusions of things like laxative potions are among those unnecessary to make this a good OSR-styled game. The writing could also use some tidying up. Is it narrative? Some reads like a narrator telling the story and other sections do not. Words like corvid are well used but “marco polo hat” is a phrase in there that could at least use some capitalizing.
To me this is a rough product that is trying too hard to be an 80s module. It hits a lot of good strides in stylization and minimalism. I love the inclusion of a sci-fi-esque crystal hologram that could lead places later in the campaign. But the aloof presentation of swears, hidden erotica, nude savages, and more all make this feel less like the well-executed love letter to OSR style dungeons the product could be and more like a nostalgia filled trip to actually being in a basement during high school. Sure the games, mechanics, styles, and desires of much of D&D has changed over the years and a lot of people seek out the feeling of mean, simple, dungeon crawling goodness. Some of the stuff that we got rid of we don’t need back though. I won’t deny the potential here, it just feels like it comes from a place that wants to tell people why their D&D is bad rather than showing what is good about theirs.