Wednesday 12 April 2017

The History of the Veins of the Earth

EDIT: So it is live, click the image to go to the LotFP site to purchase.

If you want the PDF on it's own you can get that HERE.

For anyone unfamiliar with the idea of 'Veins of the Earth' or who thinks its either that computer game that comes up when you google the phrase, or just the original quote from The Tempest, here is what it is.

This is a book that has been in production a looooog time. Longer than any other work I have done. Investigating its origins takes us way back to near the dawn of this blog. To illustrate this, here's a brief rundown of my publishing history;

August 2011 - I get my first laptop and, within a few days, create False Machine.

16th October 2012 - In a comment below this post we see the first public mention of the idea in a conversation with David.

18th October 2012 - I accept Davids Challenge, he will create what ends up being Yoon-Suin and I will write Veins and we will RACE TO THE FINISH LINE.

December 2012 - January 2013 - many of the Veins monsters were created in this period. If you check out the tag 'Veins' in the sidebar, or just click through to the period in question you can still see them there.

9th February 2013 -

21st June 2013 - Zak first contacts me to propose the thing that eventually becomes Maze of the Blue Medusa.

3rd October 2013 - Zzarchov Kowalski first contacts me to propose the thing that eventually becomes Deep Carbon Observatory. Another guy with a 'Z' name, interesting.

26th October 2013 - The first Maze of the Blue Medusa draft is finished.

6th June 2014 - The first Veins of the Earth test print is created. I have never actually seen a copy of this print since, when I created it, I couldn't afford to buy myself a copy. I think everyone else in the production got one though.

24th June 2014 - Fire of the Velvet Horizon first proposed, as I remember as a 'simple' project to do after DCO. It turned out to be about five times as large.

8th July 2014 - Deep Carbon Observatory released.

5th March 2015 - Yoon-Suin released to universal acclaim. David CRUSHES ME LIKE THE ANT I AM. VICTORY IS HIS. He loses the $10 he bet on me to win.

8th March 2015 - Fire on the Velvet Horizon released. The world cries out; "Will there be a PDF?" and "I can't read this" to which we reply NO THERE FUCKING WON'T and I'M GENUINELY SORRY ABOUT THAT respectively

23rd September 2015 - Veins final edited  and multiply proof-read text is locked.

30th June 2016 - Maze of the Blue Medusa is released.

14th April 2017
- (the future) BOOM. Finally. You can now order Veins of the Earth. It's still going to take ten days to send as James forgot to order the packing materials.

So the times from conception to completion are;

  • VotE - 4 years, 6 months.
  • MotBM - 3 years.
  • DCO - 1 year, 9 months.
  • FotVH - 9 months!
So you can see, in a way, Veins is my first book, it's just the last one to come out.



Belive it or not it actually started off as an attempt to 'Vornheim' the Underdark, to provide a way to simulate complex underground spaces during play, so that you could adventure in them, in the same way that Vornheim helped you to do that for cities.

What it ended up as was my attempt to 'Vornheim' the Underdark encrusted with loads and loads and loads of extra stuff. So if your response to reading this blog is;

"My God I wish he would shut up and get to the point", then this might not be for you. If your response was "I would like more of that, with someone having gone over the prose a few times then packed the lot of it up with some really excellent and savage illustrations with high production values, and I'd like enough of it that, if I smacked someone in the face with it, I could break their nose, and I don't mind paying for it"


"Wow I really liked DCO but I wanted to go down that big chain at the end and I also wanted a whole world waiting for me down there, and I don't mind paying for it".

Then CONGRATULATIONS! This might be the thing for you!

Half of it is monsters, the other half mechanics and lists.

All of the monsters are individually illustrated by Scrap Princess. They are designed to be as original as possible, for a lot of things I drew on the Science of cave exploration and advancements in genetics that have taken place since the 1970's. The Archeans in particular are a race based upon Archean bacteria. The Knotsmen are based on my feelings about working as a call centre operator in the debt industry for several years. The empire of the Endoliths is based on taking train journeys to work in winter mornings where the whole world is dark but a lamp or a house-light burning in the distance encompasses a fragile globe of existance that seems to drift like a bubble on a dark sea, and on actual endoltihs.

The back end has rules for the creation of large scale underground maps, large cave complexes and smaller cave systems. There is a relatively novel and simple (one you do it a few times) method for creating small networks of caves as you play, for when players go off the map or just if you want to improv something.

There are rules for cannibalising your friends and a neat mechanic that unifies currency and light, giving you a sound reason to keep running around underground. 

And of course there are extensive rules for going insane. Also for getting mutated or 'altered' by your time beneath the earth. Oh and insanity itself is an actual psychic monster that hunts you through the dark, that's on top of all the other kinds of insanity.
I'll just show the contents page again.

