A monster on the verge of eating an adventurer.

Review: Wilderness Descriptions and/of Frost Bitten and Mutilated

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on March 31, 2018

Tagged: lotfp osr fbm zaksmith

I’ve been slow to go through Frost Bitten & Mutilated because I want to read it in print, rather than PDF. The book follows a format that seems common to many LotFP books, front loading the bestiary as a way to explain the world and what its crazy deal is. (Something to write about another time.) There is a small (8x8) wilderness map in the middle of the book with short descriptions for each region a party can visit—a hex crawl minus the hexes.

Zak’s writing in all his books is what I would describe as evocative and terse. (Terse being the real key to his style, I think.) This wilderness crawl is a good example of his style. Zak is able to jam the descriptions of the wilderness on the map of the wilderness itself because he keeps things short. What you sacrifice in a dope looking map, you get back in one that is more functional while playing.1

When organizing the Gygaxian Democracy Hex Crawls (Hexenbraken, Kraal, etc), Zak forced everyone to follow some rules about how to write the hex descriptions:

  1. 2 sentences per hex.
  2. References to other hexes make a hex map good. Do that when possible.
  3. You don’t have to prove you’re Grant Morrison in every hex, just make a usable map. It can say “Small inn. Well is empty.”

These constraints force you to be creative with what you write. You end up distilling your ideas to their core components. You’re forced to drop anything tangential, pushed to hint at your ideas through a liberal use of adjectives and open ended descriptions. Linking hexes together to tell a story about what’s going on is another way to build up an evocative setting while still keeping your individual descriptions short.

From Frostbitten & Mutilated:

Five crates rest on a cliff edge high above the sled that pulled them. One contains salted cod, one contains 650sp worth of aquavit, one contains an occult text with the names of 4 drowning demons and a map to the entrance to the Dim Fortress, one contains a sleeping snow leopard, one contains beets and Ribboned Jenny the champion rat. Her swarm is nearby

There is so much going on in this brief paragraph. How did the sled topple of the cliff? Was it the swarm of rats trying to retrieve Ribboned Jenny? What’ll they do when the players enter the scene. As the DM you can decide if the party come upon this scene from above, next to the crates, or from below, next to the toppled sled. Knowing the names for Drowning Demons might save your ass later, and of importance to this module, the location of the Dim Fortress is hard to come by.

This rat, Ribboned Jenny, is mentioned in the first wilderness description:

Tumbledown inn overrun by wharf rats in search of Ribboned Jenny, a fancy-rat from Rottingkroner (see H5).

A simpler wilderness blurb, but there is enough here for adventure and excitement. Will the party help the rats, be harried by them, etc. Tumbledown Inn itself is notable for being the only inn mentioned when describing this winter wasteland.

Both descriptions can be read in a few seconds. When playing the game you don’t need to root around trying to understand what’s going on in the hex. There are trade offs with having descriptions that are this short, but I much prefer short descriptions to long ones when running a game.

Frost Bitten & Mutilated is a good example of a simple functional wilderness adventure. Zak has learned the good lessons from Carcosa—easy to grok evocative description—and skipped over the bad lessons—easy to grok super boring descriptions. LotFP has a big stable of solid wilderness adventures at this point: World of the Lost, Qelong, Carcosa, and now this one.

  1. But, it is a pretty frumpy looking 2 page spread—sorry Luka/Zak, the heart wants what the heart wants. 

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