The Cursed Chateau is a fancy book. Released by Lamentations of the Flame Princess early last year, I finally picked it up at the tail end of 2016 as part of a huge LotFP order. Written by James Maliszewski—of Grognardia fame—this version of the adventure is a new deluxe printing with layout and art by Jez Gordon.
The central conceit of the adventure is that players are magically trapped in a large haunted chateau by its former master Lord Joudain, a perpetually bored and tormented spirit. Joudain’s soul is trapped within the chateau, so he in turn traps passer bys to torment them for his entertainment. If the characters manage to be entertaining enough his otherworldly boredom will pass and he’ll be freed from his self-inflicted curse, freeing the characters as well.
This is a reasonably large adventure. The adventure site is quite big: there is a hedge maze that leads to the chateau, the grounds, and the chateau itself. There is a cast of NPCs, the former staff of the chateau, who now all haunt the place. Each is described with their backstory, a small stat block, and an illustration. (I should note here that my wife and I ended up being transformed into evil spirits by Jez: I’m the photo reference for Hervisse, my wife for Mondette.) There is a d100 random events table that helps drive the action during the adventure. As you enter rooms you’ll roll to see what weird thing is happening within, if one of the NPCs happens to be doing something within, etc.
The book opens with a discussion by James on funhouse dungeons, which one could imagine being posted on Grognardia in days gone by.
In a fun house, there’s often no way to determine what lurks behind the next door or down a nearby corridor and that fact irritates some players who value naturalism and rationality even in their fantasy. Without it, they argue, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to plan ahead or think strategically and thereby minimize the likelihood of their characters suffering some terrible fate. I’m sympathetic to this perspective and, in general, my adventure locales are fairly reasonable, even orderly places that “make sense”—which is precisely why a place like the chateau makes for a good change of pace!
I think how you feel about this adventure is going to depend on how you feel about funhouse dungeons. This adventure offers some clues about the nature of why the characters are trapped in the mansion, but it’s not particularly obvious. The means of escape isn’t really fleshed out to the characters either. I suspect most players will stumble about till they accidentally rack up enough misfortune to appease Joudain. Now, the adventure site isn’t completely arbitrary. The NPCs all have pretty clear motivations, and characters will likely learn of their various allegiances and squabbles with the other NPCs. The house is still a house, and laid out like one would expect a manor to be. Still, it’s a haunted: expect things to be creepy and confusing at times.
The interior art and layout is by Jez Gordon. I know I gush about Jez’s graphic design chops, but this book is another example of just how next-level the work he puts out is. The front end-papers feature all the maps in the module. The back of the book lists all the rooms with creatures within and reprints a few useful tables. This is a fairly text heavy adventure and it’s been laid out expertly by Jez. Everything is presented with an eye to what the two page spread will look like. Long room descriptions never spill over to the other side of a page. Some room descriptions in this module are very long, several paragraphs at times, so this is really a very impressive feat. This might be one of the best layouts i’ve seen of a D&D module, considering just how dense the text is. (Maze of the Blue Medusa, which I haven’t written about yet, is another good example of strong design and layout.) Jez’s work gets better with each adventure he puts out.
The book has a new cover by Yannick Bouchard, who has been doing a lot of work for LotFP recently. A fellow1 sits on a sofa, clearly bored, his arm draped around a skeletal ghost. A blood stained sword leans against a blood stained wall. It’s a great cover, very evocative.
I know most everyone involved in this books creation so calling this a review seems like false advertising. I generally only write about books I like, and I like this book. It’s one of the most beautiful RPG books I own. It’s been printed with gold as an accent colour: the pages shimmer! LotFP continues to put out solid books: they have one of the most interesting and diverse catalogs of modules of any OSR publisher.
The character on the cover reminds me of Kyle MacLachlan (of Twin Peaks), though maybe that’s just me. ↩
Broodmother SkyFortress: Buying any other adventure is just throwing your money away
Alongside Broodmother Skyfortress, the brains at Lamentations of the Flame Princess also published Blood in the Chocolate. Kiel Chenier did the writing, layout, and maps. The art is by Jason Thompson, notable for his Family Circus style maps of adventurers exploring infamous dungeons. The premise of the adventure is quite simple: you are a group of adventurers tasked with breaking into a mysterious chocolate factory run by a Spanish countess and absconding with details about her operation and samples of her ingredients. The most obvious inspiration for Blood in the Chocolate is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and there are nods to that story throughout the adventure.
If you have read any of Kiel’s other adventures I would say this one is more or less exactly how I would imagine a Kiel LotFP adventure might look like. There is violence and horror and sex, but it all comes off as fun and a little bit goofy. Also there is a hot fat woman.
I helped Kiel play test the adventure several months ago with his regular D&D group. We met up again shortly after the book was released to play the now completed adventure with the Toronto OSR posse (#torontOSR). Both games I played involved some amount of scheming to break into the factory, followed by sneaking about in search of clues for how this countess was producing her chocolate. In the second game a few of us were poisoned (a likely outcome in the factory) and so we spent part of the adventure trying to find a way to cure our compatriots of their creepy affliction. We managed to win over one of the pygmies, who was so enamoured with us he ended up helping us explore the factory and find a possible cure. (There are rules for how to win over the pygmies presented in the adventure.) Both times playing this adventure were a real blast.
Kiel produces well laid out adventures. This book continues that trend. Kiel’s books are great examples of what people should be doing with the works they produce. Like The Hell House Beckons, this adventure features cheat sheets for the rest of the book. The front end papers are basically the one page dungeon version of the adventure. The back end papers feature important random tables, and stats for the monsters you’ll encounter. There is also a handy pygmy tracker you can use to keep track the 150 pygmies the adventures may kill. The book opens with an overview of the module, advice for how to run it as a one-shot versus as part of an ongoing campaign, and an overview of the main villain and her army of pygmies. This makes up roughly half of the book. The second half is the adventure proper. There are cutaways of the map scattered throughout this section. Room descriptions are bulleted lists, and generally strike the balance between being terse, but not too terse. I do have the same gripe about room descriptions as I made in my previous two reviews: occasionally they spill over to subsequent pages. If you aren’t careful you might assume a room description is complete and not flip the page to see there’s more for you to read. That said, this is a small complaint and the layout is really is well done. This book feels designed to be picked up and run straight out of the book.
I like Jason Thompson’s art. The stuff that is going on in the book could be presented in a very graphic and gross manner. Thompson’s works convey it well but manages to do so in a way I think better suits the book. Many of his pictures are gross, but also not so gross. It’s a tricky line to walk and he does a great job. The PDF of the adventure also comes with one his walk through maps, which is, as always, fantastic.
Buy this already. It’s a good book and Kiel needs to eat. LotFP continues to kill it with their recent releases and this is really no exception. If you are bored or annoyed by some of the more avante garde adventures LotFP puts out, this is a nice solid dungeon crawl to win your heart back. Raggi is curating a solid set of adventures.
Towers Two is the work of David Brokie, completed posthumously by Jobe Bitman (writing) & Jeremy Duncan (art). Brokie is perhaps most famous for being a member of Gwar, the death metal band from outer space. (That the guitarist from Gwar was also a big D&D fan should come as no surprise.) Like Broodmother Skyfortress, this project was also started back in 2012 as part of James Raggi’s (crazy) crowdfunding project of that summer. As someone who helped fund the few adventures that made the cut, this arrived at my doorstep a few months ago. So, about 4 years late. James isn’t good at getting his Kickstarter projects done on time. He is good at getting them done well, though. This module was slated to be a 32 page softcover booklet. I ended up with a 120 page full colour hardcover book. That’s crazy, but seemingly everyone involved in this project was a little bit crazy too.
The first thing you’ll notice as you flip through the book is all the amazing art. Jeremy Duncan’s work in this module is really quite inspired. (I recommend you grab the physical book because I don’t think the PDF does the art justice.) Jeremy’s art is bright, colourful, messy, detailed, crude, psychedelic, cartoonish, gory and intense. It’s in the same vein as the few pieces of art from Brokie that made it into the book, but ratcheted up. (I do love Brokie’s cover: it’s a shame we didn’t get more of his art in colour as well. Don’t do heroin. That’s probably the bigger tragedy here.)
I didn’t think I’d like Towers Two: it sounded kind of cheesy and juvenile. It is in fact both of those things, but it’s also a very well done sandbox adventure. There is no real overarching plot to push the players through, but instead plenty of factions to interact with and a couple obvious villains to harass. Wandering the region around the eponymous Towers Two will likely provide enough excitement for several gaming sessions.
The adventure is aggressively “R” rated. The super villain is an alien creature who controls people by sticking tentacle probes up their butts. Two magic items described in the module are the Death Phallus and the Cunt Whip. There is a “rape table +4”. It’s pretty easy to drop or tweak all of this stuff from the adventure and still have it be coherent, but you should probably know this stuff is there if it’s the sort of thing that will bother you.
I liked the overall structure of the adventure. It opens with a great overview of the whole adventure, describing some background information and detailing all the factions and characters the players may encounter. The information is all presented up front so when you encounter these things later in more detail you already have a sense of what’s up. The adventure is ‘wordier’ than I generally like. Some descriptions of dungeon rooms or wilderness areas are quite long, and at times repetitive. Nothing here is boring, though. It’s all pretty bonkers. I don’t think this module would be quite so easy to run as Broodmother Skyfortress, but it’s far larger in it’s scope. The book concludes with Brokie’s original draft, which is interesting to read as a gaming artifact. Jobe Bitman stayed true to Brokie’s original vision, but a lot of the truly gross or out there ideas came from Jobe not Brokie. I’m not sure if Brokie felt he had to reign his crazy in, while Jobe felt he had to let his out to live up to his idol.
Alex Mayo, who did the layout for Broodmother Skyfortress, also did the layout for Towers Two. This book also does a great job of showcasing the art within. There is art on almost every page, and everything is quite visually interesting. In this book the text is set in a smaller font and split over two columns. In an A5 book I find this sort of layout can feel a bit tight. (It was easy enough to read casually while I wasn’t playing, but perhaps would be trickier to quickly scan in the middle of a game.) I have complaints about room descriptions being split over pages, but on the whole this is a very pretty book. This book is far denser than Broodmother Skyfortress. It feels like there is far more text to read.
Towers Two is a fun book. It’s worth grabbing just for the art. The fact the adventure itself is also really well done is a nice bonus. There is lots of gaming material here, and it’s all really quite unique. It’s interesting how all over the place LotFP can be with their modules. This adventure is nothing like Broodmother Skyfortress, and nothing like Blood in the Chocolate or the Cursed Chateau, which I will write about soon.
The actual adventure takes up the first half or so of the book. It’s about giant shark elephants and their giant shark elephant broodmother that live in a floating skyfortress—hence the name. These monsters are riding through your campaign world fucking shit up. The players will presumably want to stop them: because they are invested in that world, because you’ve hidden some McGuffin in the Skyfortress, or for some other nonsense reason. The actual “adventure” portion of this book is a pretty small subset of the whole book. The Skyfortress is 20 rooms (12 above ground, 8 in tunnels underneath). It’s not a particularly complex dungeon, but there are lots of things for the players to interact with and perhaps use to stop the giants. Stopping the giants will be tricky: the giants are giants. Players will need to get creative to defeat these monsters and save the day.1
The book is written in a conversational tone. As you read the adventure Jeff interjects with words of encouragement, advice, and humour:
There are times in the course of a good role-playing campaign when it is important as a Referee to have one’s crap together. Like, if you spring a riddling sphinx on the players then you need to have some riddles and some solutions ready. But sometimes it is important that a Referee propose a problem to the players with no preconceived idea of the solution. Your players want to get to the Skyfortress. How the heck are they going to do that? Hell if I know. Don’t worry, the players will figure something out.
There’s lots of great advice about running games throughout the whole book. The second half of Broodmother Skyfortress is full of some of the best posts from Jeff’s Game Blog. Taken together the book is probably one of the best getting started guides to running games. (Certainly for running games in an “old-school” style.) Jeff said he took inspiration here from the old basic modules In Search of the Unknown (B1) and Keep on the Borderlands (B2). This module does a far better job than both at teaching a DM how to run a game. It’s advice is far more clear and direct. (We have chapters like, “Yo Jeff! What if I don’t have a campaign?” and a whole section about what you as the DM need to work out before you play, because this adventure should be tailored to your campaign.)
This is one of the bigger LotFP books, clocking in at 160 pages. James published this softcover adventure as a big colour hardcover book—as he is known to do. The layout was done by Alex Mayo. This book feels like a high point for his work.2 Outside of the room descriptions, most of the sections of the book occur in one or two page spreads with matching art. The layout does a great job of showcasing all the excellent Ian Maclean art. There is so much art in this book. In addition to being great to look at, it also helps you orient yourself in the book and find particular sections of the text. The borders are done in this Kirby-esque style that looks great. They are coloured differently between the two portions of the book, making it easy to jump to the advice section. There is lots of love here.
Broodmother Skyfortress is fantastic. It’d make a great gift for any dungeon master, certainly someone just getting started. Everyone involved has done a really great job. This book can hold you over till we get a real LotFP Dungeon Master’s Guide.
There is so little to complain about I will take the time to nitpick. The description for Room 2 requires you to flip a page to read it all, which isn’t the end of the world because it’s clear the description is incomplete: the text on page 67 ends mid-sentence. The description for Room 3 similarly spans multiple pages, but in this case it’s easy to miss the extra information found on the next page: the text on page 68 doesn’t suggest there is anything else to read. Trying to manage stuff like this is one thing that makes laying out a whole book tricky. But, like I was saying, there is very little to complain about here: on the whole this is top shelf work. ↩
You should do a post … having DMed several sessions, about what you find Carcosa brings to the table and what you’ve done to make it “yours?” — Cole Long
I write reviews for gaming books I never actually use to game, which feels kind of dumb but what can you do? Now with Carcosa I can actually comment on the book with insight from using it to run a D&D campaign.
I’ve ran 7 games of Original D&D game set in Carcosa. The original idea for the game was to mix in elements from Masters of the Universe into the Carcosa settings, but that hasn’t quite happened just yet. I’m really not familiar with most of the literary references that inspired Carcosa, which makes running the game “interesting”.
