Heart of the Sunken Lands

By Rudy Kraft
Midkemia Press

About six hundred and fifty years ago, invaders from the Empire of Tsuranuanni, on the planet Kelewan, used powerful magic to open a “rift” through space and time to Midkemia. The invaders were repulsed but only after a long, hard and bloody nine-year struggle (the First Rift War). One of the more significant disruptions of that war was the wholesale retreat of the Moredhel, called the Brotherhood of the Dark Path, from their long time homelands in the Grey Towers mountains and the great forest called The Green Heart, as they were driven before the invading Tsurani. Almost all the surviving Moredhel fled to the Northlands, to join with their brethren in safety behind the great mountain ranges to the north of the Kingdom.

This 182 page adventure, originally published in 1983, contains the rules for resource extraction from a jungle-like area known as The Sunken Lands. If you want a resource extraction game, and over a hundred pages of movement and encounter tables then this one is for you!

This is an adventure from 1983 that has been retyped for 2023. You’ve got this giant giant GIANT sunken area of land, the titular Sunken Lands, filled with a jungle, swamps, and a mountain range. A kind of Lost Valley without the dinosaurs. There’s a hex map of the valley that spans a couple of pages. (This is one of the very few (only?) parts that does not seem to have been updated, but rather scanned in from the original product. This was a massive mistake as the entire thing is blurry. You COULD run from it, but also you’re going to be bitching the entire time.) And then there’s the random encounter table. This is similar to the one in the back of the 1e DMG: percentages rolled on a terrain type. The encounters are things like “animal” or “”insects” or “humans” or “gems/minerals” or “water feature.” Then you roll on a subtable, or three to determine the nature of the water feature, the gems, or the animal type. Something like “crocodiles” or “insects” or something like that. And then the descriptions have the monster status and maybe a description/ecology. As per the early days, you’ll be doing the rest yourself.

Let us examine, if you will, a big hexcrawl map with terrain on it. Just like WIlderlands. With a random encounter table but WITHOUT the special hex descriptions. Take that …  and where does the interactivity come from? I don’t really think there is any in that  very basic model of terrain type and random encounter table. Widerlands, and most hex crawls, resolve this by having those special hex  descriptions … what most people would imagine a hex crawl is. This, though, posits another type of play: Resource Extraction.

Some of the encounter types on the encounter table are with trees or gems. And by trees lets think Ebony or other tree types. Wander in to the woods looking for Ebony trees and diamonds in those Arkansas mud fields. When you find them, harvest them and bring them back for ca$h. That is, I’m about 98% sure, the core loop of this adventure. But how to do you know where the uranium is? You can hire some guides/experts who have skills in geology, botany, and so on, and, working with the random tables, they get a percentage, when you find a potential resource hex, to say “hey, we should dig here.” Without those experts the chances are MUCH slimmer that you stumble upon a diamond on the surface, for example. So, we’re in a loop to dig up shit from the ground and find ebony trees and the like. (Not exactly what you can harvest, but close enough for this review without going in to the entire regional backstory.)

There are to locations in the region that are special, two different religious cults. One of them is a safe haven in the wilderness … with a secret. The other gives off hippy commune vibes (I think so anyway, it’s darker in the text) except they have headless slaves and worship a god that lives in a pit in the center of the village. Mostly chill, if you can get past the bizarro shit they do. Which the party will not be able to. Which is fortunate because the “dungeon” under their village (the only dungeon in the adventure) has the largest quantity of static wealth in the adventure. Like, you meet from very friendly people who turn out to be cannibals, but it’s all chill … unless you’re a redhead. You’re not a redhead are you?

So we’ve got a resource extraction scenario. But the supporting material for that is a bit week. Mining timelines, logistics, moving gear and resources. And, more importantly, the complications. If you look beyond the simple “wanderers” for any hex you’ve got to have more. You need rivals and other things going on that will add some spice to the game. There’s an attempt here to do that. We’ve a couple of rival “houses” that extract gems, for one, and wood, for another. (There are also a variety of interesting NPC”s for the party to hire, but we’re not looking at that.) What we need, here, are for those houses to meddle. For the supply base at the edge of the Sunken lands to have some intrigue. For some events and perhaps rough timelines present to help the DM initiate complications for the party to overcome. 

Otherwise we’ve got a simple extraction game with some tables for finding it and little for extraction. And it’s all regulated by a three page bullet list of things to roll for and check for for each day and hex that the party travel/explore/etc. That’s quite the system, even if you do roll a lot in advance.

This reminds me of … oh, what’s the board game … Magic Realm? A complex seriee of tables and rules for exploring and playing D&D by yourself, straight out of the 70’s. The time before computers. Magic Realm was really a computer RPG in boardgame form, much like many of the wargames in that time would have benefited from being computer games, due to their intense rules and tables and flows to follow. As a simulation of some exploration focused on resource extraction it would work better that way.

This is interesting in that it’s an early hex crawl that doesn’t have the features of a hex crawl and that it focuses on another element: people  looking to exploit natural resources. But, other than that it’s hard to look at it as a playable game, in the same way that a traditional hex crawl moves forward and drives gameplay. In spite of this the exploitation minigame and the hex movement elements are interesting on their own, as systems to steal from for a hex inspired game.

Oh, and the magic has a certain early T&T charm. “A scroll which contains a spell that will render the person invisible” and or a leather satchel with a wide mouth that you can store 10,000 coins in but will weigh only as much as one. Nice job there.

This is $6 at DriveThru. There i no preview 🙁


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4 Responses to Heart of the Sunken Lands

  1. Yolande d’Bar says:

    The Cities book by Midkemia has the best urban encounter tables ever made. I’ve been using it for city adventures for the last 40 years.

  2. John Paquette says:

    I agree on Cities.
    I have always planned to use the Sunken Lands book and combine it with the Expedition to the Barrier Peaks spacecraft, but I’ve never gotten around to it.

  3. Dimitri says:

    Great to see that Midkemia Press are now offering their products on Drivethru, but sad to see that Cities has no reviews.. I fully agree with the posts above that the Cities book is incredible. Certainly makes a great companion to Matt Finch’s Tome of Adventure Design and City Encounters and Melan’s Nocturnal Table.
    The way that Raymond E Feist’s Magician grew out of their campaign is also fascinating.

  4. I’ve asked my older sister countless times to format my computer because I’m experiencing lag in the game I play. Btw, this computer has been formatted 4-5 times. But whenever I ask my sister to format my computer, she says no because she says that if you format a computer too much, the computer itself gets slower than it already was. Is this true? Or is that an excuse to get out of formatting my computer because it takes away her 2-3 hours?.

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