It's about 100,000 words over more than 350 pages of A5. Scrap has art on nearly every double-page spread so it's an art book as well, some of it in black and white, some of it in colour. A few of her 'Cave Scenes' are amongst some of my favourite works that she has ever done.

Taken as a whole it's a pretty concentrated and intense wedge of culture. If it works it should be like a Stanley knife held to your eye.



Here's some of the books I have on record and that I can remember reading. The Richard Fortey books in particluar were a big influence on both this and on DCO.

  • De Animantibus Subterraneis by Georgius Agricola (first translated by Herbert Hoover, the U.S. President).
  • The Town Below Ground by Jan-Andrew Henderson.
  • London Under by Peter Ackroyd.
  • Tales From The Underground by David W. Wolfe.
  • Climbing Fit by Martyn Hurn & Pat Ingle.
  • Sand, A Journey Through Science and the Imagination by Michael Welland.
  • Subnature, Architectures Other Environments by David Gissen.
  • Cave Passages, Roaming the Underground Wilderness by Michael Ray Taylor.
  • Rabid, A Cultural History of the Worlds Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik & Monica Murphy.
  • Bound for Canaan, The Underground Railroad by Fergus M. Bordewich.
  • The Smoky God Willis Georger Emerson.
  • Underground Warfare 1914-1918 by Simon Jones.
  • The Underground Atlas by John Middleton & Tony Walthan.
  • The Descent by Jeff Long (an Airport novel gone bonkers).
  • The Dungeoneer's Survival Guide by Douglas Niles (my copy of this was chewed by rabbits).
  • Beneath Flanders Field by Peter Barton, Peter Doyle & Johan Vanderville.
  • Subterranean Worlds Inside Earth by Timothy Green Beckley (a great book THE dErO ARE REAL!!!!).
  • The Climbers Handbook by Garth Hattingh.
  • Periodic Tales, The Curious Lives of the Elements by Hugh Aldersey-Williams.
  • La Place de La Concorde Suisse by John McPhee.
  • Underground Worlds by Donald Dale Jackson (this is a lovely book if you can get your hands on it).
  • Blind Descent by James M. Tabor (factual but in prose style, utter glorious bullshit).
  • Trilobite! Eyewitness to Evolution by Richard Fortey.
  • The Earth: An Intimate History by Richard Fortey.


With luck this will be the last time I have to whore this out or include the 'Veins' tag in something. Those of you who have been following the progress of BFR will be happy to hear that it has reached the stage where even if I hang myself there is enough there for someone to produce a completed product so that will actually come out at some point.

If this does well (no idea if it will) we might one day go back underground. Right now I'm thinking either an Isles of the Imprisoned Moon book or a dErO book. But both of those will be SHORT. I am not making any more long RPG books for a good while. They drive me mad.


  1. "I am not making any more long RPG books for a good while. They drive me mad."

    ::looks at Google Drive::
    ::raises an eyebrow::

    Congrats on getting Veins out! Looking forward to checking it out when it drops.

    1. I mean, after that, obvs. After that, no long ones for a while.

  2. Just when I thought i saved enough money for Fire, you drop this. It has all it needs to dig an hole and set his home within my gaming heart.
    And dErO.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Both of those sound fantastic. Any hopes after of a return to the Nightmare Sea?

    1. I wana see the eternal Dwarven city module. Most badass idea ever


  6. What they said! Perfect timing too; my group is going through 6 months of "scoping" the underdark from DCO before venturing forth.

  7. This is an achingly good book. Maybe the best roleplaying book I've ever seen (I'm reading it in PDF; I will eventually justify buying a hard copy). Certainly in my top 3.

  8. I'm shipping a copy to Oregon now. Thanks so much to you guys for making this.

  9. Instantly bought Veins. For the next book, Isles of the Imprisoned Moon please. Pretty please.

  10. Ordered my print and PDF. Flipped through PDF while in a waiting room. Didn't hear my name called 4 times. Too engrossed. This is outstanding. Can't wait to get he physical copy in my hands. Thanks.

  11. A side note on your references: if you feel like expanding on the possibility for water (beyond simple sumps) checkout Caverns Measureless to Man by Sheck Exley. He's the holy godfather of cave diving and his book captures a lot of info that I've used to make underwater scenarios in the underdark. It makes magic that allows breathing underwater or polymorphing way more important for the exploration.

  12. So I was just skimming this post until I got to "The Archeans in particular are a race based upon Archean bacteria. The Knotsmen are based on my feelings about working as a call centre operator in the debt industry for several years. "

    Those are 2 sentences that sell me on a product pretty darn quickly. This looks excellent.

  13. It is glorious.

    Scrap Princess' work is especially fantastic. I've always liked her style but the pieces in here punch me in the face instead of tapping me on the shoulder.