I wanted my campaign to start in a Lawful settlement. I had catalogued all the settlements in the game as a byproduct of working on my Random Carcosa web application. The highest level Lawful leader in Carcosa is 11th level and can be found in Hex 1011, along with a crazy robot.
Village of 270 Bone Men ruled by “the Swift and Silent Beginning,” a lawful 11th-level Fighter.
The unwary may fall prey to a deranged, spherical robot (AC 18, MV 180′, hp 25) with treads and retractable appendages, nets, self-repair, infrared, and long-distance vision. It will seek to abduct stragglers and take them to a small, hidden outpost to be shackled in close proximity to radioactive waste. Each hour spent thus requires a successful saving throw to avoid mutation.
I printed out some hex graph paper and drew the region around this hex, marking down the settlements and their allegiances to the battle between Law and Chaos. The official Carcosa map in the book is missing this information, which would have made it about a million times handier. Zak Smith drew in his Carcosa book, but I just can’t bring myself to do that.
There are slavers nearby in Hex [REDACTED] terrorizing the region, and so I made them the main threat in the game. I decided the town of Invak would offer refuge to former slaves. This would explain why a party of PCs would likely include people from the various races of Carcosa. Chaotic villages close to the slavers were likely to supporters, as were Neutral villages nearby. Villages closer to Invak would be against slaving. Invak would be a bastion of egalitarian and progressive thought, in another wise terrible world. The town to the South of Invak became a trading hub, liking Invak with a few other towns near by. In this way I fleshed out the relationships between the various villages in the area.
I answered Jeff Rient’s 20 Quick Questions about your Campaign, which helped me think more about what my game would be like. From an older blog post about Carcosa I knew “the Icon of Judgment” was the strongest sorcerer in the world. I made some rough notes about what his deal might be, but thus far it hasn’t really come up in play: mostly because I haven’t brought him up at all. The castle of Chaotic Orange Men North of Invak became a crazy cult running bizarre gladiatorial games.
I drew a map of the hidden outpost. It seemed like a good dungeon to begin the game with. Players would start shackled in the radioactive wastes. I introduced a small group of Bone Men, who were hiding out inside this outpost. They had imprisoned one of their members for [REDACTED]. The robot would only be ‘active’ at night, and would only travel through the wilderness, so the players wouldn’t have to worry about it unless they specifically tried to instigate a fight with it. There were also lasers, spawn, and other things that felt like Carcosa.
This was enough to start playing. I ran a session with Gus and Eric, two of the regular players from my Monday night D&D group, and things continued from there. I am constantly underprepared for each session we play, but things usually work out—for the most part.
Eero Tuovinen has done an amazing job with the layout of Carcosa. Carcosa is a well laid out book that works well at the table. I flip through it often looking up monsters, hex descriptions, and the like. Most everything is easy to find, and more importantly easy to read. McKinney has a very terse and direct way of writing that I like. He manages to be evocative without wasting too many words—usually.
In terms of helping you build a campaign, Carcosa brings barely any information to the table. The book succeeds in selling the idea of Carcosa, without really telling you that much about it. Are all the races identical besides their colour? Do they all share the exact same culture? Are their multiple languages in the world? What are the towns and villages like? What do people eat? What’s a GP in Carcosa? There are so many questions about the world that are unanswered. Explicit relationships between hexes are few and far between. This encourages the sort of brainstorming I did to get things going, but is also one of the big criticisms of the book: it all feels so random. I would have loved for some discussion from McKinney on how he explicitly organized and ran his game.
The big win for Carcosa is that I never feel like i’m doing it wrong. I never have to look something up so-and-so important NPC, or double check the date such-and-such event took place. Carcosa is a loose framework for building your own Carcosa. I’m not sure I have done that great a job of build my own Carcosa, but i’m hoping that I am not too far off.
James Raggi recently ran a contest soliciting magic items for the new LotFP Referee book. My entry didn’t make the cut, so you get to enjoy it right now. I think it’s pretty LotFP.
A simple looking leather bag, with drawstrings to hold itself shut. A crude image is burned on to one side of the pouch. Like a Rorschach print, it’s unclear what image the artist had wished to convey. A face, perhaps?
That bag is full of sweets: liquorice and other such things. When opened it is so full the candy almost spills out. The owner of the bag may draw out any number of sweets, fistfuls at a time if they desire. There are always more sweets in the bag. These sweets are unremarkable: tasty, but likely to give you a stomach ache if you eat too many.
Upending the bag will cause all the candy to fall out: one small bags worth. And then the bag is empty, its magic gone.
If anything else is placed in the bag—a tough feat, the bag is bursting after all—the bag looses its magic: when opened next it will be empty.
If someone who does not own the bag attempts to draw candy from it, there is a 50% chance the candy is both tasty and poisoned (save vs. poison or die in d6 turns, bleeding from all orifices during that last turn of life).
The owner of Nan’s Bag of Sweets will feel a supernatural compulsion to offer candy from the bag to any children they encounter, the voice of old Nan echoing in their head. (Save vs. Magic to resist the bags charms.) Children always draw poisoned candy from the bag.
Potions and poultices prepared by an experienced hand can temper the addictive and dangerous properties of the desert lotus, producing powerful restoratives. There is always a risk associated with the lotus, but they are perhaps greatly outweighed by the rewards.
Green Lotus Poultice
Restores a dCarcosa of hit points to a wounded character. Takes 1 turn to apply.
1d6 x 50GP
Green Lotus Potion
Ingesting this potion will restore 2dCarcosa hit points.
1d6 x 100 GP
Black Lotus Poison
A slower acting variant of the deadly Black Lotus Powder. Those ingesting this poison will die in dCarcosa days if they fail their Save vs. Poison at -6.
1d4 x 1000 GP
Jale Lotus Potion
This mind expanding potion grants the character d6 psionic wild talents. Each can be used once, over the course of the day, while the drug slowly works its way through the characters system.
2d6 x 200 GP
White Lotus Potion
Cures those afflicted by the effects of White Lotus Powder
1d10 x 100 GP
Blue Lotus Potion
Ingesting this potion fills a person with a deep sense of calmness. Characters are immune to all fear effects. This potion is a favourite of Sorcerers who wish to commune with terrifying Old Ones.
1d4 x 100 GP
Blue Lotus Poultice
Applying this poultice takes one turn, after which a characters skin will feel completely numb. Characters are immune to damage from extreme cold, heat, and acid. This effect lasts 9-12 hours.
1d10 x 100 GP
Yellow Lotus Powder
The powder distilled from the beautiful Yellow Desert Lotus produces the most horrific waking dreams when inhaled. Characters must make a Save vs. Poison or go completely mad, physically paralyzed, their mind trapped in a terrible nightmare.
1d10 x 100 GP
Yellow Lotus Poison
This poison is a powerful paralytic, usually applied to the tips of arrows and blades. Characters must make a Save vs. Poison or be unable to move for 1d6 turns.
1d10 x 100 GP
Bone Lotus Poultice
Applying this poultice takes one turn, and renders the character skin and organs translucent like those of a Bone Man. This effect lasts 9-12 hours.
1d6 x 50 GP
Bone Lotus Potion
Drinking this translucent potion will render the imbiber gaseous, allowing them to pass through anything that isn’t air-tight, and making them impervious to most attacks.
1d10 x 100 GP
Purple Lotus Powder
When mixed with other slow burning herbs and smoked this powder acts as a depressant, relaxing the mind and making its user completely open to suggestion for 1-4 hours.
1d6 x 50 GP
Orange Lotus Potion
Produced using the sweet nectar found within the buds of the Orange Desert Lotus, this potion grants super-human strength to those who drink it. Characters do an additional dice of damage when attacking with melee weapons. This effect lasts dCarcosa turns.
2d4 x 100 GP
Ulfire Lotus Poultice
Applying this poultice takes one turn, and leaves the characters skin feeling dry and rough. Characters gain an addition +2 to their AC and to their saving throws where applicable. This effect lasts 9-12 hours.
2d6 x 100 GP
Ulfire Lotus Potion
This potion is a powerful anti-poison, nullifying the effects of any lotus based poison or powder.
1d6 x 100 GP
Brown Lotus Poison
Typically applied to the tips of arrows, this poison instantly kills those who fail their Save vs. Poison.
1d4 x 500 GP
Dolm Lotus Potion
The character feels a quickening of their body and mind as this potion takes effect. Characters double their movement rate, and start combat at the top of the initiative order. This effect lasts 1d6 rounds.
1d4 x 500 GP
Dolm Lotus Powder
When smoked as a powder this lotus produces an unnatural lethargy (and euphoria) in its user. Characters regain dCarcosa hit points, but are unable to do anything besides lay around for 1d6 turns.
1d4 x 50 GP
Red Lotus Poultice
The restorative power of the rare Red Desert Lotus is without equal. Rubbing this poultice over a dead character’s body will restore them to life, assuming they fail a Save vs. Poison.
2d6 x 1000 GP
Red Lotus Potion
This potion fills the drinker with supernatural vigour that lasts 9-12 hours. If killed while under the effects of the drug the character will instantly return to life with dCarcosa hit points, as their body absorbs all the red lotus in its system. (This effect can only occur once.)
2d6 x 1000 GP
Each usage of a potion or poultice produced by a desert lotus apothecary has a 1 in 20 chance of producing a great feeling of a addiction in the user. All powders have a 1 in 6 chances of being addictive. Players who are currently addicted to what they have just ingested must take another dose (which grants additional positive effect) or be at a -1 on all rolls for the session. Using a desert lotus product more than once a session increases the chance of addiction by 1, 2, 4, 8, etc.
Apothecaries that work with the desert lotus will generally have a random selection for sale week to week, prices varying based on the availability of flowers.
The default setting for Carcosa is full of xenophobia. I wanted a list of reasons why a group of adventures of various races might be adventuring together. I started writing one, but got stuck fairly quickly. So, I asked my friends to help out. The good entries below were all written by people other than myself. They call that Gygaxian Democracy.
Why are we together?
Awoken from a lotus induced stupor you have fled from a sorcerer. I’m sure they want you back.
Escaped from Slavers! One day you will have your revenge on those bastards—unless they get you first.
Members of a traveling troupe of actors. You know one play, which you tweak based on your audience to play up on the local prejudices.
Members of a janissary regiment, put together by long gone—perhaps?—Alien overlords.
After years of wandering with your herd the symbiotic fronds were yanked out from the backs of your heads. Who knows how many years you lived as root heads.
Returned to Carcosa after being experimented on by the Space Aliens. Hopefully they don’t come looking for you again.
Cultists! (Must share a common alignment.)
Foundlings raised by Lawful spawn hunting illuminati.
The wrong coloured children of an otherwise homogenous village. Did they treat you well?
Refugees who have fled a natural disaster. Famine? War? God damn Aliens with laser guns?
Kidnapped orphans raised deep in the desert by a mad, but kindly, old couple.
Psychically summoned to a crashed space ship. You have no memory of the recent few months.
Members of a diseased community of outcasts. Everyone shares a common (mostly harmless) mutation.
Emerged from a sorcerer’s birthing vats deep within an abandoned complex. (Thousands of other pods full of replacement PCs available as well.)
Once from a religious community, where all members wore body obscuring clothes and lived as equals without colour based caste. After the sorcerer’s troops/raiders/slavers/shaggoths came that dream, and the obscuring robes and windings, have been cast aside.
A bad medicine show went through some villages a while back selling poisonous mutation causing ‘snake squeezings’. The adventurers are relatives of the slain, banded together to hunt down huckster and deliver ‘justice’.
All that remains of the local criminal underworld, driven out by an unspeakably violent new boss or spawn inquisitors.
Each character bears the same tattoo, which causes horror amongst village elders Carcosa wide. (The characters have no memory of when or how tattoo appeared.)
The former retainers of a group of strangely coloured people who spoke a weird language and claimed to be from another world called Dirt (or Earth or something like that). The original adventurers are all dead, but retainers continue to adventure together. Some continue to search for a portal to this world of Dirt, because there are no shoggoths there.
You each have vague memories of a past life as a White Man sorcerer, until you performed some ritual that split you into different facets of your core personality.
In the game I am running now, the players rolled a 3 when starting the campaign. So, they are all members of the acting troupe The Rainbow Connection. Their back story has been far more fun than I had thought it would be.
Thanks to Stuart P, Brendan S, Evan W, Gus L, and David R and everyone else for their ideas and suggestions.
Wife is now fooling around on the tablet I bought so I have email access when traveling. It has the Alice in Wonderland books preloaded on it and she is amazed.
Me, I’m suddenly struck by the idea of putting a young blonde in a blue dress on the cover of an adventure I’d call “Eat Me.” — James Raggi, August 23rd, 2012
A little over two years ago James Raggi mentioned in passing this idea of doing an Alice in Wonderland Adventure. Zak S replied with a phrase that became a bit of a joke on G+: “For a modest advance…” Presumably there was a modest advance, because here we are.
Zak would occasionally share bit and pieces of the book he was working on on his blog: artwork he had finished, or a table or set of rules he had written. I helped play test the module a few times: once with my OD&D group, a couple times with Zak himself, and most recently with Kiel just as the final layout for the book was wrapping up. Zak used a photograph of me as a reference for the Knave of Hearts, after asking for photographs on G+. I have been watching in real time as this book slowly came together. I bring this all up to try and highlight just how much I have been anticipating this book, how completely unrealistic and unfair the expectations I have placed on the final product are, and to suggest that I am perhaps too emotionally invested in this book to review it properly.
A Red and Pleasant Land is a setting book that describes Voivodja, the Land of Unreason. Rather than using the travel guide gazetteer format commonly used for these sorts of things—which, if we are being honest with one another, suck—A Red and Pleasant Land presents its world primarily via elements that are all usable at the gaming table: dungeons, monsters, new rules, and random tables. A Red and Pleasant Land is more about helping a DM build their own version of Voivodja than presenting some canonical version of the place. In this way is reminds me of Carcosa.
