But I've read blogposts about Veins of the earth
Now you might think it's just a reskinned underdark, and you'd be right, but it's 'osr' so it's cool and W*zard of the Shoreline can **** my pulchritudinous wang(stats as ogre). But lets get into what makes this dumb cave dungeon so popular and gave it the title of 'The Dark Souls of OSR dungeons'
First off, it does away with the annoying aspects of real caves that would make them difficult to adventure in. In fact, the only 'cave generators' it supplies is a bag of cheetos and a link to Dyson Logos which is actually a pretty good deal, from a certain point of view. But it includes a lot of rules for caloric intake and cooking, and if there's one thing I've learned from watching my flatmate play overrated JRPG games, it's that a robust cooking minigame is the cornerstone of interesting gameplay. With the players entertained by pretending to eat fungus men with a side of cave lice, they won't even realize they haven't found any treasure in 3 sessions.
But let's give a breakdown of the dungeon.
Veins of the Earth, Level One
The entrance to the Veins is a one-way crack you have to wriggle through, leaving all your items behind and forever being unable to return. This may seem harsh, but it's actually great, because it's a 'fresh start' with an old character. The 'Intro level' of the Veins is pretty easy in theory, but in practice everyone's naked and wielding stirge-beak shanks, so it's actually pretty interesting. The players are supposed to take as much meat as they can kill from this first level, but if they're not genre savvy, they'll probably leave behind the meat of the 'Cave Goblins, Cave Bandits, and Dave Zombies(I'm not sure if that's a typo or a shoutout to one of the original playtesters of Veins who died on the first depth but I think it adds a lot to the game) and starve on level two.
Veins of the Earth, Level Two
This is where the real veins starts according to everyone. Every hall is described as a 'maze of twisty little corridors, all alike' and is all about IDing things before fighting them. Stuff like the deR0 (hacker dwarves who use leetspeak, they make more sense once you hit the gonzo crashed spaceship sublevel) and the Olm
|Statblocks a bit weird but totally compatible with the GLOG, so|
Veins of the Earth Level 3
This level gets some flak because it's the 'lava level' and it's honestly not deep enough to be in the mantle, but I forgive it because it has a LAVA KRAKEN.
'But Wiz,' you say, 'Isn't that just a lazily elemental reskin?'
The Lava Kraken is the sort of 'Boss fight' that some people think has no place in the OSR, but Skerples has done it again(the first time being his rad basilisk encounter) with this astounding fight.
First off, the scene is in a giant lava lake, where the lava kraken resides. There's an island of treasure with a dead dragon skeleton on it, but there's no way to get to it- or is there?
Ignoring spells or the (frankly lame) option to flood the lake with water from level 2 and seal the kraken inside cooled volcanic rock, the way to get the treasure is twofold- you can either navigate the stalactites over the lava lake (just don't grab a piercer) OR knock the stalactites loose(or piercers!) and use them as stepping stones to cross the lake. Of course, there's 8 magma tentacles trying to kill you during this, and then there's phase two, which I actually don't know what it is because I don't have the book. If someone DOES have Veins of the Earth, please leave a comment telling me what phase 2 of the lava kraken fight is.
Veins of the Earth Level 4
Here we got a twofold thing- a city of ghouls, and a crashed spaceship in the middle (the dEr0 are there)
This is all pretty much food based politics as far as I can tell. Feed ghouls to get hirelings, feed dEr0 to ghouls or let the dEr0 do whatever they do to advance their faction. I've heard people complain about the '1v1' aspect of the faction conflict but I'm pretty sure the Olm and Mindflayers are factions too. Also there's another weird option to flood the ghoul city with the lava from level 3 that actually turns into a 'gotcha' because that just turns them all into 'pyroclastic ghouls' which is cool but apparently has TPK'd most playtesters.
Remember I haven't actually read this, so a lot of this has been assembled via deductive reasoning. Or possibly inductive.
In any case, you got several veins to go down now, and some arteries too. There's the one that leads to the Paleontological Depths, which has stuff like fossil dinosaurs and your mom's prom dress and for some reason a lot of bird sublevels. Something about 'the three Bird Ages?' In any case I really think it's great that the players can do archaeology to learn more about the dungeon, and use radiocarbondating to determine monster stats within a 1-10000% degree of error. Because it's not just about running out of food and dying, it's about learning about a strange environment and mastering it. Speaking of, the Civilopede is here with it's P-zombie historians, so all in all this is the reward for thoughtful 'explorer' type players.
There's also the 'living vein' which is connected to Ymir's beating heart and is sorta a reminder of 'oh yeah, the VEINS of the earth' ya know? Anyway, it's like a 'go inside giant monster level' only it's all made of ice because Norse Myth. That's the sort of thing that reminds you it's a FANTASY setting, and that real-world considerations of cave delving are tots lame and you could never make good content out of them.
There's also what I've seen described as 'Furry Catholic Hell,' which is pretty much what you'd expect, only it's the Foxlings and Buglings and Slothlings trying to tempt you to sin while the demons act as the fun police. Apparently this section is nearly unplayable unless you have the FATAL tables to cross reference stuff, and since it's the intended 'respawn point' for slain characters, but I think that's a nice callback to old references to CHAINMAIL rules, and in the true spirit of the OSR.
Finally there's the Undersea, which has your giant crabs, mind-flayers-but-not-trademarked, dream whales (aka oneirocetaceans) and similar stuff. I believe it's meant to be Ymir's stomach, though I couldn't say for sure.
In anycase, it's important to note that these are all open-ended, so they're less of a dungeon 'end' and more of a 'Here be GM Improv' zone beyond them, which is nice in theory but in practice, basically just an excuse to put an advertisement for the 'Veins Hexcrawl' which you can only buy for $99.99 (plus tip) and by all accounts is the same as regular Veins of the Earth, just in a different layout.
In conclusion, I'd give this an 8/10, like skyrim but underground.