Mastering the Depths: Enhancing RPG Mines
- Mastering the Depths: Enhancing RPG Mines
- Adventure Seeds
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Mastering the Depths: Enhancing RPG Mines
Sometimes, a couple of extra details makes all the difference in helping players imagine our encounters and take interesting actions.
RPT GM Chris N. sent me some great insights into the complexities of running a medieval or fantasy RPG mine. We can use these fantastic details to flesh out our descriptions, encounters, and adventures.
Mines in a medieval fantasy RPG setting need more detail than just tunnels. There are a host of things that an underground mine requires to function. Here are a few items, concepts, and thoughts about how it all works. Note that I’m focusing on the stereotypical underground mine shaft in the hills.
In medieval times, most mines sought ‘native’ ore. That is, a literal vein of metal through the rock. The tunnels twisted and followed these veins in often random fashion.
First thing you need is a large staging area outside the mine. This will house the camp that workers eat and sleep at, as well as provide space for ore processing. You’ll need said workers of course, and that means access to fresh water, food, and basic camp supplies. Tents at first, then moving to timber framed cabins and long houses.
The act of transporting materials to and from the mine must also be considered. This can be a road, but the volume of materials a mine transports will benefit from water transport. Either way, that transportation route must be put in place.
Tools, Operation & Maintenance
As the mine is dug, tools need repair and replacing, bracing must be constructed, and material brought out. The camp outside will need a carpenters space, blacksmith and machining shop, as well as a quarry space for crushing and breaking the rocks from the tunnels.
If refining is to be done on site, then an extensive system of melting pots, coal fire furnaces, skimming rakes, pouring sluices, ingot molds, cooling racks, and even alchemical shop are needed.
Within the tunnels, a variety of tools and equipment are needed: bores, drills, chisels, hammers, wedges, picks, and other hand tools to break the stone walls and tunnel a little further.
Then the rocks must all be removed. By wheelbarrow is labor intensive, but works for shallow shafts. As the tunnels deepen, hand carts or box carts pulled by stout mules usually get used (consider the space and food needs of these animals in the camp area outside).
The deepest mines will see mechanical devices used, such as platform lifts, winches, conveyors, or tracks for carts. These systems need a dedicated crew to operate and repair them, with also a basic workshop space for repairs and maintenance supplies.
Sorting & Processing
Typically, ore pieces will be sorted within the mine so that each full cart can be unloaded in a specific area. Tailings are useless – they are just rock that’s in the way. These go to a quarry pile, and are often used to enlarge the camp space over time.
Ore has enough metal in it to warrant processing, so it will be taken to a crusher to break down the rock to allow smelting. This whole process will involve crushing the rocks with hand tools or mechanical pounders. Then washing the material in large pots or barrels. The mud is strained out and sieved (or panned) for metals, but the majority of the crushed rock now goes to the refiners for melting, purifying, and casting. More of the tailings with no metal will be sorted out, and then the ore is sent to the furnaces.
Back into the tunnels, aside from spaces to conduct sorting, there needs to be spaces for tools to be stored, carts to be staged, and workers to rest. Ventilation holes must be bored or dug, and a means of moving air becomes important as the tunnels deepen.
Mine shafts also constantly seep water. A mine will flood if this water isn’t dealt with. Pumps or powered water wheels can be used in large mines. Smaller spaces may need a dedicated crew of haulers to regularly sluice out the deepest shafts.
The tunnels themselves will not be neatly laid out because they follow the ore, but as the mines get deeper, workers will widen and expand areas to accommodate the workers’ needs underground. Food and water stores will be brought in, rather than having miners walk an hour out to get their meal. Such tunnels will have a simple serving space and tables.
Likewise, tools will be placed in storehouses within the mines so a broken pick can be swiftly replaced. Whatever system is being used to haul the ore and tailings around will also need its maintenance space moved underground.
Once the shafts are deep enough, it may even be necessary to put sleeping quarters underground, though this is rare.
Another consideration is Mother Nature (or whatever she’s called in your game world). As you dig tunnels, you’re likely to encounter challenges. Tunnels will encounter voids (’empty’ rooms with no other exit that can have rare creatures, be filled with toxic fumes, or be a resting place for an elemental).
Entire cavern complexes can be found, with underground streams carving out huge caverns, narrow tunnels, pools, grottos and all manner of ecosystems.
Other difficulties can include magma pockets, a change in rock strata, or a competing race of miners.
Finally, back on the surface, the ore brought out must be refined, typically by melting and skimming out impurities. This process requires a steady fuel supply for a melting furnace and a large space for the refinery itself, which will include the furnace and bellows, skimmers, large melting pots, pouring sluice or channel, and molds to cast ingots or specific forms.
Due to these requirements, the ore is often shipped to a nearby city for refining.
Thank you for the fantastic details, Chris! When I build my next mine adventure, this will help me map and flesh things out very well.
RPT GMs, I fed Chris’s tips to Zorgon, the AI we recently added to Campaign Logger, and then asked him for related adventure seeds. Here’s what Zorgon gave me, with some tweaks from me:
1. Haunted Depths
The restless spirits haunting the mine are not vengeful but are actually trying to guide the miners to a hidden chamber containing ancient wisdom. The players must decipher the spirits’ messages and navigate supernatural trials to unlock the secrets that can aid both the mine and the spirits themselves.
Twist: The spirits are not trying to guide the miners but are actually trapped souls seeking redemption. To free them, the players must unravel their tragic past and make amends, bringing peace to the haunted depths.