A Red and Pleasant Land begins with a brief overview Voivodja. It’s 18 pages long and is probably the only part of the book you’d be expected to read beforehand if you wanted to run things by the seat of your pants. The book starts off with a discussion of what makes this place different than your typical fantasy setting. The history, geography, and culture of Voivodja is examined at a very high level. Mixed in with all of this is advice on how to use the book and run a game in Voivodja: this is something more books should do. Much of this section of the book is adventure hook fodder. (Croquet, a staple of Alice in Wonderland, is presented as an obvious source of adventure: players might play to get an audience with the queen, be hired to track down a obscure wickets, etc.) Voivodja is a strange land where a king and queen have been waging war upon one another for time immemorial. Two other factions have decided to enter this fray, both deciding who to ally themselves with as the adventure begins. The setting is designed to support a game built around the conflict that comes from the players interacting with various NPCs with conflicting goals.
To go along with the new setting is a new character class, the Alice. The character is an interesting twist on the Specialist from LotFP. Every time the character gains a level a percentile die is rolled: this may lead to new powers or bonuses inspired by the events in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland rather than simply gaining more skill points or saving throw improvements. The Alice also has the ability to get exasperated. Doing so lets them roll on an exasperation table, which may lead to the sorts of strange events, again clearly inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: a door appearing out of nowhere, something that normally wouldn’t be able to talk suddenly starts talking, etc. I played an Alice during the play test for A Red and Pleasant Land, but didn’t take advantage of this power—i’m boring I suppose.
A look at the new monsters and NPCs of this world is up next. There are 4 factions in Voivodja, led by: the Heart Queen, the Red King, the Pale King, and the Colourless Queen. Beyond your typical stat block, almost all the creatures in this book have relationships or alliances that could lead to adventure and conflict. This also helps present the setting to the players. Most of the monsters in the book are quite interesting. I particularly liked the Guests, which are basically demons. A Red and Pleasant Land features a great random demon generator that you could steal for any fantasy game. There is also a Brown vampire: trés fantastique! There is an illustration for almost every creature presented. Hopefully you know what a horse looks like.
There are two dungeons presented in detail in A Red and Pleasant Land: the Heart Queen’s palace, and the Red King’s castle. They are both fucking bonkers. Of the two I love the Heart Queen’s castle the most. The games I have played exploring that dungeon have been some of the most fun I’ve had playing D&D. I think they are both well executed and interesting: big enough and weird enough to support multiple sessions of play.
The book concludes with some new rules and then some random tables. (Of course it does.) As I mentioned in my last post about A Red and Pleasant Land, Kiel used these tables to generate an adventure for us to play more or less on the spot, without anyone really noticing what was going on. That seems like high praise for this portion of the book. My favourite title in the whole book is found in this section: “Idiotic Voivodja Filibuster Conversation Openers”. There are lots of great tables, many of which would work in other settings. All games need a “where have you been?” table for when a player shows up late or misses a session, and a good “I search the body” table can tell the players a lot about the world they playing in.
Like Vornheim, A Red and Pleasant Land is as much a book about a particular setting as it is a treatise on how one should go about writing and presenting a setting in general. Zak has clearly approached this problem from the perspective of someone sitting at a gaming table. How much information does the DM need to successfully run a campaign set in this world? How do you best present it all? What things need to be quickly referenced? These are questions that seem to be rarely asked by most authors and publishers, including Wizards of the Coast. This book is worth buying as an example of good graphic design, even if you aren’t interested in Dungeons and Dragons.
The two large dungeons presented in the books are a perfect example of this attention to detail when laying out a page of text. The map of the outer defences of the Red King’s castle, along with the descriptions of the rooms on the map, all fit on a two page spread. Most sections of this palace have cutaways maps along with descriptions that fit on one or two page spreads. Occasionally you will need to flip back a page to see a map, but this hardly feels onerous compared to the typical presentation of dungeons in most modules. Room descriptions are all bullet point rather than long paragraphs, making it easy to quickly figure out what’s going on. There is no superfluous text. This is true throughout the book. Blocks of text that might need to be looked at during a game are usually presented as bulleted lists, while sections of the book that will likely be read before or after a gaming session are often longer and more flowery.
This level of thoughtfulness permeates the whole book. There are next to no tables that don’t fit neatly on a single page, or aren’t part of a tidy two page spread. (The few tables that are too big for a two page spread are clearly marked as spilling over to the next page.) Beyond the dungeons and the rare monster, there is basically nothing in this book that would require you to flip a page to get all the information you need.
The layout of this book is really stunning. Jez Gordan has done an amazing job here. In addition to being so throughly functional the book looks beautiful.
This book is great. The artwork is amazing. The layout is amazing. The content is amazing. The physical book itself is amazing. I’m not sure why I even bothered writing this all up now. When it comes to gaming purchases this is a safe bet. Even if you have no interest in a D&D version of Alice in Wonderland, there is enough creativity here to steal or twist into something else.
Zak Smith made an art book that doubles as a D&D module. If nothing else it’d make a good coffee table book.
People, this box! This is the box I have been waiting for. If you could only see my full-body sobs for joy.1 All the way from Finland comes another box of goodies from Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Because I have backed so many LotFP Kickstarters I somehow ended up with 4 extra books beyond the 2 I ordered. I will probably write about each in more detail shortly, but I thought I would say a quick word about the books after flicking through them really quick.
As I have mentioned previously, there is no one I am aware of anywhere else in the RPG scene make books as nice as James Raggi, including all the big name publishers: Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, etc. A Red and Pleasant Land has tiny print run compared to the new 5e books, but is comparable in price and is physically a much nicer book. The paper is nice thick and matte, and the binding of the hardback is actually signature stitched. (It’s disappointing how many hardbacks nowadays are essentially casebound books with hard covers.) A Red and Pleasant Land is actually nicer than the Penguin Classics reissue of Alice’s Advneture in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass that I recently purchased—and that book is pretty nice itself! All of the recent LotFP books are produced with a level of care that now seems to be lost in most of the publishing world.
Beyond book fetishism one can also appreciate LotFP books for their art. There is obvious effort put into sourcing good and interesting art. I can’t say I’m always a fan of the choices Raggi makes, but there is never a piece of art in his books that feels phoned in. His books have much nicer covers than most modern fantasy novels, and certainly most RPG books. Of this recent batch of books, I love the cover of No Salvation For Withes the most—the interior art is too gross and terrifying for me sadly.
I love books. It’s refreshing to see there are still people out there who love them as much as me.
Well no, there are no tears, but I am pretty hyped. ↩
Carcosa is not Tolkien, high fantasy, or mainstream fantasy. It is equal parts horror, science-fiction, and swords & sorcery. It is H. P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, Robert E. Howard’s “Worms of the Earth” and “A Witch Shall Be Born,” Lin Carter’s “Carcosa Story about Hali,” and Michael Moorcock’s “While the Gods Laugh.” — Carcosa, pg 3
I have read almost none of the source material that inspired Carcosa. As I am now in the middle of running a campaign set in that world, I thought I should try and remedy that—if only so I can better understand what a Cyclopean City might look like or what the hell a Primordial One is all about. Since we live in an age where you can basically ask anyone anything, I thought I’d go right to the source and ask the author what specific books he recommends one read to get in a Carcosa frame of mind:
Of the pure Lovecraft stories, read these:
The Call of Cthulhu
The Whisperer in Darkness
At the Mountains of Madness
The Shadow over Innsmouth
The Shadow out of Time
Of Lovecraft’s revisions, read these:
Out of the Aeons
Read the original five Elric stories by Moorcock:
The Dreaming City
While the Gods Laugh
The Stealer of Souls
Kings in Darkness
The Flamebringers (later retitled The Caravan of Forgotten Dreams)
Read R. E. Howard’s:
Worms of the Earth (a Bran Mak Morn story)
The Shadow Kingdom (a Kull story)
A Witch Shall Be Born (a Conan story)
If you can find Cthulhu Mythos stories by Lin Carter, read those.
Hopefully someone else will find this list handy. It seems like a good fantasy reading list even if you aren’t interested in Carcosa.
I started writing what follows weeks and weeks ago. I have been waiting—impatiently—for A Red and Pleasant Land, the new D&D supplement by Zak Smith. It’s here now, which makes dragging my feet to post this seem particularly dumb.
Several weeks ago I attended OSRCon 2014. I saw some familiar faces and met some new people. The event was low key and a lot of fun. There are lots of old school gamers in Toronto, but we rarely meet up.
The game began as many do: a rich and mysterious benefactor promised the party riches beyond their wildest dreams if they would perform a series of tasks:
Clear out the knothole dungeon (an abandoned hangman’s post).
Map as much of Castle Cachtice as possible.
Ruin the hatter’s trial (“not guilty”).
The characters could make sense of the first task, as they were aware of the the location of the dungeon. The others were confusing: there is no Castle Cachtice and they had no idea who the hatter was. Still, what player is going to say no to tremendous wealth—especially when you are playing a one-shot?
Since this was OSRCon we began the adventure by carefully searching the area surrounding the entrance to the knothole dungeon. A dice roll later and the specialist had discovered a tiny key. Satisfied we were safe enough, we ventured down into the dungeon. We moved cautiously, coming upon a room with 3 dead bodies: two man sized, and one halfling sized. A few more dice rolls and we had discovered a few more curiosities.
As players we quickly realized that this module featured a pretty great “I Search the Body…” table. As the game progressed we could see that a lot of the work Kiel was doing as a GM in this game involved working with random tables and interpreting their results for us. Since he didn’t have an actual book, but a giant ream of paper, this would sometimes slow things down as we waited for him to find his place or look up a result.
This sort of thing can be a lot of fun if the players understand what’s going on, and the delay adds something to the game. Rolling for random treasure is enjoyable because there is some anticipation about what you might find. We were making the rolls as players, so the flow of the game rested with us. By the time we finished futzing around with our dice Kiel would be ready to read off the results of our roll. On the other hand, when Kiel was rolling on random tables himself he doesn’t have this wiggle room and any delay stands out. I suspect he would have been fine had he added a few more post-it note bookmarks to his binder of paper. There seemed to be a few tables he was using regularly in the adventure. (An actual book is also much easier to flip through.) Depending on what tables were being consulted, rolling results before the game or simply reading the tables as lists might work as well to speed things up. I don’t think anyone found the delays particularly distracting. Most of the game moved smoothly so anything that didn’t is noticeable.
Re-reading the above, I was curious just how much or how little preparation work Kiel did for this session. So, I asked him: “I actually ran that adventure with almost no prep. The first knothole dungeon before the castle was randomly generated on the spot.” Impressive! I thought Kiel was using a table here or there, that I was catching every instance of him looking stuff up. Apparently I was just catching those moments where he wasn’t looking things up fast enough. Amazing. I’d have never guessed that first dungeon was something he hadn’t written up ahead of time. Of course, this books isn’t going to automatically make you better at improvisation and ad-libbing, but it certainly seems to be a good game aid to support that style of DMing.
We explored the dungeon, ended up “through the looking glass”, briefly met the Red Queen, and did manage to sabotage a trial—mostly, anyway. A lot of crazy stuff happened in between, but I really don’t want to spoil this setting for anyone else. There are a few elements of A Red and Pleasant Land that are so much fun when you first encounter them I would feel bad if I ruined that experience for anyone else who plans to play in this setting. I participated in the play tests that were happening when this book was in development, and it was a great experience because I knew almost nothing about what Zak was working on beyond the fact it was set in an Alice in Wonderland world. There is another big literary influence on this work, but I feel like not knowing what it is makes that reveal in the game all the more fun.
Kiel ran a great session. It felt very much like something he would run crossed with something Zak would run—which makes sense I suppose. Zak has a very distinct style to his conception of D&D, and it really shines through in this setting. It’s a testament to the work he has done here that the adventure Kiel ran and the adventure Zak ran during the playtest both had a similar vibe to them. Zak’s game didn’t feel anymore genuine or official than Kiel’s.
All in all I have played 4 different sessions set in this world. As a player I have nothing but good things to say A Red and Pleasant Land.
Zak from D&D with Pornstars suggested another way to use [The Monolith from Beyond Space and Time] that would work quite well: “Like Tomb of Horrors, it could be considered a ‘go in, get killed, make a new PC, act with metagame knowledge, do it right this time’ situation.” To take this idea a little further, you could have characters killed during the course of the adventure simply wake up again somewhere in the valley. This would keep with the spirit of the module and makes a lot of the screw-you traps seem less harsh. — A footnote to my review of The Monolith from Beyond Space and Time
Thulian Echoes is the latest adventure Lamentations of the Flame Princess, written by Canada’s own Zzarchov Kowolski. The adventure takes place on an island, its central feature a crazy death-trap dungeon. In an attempt to make the death-trap dungeon less of a screw job, Thulian Echoes is meant to be played through twice by the same set of players. The second play through will hopefully be more successful than the first, as players will know the lay of the land.
Why would players run through the same adventure twice? The central conceit of the module is that the characters find a journal outlining the travels of a band of adventures who all (probably) died horrible deaths within the island’s dungeon thousands of years ago. Assuming players decide to investigate this mysterious dungeon they are given pre-generated characters and play through the events of the journal. It’s the D&D equivalent of a flashback in a movie, I suppose.
The dungeon itself is a weird small complex created by a wizard—of course. There are lots of moving parts and puzzles for the characters to mess around with. There are plenty of ways for player characters to die. A giant machine is central to the whole dungeon, and will likely be a source of fun, confusion, or death for the players. A passage from the main dungeon leads to an underground wilderness that the players may choose to explore as well. This portion of the dungeon is run completely abstractly: there are no maps. There is a destination the players can reach if they venture ‘downwards’, their route to this place will lead them to have several random encounters. This is a pretty simple way to do an exploration of a vast cave system. It could probably be fleshed out more if your players were into fighting Devolved Elder Things. Another passage leads to the wizard’s laboratory and sanctum, where the players may encounter the wizard himself.
Another layer of twists make the second play through hopefully as fun as the first. The present day setting will change based on what the players do during their flashback adventure. I was reminded of Chrononauts a little bit: if this happens and that happens then in the future the world is run by dinosaurs. (Well not quite, but that’s the general idea.) The adventure presents each named location as it exists in the past. This is then often followed by a section for Consequences, which lists what the things the players might trigger in the past, and Present Era, which lists what the location may look like in the present day. I’m curious how tricky all of this stuff is to keep track of during a game session. I suspect a DM would want to split up the past and present run-throughs with a short break at the very least. This is probably an adventure that works best printed out and marked up as the game progresses.
