The Magonium Mine Murders

By James Holloway
Gonzo History Project
Level -  No One Seems To Care Anymore (4)

Strange noises in the mine. Bandits on the roads. A counterfeiting scheme, a crooked prizefight racket, a rebellion in the making … and a cold-blooded murder. Times are hard in the Halbek Valley, and your player characters are right in the middle of it all.

This 28 page adventure details a small area with a few things going on … including a MUUUUURRRder! It’s calling itself a “cluebox” to point out that its a non-linear mystery. I’m just gonna call it an adventure. It’s got the right ideas, it just needs to figure a few more things out before it is able to be something I would run.

There’s a proper amount of detail, and way to organize the information, for each type of adventure. Traditional room/key works great for an exploratory dungeon and less well for describing the businesses in town, for example. When you are doing a social adventure then the format and the way you organize the information for the DM must be changed yet again. What the designer is trying to do is be able to facilitate the DM running the adventure … and that means organizing the information in different ways for different goals. 

And that’s what this adventure gets right. It understands the more fluid and open-ended nature of an investigation/mystery. And thus the designation of a “cluebox” … I could do without the term but I understand the why of using it … this is a sandbox. As most things should be. 🙂  It’s got its own problems, but, fundamentally, its got the right style, the right way of organizing the information for play. It just falls down a bit on the execution.

We’ve got a town. Two twins actually, old town and new town. With two sheriffs, once for each. And a mine. Worked by miners. And by forced prison of war labour. Some miners are getting killed in side the mine. Ought oh! And the POWs are about to rebel … they got a tribal mixed in with them and are hoarding weapons in hiding. And the mine chief just got murdered! And there are bandits in the woods that have just gotten more violent. And there’s a  counterfeiting ring underway with ties to the mine. And there’s a dude in massive debt cause of illegal shit and he owes money and someone else wants their money. And there’s some prizefighting giong on … along with some fixin. I don’t know … I think I hit all of the major subplots? 

So, (A) that’s a fuck ton going on! I love it! And (B), you NEED a lot going on in one of these. There needs to be things to figure out. Everything can’t be a gun laying on the table. Anyway …

We get an overview of all the little subplotty things. Cool. Now I’m oriented to the information to come! Then there’s a little section on getting started. Meh. This ia weak part of the adventure. These are, essentially, the hooks. And they imply things. The two sheriff thing? It appears as a four sentence hook. Thats all you’re ever gonna get on it. It’s GOOD. But, also, not always straightforward to working it in. And this is the problem with all of the things going on. They seem a little hard to stumble on. I guess the mine, as the central point of things, might lead to most of them, but, still, it’s a little tenuous. There needs to be just a little more. Instead of the two sheriffs thing being a hook, for example, we need a couple of thrown in events in town. Maybe a page of town events that include things like the sheriff. Or a list of themes for the DM to hit, like, “Im telling the other sheriff!” and so on. Something a little more explicit. Hot a railroad. Not hand holding. But a little more local colour. 

We then get a brief little overview of each of the main locations. I thin each of the towns take one page, so, not excessive in any way. A few random things, a local business of import, and thats it. Its just about the right amount of detail. Just about. Again, the local color is weak. Yes, there a small table for each location of encounters, and gossip if appropriate, but, it just doesn’t frame the situation. There IS an attempt to frame things. For New Town we get “Once a small village, now a party spot for miners, filled to the brim with sutlers, gamblers, swindlers, pickpockets, palm-readers, prizefighters, quacksalvers and drunks. Everything is pricey.” So, you get where the designer wants to go. But you’re not inspired. You want to provide something that makes people think “Deadwood” from the Tv show, or some such. You want something that the DM can hang their hat on, and the relatively weak description given just isn’t it. Nor is it represent for any of the locales. But, also, the level of detail for the towns IS correct and yes, there SHOULD be a framing. The framing is just not too good at doing its job.

And, those sites? The ones without a good framing? They are generally at the correct level of detail. The mines don’t try to map things out fully, just a general cross-section is given with some notes. Great. Perfect. Thats what you need. But, then, when you get to an actual dungeon location (and there are a couple) you get the same level of detail. The designer doesn’t understand that the rules of the game have changed. You now need a little more detail. We’re no longer riffing at a “mine” level, we’re riffing at a “room two” level and thus the need for a little more evocative information.

Finally, get a section on the NPC’s. About three per page, with a little drawing, so they are not overstaying. A little overview that is generally a sentence long. What they know and their Suspicious Activity. With key phrases bolded. I get it. I don’t thin it works. Or, rather, I think you need more here. I think you need a true overview reference sheet of a page with the key sht on it to remind you, to reference during play. And the bolded shit don’t work, i think, Maybe bullets. You need it super clear. Finally, the Suspicious activity section? I don’t know about this … I support it, in principal, but, you need a way to introduce it in to the play, and I’m not sure that What They Know for one person matches up to the Suspicious Activity of another. Without it, how do you know what to introduce? 

At 28 pages this is a pretty efficient adventure for what’s going on. I can find nary an example of useless padding of text. It’s all relevant. To a degree that is unusual in an adventure. The framing overviews of the areas, essentially evocative writing for them, is a miss. I can understand that, evocative writing is hard, but, also, it needs to be there. Whats more of an issue for me if the NPC summaries and the hooks and what they know/suspicious activity shit. This should all be the heart of the adventure. The asking around. Poking about. Plying people with drinks, and so on. The adventure needs just a little more in this area. I don’t know, maybe, three more pages in total? But focused, on brining those aspects to life. In hooking things together more and allowing the DM to quickly reference “side shit going on” in a casual way during play. 

So, I don’t hate this. It got the basics down for a style of adventure that is hard to do. But, also, I’m not running it. It’s gonna be too much work to prep the way it is and is a little dry for me.

This is $7 at DriveThru. Ain’t no preview Or fucking level range! Fuck you man, put both of them there so we can know what were buying before we buy it!

(Also, there’s a little bit of “Magical Society” shit thats present that seems out of place. Why have magic tokens or a magical ore? I don’t think you need either?)

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4 Responses to The Magonium Mine Murders

  1. Gnarley Bones says:

    Kudos on the cover. I enjoy it when there’s effort to commit to the piece.

    Mysteries are hard to pull off in D&D, where speaking with plants, animals, *the dead* can be done. I’m guessing, then, lower level to gimp some of those mystery-obstacles?

  2. Anonymous says:


  3. Artem of the Floating Keep says:

    Speak of mystery adventures, till hoping that you would eventually get to review The Queen of Spades someday…

  4. Reason says:

    Sounds like this author is edging toward a really good format for mystery rpg/D&D modules and has some of they key pieces in place.

    I kinda hope they try again sometime. I’m not great at running them instinctively but I am interested in running more mystery type sessions.

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