By Gord Sellar LotFP LotFP Level: ?
You know well the modest inn that stands outside the abbey wall: you’ve guzzled those blessed beers in its taproom, counted ill-gotten coins in its rooms, tossed and turned through nightmares aplenty in its beds. But nothing can prepare you for the horrors that await when, late one night, you wake to find the church engulfed in flames, its bloodied brothers slaughtering one another, its steeple-bell above tolling for the dead, the dying, and for mercy from heaven above…
This 104 page digest adventure details about sixty locations inside of a burning abbey that houses a beer-making operation. It goes a little “bolded word” happy, and, I think, largely fails at its central premise: the exploration of an abbey on fire anc controlled by pod-people.
When I look at an RPG adventure to review and see it has over a hundred page, I usually groan. Or sigh. Depends on the mood. While there is some allowance made for digest-sized adventures, it is almost always the case that a long adventure is not a goo adventure. Exceptions abound, of course, but, generally, if it takes you over a hundred pages for a simple adventure then there’s some issues present.
Weirdly, this adventure mostly does not have those issues, which surprised me. There IS quite a bit of supplemental information, but it usually doesn’t get in the way of the adventure proper. Yanking it all out there might be about thirty or forty pages of actual adventure. The rest are a bunch of “handout” cards about stages of infections from a fungus, monster stats and descriptions, magic item descriptions, history and so on. Like I said, it generally doesn’t get in the way.
The creator encounters, both wanderers and static, are better than the usual “three orcs waiting in a room to get killed.” The wanderers are doing something and have interesting effects that are situational. Some crazed horses trailing harnesses have a chance of tripping up the characters with their harnesses, for example. Or infected pigs vomiting black bile. In addition there is an ACTUAL TABLE that can be used to give the wanderer just a little more character, be they a normal person, an infected person, or an animal. I appreciate the help; the DM needs just a little push in the right direction to bring an wanderer to life and the table helps with that. The static encounters are decent as well. A body, twitching still, hanging from a rope from the bell tower. Now there’s a classic! People hide behind barrels. Cultits, woudded, argue amongst themselves on the next course of action. These encounters are flavourful and make sense. They are recognizable and relatable and therefore easily expanded upon from the DM to bring them to life without being hackneyed tropes.
There are maps in the first few pages of the book. With a key. And basic description of the room type. And a cross-reference to the page number! And then followed by the wanderer table, to make it easy to find during play; that’s the kind of thinking that goes a long way towards usability. A physical volume should take adventure of those first few (and last few) pages to provide quick reference material (and, in some cases, the middle, if staple bound.) Nice job.
There are a few specific instances of the adventure doing things wrong, and one flaw that, I think, makes the adventure not worth pursuing.
It makes a few oversights in usability. It scatters information, like locked doors, through intro texts and then leaves those locked doors out of the room description of the rooms they appear in. If the front door is locked, do you put that in the overview, a few pages ahead of time, or do you put that in the room that contains the front door? It also buries the lead in many rooms. A room with loud noises, arguing, or fire & smoke, has that buried later in the text instead of front and center where the DM can easily note it as the party approaches the room (or, noted on the map, for ease of reference.) This is a FREQUENT issue, especially given the chaotic state the abbey is supposed to be in. (More on that in a bit.) The adventure can also be a bit arbitrary at times, and/or rough in the way that LorFP adventures are famous for. You get to make a save vs magic every hour you are inside the abbey, at a cumulative -1, or get infected/more infected (along with other things, like eating and drinking fungus stuff.) This is rough, and means that the party is mostly fucked, in the way tha most LoTFP adventures are. While easily ignored, I don’t think there s a good alternative. It’s easy to be brutal, as this adventure is, but harder to get a good “lingering infection” vibe going without it feeling punitive. That would require some stellar design work and I don’t think the brutal version, used here, manages that. There are also a few rooms that I think could use some better work in them. A good example is a burning kitchen. There’s a barrel of brined pork about to explode with a +10% chance each turn. That’s about the extent of the room description, or at least as it relates to the barrel. A few exploded barrels, or some smaller effects, would have gone a long way to reducing the arbitrary nature of the barrel and provided thinking players a clue as to the dangers ahead. This happens in most of the “trap” rooms in the adventure. It does a pretty shitty job of the “vista overview” issue. Tell me the monastery is burning, or the fields smoking, in the overview os I can relate that to the players, not in the individual descriptions! When surveying a large area you need a good overview.
The real issue, though, is the core conceit of the adventure. It’s supposed to be a chaotic environment, the scene of a mini civil war, burning, chaos. It doesn’t feel that way though. It’s more “oh, yeah, also this room is on fine” sort of thing. People hiding, rooms on fire, various bodies … but it doesn’t FEEL that way in the text. It’s communicated more as just another exploratory adventure. There are hints, here and there, bells rining, shoults of fighting, but those mainly occur in the marketing text of the adventure and not int he relevant sections. It feels more like a site a week or ten days later than it does fifteen minutes after the action stopped/started.
I’d call this a middling effort. It has some highlighting to help call attention to things, but it too frequently used and (AC, highlighted?) and also is weird about it, highlighting weird choices when more effective ones are present in the same description. A little verbose, but the highlighting helps a lot to focus attention. It’s not BAD, per se, but it’s not overly GOOD either, given its inability to bring the fire and chaos to life. Which means its better than most crap being published.
Forgiving the (IMO, overly) verbose supplemental material, it does an ok job organizing information and presenting some interesting situations (even though the main brewery section is a disaster and does NOT encourage the cat and mouse play in a factory environment that it is going for) This is on the edge for me, between regretting it and skipping it. I’m going to pass, but your standards may be lower than mine.
This is $15 at DriveThru. There’s no preview and no level range given. For fifteen fucking dollars for a PDF, how about a fuicking preview Raggi? And a level range recommendation?
Funny, I actually got the physical product in my hands today. Probably lower standards than yours, I can’t wait to run this scenario for my craft brewer friends!
How does one explore 60-odd rooms, with the increasing certainty of infection and no ability to rest? That *seems* like a logistical oversight. Tamoachan, which I hold up as the platonic model of a near-perfect non-Gygaxian module, has the poison gas, but the dungeon proper is fairly small.
How long does the fire burn? Are locations checked off as consumed as the party inevitably loiters? It seems like it would be a difficult conceit to pull off.
Excellent, well considered, review Bryce. One of your best. Thanks
“a long adventure is not a goo adventure”…
You have to admit, he’s right.
I like it. It was fun to play and the book looks good.
Anonymous, can you tell us whether the element of the fire growing or threatening or changing the situation came into play?
How did the infection mechanic feel for you guys?
It does sound like it could be good change of pace from the usual- slow & careful- exploration adventures.