Art is by Kelvin Green, who has illustrated several LotFP modules (including his own). He has a cartoony style that is often at odds with the images being depicted. This module isn’t particularly “gross” as LotFP modules go. I enjoyed all the artwork. The cartography is by Jason Thompson, notable for doing all those cute map walkthroughs of famous D&D modules. (I actually would have loved if the official map for the module was such a walkthrough, but I suspect that wouldn’t work printed in an A5 book. Those drawings are massive.)
Scenic Dunnsmouth by Zzarchov Kowolski was released a couple weeks ago. It seems to have been in the works for ages now. It’s a location based adventure taking place entirely in the mysterious town of Dunnsmouth. What sets it apart from modules of yore like Village of Hommlet, The Veiled Society or Against the Cult of the Reptile God is how its town is described: it’s generated randomly. Scenic Dunnsmouth is a book about how to make an adventure in scenic Dunnsmouth.
The module is broken up into several sections that outline the town and its inhabitants. You determine the contents of the town by rolling some dice, which will indicate the homes of families and perhaps other places of note. The NPCs that inhabit the town are determined by drawing from a deck of playing cards. As such, 52 families from 4 larger extended families have been described. This section of the book was very reminiscent of Village of Hommlet. Each home is described with a little detail, always mentioning where the jewelry is hidden, where weapons might be stored, and what the various family dynamics are within the home. Unlike Hommlet, the people of Dunnsmouth are a lot more twisted and terrible on the whole. The town may have some additional special locations or people present, depending on how the dice fall. There is a lot of variety in what might turn up. It’s all creepy and weird and in line with what you would expect from a module from Lamentations of the Flame Princess. When I tried generating a random town myself it took a little over 15 minutes.
During the generation of the town each home can become corrupt in some way I will skip discussing because that might be a spoiler. (Can you spoil a randomly generated adventure?) I will say that while none of the writing in the book is particularly gory or gratuitous, I found these extra descriptions hard to read because they were grossing me out in a way I didn’t think descriptions of ████-people would. Outlines of what the resident serial killer is getting up to also move the module firmly into LotFP territory.
The book itself is quite nice, similar to the recent softcover adventures from LotFP in its presentation: perfect bound, rough matte paper, etc. The interior art is two tone: the extra colour is used really well. Jez Gordon has done a wonderful job with the art and layout of this book. I had originally thought the layout of the NPC section was a bit spartan, with one family described per page, but it actually makes looking up who is part of the town a breeze. If you have the PDF you can also just print up the pages that pertain to your town. It’d be straight forward to generate your own mini-Dunnsmouth booklet. It’s nice to see some extra thought going into how these things are laid out: they aren’t just books, they are meant to be used to game with.
Scenic Dunnsmouth is a very strong release for LotFP. Along with Forgive Us, I think it really showcases how to run an RPG game in the ‘real’ world. If you have been waiting for someone to write a really creepy Village of Hommlet look no further. (Now we just need a randomly generated creepy moat house.)
I really like Kelvin Green’s Forgive Us.1 The module is well written and looks like it’d be fun to play. The thing is, there are lots of adventures I could say that about. Almost everything LotFP puts out is well written, at the very least. In my mind what makes Forgive Us really stand out is its smart use of page layout and illustration to effectively present the adventure.
The early modules from TSR are pretty terrible when it comes to something you could use to actually run a game at a table. It’s insane how dense they are. I find them hard to read leisurely. I can’t imaging flipping through them in the middle of a gaming session.2 Lots of DMs I know re-write them to make them easier for play and to help them memorize the key parts of the adventures. Most adventures I buy today continue to ape design choices made in the 70s and 80s, by people who probably were constrained by the printing technology of the time and their own knowledge of graphic design.
Green on the other hand has clearly thought about what this adventure would look like printed in a book. There are no wasted two-page spreads. Maps for relevant sections of the adventure are presented alongside their keys. Each map is illustrated with a level of detail that lets Green avoid overly verbose room descriptions. The heavy lifting is done by the maps. That’s not to say the module is bereft of any words. There is still a fair amount of writing, but it’s more useful and interesting than tedious description. Each section of the lair is discussed at a high level, with a mix of pertinent backstory, information, and jokes.
So, all of that said, you’re probably wondering what the hell this adventure is about? Green summarizes things thusly:
Forgive Us is the main and largest adventure, and is the closest to a classic dungeon crawl. The dungeon in this case is the lair of a gang of thieves, abandoned after an unlucky encounter with mutant shape-changing monsters. Said mutant shape-changing monsters are still there when your players arrive. Although the format was inspired by the Marienburg articles in White Dwarf – back when it was good, etcetera – in terms of plot it’s more or less John Carpenter’s The Thing mixed in with John Carpenter’s Escape From New York; I hope one of your players is Kurt Russell.
Who doesn’t like the Thing? That’s a rhetorical question. The adventure is an exploratory puzzle. How you explore the lair is pretty open ended. Because much of it is locked up, part of the adventure will involve tracking down keys or breaking down doors. There aren’t too many monsters to encounter, and I think many could be avoided by smart players. The adventure feels very much at home under the LotFP umbrella.
Isle of the Unknown is another campaign setting book written by Geoffrey McKinney, of Carcosa fame, published by Lamentation of the Flame Princes. Both books are similar in how they present the game world to the player: short descriptions of the regions in a wilderness map that has been sun-divided into hexes. The similarities really end there. The art and general tone of the two books is quite different. They also seem to serve contrasting purposes: Carcosa is a complete—Hah!—setting in and of itself, while Isle of the Unknown is meant to be placed within a campaign setting. It is purposefully light on details that would suggest what the larger world of the island is like. It is up to the dungeon master to decide this for themselves. The hex descriptions in Isle of the Unknown are broken down into the following categories: cities & villages, statues, magic users & clerics, monsters, and “the weird”.
0410 A rumour is spreading through this town (population 1,500) that a detachment of men-at-arms is several days late in returning. The town’s lord had sent out men to slay the horrid dragon (see hex 0409) that has plagued the town. Unfortunately, the men entered the cave in hex 0411.
The city and village descriptions are the most pedestrian. Rumour or events that have transpired in the settlement usually direct players to other (more interesting) hexes. Each description includes the population so you have a rough sense of how big the town might be. Beyond that there is little said about these villages.
0505 Each of eight 75 lb. porcupines (Armor: as leather, HD 9, Hp 32, 37, 31, 51, 41, 42, 22, 49, move 130’ [swimming only], 1d6/bite) has four poisonous asps growing from its body instead of legs. Each round a porcupine itself bites, as does one of its asps (10 points of damage, save avoids). The gaze of a porcupine drains 1 point of strength (which returns at the rate of 1 point/ hour). They can also shape-shift into swordfish, which doubles their movement rate
The monsters on the Isle of the Unknown are supposed to be evocative of the sorts of creatures found in Greek mythology: the chimera, the sphinxes, that sort of thing. To my modern eyes they feel like something silly out of Pokemon. It seems like they could have all been replaced with a series of random tables for generating chimeric creatures. (And I think if you tried you could reverse engineer such a table easily enough.) The monster illustrations are nice, but also what lend the monsters their air of Pokemon: they are bright, colourful, and cartoony. One thing very impressive about the book is that every single monster is illustrated in full colour.
1209 In the midst of a 100’ diameter circle of strangely-colored nature (bright orange stones, purple and yellow grass, red foliage, etc) stands a life-sized statue of a nude woman made of an unknown, sky blue stone. She holds a rainbow-colored harp. Anyone plucking the strings will notice that random objects (including himself) within 50’ turn other colors for nearly a minute before returning to their previous color. …
The book could be used solely as a giant random statue table. There are so many scattered about the island. Most of statues will try and kill you if you mess with them. Some provide interesting benefits, depending on your alignment or class. Other are just strange things to confound your players. Most of these statues would be right at home inside a dungeon.
1803 A perpetual spring blesses a forest of ash, cypress, fig, apple, and pear trees. The sweet perfumes of roses, columbines, daisies, and violets mingle with the odor of cinnamon and cloves. A herd of 49 milk-white cattle is kept by a young woman in a dress of pastel blue, pink, and green She is a 6th-level magic-user (Armor: none, HD 6, Hp 22, move 120’) armed with bronze spear, long sword, and dagger. If accosted, the seven bulls (Armor: as leather, HD 4, Hp 17, 7, 23, 15, 17, 24, 14, move 150’, 2d8/gore) of the herd will protect her. On the other hand, if treated with courtesy, she will magically create green moss agates (worth 10 gp each) and bestow one upon each courteous person.
The magic-user and clerics of the Isle of the Unknown all have atypical powers. They often have some small amount of treasure on their person. It is generally not a good idea to fight them. The magic-user described above would probably be friendly to the player characters, but many of the descriptions of the clerics and magic-users aren’t quite so clear. The descriptions are terse: there is a lot of leeway in how they could be used. There are full-page paintings of several of the magic-users by Jason Rainville. If there is one thing LotFP does well it’s art. There are some beautiful pieces in this book.
2405 An opulently furnished mansion overlooking the sea is the erstwhile home of a powerful enchanter. Therein stand the immobilized bodies of fifty young woman of surpassing grace and loveliness, their youth unnaturally made perpetual by the magical arts of their captor.
Finally we have some straight up weird encounters. Some, like the one above, could be fleshed out in to a whole adventure. Others are small strange situations that provide some colour. For the most part none of them really jumped out at me as zany-crazy-awesome—unlike Carcosa.
At the back of the book are a great set of indices that categorize hexes in to the types of encounters found on the island. It would have been nice for similar work to have been done for Carcosa. Being able to quickly look at where all the towns in the world is very handy. The monsters are organized by hit dice and include a smaller version of their illustration. This makes the book useful as a mini-monster manual.
As a physical book the Isle of the Unknown is incredible. Lamentations of the Flame Princess hit their stride with the release of this book and Carcosa. They have few equals when it comes to producing books. (And I am including the big publishers Wizards of the Coast and Paizo here.) There is a neurotic attention to detail in their books that I love.
Should you pick up this book? I’m not so sure. There is less that appeals to me here than in Carcosa. For a weird island of wonder the Isle of the Unknown often feels quite muted. I think that’s where it really falls down. In an attempt to make a supplement that would function in any campaign world, McKinney has produced something that often feels quite flat. It’s a much less cohesive body of work than Carcosa.
This painting is by Yannick Bouchard for the new LotFP Referee book. Is there anyone else putting out RPG art of the same calibre as Lamentations of the Flame Princess? Their Tumblr is full of amazing pieces of art work. They definitely out class Wizards of the Coast, which one would hope has a much bigger budget for this sort of thing. I often feel like all the good fantasy artists get sucked up into the behemoth that is Magic: The Gathering. It’s good to see that this isn’t always the case.
James Raggi sometimes gets flack for the art work he puts in his books. Sometimes people say they are too gruesome. Or they say they are too full of nakedness. I don’t think i’ve ever heard complaints they are too boring, though.
With my review of the Rules and Magic hardcover, i’ve reviewed all the books in my giant shipment from Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I thought it would be handy to have a single place that collects them all together, so here they are once more:
I do have two small complaints about the [LotFP Grindhouse] books as objects: the three books are quite nice, but I think they would have been nicer with thicker covers and softer paper; the title font, while appropriate for the contents of the book, is a bit hard read. It’s a very nice boxset, but after seeing Carcosa I can imagine a future edition of the rules that will truly be epic.
As I mentioned in my review of the Grindhouse Boxed Set, LotFP builds on top of Basic / Expert D&D. It’s not quite a retroclone, but its also not a huge departure from the source meterial. Even if you aren’t interested in “Weird Fantasy Roleplaying Games” LotFP would make for a great ruleset to play D&D with. I am a fan of all the tweaks Raggi has made to the game.
This books contains all the rules you need to play a game of LotFP. The book is split into two parts, which you can probably guess from its title: rules and magic. Rules covers the rules for adventuring, of course. The magic portion of the book is the pretty extensive spell list for LotFP. The two halves of the book are about equal in length, about 70 pages each.
The rule changes make sense within the context of the sorts of adventures Raggi writes. Fighters are the only character class that improves at fighting. They, along with Dwarves and Elves, also have a few additional tweaks that make them more versatile when fighting. This helps better differentiate the Fighter from the Cleric, for example. In most LotFP adventures, fighting is probably not going to get you very far, so the fact other classes are going to have a hard time hitting things really won’t have much effect on the game. Raggi is trying to encourage a style of play that doesn’t lean to heavily on killing everything. The encumbrance rules in LotFP are much more straightforward, and the official character sheet makes tracking encumbrance very simple. In a game where you get most of your experience for treasure, tracking how much you can carry out of a dungeon becomes interesting and important. Do you weigh yourself down? Do you leave this treasure chest behind? These were the two biggest rule changes that first sprung to my mind, but there are lots of little changes like this throughout the book.
When I bought the Grindhouse boxed set I skimmed through the magic portion of the rules book, there was so much to read. This time I thought i’d read through it all to really see what was changed. Briefly: a fair bit. The changes to the spell lists in LotFP give the game much of its colour. They are doing a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to making the game “weird”.
The spells available to Clerics have been changed quite a bit. Several spells typical to the Cleric in D&D end up being Magic-User spells in LotFP, like Hold-Person and Speak with Animals. Several spells were dropped from LotFP, like Sticks to Snakes and Raise Dead. The tweaks better cement the Clerics position in the world of LotFP as agents of Law, demon hunters, healers, etc.
Magic-Users in LotFP have a pretty huge list of spells available to them. (20 spells per level for the first 7 levels of spells, and then 10 for level 8 and 6 for level 9.) There are lots of small tweaks and changes to the flavour text that give most spells creepier overtones. Mirror Image pulls versions of the caster from alternate timelines that then distract opponents as per the original spell. Charm Person works as it does in Basic D&D, but the charmed creatures explicitly remember what they did while charmed when the spell ends. Animate Dead brings people back to life, but they have vague memories of their former life, which drives them mad and makes them destructive. Summon is a first level that lets the caster summon a demon. Failure to cast the spell can result in a TPK at the very least and wreck serious havoc on a campaign if dice rolls go the wrong way. Magic-Users and Elves are generally treated as “evil” when it comes to spells like Detect Evil, Protection from Evil, etc. They are Chaotic and this has some concrete effects on the game. This all works together to create a vision of magic that is decidedly less high-fantasy than your typical D&D.
