Memento Mori – Memento Vivere

By Wayne Canepa
Wyrd Valley Press
5e/OSR?
Level 5

What do you get when you mix Kakfa, Lovecraft, Camus, pirates, ghosts, graffiti, magpies, swamp monsters, philosophy, the spirit world, and an unimaginably large wall? Well, this book. … you are newly arrived and find yourself stranded on the mysterious, mist-shrouded island of Anon, in the strange city of Vestige—where ghosts mingle with mortals as if it were commonplace. However, you won’t have much time to gawk before you become swept up in a Kafkaesque adventure—and even more danger! You must overcome challenges and puzzles, uncover hidden secrets, come face to face with madness, the fragility of life, and the absurdity of existence to escape this place. Can you maintain hope in the face of impossible odds? Will you survive nefarious pirates, dangerous creatures, or the land of the dead itself? And, if your character dies while exploring Anon, your adventure won’t be quite over…

This 128 page source book uses about 41 pages for a plot based adventure. A COMPLEX adventure. In a baroque setting described in the sourcebook section. The setting is mostly a city, and interesting enough to steal bits from your own bizarre big city. The adventure is a fucking mess, as all plot based adventures are when they get too big and try to handle too many deviations from the norm.

Well, the designers have the fucking marketing down pat. “What if you took Albert Camus’ hope in the face of Franz Kafka’s futility and H.P. Lovecraft’s fear and paranoia, mixed in some existentialism, and certified continued existence after death?” Yeah bitch! Take my fucking money! In practice, this turns out to be a kind of standin city for 19th century Lond, maybe a bit like that Sean Bean Frankenstein series, with the bureaucracy from that Discworld city thrown in. Oh, and there are ghosts and skeletons everywhere, living in the city. 

So, some kind of pseudo-19th century London with a decent helping of Brazil mixed in. I can get behind that.

There’s no intro, though, shit just starts coming at you, and it’s a little confusing to make out the setting because of that. On top of that you’ve got to wade through some, uh … high brow bullshit statements, we’ll call them. “Memento Mori / Memento Vivere is designed to be many things, but need not be all those things to everyone.” and “What would such a world look like? We wanted to explore it, and we wanted to share that exploration with others” and “It is a philosophical foray into the meaning of life and death” Ok, sure, what the fuck ever. It’s a setting.

And a decently flavorful one. One of the random things is a mime with a consumptive cough. That’s cool. Or, a description of the red light district that goes “A red light district full of smoky cabarets, unruly bars, ample brothels, gambling halls, fight clubs, opium dens, pawn shops and fences, grifters and snakeoil salesmen, lurking cutpurses, and countless hangovers. Named for its many copper doors.” Uh. yes. Fuck. Yes. That should be what every D&D red light district is. And the setting hits on this stuff time and time again in the various encounters in the city, the city districts, the factions, and so on. 

It’s also got stupid shit, like level 9 guards and some level 5 fighter guy whos the hero of the mercenary fighter corp. So, a mess, but a delightful one and just dripping with flavour. 

But, this blog ain’t about no setting reviews! It’s about adventure reviews! What about that adventure that’s included, Escape from Ghost Island?

OH. MY. FUCKING. GOD. IT’S. A. MESS.

So, it’s a plot based thing. And a COMPLICATED plot based thing. There’s a flowchart. I can get behind a flowchart, to help sort things out for the DM. But, not when the flowchart needs a flowchart. And, of source, its railroady, because its a complicated plot thing. As the adventure justifies by saying “As this book is as much a foray into philosophy as it is an adventure, consider this a Kafkaesque element added to the adventure.” Uh huh. Or, maybe, work on the rewrites until you don’t need to do that?

It starts with someone getting killed. No problem, people come back as ghosts in this setting! And, of course, there’s Speak with Dead! But … the killers used a poison that prevents ghosts from manifesting after death. Uh huh. And thus it goes. 

And, of course, there’s, I don’t know, it feels like multiple pages, in which the designers have inserted themselves in to the adventure. That’s NEVER a good sign. 

The various scenes in the adventure are complex, but nearly impossible to piece together. The format selected is so … disconnected? From itself that making head or tails or it, much less quickly scanning a scene to run it, would be nigh impossible without actually make this adventure a major part of your ongoing lifestyle. This thing SCREAMS the type of incoherence that a CoC adventure can only dream of being. 

There are ideas here, but the degree of abstraction and irrelevant detail is overwhelming.

This is $25 at DriveThru. If it weren’t $25 I’d pick it up to steal parts for my city game. The city shit is gold.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/353280/Memento-Mori—Memento-Vivere?1892600

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15 Responses to Memento Mori – Memento Vivere

  1. Anonymous says:

    ‘As the adventure justifies by saying “As this book is as much a foray into philosophy as it is an adventure, consider this a Kafkaesque element added to the adventure.”’ — Oh, fuck that. Fuck that twice

  2. Stripe says:

    Those two pages you posted look more complex than a 27B/6.

  3. Definitely sounds like the setting part is where it’s at…

  4. WVP says:

    In defense of Memento Mori / Memento Vivere

    Bryce, that’s awesome that you liked the setting so much! I understand your thoughts on the adventure, especially since you maybe saw the flowchart and panicked… The flowchart is an optional GM’s aid for players so inclined—it is not at all a requisite to play.

