Monday, December 21, 2015

Mine Exploration

For the sake of some role-playing readers with little or no knowledge of mine exploration – the hobby of entering abandoned mines just to have a look around – I came across a great page on Wikipedia about how dangerous they are. This includes wonderful things about the floor simply crumbling away underfoot when someone approaches the edge of a shaft to look down or getting a good whiff of bad air such as methane, hydrogen sulfide and other wonderful things. I come from an oilpatch background (in Alberta) so I grew up on stories of people who walked into pumping stations where there was a unknown leak, without taking precautions, so that their first breath inside was of pure carbon dioxide. This can knock someone out and bring death pretty efficiently, not because the gas is poisonous but because there is an absolute absence of breathable air.

Sample the gas in the room before entering!

Any gamer with an interest in dungeons – beyond the presence of monsters – might consider the real danger of wandering around in underground areas that have been worked, since degradation of rock and the opening of seams produces a wide range of effects not found in natural caverns. It’s particularly interesting that different kinds of mines (digging for different kinds of materials) produce different dangers and difficulties, so that a hobbyist that’s been in several coal mines (with plenty of experience) can quickly get into trouble wandering through an iron mine. Because the methods of extraction are different, the rules for what’s dangerous ground and what isn’t change.

Any advice that people give about mine exploration always includes the suggestion of getting to know the history of the mine being entered. That, of course, has nothing to do with being a D&D character. The characters regularly dive down into places with which they have no relationship at all – in which case its a good thing this is all fantasy, since it would probably mean all character wanderings into previously worked underground areas would end in a TPK.

It has to be asked, why do people do it? Well, many are simply rockhounds; they’re looking for some interesting mineral pieces, mostly of little or no practical value, simply as collectors. There are all sorts of tailings and resulting rock shapes that derive from various styles of mining practiced at various points in history – sort of like looking for nickels of slightly different shapes and metal content from specific minted time periods. Many amateur geologists can get very excited about a piece of coal simply because the striations on the edge of it show that they were created by a long-since abandoned tool form.

Others wander around underground out of interest for the shape of mines in general or because the environment is alien and therefore intriguing – like going off into space to land upon and explore another planet. A third group will claim that there are places of great beauty underground associated with rock facings in mined ‘rooms’ where gases and oxygen have combined with the rock to produce amazing colours.

Anyway, go have a look, poke about, have a look at some images.  It might give you some great ideas on what to do with some of those dungeon rooms that need a little jazz.

Must . . . look . . . for treasure . . .


  1. Alexis,
    this takes me back to when i had to inspect traversable sewers in Sydney. Nothing quite like the trickle of fear down your neck when you are 50 m from the next manhole, waist deep in sewage, and you hear a pumpstation turn on somewhere way back there, you feel the air flow change. That 50m is a long walk when youre watching for a change in water level with a headlamp and you can't run because its slippery.


  2. Woah, that would certainly get a party going, wouldn't it?


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