There are several new pieces of art in this new book, and they are some of the best yet from LotFP. The two new colour Magic-User pieces are particularly good, and really stood out to me. One for its cosmic level of awesome, the other for its gleeful violence. Another piece I like is that of the infamous Alice from the Tutorial book armed with a blood soaked musket, herself drenched in blood. As with the latest LotFP releases, the graphic design and layout of the book is excellent: it is such a marked improvement over the older Grindhouse rulebook.
So yeah, I can think of no good reason not to own this book. As I said to start, the new Rules and Magic rule book from Lamentations of the Flame Princess is amazing.
The module, if you can call it that, is very short. It describes an adventuring location, a small farmhouse surrounded by a corn field. The set up is generic enough it would be easy to fit on most game maps. It would probably make a good entry on a random encounter table. There are a few NPCs, magic items, and a creepy new monster the players will have to deal with. That monster is the crux of this adventure.
The players will no doubt wander towards a farmhouse in search of treasure, traveling through the cornfield. It’s a trap, of course. A horrible creature lays under the house and field. It has some stats, but trying to fight the thing will probably be a giant suck. The players will likely find themselves trapped, alongside another adventurer whose friends are all dead. He has been in the farmhouse for days and has turned to cannibalism. (The corn is poisoned, as is the available water.) He has some treasure, and needs the players help to escape.
The Tales of the Scarecrow also includes a couple of interesting magic items. In true LotFP fashion they give as much as they take. There is a sword that appears to be quite handy in a fight until it starts hitting your friends as well. There is also a spell book full of such blasphemous magic the PCs will be hunted down once it is discovered they know about it, let alone have it in their possession. Finally there is the titular Tales of the Scarecrow. The book grants experience points to the player who writes up the best stats and powers of the scarecrow that sits out in the cornfield near the farmhouse. If the players make the creature too soft, they will lose out on a chance to win experience points. If they make it too hard they’ll have to deal with difficulty they create in the game. It’s a prisoners dilemma of sorts. James Raggi seems to enjoy including these sorts of “post-modern” magic items in his game.
The interior artwork (and layout) by Jez Gordon is really nice. The module is well written and clear. Sometimes Raggi can be a bit too wordy with his writing, but I don’t think that’s the case here. Each of the elements in this adventure could be taken apart and used individually. Tales of the Scarecrow is available for almost nothing as a PDF. I think it’s worth the price of admission.
The latest limited edition module from James Raggi is Fuck For Satan. You can pick up a hand numbered copy from his online store. I got the 35th copy, apparently. There are 666 in total, of course. The cover art is awesome. This adventure features missing children, a haunted hill, a cult, aliens, and some fucking. This thing has it all. If only it was good. This review is full of spoilers.
In Fuck For Satan the players are tasked with finding some missing children. This will lead them through a small, but tough, dungeon, one that will be a real slog to get through. There is a warning telling the players as much before they even go in, but who is going to heed that warning? There are no wandering monsters, so players will have all the time in the world to screw themselves. And they probably will.
The dungeon is quite linear. There are basically three spokes to explore. I can appreciate the reason for this: the dungeon is a big red-herring, the children aren’t there. If this dungeon was obnoxious to map and navigate players might spend far too long trying to look for that one spot they haven’t checked out yet. They might never clue in to the fact the children aren’t here.
A couple traps in this adventure trigger when the characters see them. As I mentioned in my review of the Monolith Beyond Space and Time, that’s kind of a boring way to trigger a trap. If you want something to happen all the time you should just say “this thing happens all the time no matter what the players do,” because most players aren’t walking through dungeons blind folded, led by charmed retainers or some such thing. Since players are looking for these children, and are likely to explore every nook and cranny of the dungeon, they are probably going to encounter both of these traps. One of these traps requires the players sacrifice someone to escape the dungeon. The other summons a monster that I am guessing is meant to poke fun at people who get worked up about objectionable content in books.
A portion of the dungeon is a sort of prison for creepy monsters and I thought that was done well. The whole double door “air lock” type passageways were neat. There are two monsters to fight, though this being an LotFP module you are best off avoiding both.
Fuck For Satan feels like it’s trying too hard. It’s supposed to be a funny fuck you to people who get worked up about the stuff James Raggi puts out. I mean, it’s called “Fuck for Satan”. There is a walking alien penis monster. There is a giant gay orgy. There is a monster that forces players to shit themselves, and then they have to fight their shit. The adventure feels like a parody of an LotFP adventure. I’d skip this module unless you are a collector of LotFP books. Compared to all the other recent releases from LotFP this one seems particularly weak.
Update 2013-10-28: This is an interesting little tidbit from James Raggi over on G+:
The Twinkly bit from Fuck For Satan, continues to get a lot of response, and I can only assume the occasional group of players sending me character sheets is indicative of the adventure being used for actual play.
Interesting how few of them are actually using LotFP stats. :D Lots of 3.x/Pathfinder, some DCC, and then a bunch that could be whatever old D&D.
Even though I feel the adventure is far more gag than functional, it is still being used in the wild. I’m curious to see how much, if at all, people tweak the adventure.
Qelong is fantastic. The book describes a sandbox setting, a place to have a horrific wilderness adventure. This is the model to follow if you want to put out a setting book. Though only 48 pages long it provides more than enough information to run a campaign in the Qelong River Valley.
Qelong gets right to the point. First we are introduced to the place this adventure takes place, a devastated region that is the site of a war between two elder beings. There is one obvious adventure hook, a magic weapon cast off by one of these creatures is a much sought after treasure. A rumour table helps the DM introduce the rest of the world to the players and provides a quick glimpse to the DM of what Qelong is all about. From there we get detailed descriptions of the various terrain features found in the Qelong River Valley, along with some example encounters. Each terrain type also has it’s own random encounters table, a nice touch. Along with some new monsters this all works to help paint a picture of what this place is like, better than your typical travelog style settings book. In many ways this book is reminiscent of Carcosa in how it presents the game world, though unlike Carcosa the presentation is much less obtuse. The book concludes with a few named encounter sites. These are a bit more detailed, describing the bases of important factions or places of interest to the PCs. A DM would need to flesh these out more for his game.
The book is very well organized. This is one of the few campaign books I could imagine pulling out and using at the gaming table. It’s the antithesis of all those Dark Sun books I have. Most of those books are needlessly wordy to the point of being boring. They are often so detailed they are stifling. Qelong provides just enough information and no more.
The encounters, the monsters, the factions: it’s all good stuff. Kenneth Hite has done a great job bringing to life this creepy fantasy version of South-East Asia. Nothing feels boring or recycled. As written it seems like it’d be a very difficult place to adventure in. It’s a place ravaged by war. There are no friendly faces. Most everyone is disease ridden. The land itself is poisoned, and as characters adventure in Qelong they are going to get poisoned themselves. The rules for this are presented early in the book. They seem like they might be a bit too fiddly to track, but what do I know? They certainly would make adventuring in the region much more interesting.
The art in the book is by Rich Longmore, who did the art for Carcosa, and is some sort of god damn art superstar. I feel like the cover by Jason Rainville isn’t doing this book justice. I wish they used some of the bigger black white art by Longmore for the cover. There are some amazing pictures in this book. It also goes without saying that the production quality of the book is top notch, like all the recent Lamentation of the Flame Princess releases. This is a softcover A5 book sporting a great layout by Jez Gordan.
So, to reiterate: Qelong is fantastic. I hope it’s selling well amidst all the other stuff Lamentations of the Flame Princess have put out recently, because it’s probably the best wilderness adventure I’ve ever read. I’m actually curious to hear what modules people think are better, because this book sets the bar very damn high. Does it sound like i’m gushing? Well I am fucking gushing. This book is a must-buy.
The God That Crawls was produced at the same time as The Monolith Beyond Space and Time, both products resulting from a crowd funding campaign run early last year. The God That Crawls is a much more traditional module. There a church. Underneath the church is a labyrinth full of treasure. Guarding that treasure is a monster: The God That Crawls. This being Lamentation of the Flame Princess, things are so neat and tidy. The God That Crawls is one of the smartest takes on the dungeon crawl I’ve read in quite some time. This review is full of spoilers.
The module opens with some backstory about the church and the creature that lays trapped below it. Like most recent LotFP modules the adventure takes place in a fictional version of Earth. This module takes place in 15th Century England. Of course, you can drop that dressing easily enough. The players will probably end up in the catacombs below the church, because that’s what players are about.1 Once in the dungeon they’ll need to find a new way out because the way in will be barred to them. There is only one monster stalking the halls of the dungeon in The God That Crawls, and that would be the titular God That Crawls. The players will need to avoid the creature while trying to escape with as much treasure as they can carry.
The God That Crawls will be a challenge for any party of low level characters that attempt to fight it directly. Though easy enough to hit the monster has plenty of hit points and can regenerate a few hit points per turn. The creature moves quite slowly, so fleeing the beast when it is encountered is going to be the party’s best bet. So, for the module to be interesting and terrifying DMs will need to handle a couple things I suspect most everyone hates to deal with: time and encumbrance.
There are two ways suggested for tracking the monster in the dungeon: the first is simply to track exactly where the players and the monster are located; the second is to make random encounter checks each turn that change based on the parties actions. In each case, you need to be mindful of where the players managed to move in a turn at the very least. (I think it’s probably easier to track things exactly rather than run the God as a random encounter, since for that to be interesting you need to know roughly where the players are located anyway.) The module will be more fun if you are also tracking when torches are spent and rations are eaten. If players aren’t careful they can end up trapped underground without light or food. I haven’t played a game of D&D where the rations on my adventure sheet have mattered at all, or where I feared I’d run out of torches before the adventure was done.
LotFP has pretty great rules for tracking encumbrance. I’m not sure if most DMs playing LotFP games are better about keeping track of how much junk their players are carting around. In this module it seems particularly important to pay attention to how encumbered a player is. If the players are loaded down with treasure fleeing the God might prove too difficult. This is the first module i’ve read where the encumbrance rules are called out specifically as a way to ratchet up the tension.[^2] Players will need to decide if they want to lug around that extra treasure, or stay nimble so they can flee from the God when he jumps them.
One more thing that’s been on my mind with this module is using it as a board game without a board to teach people about dungeon crawls. In this game the goal of the DM is to kill all the players, while the players need to flee the dungeon with as much treasure as they can. (You could ignore all the atypical encounters that are mentioned in the book.) I think you could run the whole adventure only using a handful of rules from the LotFP game: basic combat, fleeing, pursuit, encumbrance, and movement. I’m sure you could generate similar style crypts randomly if you wanted to run the adventure again and again.
If I have one complaint about this module it would be its cover, which is really boring. And that’s really about it. This is genuinely great module. I read through the book and I instantly wanted to grab some people and play it: sadly my wife and toddler don’t play D&D.
Well, most players. I have played the occasional game with people who don’t actually seem interested in doing any god damn adventuring. Why are you playing D&D? ↩
I had placed a few orders and backed several Kickstarter campaigns from Lamentations of the Flame Princess over the last year, asking that everything ship together to save me some money. And so it came to pass that I ended up with a giant pile of books to read a few days ago. I thought i’d start with The Monolith from Beyond Space and Time, James Raggi’s ode to H.P. Lovecraft. There are no giant Cthulhu monsters, but there is a lot of existential woe. This review is full of spoilers.
The module is split into three parts: first we are told about the random encounters that occur in the valley that surrounds the Monolith; then we learn about the Monolith itself, the area immediately around it, and the monsters that guard it; finally we learn about the bizarre interior world of the Monolith. I’ve never read another module like this one. This is both a compliment and a complaint. The Monolith from Beyond Space and Time is an interesting read because it’s full of zany ideas and encounters. The problem is that a lot of these zany encounters are, in my estimation, straight up dick moves.
A lot of the encounters in this module feel like they are sprung on the players without giving them any recourse whatsoever, and no clue they’re about to get screwed. Simply looking at the Monolith is the trigger for one ill effect, and the only way to end the effect is to venture into Monolith to destroy it—which is a pain in the ass, trust me. The Guardian, an invisible monster located just outside the Monolith, is for all intents and purposes completely invincible, and the DM is instructed to make sure the players don’t realize this is the case so they may waste their time fighting the thing. A portion of the adventure written by Kenneth Hite called “The Owl Service” is probably the worst offender when it comes to all of this stuff. It is a random encounter in the valley that surrounds the Monolith in which players stumble on some owls, have to hang around them till they are sufficiently creeped out, and then their characters are haunted by owls till they die. Yeah. For a challenge to be interesting in a game of D&D there needs to be some way for the players to circumvent or overcome it. A pit trap you always fall into no matter what is boring.
The Monolith is all risk, no reward. As a player, if I wandered all the way to the Monolith, explored it’s creepy-ass interior, and then escaped broken and maimed, i’d probably be a bit annoyed that I wasn’t coming home with buckets of money. The only treasure of note in the adventure is a magic-user’s head—and you need to eat it to reap its rewards.
Placing the Monolith in a sandbox game with a warning to never go there still might be interesting. You could have NPCs who have visited the Monolith, now afflicted by its curse, wandering the countryside leaving trails of dead bodies in their wake. It could be a source for all sorts of crazy out of context monsters and super villains. The players may feel compelled to sacrifice their characters to destroy the Monolith and put a stop to all this evil, which sounds like it’d make for a good story and a fine way to cap off a campaign.1
You can tweak the adventure to make it more fair. You could provide more clues about what’s going on. You could drop some of the encounters that don’t really belong in a game that is supposed to be fun. The thing is, at what point would the adventure cease to be scary? How do you fill your players with a sense of existential dread if they can overcome all obstacles presented through smart play? It seems like a true horror game is at odds with one of the most important parts of a good D&D game: letting the players make meaningful choices.
So, here’s the rub: I liked this module. Crazy, right? You’re probably wondering why you wasted your time reading everything I wrote above. That terrible owl encounter I mentioned previously is really well written. The whole module is. The art is fantastic and totally unlike anything else i’ve seen in an RPG book. I read this module a couple days ago and it’s really stuck with me. This is a terrible adventure to spring on your players, but i’m not sure the adventure itself is terrible. Confused? You should read The Monolith from Beyond Space and Time.
