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Friday, August 24, 2012

Review of the Boot Hill Module BH2- Lost Conquistador Mine

BH2- Lost Conquistador Mine as the title would suggest is the second Boot Hill module in the series for the miniatures/role-playing western game from TSR. BH2 was written by David Cook and Tom Moldvay, which is pretty cool when you think about that for a minute: respectively the principal designer for 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and the editor of the Moldvay version of Dungeons and Dragons Basic working together on the same module. 
As noted on the frontispiece of the adventure was originally written as a tournament module, in this case taking place at GenCon XIII (circa 1980). Two years latter it would be resurrected as a production module. I can't say this is a bad thing, but like its Dungeons and Dragons cousins (A1-A4, which are also tournament modules) it shows signs of its origins. I've talked about it here and elsewhere on the web. I don't think these are necessarily bad ideas, just that they show their weaknesses as to what they were originally designed for. Now I could be way off on this as Boot Hill BH2 has nothing noted in terms of scoring like the A series.

To start off the review I like the graphic design. Like BH1. Lost Conquistador Mine really captures the mood of an Old West RPG. The hand tooled leather look is evocative of a leather riding saddle of boots. The module is the standard 32 pages for most TSR products at the time. The art inside is likewise good with Jeff Easley, Jim Holloway and Bill Willingham providing the majority of it by the looks.

Diving in, the introduction section is long and works under the assumption that the referee is a rookie which is not a bad thing. Next up it offers the time frame of the module as 1868, so not all weaponry is available yet. This is a nice twist in my opinion as there are some limits to note. But, before one goes any further, like BH1 there are gaps in the Boot Hill rules edifice to fill first. In this case rules for vigilantes, NPC reactions, crime and punishment, outdoor travel, dangerous animals, night fighting, telescopic sights and bronc busting. Wow that's a lot. As I previously states in my review of BH1, one could take all the extra rules in the first three Boot Hill modules and have a fairly hefty document that fills in the gaps of the ruleset. Sorry to sound like a broken record, I think the rules for 1s/2nd Edition Boot Hill are great, but definitely needed more work as an RPG.

The next part deals with the small town of Dead Mule, its buildings and inhabitants. Like BH1 there are a number of smaller events that can happen prior to getting onto the main portion of the module, namely the the Lost Conquistador Mine. In addition there is a separate key for the buildings themselves. The main hook of the adventure starts out is variation of the "a man walks into a bar handing out a mission." In this case the man is an old prospector named Dutch Jack who expires willing the PCs his belongings including a map to the Lost Mine. In way this is a also a variation of the main driver of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" where the confederate soldier dies directly sending Blondie and Tuco on the quest for the Confederate gold. From there it's off to the outdoor/overland travel to the mine. The map is a bit of a puzzle to figure out and helps bulk out the module.

The niggling part of the outdoor sections are that they seem disjointed in the keyed encounters once the PCs are on the way to the mine. I'm not sure if this is the fault of the module or the genre in general. In the case of BH2 most of them really have nothing to do with each other. If trying to mirror a genre like a western there needs to be more consistency. Most things in a western relate to one another in some manner. This can be done poorly and it can be done in an amazing manner like the D&D Basic module O2- Blade of Vengeance. O2 does a great job because the events build on one another leading to the climax of the module. I wonder if Wild West modules patterned off of O2 would likewise be well received. The issue here is that there are Wilderness encounters that are more or less in fixed spot and then Wilderness scenarios in the manner of the town descriptions and town scenarios. I'm of a mixed mind on this as it some respects its good, but in others it could be confusing. As I reread it, the jury is still out for me.

Finally the group makes it to the eponymous mine they are confronted with a series of short caves in the overall mine proper. I wont ruin the surprise for someone who has not read this beforebt this section does not fill up much of the module. And low and behold as if the reader cant guess, yes there is gold in this module, in the "room at the end."

In the end I like BH2, but I can't give it more the 3.5 out of 5 stars. There is nothing bad about the module per say, but the Lost Conquistador Mine is but a small part of it and really series of really small caves rather then a mine. This is about as close as one gets to a "dungeon-crawl" in the TSR line of Boot Hill modules barring BH5 Range War! which I have yet to procure. Like BH1 its a good module for beginners, that's both the referee and the players. I think it also speaks to a criticism I have heard before: the designers were really unsure of what to do with the genre when you can't just sent the PCs to the local monster hotel. It also shows in the case that if the final destination of a module is a cave or dungeon-like setting you really have to think it out: you can only rely on mountain lions and bears so many times in the Old West and BH2 has both.

In the end I  recommend BH2 and if part of the "Promise City" campaign Dead Mule fits in well in the vicinity. It has some nuggets, but just like a gold mine you have to exert some muscle to get the reward.

As an aside I've been very fortunate on eBay getting my modules and paying between $5-10 per. All have been great quality with little staple rust and few if any blemishes.

Next up is either my review of Western City RPG or BH3- Bullets and Ballots. Stay tuned pardners.

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