  14. I just bought a copy! This book sounds amazing!

  15. Woo! This is next on my list for things to buy literally as soon as I have the money. I may or may not dip into the food budget. Food is temporary. Good underground D&D stuff is forever. By the standards of us ephemeral surface-dwellers anyway.

  16. Currently mining silver in abandoned shafts off of lower hurricane gulch to raise the necessary capital for this promising OSR artifact. Send whiskey and dynamite to the mule standing at the end of little annie's mine road as soon as you can.

  17. Will you have any hard copies at gen con?

  18. Question about the cultures section: I'll admit up front I'm still digesting the book but after a pretty thorough search, I can find any stats for the races detailed in the cultures section. Is the idea that we use analogues from our given game, I.e drow, derro, djinn and efreets, etc...?

    1. Yeah pretty much. The cultures section has a flawed relationship to the rest of the text. It began pretty much as you describe, as a way to import pre-existing D&D races into a Veins game, but the exact way it worked remained conceptually confused right up to the end of development. It should probably have been taken out during creation or expanded into full entries and I think I did offer at one point to remove it but most of the editors and publisher asked that I not do that. Didn't want to expand it either as each would have required a Knotsmen-sized writeup to do them justice but the book was already waaay too big.

  19. Dude, I am seriously happy you left it in. The disconnection on stats aside, it is so nice to see an explanation of how certain monstrous entities live in a setting instead of just "here's a bunch of drow, living in caves..." The descriptions are evocative and the deRo alone is soooo damn good. A little blurb explaining the intention of using the culture info as a translation tool to bring in some of the more standard underdark races and keying them to their analogues is all that is necessary. Now that I know, I'm completely satisfied with what I've seen. Seriously, I teach cave diving and you have captured so much of the character of these environments that I'm considering A-bombing my current home campaign as an excuse to run this.

    1. Well thank you Jason, I'm especially glad my caving stuff doesn't stand out as terrible to someone with experience in it since I've never done it myself.

  20. I got my physical copy: Impressive. Two questions: First, how much did you playtest this? (That is pure curiosity, not a prelude to claims or issues against it if there was limited playtesting. It's very good.) Second, you refer to one type of special passage as a "traverse". I'm a cave diver. To me a "traverse" means to enter a system at one point and exit it at another, thus traversing the system. Not a reference to a challenge posed by the route itself. What did you mean? Thanks for the wonderful work and for considering the questions.

    1. Playtesting - noooooot much.

      I think I stole 'traverse' from a bunch of climbing manuals I read for research. It does seem to check out as standard climbing vernacular though perhaps not in caving?

  21. Gotcha. I wasn't sure if you meant "ledge walking" or "hand over hand" method. I think I'll apply both. Thanks for answering.

  22. That was a very interesting read, thanks a lot for sharing!

    Recently I was rereading Georges Perec's novel “Life a User's Manual” and I found this paragraph where one of the characters imagines what lies under the building where he lives. It reminded me of your subterranean-themed work, I hope you like it:

    “and, below all, a world of caves with soot-covered walls, a world of sewers and marshes, a world of larvae and vermin, with eyeless beings that would drag carcasses of animals, and demonic monsters with bodies of bird, pig or fish, and dried-out corpses, skeletons clothed with a yellowish skin, petrified in life-like pose, and forges populated by stupefied cyclops, dressed in black leather aprons, their single eye protected with a blue crystal set in metal, striking with their bronze mallets glittering shields.”

  23. Congrats on all those Ennies nominations. Well deserved!

  24. Are you selling Veins at any conventions in America ever? The shipping is a tad steep.

    1. Will be at Gen-Con. I'll ask Raggi and see if it will be on sale anywhere else.

    2. He says its shipping out to stores in the US this week.

  25. Hello! Just picked up a bunch of your stuff lately and really loving it. Any chance we will see this book on Lulu alongside DCO and Velvet Horizon so us poor, but not too poor, people can get a paperback version?

    1. Thanks Jesse. I'm sorry but VotE is a LotFP product and they don't do PoD.

    2. 4 years on... I'm wondering the same thing. What's the licensing arrangement with LotFP, do they get a monopoly on it forever, or is there a chance you will *ever* do a PoD version?

    3. No. We will get the rights back from LotFP in a year or so and we do plan to ultimately do our own version to go alongside the rest of the False Machine library, I won't be producing any PoD books. They just don't make any money.

      Probably not a problem for you Dan as production will be in the U.K. and therefore postage should be relatively low, a bit rough for others in the U.S. but there we go.

    4. Ah, cool! [Just got to wait... just got to wait...] Yeah, I guess didn't really mean PoD so much as "in a format that doesn't cost €66 plus postage".

      I presume you will have to do your own layout etc before you can put out your own version [just got to wait... just got to wait... just got to learn patience]