“Solutions? Explanations? The Monolith owes you none.”
So minutes after I posted this Zak from D&D with Pornstars suggested another way to use this module that would work quite well: “Like Tomb of Horrors, it could be considered a ‘go in, get killed, make a new PC, act with metagame knowledge, do it right this time’ situation.” To take this idea a little further, you could have characters killed during the course of the adventure simply wake up again somewhere in the valley. This would keep with the spirit of the module and makes a lot of the screw-you traps seem less harsh. ↩
The book is full of tables upon tables to help you come up with your own wizard’s seclusium.1 The book opens with some discussion on magic and seclusiums. Baker than details three particular seclusiums, the titular Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions being the most fleshed out of the three. These three example seclusiums show the reader how to go about using the tables presented in the last part of the book to create a seclusium of their own from scratch. The evocative is mixed with the mundane to help you come up with a cool adventuring location. It is all very Jack Vance.
There is D&D the the role-playing game, and then there are all the meta-games that surround that game. For some players trying to min-max the ultimate character is more fun than actually using that character in a game of D&D. For others drawing and stocking a dungeon is all they want to do. In some ways making a seclusium is its own mini-game: you roll some dice and see how it evolves, imagining its backstory. In this way The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions reminds me a little bit of How to Host a Dungeon. Though the later is clearly presented as a game in its own right, I think it’s particularly appealing to those who enjoy imagining what’s going on in the dungeon they are growing. Similarly one could take The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions and add more elements to make it more of a game in and of itself.
To be honest, I wasn’t particularly interested in the book when I first heard about it. There were other adventures I had hoped would fund. The reviews for this book have been a little bit mixed2, but I quite like it. I own nothing else like it. I’m really glad it funded after all.
Lamentations of the Flame Princess ran a Kickstarter campaign several months ago in order to get a new adventure printed and included as part of Free RPG Day. Their goal was to get a minimum order of the adventure printed so they could participate in Free RPG Day, with stretch goals letting them make bigger and bigger print runs. They ended up hitting their big goal of being a Platinum Sponsor of the event, alongside Frog God Games and Paizo. This Kickstarter was interesting because getting the actual printed adventure wasn’t one of the rewards. The logistics of printing and shipping the module to Kickstarter backers as well as the people running Free RPG Day was too costly. Instead rewards were PDFs or print copies of four new modules from LotFP.1
My first stop on Free RPG Day was The Silver Snail, a comic book shop here in Toronto. They were running some Pathfinder games for Free RPG Day that had already started when I arrived, and simply giving away random bags of RPG stuff to customers who asked about the event. I ended up getting a copy of Better Than Any Man this way.
Better Than Any Man is a mammoth module. It’s more or less a mini-sandbox campaign. It’s bigger than almost everything else LotFP have put out thus far. There are several adventure sites for the PCs to investigate, several towns to explore, and an invading army to deal with—or not. The over-arching ‘hook’ is that a group of women sorceresses calling themselves the Seven have taken over the town of Karlstadt. Of these women, the one who calls herself the Mother has more sinister goals than the rest. She is hoping to revive the Insect God, and is using the current chaos to mask her true intentions. The module describes the town of Karlstadt in detail, has a pretty fantastic (and inspiring!) countryside encounters table, and several adventuring sites related to the Insect God cult, which all lie beneath a place called Goblin Hill. The two main places to explore are an ancient shrine to the Insect God and the headquarters of the cult. There are three additional locales discussed in the book: an abandoned farmhouse now home to bandits; an ancient mound now home to a creepy magic-user; and a magical tower with an infinite number of levels. There is a ton of stuff to play with in this module.
Better Than Any Man was meant to showcase what LotFP is all about, and here it clearly a success. The book features everything you’d expect to find in an LotFP product: sex and violence, cannibalism, some dudes dong, magic items no one will want to use, monsters you probably shouldn’t fight, etc, etc. It also highlights the more recent changes to the line: the implied setting for the module is a bizarro version of Europe, circa 1631; demi-humans and humanoid monsters aren’t to be found, though their former existence is implied; there are some brief rules on guns. The book is a great example of what your typical LotFP module is all about.
If you missed Free RPG Day Better Than Any Man is now available as a PDF. The PDF version of the module is in many ways nicer than the print version: it’s less dense, with large chunks of the book being set in a bigger font and in a single column; there is a pretty extensive appendix at the back that collects a lot of useful information from the module; and it’s full of hyperlinks that let you jump between sections. There is really no good reason not to get this book.
This isn’t uncommon if you look at Kickstarter projects outside of the Games and Tech sections, where the thing you are funding might not be something that will be mass produced upon completion of the project. This project felt more in line with art or film projects where you are funding a common good. Later on in the project James Raggi decided to do a second print run in Finland that he would ship to backers if they were interested in buying the module. ↩
A Green Man cyborg (AC 18, MV 60’, HD 6, Lawful) leads a battalion of 3-12 soldiers armed with an assortment of Alien weaponry. The cyborg will repair any Alien technology Lawful PCs may possess, and will attack any PCs who make their allegiance to the forces of Chaos known. He is searching for his adopted daughter.
Citadel of 98 Red Men led by “The Ram”, a Lawful 4th-level Fighter. “The Ram” is a behemoth of a man, never seen without his indestructible helmet.
Spawn of Shub-Niggurath (AC 14, MV 120, HD 6, Multiple Alignments [intelligent]): An Orange humanoid with a smooth hide and 3 heads. One head is humanoid (and Lawful), one head is robotic (and Neutral) and the last head is bestial (and Chaotic). When first encountered, or whenever the creature is under stress, roll a d6 to see which head is currently in control of the beast: 1-2 - the humanoid; 3-4 - the robot; 5-6 the monster.
A Jale Man Sorcerer (AC 16, MV 120’, HD 8, Neutral) wearing a Red breast plate sits on a giant Cthulhu shaped throne, alone at the lowest levels of the Cavern of the Time Lords. He may share his knowledge of Carcosa with those who seek him out.
Spawn of Shub-Niggurath (AC 14, MV 120’ / 160’ [Flying], HD 6, Neutral [intelligent]): A Brown avioid with a feathered hide and a toothed mouth. There is a 4 in 6 chance that when encountered the beast will be in flight.
A squat Purple Man Sorcerer (AC 12, MV 90’ / 120’ [Flying], HD 2, Lawful) in flowing robes and an over sized hat is in the process of botching the ritual The Glyphs of the Ebon Lake.
1 Sabertooth Tiger (intelligent).
A Blue Man (AC 16, MV 120’, HD 2, Lawful) with a cybernetic augmentation that allows him to extend his head several meters above his body is surveying the wilderness. He is armed with a bright yellow mace and can not be surprised.
A damaged Alien vehicle, with 4 tank treads instead of wheels. Characters with an intelligence of 16 or more may attempt to repair the machine, with a cumulative chance of 10% per week of succeeding. (i.e after ten weeks the tank will be repaired.) It is large enough to comfortably transport 12 men.
Village of 366 Brown Men ruled by “the Silver Fist,” a Lawful 6th-level Fighter. The Silver Fist rides into battle on cybernetic horses and wields a mysterious purple sword.
A foreboding grey castle sits empty save for its custodian, an Orange Woman 18th-level Sorcerer. The castle is circumscribed by a bottomless chasm. A single bridge leads to its imposing doors shaped in the visage of a skull. The sorcerer will not leave the castle, and is immortal and invulnerable while within its walls. She will aid all those who actively seek to defend Carcosa from the forces of Chaos.
What appears to be a simple rock is in fact The Starseed, a source of unlimited power. At any given time there are at least 1-6 high level sorcerers actively searching for the artifact.
A White Woman (AC 14, MV 120’, HD 4, Lawful) is locked in battle with a Deep One. She fights with a large wooden staff and is searching for her mother.
1 Orange Mastodon. The beast may shoot acid from its trunk 3 times a day.
A beautiful young woman, an astronaut from Earth, lays wounded in a recently crashed spacecraft. The ship is damaged beyond repair.
Village of 130 Dolm Men ruled by “The Master of the Universe,” a 1st Level Fighter. He wields a magic sword in battle: on command the sword grants +20 HD, and the saving throws of a 20th level Fighter. Only those chosen by the powers of the Grey Castle may hold aloft the magic sword.
I quite liked Carcosa by Geoffrey McKinney. I enjoyed it so much I wrote a very long review of the book split over several blog posts. To make sharing the review with other people easier I’ve collected links to each blog post below:
A Bone Man (AC 3, MV 60', HD 1+1, Lawful) and a Jale Women (AC 9, MV 120', HD 1+1, Neutral) explore the badlands in search of alien technology for their war tribe.
A party of 2-8 inter-dimensional travelers search for their lost companion. They are armed with turn of the century firearms: pistols & shotguns. They are cautious around and distrustful of any natives of Carcosa they encounter. They will however aid anyone who agrees to help them find their friend.
3-18 red orbs can be seen floating in the distance.
2 Unquiet Worms make their home in the shade of a disabled alien tank. Within the tank, two dead aliens lay mummified in their spacesuits. Sufficiently intelligent creatures can restore the tank to working order after 2-6 turns of experimentation.
Trails of small insects converge on the rocky husk of a massive dead insect. Within an inter-dimensional traveler to Carcosa lays shackled to the ground. Insects crawl in and out of his body. A sorcerer and his minions are in the middle of casting the ritual Canticle of the Crawling God. They will summon the Crawling God in 1-3 hours.
You may use the following table to restock the hex:
3-18 red orbs lay inert on the ground throughout the badlands. If investigated characters must make a Save vs. Poison or develop a random mutation.
The Crawling God crosses the badlands trailed by a sea of insects.
2 Unquiet Worms feast on the remains of a small party of adventurers. On the bodies can be found: pistols, shotguns and worthless foreign currency.
A Bone Man rides through the badlands on an alien tank. He is accompanied by an inter-dimensional traveller to Carcosa. Within the tank is a small cache of books describing sorcerous rituals and the dead body of a Jale Woman.
With that in mind, here are 16 new hex descriptions for your Carcosa game.
An Orange Man 1 dressed in furs hunts a band of mutant men. He is armed with a whip and accompanied by 2-12 giant beasts and dinosaurs; these creatures are under his complete control.
Spawn of Shub-Niggurath (AC 18, MV 120, HD 3, Chaotic): a blue arachnoid with two red eyes and a toothed mouth. It currently entangled in a grappling hook and 100' of rope. An orange laser pistol can be found in its belly.
1 Deep One.
Village of 278 Yellow Men ruled by “the Evil Queen,” a Chaotic 9-th Level Sorcerer.
A humanoid robot (AC 16, MV 90', HD 4, Chaotic) guards the remains of a crashed alien spaceship. He is armed with a sword and a laser pistol. His 3 large eyes rotate about his head. He can not be surprised and will react with hostility to all who approach.
A Blue Man Cyborg with a metal jaw and a robotic hook arm (AC 18, MV 90', HD 4, Chaotic) commands a group of 6-36 Blue Men bandits armed with bone weapons. The bandits demand the players hand over any metal items in their possession, which their leader will proceed to eat. The Cyborg earns +1 to hit for each piece of metal he consumes; this effect lasts one day. (When encountered he has a 0-3 bonus to hit.) His hunger for metal can not be satiated.
A hulking Blue Man (AC 15, MV 120', HD 6, Chaotic) with unusual red hair wields a cursed two handed sword. (This character wields the sword one handed, carrying a shield in the other.) Any character possessing the sword is compelled to eradicate all white men from the world; with each white man they kill their hair turns a darker shade of red. The sword is -1 to hit, but +3 to hit vs. White Men.
Monastery of 56 Brown Men ruled by “the Golden Hand,” a Chaotic 5-th Level Fighter.
Village of 156 Green Men ruled by "the Dragon," a 4th-level Sorcerer. The Sorcerer's research has left him disfigured: he has the scales and tail of a lizard, and is cold blooded.
Spawn of Shub-Niggurath (AC 18, MV 90' / 120' [swimming], HD 3, Neutral [intelligent]): an orange anthropoid with scaly skin, two yellow eyes, and a toothed mouth. One of its arms is an oversized claw. In its other hand it carries a green mace.
A large bird of prey stalks the players. After 1-3 hours it will turn and fly off into the distance. The bird does not attempt to hide its presence.
A disfigured two-headed mutant man lays face down in the ground. His body is half purple & half blue. Characters who investigate the body must make a Save vs. Death Ray each turn or suffer a random mutation.
A Purple Man hangs limp from a tree. He is pierced head to toe by spikes. Two tridents lay near his lifeless body.
12 Black Men led by a putrid smelling Sorcerer (AC 18, MV 120', HD 3, Chaotic) are in the middle of casting Manifestation of the Putrescent Stench. The Sorcerer is armed with a laser pistol and wears a bright orange alien space suit.
4 Snake Men attempt to repair a time machine. The Snake Men and their collection of high-tech gadgetry are incomprehensible to characters with an intelligence score less than 18.
A massive snake shaped citadel coils around the peaks of a craggy mountain. Within 22 Bone Man are led by a Chaotic 16th-level Sorcerer. He is planning the total conquest of Carcosa.
Historical Amsterdam could probably be turned into any bustling port city. A D50 random random of encounters offers up some things to do while wandering around town. There are a couple tables for dealing with buying and selling things on the black market. I could imagine this would be useful in all sorts of settings. The later half of the book describes Joop van Ooms, what makes him such a strange and magical figure, his home, and a few of his compatriots. The character is a magical renaissance man, with all that might entail. Van Ooms could be used as a patron for a group of heroes: he’s rich, magical, and has an interesting world view.
Like most of the recent stuff to come out from LotFP, it’s a gorgeous little booklet: the layout, design, and illustrations are all top-notch. Jez Gordon has done a great job here. The PDF is fully bookmarked. (If you read it in Adobe Acrobat, everything that’s a multiple of 8 is hidden from view, as van Ooms would like it.) Like most A5 books, it looks great on the iPad.
The Magnificent Joop van Ooms is a magnificent little book. It’s a quick read and well worth checking out. If you’re looking for a fully fleshed out adventure, this isn’t going to satisfy. The Magnificent Joop van Ooms a book of ideas. I picked up a copy of The Magnificent Joop van Ooms to pad out an order from LotFP, and for the price I heartily recommend you do the same. The cover art is amazing: for $7 bucks you can frame the book and hang it on your wall.