2. Quest for Silver
The PCs are hired to find a rich silver vein located deep within treacherous hills. They must navigate challenging terrain, deal with rival mining companies, and protect the valuable silver from thieves and bandits who would stop at nothing to claim it.
Twist: The rich silver vein is not just a source of wealth but is actually a sacred site of an ancient silver dragon. The players must pass the dragon’s tests and prove themselves worthy while avoiding the greedy grasp of rival mining companies.
3. The Mystery of the Abandoned Mine
A once-thriving mine suddenly fell silent years ago, and its secrets beg to be unraveled. The party is hired to investigate the eerie circumstances surrounding the abandoned mine. They must uncover the fate of the miners, confront supernatural occurrences, and discover the truth hidden within its depths.
Twist: The silence of the mine was caused by an otherworldly entity that possesses the ability to manipulate time. The players must uncover the entity’s true nature, navigate temporal disturbances within the mine, and prevent it from using its powers for destructive purposes.
4. Mining Guild Dispute
A dispute between rival mining guilds threatens to escalate into an all-out war. The players are enlisted as mediators to find a peaceful resolution, while navigating the treacherous dynamics between the guilds, uncovering underlying motives, and preventing a devastating conflict that could cripple the region’s economy.
Twist: The rivalry between the mining guilds is a mere distraction from a much larger conspiracy. The players must uncover the truth behind an influential noble’s plot to collapse the region’s economy, using the rivalry as a convenient cover.
5. Stolen Quarry
A stone quarry vital for a nearby mining operation has become the site of smuggling and illegal operations. The characters are tasked with exposing the criminals, shutting down the illegal activities, and ensuring the quarry continues to operate.
Twist: The smuggling activities in the quarry are an elaborate facade for a secret society using the stone to construct a powerful golem. The players must expose the society, prevent the golem’s activation, and protect the quarry’s resources from falling into the wrong hands.
6. Essence of Gems
A prestigious jeweler seeks the rarest and most radiant gems to adorn exquisite jewelry for a royal celebration. The player characters are recruited to explore remote mines, face dangerous conditions, and retrieve the highly sought-after gemstones. However, they soon discover that a malevolent figure desires the gems for their dark purposes, leading to a race against time to protect the mines and the kingdom’s reputation.
Twist: The stunning gemstones are not just rare treasures but also conduits of elemental energy. The players must uncover an ancient prophecy foretelling a cataclysm if the gems are misused and find a way to harness their power for the kingdom’s protection.
7. Sabotaged Transport
Investigation into a sabotaged transportation network reveals an inside job orchestrated by a group of miners dissatisfied with their working conditions. The players must uncover the truth, address the miners’ concerns, and prevent further acts of sabotage.
Twist: The acts of sabotage were orchestrated not by dissatisfied miners but by a clandestine group seeking to destabilize the region for their own political agenda. The players must navigate political intrigue, expose the conspirators, and restore order to the transportation network.
8. Competing Miners
Rival miners are not seeking riches but instead are a group of refugees searching for a new home. The players must navigate a delicate balance between the rights of the refugees and the rights of the mine’s original owners, all while maintaining order in the camp.
Twist: The rival group of refugees is not as innocent as they seem. They serve as a front for a criminal organization using the mine as a cover for illegal activities. The players must infiltrate the group, expose their true intentions, and protect the rights of the original mine owners.
9. Treacherous Terrain
The mine’s collapse was not a natural occurrence but an elaborate trap set by a cunning group of bandits who seek to lay claim to the mine’s riches. The players must not only rescue the trapped miners but also outsmart the bandits, uncover their true identities, and bring them to justice.
Twist: As the party delves deeper into the mine and confronts the bandits, they discover that the leader of the bandits is not among them. Instead, they find a series of intricate and ancient marionettes in a hidden chamber of the mine. These marionettes are magically animated and have been controlling the bandits against their will. The true puppeteer is a reclusive enchanter who lives in a nearby mountain, using the marionettes to manipulate people and events from a distance. The players must decide whether to confront this enchanter or find a way to break his magical control over the bandits.
10. Elemental Forge
The hidden forge is not just a place of power but also a sentient entity capable of forging weapons imbued with elemental spirits. The players must earn the forge’s trust and complete a series of challenging trials to prove themselves worthy of wielding its extraordinary creations.
Twist: The forge’s sentience is split among the four primary elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. To earn the forge’s trust, the players must not only complete trials but also mediate a disagreement among the elements, which have become discordant over time.
11. Dwarven Ancestral Mine
As the players reclaim the ancestral mine, they discover that the mine itself holds the key to unlocking a gateway to the realm of the long-lost dwarven ancestors. They must navigate a series of trials, appease ancient spirits, and reunite the fragmented dwarven clans to reclaim their former glory.
Twist: The mine’s key to the ancestral realm is a living descendant of the original dwarven clan founders. This individual, unaware of their lineage, lives in a distant city, and the players must find and convince them to return to the mine to unlock its secrets.
12. Elusive Vein
The elusive vein holds not only valuable ore but also a dormant celestial being trapped within the rock for centuries. The players must protect the mine from celestial cultists who seek to awaken and control the celestial being for their own evil purposes. Twist: The celestial being is not dormant by accident; it chose to imprison itself to prevent its immense power from falling into the wrong hands. Awakening it might have dire consequences, and the players must decide whether the risk is worth the potential reward.
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