The year after Bloodstone Pass came out, H2 The Mines of Bloodstone came out. One thing had changed: This was a direct sequel to the former module, and there were definitely going to be more after this (whether they knew at this point it would be a four module series is not said).

Something else important changed: There’s no BattleSystem logo on this one. There’s one mention in the back blurb of “optional” BattleSystem scenarios. Which is entirely correct; any wargaming adventurers going through this one are in for a big let down. Instead, other newer, cooler, products are called out: the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide and the Wilderness Survival Guide. The adventure instead featured an extremely tough dungeon environment which allowed a reversion to the typical 32-page adventure book, though it is worth noting that (contrary to usual practice) the cover was stapled to the book. There’s several maps, many of which are in the isometric format introduced in the DSG.

At this point one could wonder if the H series was just a way to show off the latest new product, and convince people they really wanted to get them. In practice, there’s no crying need for either of the new hardbacks, and the need for the WSG is very minimal. The actual need for the DSG is also fairly minimal, but at the same time it was essential to writing the module. The DSG had discussed the idea of sprawling linked cavern complexes under the entire game world, called variously ‘deepearth’ and ‘underdark’, and this module, co-authored by the author of the DSG, featured a corner of what was explicitly just that.

This is still before the Forgotten Realms became a TSR property, and the setting is ‘anywhere you wish to drop in the countries involved’. However, the background became more concrete in this installment. Vaasa was ‘ruled by a Witch-King of incredible power’ in H1, but now this is expanded upon with Vaasa being a barren wilderness until the coming of Zhengyi a little more than 10 years ago. After that comes some quick notes on the module, and the lead ins for if the players have or have not been through H1.

And that’s where the inconsistencies begin.

(Caution: I’m headed into spoiler territory here.)

Thankfully, it’s never anything really game breaking, but there’s a handful of problems throughout the module. The first one is probably the biggest: The module starts with the basic rundown of the next couple months after the end of H1, as a harsh winter settles over the valley. Thanks to all the fighting, the harvest was delayed, and now heavy rains and an early freeze have ruined some of it before it can be brought in, leaving the village short of food for the winter. But wait, H1 had a nice schedule that explicitly said the harvest was completed right before the party arrives. After all, the bandits don’t come calling until the villagers have done all the work so they can take it from them, and fighting starts at that point.

So, the first thing the DM gets to do is figure out how to short the village of food. If part of the village got torched during the fighting (likely), that can explain it. Also, if the party hired troops to help out (possible), there’s extra mouths to feed. Otherwise….

Bloodstone Village only gets three pages of detailing this time, repeating the brief profiles and random villager tables, plus an updated map. The local dwarf, centaur, and halfling communities are each introduced in a little under a page each this time, including a map, important people, BattleSystem info, and a small encounter/adventure that could happen if/when the party visits.

The module purposely starts slow, with worries about the winter, wolves, and some minor annoyances before a night attack on the village attempts to jump-start the plot. It certainly provides a nice little mystery that might take a few (bloody) nights to solve. Intelligent players shouldn’t have any trouble figuring out Orcus is involved (they may not know what to make of what they’re finding, but the obvious questions will lead to answers). Making the jump to the abandoned mines (that may not have even been seen—though they are part of the background—in H1) seems tenuous to me. Okay, they were important, and they were abandoned when something evil was found in there, but does that really have anything to do with vampires and warg attacks? The fact that Bloodstone needs money, and reopening the mines would produce a lot of money, seems a safer bet to motivate the PCs to check them out, which will draw them into the rest of the adventure, but there’s no direct link.

The mines themselves are where the module gets going, but there’s minor consistency problems again. The box canyon the mine entrances are in is only mapped in H1, but that implies they’re on the north side (the compass rose is missing), but the entrances lead to the west here. Past that, there’s problems every time you go from one map to another, and the connections don’t match up right. They can all be explained easily enough, but feels like they were all written separately and then stuck together. There’s one passage that goes off-map and and off into the deepearth map in the DSG in here, but it has nothing to do with the current module, and there’s no good mechanism for steering the players straight if they divert down it (“if the PCs are still plodding along, have them meet a beholder”).

The general goal is to find the svirfneblin (gesundheit) kingdom in exile and get them to attack a duergar city in a massive diversion while the PCs sneak into the Temple of Orcus. This can be played out in BattleSystem, and stats are given, but there’s no particular need to, as the PCs are presumed off doing their high-level dungeon stuff instead of taking part.

After that, comes the main course: the Temple of Orcus. It’s big, it’s tough, it has magical protections to keep the players from short-circuiting things. (Which is generally fine; a big temple to a major demon lord should have magical protections in place. I just wish things like that were handled a bit more systematically for the world at large, instead of feeling like a band-aid.) And in classic fashion, the party arrives (one hopes) right as a ritual to summon Orcus into the world is starting! …And there’s no hint that this is about to happen in the rest of the module. I mean, what makes now special, as opposed to, oh, say, a month ago?

Okay, that’s a list of complaints and inconsistencies. In general, these are actually fairly minor to the flow of the module, but it means the module needs a bit of massaging before being truly ready to go. This is really just a bigger, badder dungeon module. It has some good pacing, with local problems escalating all the way up to a very bad, and immediate, problem. Of course, if you’re expecting something different from a high-level module (like H1), then this will be a disappointment.

Now, back above ground in the valley, the dwarves and centaurs got BattleSystem info, but the module pretty much states outright it’ll never be used. (The halflings also get BattleSystem info, but there is a small battle for them (only) to take part in.) There’s also a couple sample battle maps given for the underground that are part of the section on the big battle, but aren’t directly referenced in the text. One of them looks to be far inside the main cavern, away from any battle that would naturally get fought. I’m wondering if we’re seeing fragments of a much more complicated campaign to fight an army up to the temple so the party can get in and do their heroic thing, which got cut to make room for a really, really, big temple. The latter was probably a safer bet for the general TSR audience, but it means the module is nothing special.