1507: On a lifeless island of black stone stands the alien city of Carcosa.
A silhouette of this city is featured on the cover of Carcosa. The city is only mentioned once in the book, in this description. It’s certainly an evocative sentence.
Carcosa concludes with a tour of its world via a hex map and descriptions of those hexes. As has been a running theme in my reviews of the book1, the details of each hex are quite terse. Geoffrey McKinney continues to say the bare minimum needed to convey anything at all about the world he has created. There is definitely something old-school in this sort of presentation.
Each hex description includes two possible things the PCs could come across. The first description is written by McKinney, and was the only description presented in the original booklet version of Carcosa. The second set of descriptions were created by fellow gamer and fan of the setting Chris Robert; he had previously published these descriptions as a free PDF, Strange Sights of the Doomed World Carcosa.
McKinney’s descriptions are very matter of fact. There is a village here; there is a disgusting monster there. Occasionally he will hint at something sinister or exciting, but it’s just a hint. Robert’s descriptions are somewhat similar in tone, but are a bit more varied in their execution. I can imagine coming up with my own set of encounters, using Robert’s take on things as a good example of how to proceed.
The hex descriptions of Carcosa can be split into three types of encounters: villages and citadels, spawns of Shub-Niggurath, and the “weird”. That last category is broad, clearly.
402: Here looms the great and extinct black volcanic Mount Voormith’adreth, honeycombed with weird and outré caverns, and beneath which bubbles and heaves Shub-Niggurath.
This is a pretty important place in Carcosa. It’s home of Shub-Niggurath, the creator of almost all the important species on the planet. Spawns of Shub-Niggurath are one of the most common creatures encountered on the planet. This little passage is all that McKinney dedicates to their creator’s home.
1610: Village of 370 Red Men ruled by “the Lover of Peace,” a lawful 5th-level Sorcerer.
This is your typical village description: here are some men and this is their leader. You can often get a sense of what the village will be like based on the leader’s alignment and title.
1609: Citadel of 83 Bone Men led by a chaotic 6th-level Fighter.
Some times descriptions are even more terse. Who knows what this village is like? The village is 6-12 miles from the citadel. Maybe there is a relationship there? Carcosa encourages thinking like this.
1513: Ulfire Mold.
The tersest hex description possible? The alternate encounter for this hex, by Robert’s, is a bit more meaty.
1513: The undying and practically invisible brain of a chaotic Bone Man Sorcerer lies shallowly buried in the reeking fens of this hex. It is eager to find new flesh, though discriminating enough to consider only a fellow Bone Man as an acceptable vessel. Any Bone Man coming with 100′ of the brain must make a saving throw vs. magic. Failure indicates that he is compelled to unearth the brain, tear his own brain from his head, and replace it with the Sorcerer’s brain. If this occurs, the Sorcerer will take the first opportunity to escape to his secret lair in hex 0715, there to resume his experiments into the forbidden.
There are lots of interesting little encounters to be had throughout Carcosa. Even if you weren’t interested in running a game in the settings there is definitely stuff one could steal here.
The book concludes with a short adventure and random tables to aid a DM in running a hex crawl on the planet. The adventure is presented as a keyed dungeon and a mini hex-crawl. Besides wandering monster tables, we also get a table for creating alien technology, one for making spawns of Shub-Niggurath, and one for making random robots.
If it’s not clear by now, I really liked Carcosa. The book is physically fantastic. It’s definitely worth buying for Rich Longmore’s art alone. His illustrations of the setting are incredible. The pictures i’ve used in my reviews are a small sampling of the stuff in the book. The fact the material itself is also quite good was a nice bonus. I didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. I had no real interest in hex-crawl adventures, Lovecraft, weird sci-fi in my fantasy, or half the things that Carcosa is all about. McKinney has done a great job in sharing the things that he likes about D&D. You should buy this book already.
Over the last few days i’ve been working on a little web application to help Lamentations of the Flame Princess players go through the motions of casting the Magic-User’s Summon spell. The spell lets players summon a demon to aid them–hopefully. The LotFP rules outline what sort of demon will show up and whether or not it will listen to the players. It’s a crazy spell. There are lots of tables and dice rolling. It’s a complicated enough procedure that it produced a thread on the LotFP forum to discuss how exactly the spell works. From the discussion there I figured turning the spell into a little web-application would be a small fun project.
For those interested, the site was created using the Python (mini) web framework, Flask, and is hosted on Dreamhost.
As I have mentioned in previousposts about Carcosa, Geoffrey McKinney seems to be working quite hard to say as little as possible about the nature of his “official” game world. There is very little exposition about Carcosa’s history, people, culture, etc. Each section of the book reveals a little bit of Carcosa’s story. The books bestiary reveals the most about the setting, hinting at the nature of the world and some of its history.
The vast majority of the monsters discussed in the bestiary are unique. They are crazy grotesque beasts one might find in a H.P. Lovecraft story.1 The gods of Carcosa are for the most part absolutely terrifying. These creatures have stat blocks and descriptions, like your typical kobold or goblin, so they are ready for your players to battle to the death. I mean, why give a monster hit dice if its not meant to be killed?
A few these monsters reside in particular places (hexes) in Carcosa. In the PDF version of the book, this is mentioned in their description.2 In the hardback you only learn of their home on the planet when reading through the hex descriptions later in the book.
Here looms the great and extinct black volcanic Mount Voormith’adreth, honeycombed with weird and outré caverns, and beneath which bubbles and heaves Shub-Niggurath. – The description of Hex 0402, Carcosa
Of all the old ones that reside on Carcosa, Shub-Niggurath appears to be the most important. Two of the races mentioned in the first section of the book, The Great Race and the Primordial Ones, are spawns of Shub-Niggurath. In addition, 4 other races mentioned in the bestiary are his children, so to speak. The most typical monster found on Carcosa is a Spawn of Shub-Niggurath, which can appear as almost anything. (A disgusting mutant tree? Why not. A horrible giant fish? Of course.) There is an appendix at the back of the book that contains random tables to help the DM with generating these spawns. This one monster description provides a lot of clues into the cosmology of Carcosa.
The remaining monsters of Carcosa provide further insight into what’s happening on the planet. One of the few non-unique monsters are dinosaurs. Of course, this being Carcosa they are expected to be of a crazy mutant variety. Similarly one finds giant jungle ants wandering from hex to hex. Lakes in Carcosa are likely home to to giant lake monsters. These sorts of beasts paired with the descriptions of the 13 races of men hints at a King Kong style world.
As mentioned at the start of the book, there are space aliens. From their description we learn that they originally crash landed on Carcosa a millennia ago, but since then they have established bases and come and go as they please. It’s their presence and their technology that makes the world a little bit less King Kong and perhaps a bit more Flash Gordon.
There are all sorts of slimes, puddings, and oozes similar to those encountered in your typical game of D&D, but with a Carcosa twist. Many of the unique monsters discussed in the bestiary are also some variation of disgusting ooze-like thing with tentacles. If it’s not a giant-mutant-monster it’s probably a creepy slime.
The illustrations by Rich Longmore really bring this portion of the book to life.
The bestiary ends with a brief description (without stats) of the long extinct snake-men. Here we learn some more of the history of Carcosa.
For tens of millions of years the civilizations of the Snake- Men were mighty upon the planet of Carcosa. They delved deeply into the arcane mysteries and laid the foundations of the systematic practice of sorcery. From shambling man- apes the Snake-Men bred the various races of humans to be sacrifices efficacious for their sorcery. At the height of their powers, the Snake-Men destroyed themselves by releasing ultratelluric forces impossible to control.
What else is there to say?
Finally we get to the hex descriptions, which is what it’s all about.
As I had mentioned when discussing the sorcerer rituals, each set of rituals deals with one of these unique monsters. The two sections work together to provider a fuller description and background of the monster in question. ↩
The level of cross-referencing in the PDF is one big advantage it has over the physical book. Figuring out how everything fits together is much easier when browsing the PDF. ↩
The last campaign he ran raised $16,240 to fund a hardcover book edition of the LotFP rules. Prior to that he raised $6,241 to fund two adventure modules. Clearly there are people out there interested in LotFP. My fear is that there are not enough people to fund such a large body of work in a single month. That would be a real shame, because the more I learn about the people involved in the campaign the more disappointed I’ll be if some of these adventures don’t get funded.
Today I was listening to an episode of the Jennisodes, a podcast about role-playing games, which featured Kevin Crawford, another participant in this campaign. I had never heard of him before, but after listening to him wax-poetic about sandbox gaming for a half hour I now want to fund his campaign as well. It sounds like it will be amazing. (Oh, and the host of the Jennisodes is also hoping to write an adventure for LotFP.)
I read Jeff’s Gameblog, by Jeff Rients, another participant in this campaign. I assume his campaign will do well as he seems to have a bit of a following in the OSR community. His writing on D&D is all quite fantastic. He posted a video today] about what he wants to do in his adventure. Guess what? It sounds pretty fantastic too.
I assume if I learn anything about most of these writers I’m going to want their adventure. As far as I can tell there are no B-team participants. Everyone seems to bring something interesting to the table. Monte Cook is writing an adventure! One of the dudes from mother-fucking members of GWAR is writing an adventure! It’s ridiculous.
I don’t have $114,000 to spend on adventures. Most people probably don’t. I suppose the hope then is that in aggregate fans of LotFP and of these individual writers can get a few things funded. This is certainly feels like the golden age of crowd funding–every other post on this blog seems to be about a kickstarter project–but this project might be a bit too ambitious. Still, I wish Raggi the best of luck. He has $20 of my dollars–so far.
A complete list of all the adventures in this campaign follows:
Carcosa is an impressive piece of writing, but people seem to get fixated on the small portion of the book that is filled with all sorts of rape and human sacrifice. Wait, what?
Magic in the world of Carcosa is (literally) all about the Cthulhu monsters. The planet is apparently filled with Cthulhu monsters of one sort or another. You can summon them, torment them, commune with them, and banish them. There’s no Magic Missile. There is no Fireball. If you want to play a character who shoots stuff at people you will need to find some laser guns.
Flip through the sorcerer rituals presented in Carcosa and it’s a sea of human sacrifice. When I first read the book I quickly skimmed this section and decided it wasn’t worth looking at in detail. The descriptions can be repetitive, clinical, and a bit of a downer: kill these Green men; rape and kill this Blue woman. Magic in Carcosa is evil and generally unpleasant. A whole chapter saying as much seemed unnecessary.
The only spells that don’t involve sacrifice are the rituals that exist to banish the Cthulhu monsters. This suggests one option for playing a lawful sorcerer: only cast banishment spells. I had assumed this was done on purpose, that McKinney didn’t expect players to actually use the spells outlined in the book, that they would be reserved for evil NPCs. In a recent interview I learned this wasn’t the case. In his home game he did have players who ran around the planet rounding up men and women to be sacrificed all the while looking for rare ingredients for their spells. That’s definitely a departure from traditional D&D.
There is another level to the rituals that is easy to miss because they are so repugnant. In Carcosa the rituals are another way Geoffrey McKinney shares his fantasy world with us. They hint at quests to embark on, monsters to fight, and sorcerers to vanquish.
Many rituals mention specific regions (hexes on the map) of Carcosa. They might discuss some rare ingredient that is required for the ritual that can only be found in a particular hex. They might mention a monster that can only be found in a particular place. Often times a ritual’s description of a hex is more detailed than the hex description itself. The description for hex 1513 is, “Ulfire Mold.” (I mentioned the writing was terse, right?) If we look at the ritual that binds the Fetor of the Depths, we learn that there is a “vile cave in the swamps of [the hex],” which is where that spell needs to be cast. The description for hex 416 is “7 Giant Frogs.” Looking at the ritual that conjures the Fetor of the Depths we learn that this hex contains the subterranean lair of the monster. Here I’m looking at two random rituals that relate to one of the old ones. This sort of thing happens throughout the chapter. There are numerous examples where the ritual description adds a whole other layer to what otherwise might sound like a pretty boring hex in Carcosa. This is all easy to miss if you dismiss this chapter as I had initially.
When Carcosa was first released it was mired in controversy because of this section on sorcerer rituals. The warning on the not-quite-a-dust-cover of Carcosa is no joke. The book is filled with depictions of vile black magic: buyer beware. Some of the ritual descriptions are particularly disgusting, but that is clearly the point. McKinney never explicitly tells us, “magic in Carcosa is evil.” Instead he shows this to the reader by outlining what it costs to cast a spell. Some people might not care one way or another about killing fictional alien space men, so McKinney goes the extra mile when it comes to some of the rituals: there is rape, killing babies, torture. These things are all upsetting, but Carcosa isn’t about a real place where real people are committing real crimes. The way these rituals are described is not gratuitous. As far as I can tell, McKinney isn’t trying to come off as edgy by mentioning a sorcerer needs to kill a baby to cast a spell; he’s not trying to express his anger towards women by mentioning a sorcerer needs to rape and kill a women to cast a spell. If you read Carcosa it seems clear that McKinney wants you to close the book knowing that magic in his world is evil. I think he succeeds here. Reading anything more into this section of the book is disingenuous.
If you skip ahead in the book you can read about aliens riding dinosaurs and shooting laser guns. How are people taking anything in this book that seriously?1
As with the sections that proceed it, the chapter on sorcerer rituals subtly reveal more about the world of Carcosa. There is a lot about the rituals that is left unsaid, leaving a lot of room for a dungeon master and players to make them and the world of Carcosa their own. I should add that the hex descriptions that come later in the book do mention potions and other magic items that perform the same function as some of the sorcerer rituals. This presents another avenue for players to conjure and torment monsters without some of the unpleasantness associated with doing so the traditional way. One can imagine quests that involve trying to reproduce a ritual via some other means.
And yeah, there are crazy mutant dinosaurs on this planet. They deserve their own blog post. My epic review of Carcosa will continue.
I submitted two questions about the controversy around these rituals for an interview of Geoffery McKinney that was being conducted by Gamerati. The first, “Has the controversy surrounding Carcosa had any influence on the subsequent writing you have done, or did it have a chilling effect on your work?” was answered with what amounts to a “No.” The second, “Have you read any criticisms of the rape and other controversial parts of Carcosa that you felt were interesting, valid, etc. (As opposed to shrill, knee-jerk, etc.)” was also answered, more or less, in the negative, and touches on the point I raise about not taking the work too seriously. ↩
Carcosa, by Geoffrey McKinney, is ostensibly a campaign setting for Dungeons and Dragons. Carcosa was originally released as a stapled booklet entitled Dungeons & Dragons Supplement V: Carcosa. Both the name and its form were a homage to the original 1974 D&D books. As I understand things, McKinney would print off copies of Carcosa on his laser printer when he got an order for the book. When his laser printer broke he stopped selling Carcosa. This re-release by Lamentations of the Flame Princess is a much grander affair. As a physical object Carcosa is nothing short of perfection.
Carcosa describes a fictional alien planet of the same name. I’m used to campaign settings of the 2nd Edition variety, where anything and everything a dungeon master could possibly need to know about a place and its people is revealed. For example, I have a very good sense of what the fantasy world of Dark Sun is like from reading all sorts of splat books. If you approach Carcosa expecting that same level of detail you are going to be sorely disappointed. The world of Carcosa is hinted at obliquely. That’s not to suggest the book is light on material: it is both dense and terse.
Carcosa opens with a discussion of various changes to the D&D rules. In the world of Carcosa there are no non-humanoid player characters. There are instead 13 races of men, each identified by a different skin colour. Three of these colours don’t exist on Earth: ulfire, jale, and dolm. (And here skin colour is quite literal: a Blue man is blue like the dance troupe.) There are only two classes players can play on Carcosa: fighters and sorcerers. The difference between the two is that sorcerers can cast rituals1 that were devised by a long extinct race of Snake-Men.
There are no magic items in the world of Carcosa. Instead one finds all sorts of crazy technology scattered over the planet. The book presents example artifacts from: the space aliens, the Great Race, and the Primordial Ones. The technology of the Great Race and the Primordial ones is so foreign to humans that most people will have no hope of understanding what an item does or how to use it. (Mechanically, you need an INT score of 17 to have a 5% chance to use one of these artifacts.) I should point out that at this point in the book, there has been no real discussion whatsoever about space aliens, the Great Race, or Primordial Ones.
After reading this opening of the book, which is something like 30-40 pages long, you do have some sense of what the world of Carcosa is like despite the fact McKinney has explicitly said very little about it. We have a blighted world where humans are clearly the weakest in a long line of civilizations that have inhabited Carcosa. There is a gonzo sci-fi element to Carcosa: your characters might encounter space aliens in their travels, and the plater’s only hopes for “magic” weapons come in the form of space bazookas and ray guns. There is also a Lovecraftian undercurrent to to the world and its people. Everything you learn about Carcosa in this opening section of the book is gleamed through sideways glances.
Carcosa really comes alive in the sections that follow. The bestiary helps the reader visualize what populates the world of Carcosa now. The hex descriptions are often single sentence affairs, but they too give some colour to the world. The sorcerer spells are almost all tied to particular Chuthulu-esque monster found on Carcosa, and often discuss specific hexes in the world. I found how deeply interconnected these three sections of the book are surprising. I haven’t encountered another D&D supplement structured this way.2
I have so much more to say about Carcosa, but we have to stop somewhere. For now, anyway.
Oh, the rituals. They deserve a blogpost to themselves. They seem to be what people fixate on when they first read (or hear about) the book. Not that I can blame people for that, I suppose. ↩
I have since learned on Google+ that this style of presentation was used with Judges Guild Wilderlands modules. ↩
Vornheim: The Complete City Kit was the last book in my recent LotFP shipment I read.1Zak Smith has packaged some of the things he’s learned running city based adventures into this short treatise. The book is more or less clearly delineated in to two parts: the book begins with the Vornheim of Zak’s adventures, a crazy-ass city; the book ends with how to build your own Vornheim. Both sections work well together to produce a terse look at city adventuring.
To quote Zak, “This book is not about Vornheim, it’s about running Vornheim.” The city is described at a high level. After reading the book I know that Vornheim is a sprawling city of towers and bridges with a massive palace (called the Palace Massive!), a giant cathedral, and a wyvern that lives in a well who answers questions. There is the sort of detail about the city and its culture you might find covered in a few pages of a guide book. You learn enough about Vornheim to have a rough sense of what it’s like, but not so much you feel like you’re memorizing names and places.
The opening of the book is followed by a detailed look at three buildings/areas in the city: the home of a medusa, the Immortal Zoo of Ping Feng, and the Library of Zorlac. These are presented in much the same way a small dungeon would be presented in an old school D&D module: maps, room descriptions, monster stats, and some background. I feel these mini-modules serve two purposes: they provide more insight in to what Vornheim is like, and present good examples of what traditional dungeon crawl adventures would look like when moved to a city. All three set pieces are unique and interesting. Even if you have no interest in adventuring in the city, they’d probably bo worth stealing and injecting into your campaign.
Smith presents just enough flavour for the reader to extrapolate what other parts of the city would probably be like, how NPCs not mentioned probably would behave. If you want to play a game in Vornheim, there is enough information for you to make the city your own. You can have your own “official” Vornheim that grows organically from play.
What makes the book work is that Smith then goes on to show you how to go about running a city game. The later half of Vornheim is where it really shines. The book ends with procedures and tables to aid a GM when running a city adventure. It’s quite clear Vornheim is meant to be used at the gaming table: it’s nice and small; all the tables for the DM are at the very back of the book, one after another; the book’s cover itself is a gaming aid, meant to have diced rolled on it. In the D&D Next play test I participated in, our DM used the “I search the body” table to good effect. I’ll have more to say once about this side of things once i’ve actually used it in a game.
I actually can’t think of another book that fills this niche. The Advanced Fighting Fantasy book Blacksand is certainly similar. (It outlines a fictional city and discusses running city adventures.) Blacksand seemed to encourage building out your city before hand.2 As such, it doesn’t lend itself to helping you creating a realistic sprawling mess of a city the same way Vornheim does. Still, if you’re looking for something else about this subject it’s definitely worth a look.3
I do have one complaint with Vornheim, and that is its solid black margins.4 There are other layout choices that probably would have helped make the book more legible. It sometimes feels a bit too dense. Smith’s paintings also seem to be particularly dense, so in some ways one can view the book as an extension of his artwork. You can definitely tell it is his book.
I don’t think I’ve read a bad review of Vornheim. It’s something like $15 so i’m not sure why you wouldn’t have bought it already. If you’ve been waiting patiently for my opinion on the matter, now you have it: go buy this book.
I finished reading Carcosa a few days ago, and I feel like I have so many things I want to say about it I don’t know where to start. Vornheim is a much easier book to grok. Expect one or more posts about Carcosa in the coming days or weeks. ↩
I recall drawing out a small “city” and listing what each of its 100 or so buildings were back when I was a boy. ↩
The rights to this book, and others in the Advanced Fighting Fantasy series appear to be owned by Arion Games now. ↩
Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Roleplaying is a roleplaying game by James Raggi. (The game will be referred to as LotFP hence forth, because Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Roleplaying is a lot to type, and that seems to be the acronym of choice on the Internet.) The Grindhouse Edition boxset collects: the rulebook for LotFP, a book for dungeon masters on how best to run the game, and a tutorial book for players and dungeon masters about role playing games in general. The boxset also includes some (tiny) dice and some very well designed character sheets. If you bought this boxset you would have everything you need to play the game, you’d just need to find some players.
The boxset is (surprisingly) small. (It’s smaller than your typical hardback novel.) The three books within are all A5 in size, half as big as your typical 8x11 D&D book. Because they are perfect bound softcovers they feel even smaller. Unlike your usual gaming product these books are ideally suited for use while playing: they take up next to no space, they are light, and they are easy to flip through. The rulebook actually has a bunch of important tables for the game right on its back cover, so even while closed it serves a useful purpose.
I do have two small complaints about the books as objects: the three books are quite nice, but I think they would have been nicer with thicker covers and softer paper; the title font, while appropriate for the contents of the book, is a bit hard read. It’s a very nice boxset, but after seeing Carcosa I can imagine a future edition of the rules that will truly be epic.
The first book in the boxset is the Tutorial book. It begins with a discussion of what a role-playing game is and what the deal is with all the funky dice. It then proceeds to a sample adventure that steps through some of the the mechanics of the game. The adventure also sets the tone for LotFP: it’s dark, creepy, and full of death. This is then followed by a choose-your-own adventure game that walks you through even more of the game’s mechanics. The second adventure is a sequel to the first: it’s your very first LotFP campaign!
After the adventures Raggi discusses RPGs in more detail. There is some exposition on how role-playing games work, in a most general sense. There is a lot of discussion that ultimately boils down to a look at the relationships between players and their characters, and players and the dungeon master. It’s a short section of the book, but I think it manages to convey a lot about the sort of role-playing games Raggi feels are most effective. More than anything this section seems to be about letting players and DMs know that they shouldn’t play like assholes.
Finally we get to an example of a group playing LotFP. These sorts of dialogues are found in most role-playing games books, and they usually preset a far too idealized example of play. The example presented here works well because it’s funny, and is a pretty accurate look at what a role-playing game is like. There is petty squabbling, people complaining about dice rolls, people being inattentive, people forgetting the rules, etc, etc.
The books ends with an Appendix N of sorts. There are a series of essays on a few authors that Raggi felt best exemplify “Weird Fantasy”. I thought the essays were interesting, presenting a little bit of background on each author, pointing out what makes them important to the genre, and also suggesting good first books to look into.
The Tutorial book is pretty great. The whole tone of the book is really friendly and positive. This book, like the others in the set, features some pretty explicit art work. This makes for an interesting juxtaposition with the text. I don’t think the artwork in the Tutorial book is nearly as gruesome as the stuff found in the Rules and Magic book, but it almost feels more gruesome because it’s sandwiched between feel good advice about having fun with your friends. The Tutorial book almost seems out of place in a boxset such as this. I can’t imagine anyone buying this game who isn’t already intimately familiar with Dungeons and Dragons. That said, i’m really glad Raggi thought to write it. It makes the Grindhouse Edition boxset a surprisingly good introduction to roleplaying games.
The Rules and Magic book is the meat of the boxset. The two sections of this book contain what you actually need to know in order to play a game of LotFP.
LotFP is basically a simplified (and extended) version of the rules found in the original Dungeons and Dragons books. It’s certainly not a retroclone, but it’s also not a big departure from the system it’s clearly built upon. You have your usual six ability scores, you have saving throws tables, you have armour classes and hit points and all of the minutia that makes up D&D.
I haven’t played old-school D&D in a very long time, so I really can’t pick out every rule change that Raggi has made. The most obvious would probably be the change to the rogue class, called the specialist in LotFP. The common thief skill checks from D&D, and a few additional skills new to LotFP, are decided by rolling a D6. For most characters there is a 1 in 6 chance for success. Specialists can spend points that they earn every time they gain a level to improve their odds. The specialist is a much more broad character than your typical D&D thief.
There are other more subtle changes throughout the rest of the rules that I noticed. The only one worth pointing out is that AC is ascending: just the way it god damn should be.
The magic portion of the book outlines the various spells the cleric and magic user classes can use in a LotFP campaign. There is a mix of your typical D&D spells, like magic missile, along with all sorts of new stuff. The changes here seem to add to the tone of a LotFP game. For example, you can summon a crazy-ass demon you probably won’t be able to control as a 1st level magic user. What? Magic in LotFP is dangerous and probably a little bit evil. The spell lists help reinforce that.
The last book in the boxset is the Referee book, LotFP’s Dungeon Masters Guide. It similar in tone and style to the Tutorial book. James Raggi is preaching to the reader about what it means to be a dungeon master, and what makes for an enjoyable and successful role-playing game. The book is full of advice for the rookie DM.
Beyond the advice, the book also focuses on explaining what makes a fantasy game ‘weird’. There is no bestiary in the boxset.2 Instead, there is a discussion about how monsters should be as unique as possible, and that their use in your game should be kept to a minimum to highlight the fact that monsters are in fact pretty strange. Similarly, there are no long lists of magic items. In an LotFP game there should be no such thing as a generic magic +1 sword. Besides being boring, items like that take away from the mystique that surrounds magic. (More so, who are these wizards churning out +1 swords?) Magic is a dangerous thing. A magic item should be a creepy-ass artifact, not some Vorpal sword.
One thing I liked about the book is that it acknowledges that there are other RPGs out there. There is a section of the book that looks at how you can incorporate material from other games into an LotFP game. The book explains possible rules changes that a DM might need to make when using material from other books, or when using LotFP material within the ruleset of another game. (There’s also a short table to help convert between the slightly different AC rules everyone seems to use.) This section ends with a shout out to some indie game publishers putting out old school D&D modules that would work well with LotFP.
The referee book closes with a short adventure, A Stranger Storm. This boxset really does include everything you need to start playing a game. The Referree book rounds out the boxset nicely.
I would be remiss not to mention the artwork in the Grindhouse Edition. It is probably what has earned LotFP the most notoriety. The art is amazing and unique, but also particularly violent and explicit. I never thought I’d see a dudes schlong in a RPG rule book, but here we are.
The books are all in black and white, so for the most part the artwork is black and white illustrations, sort of reminiscent of the stuff you’d find in old D&D books, but much more dark and twisted. The rules and magic book has a few pieces of colour art work separating the two sections of that book. My favourite piece of art in the book appears here: a medusa has just turned a man who was in the middle of enjoying himself with her into stone; throughout the rest of the room you can see other petrified men, clearly frozen in the middle of some sexual act. Another piece that’s pretty great is a woman whose fingers and a leg have been melted off by some sort of ooze. I have heard Raggi on a podcast talking about how he felt the art work presents a more realistic look at the life of an adventurer. If you go spelunking in dungeons filled with monsters and traps that story is probably going to end kind of bloody. Another theme of LotFP is that the players aren’t playing superheroes. The art with all the death and maiming really reinforces this.
To properly appreciate a game you really need to play it. Hopefully i’ll get a chance to do just that soon, and can then provide a fuller review of the game. Putting that aside, I have no qualms with recommending the Grindhouse Edition to anyone looking for a simple old-school D&D role-playing game system.
Expect blog posts on Carcosa and Vornheim in the coming weeks. ↩