    If you read (or run) the adventure in its entirety, you may come to find the adventure is not a railroad at all, with the only ‘railroady’ bit being the (spoiler) bit about the “Imaginarium.” But that’s IF the party goes there, and is only because once you go into a pocket dimension you need to get out somehow. I feel maybe you read some of the commentary out of context? Regardless, these design choices were intentional and they serve to create a specific play experience.

    The adventure itself is more of a ‘point crawl,’ like a dungeon without a map, with lots of interconnected paths; players can do any/some/none of the various vignettes in any sequence, and their actions modify other vignettes’ conditions (or existence).

    The adventure may seem complicated because of the *optional* sidebars, such as reducing the adventure’s length by omitting certain sections for group play needs, or expanding the adventure into a longer campaign. For your readers, who may not have read MM/MV themselves, I will point out that there are a number of adventure scenarios with very different vibes to them: you’ve got dockside shenanigans, dozens of locations in the sandboxy island (town districts, swamp, outlying islands, the underworld, etc.) and hundreds of NPCs, RP encounters that can go any which way with buskers and caravan folk and bureaucratic undead, an undead guardian in a Kafkaesque social puzzle, many strange underworld denizens, fortune telling and a mind reading goose, wrong-place-wrong-time murder scenario (and no railroading as to how the party chooses to react), a boddy-hopping ghost assassin, a cult of Yog-Sothoth, relentless pirates, a sea monster attack, a demiplane inside the mind of a ghost where players may get to undertake a traditional dungeon with weird encounters and traps and puzzles, potentially battle an avatar of Death on a pirate ship, a nihilistic bureaucrat who has dark machinations, swamp-dwelling whiskey-swilling dwarf ghosts who possess woad-like manikin bodies, traveling to the afterlife, potentially facing a deadly antagonist in a very surreal space, survive a shipwreck (or not), and just so much more. Honestly, my and our creative team’s biggest complaint is that we didn’t have more flexibility in our page count. See the end of this reply for what this might mean for the future.

    In addition to the campaign setting and adventure path, you also get 2 pages of new spells, 2 pages of new magic items, new rules for madness which work differently for the living and ghosts, rules for playing as a ghost character (and, no, not like 3e’s Ghostwalk where you’re basically just you but ectoplasm; ghosts get spooky ghost powers and paroxysms), rules for playing a sentient skeleton, rules for ghost characters to bond with a manikin body, a brief bestiary with new monsters, and a bonus 4-page rules-light system for players that are gaming on the go (a b/x-5e hybrid d20 engine trimmed down to its core for ease of play). And tons of random tables. This book is a toolbox you can mine for content and ideas.

    The “highbrow bullshit statements” you mention only exist in the Foreword and Exordium. And that’s where some interesting facts about the book’s creation (and future) may help give you and your readers) perspective:
    The characters Dr. Judas Lynch and Ms. Magnolia Strange are real life personas of a renaissance faire escape artist duo who commissioned the book to be sold as tie-ins to their shows across the country. The optional rules-light system in the back of the book was likewise added so their faire customers could, if they wanted, run the game on-the-fly without needing to tote their game books around or look on their phones during play. The designers did not insert themselves into the book (the author designed it all), but the characters of Judas and Magnolia were intended to be portrayed as NPCs (again, as a show tie-in). Most of the sections with them in it are optional, as detailed by the GM’s notes, and their deaths are entirely possible; the adventure would be precisely the same if they were renamed as other characters not tied to real world entertainers. Of course, this project intentionally bridged that gap between fictional mediums (RPG and stage show). If you ever get a chance to see their stage show at a renaissance faire, you might better understand why we all chose to go this direction. I believe they are in Texas now, but they tour all over the country.
    This book’s first print run was funded by a Kickstarter campaign, and the Foreword is by J&M to all readers, but especially the backers. The Exordium is by the author to readers and backers alike, and serves as the “intro” you declared to be absent. Of course, immediately following those 2 columns are pages 2 and 3, where the overview of the setting is given in a very concise “intro.” I understand if you missed both of these intros while skimming the book.
    This book was not intended to be a light generic fantasy setting or typical adventure. Instead, it was intentionally designed to exist between entertainment and philosophy (life, death, absurdity, futility, hope, the illusion of choice, meaning, etc.), with page 42 (RIP, Douglas Adams) even being an interlude and homage to introspection on such topics, and page 64 asking players whose characters die insightful prompts about their lives, regrets, failed dreams, etc. This book was an experiment in using the medium of roleplaying games as a vessel for examining deeper parts of life, as shared stories have been for millennia. Now, all that said, it may interest you to know about the future of this book…

    The future: MM/MV in its current incarnation will continue to be sold as PDF on DTRPG and as physical copies by Judas & Magnolia via their shows and website. However, the author will be retooling and expanding the setting to be a standalone product for both 5E and Old-School Essentials (separate versions) later this year and possibly into 2023.
    The adventure in its current incarnation will be revised for a different format and published as a standalone adventure tied into the setting. Knowing that, perhaps you’ll consider picking up just the setting, since you liked it more than the adventure. The revised adventure will be laid out across more pages to less overwhelm folks like yourself with the density of content, broken up nicely by more maps, art, etc., as well as additional content.
    The 4-page rules light system may or may not be developed further, but it is my and the creative team’s opinion that enough variant systems exist already that it’s not necessary to try and add another to the mix as a standalone (maybe a $1 or PWYW PDF at some point, if at all).

    We at WVP are all open to all commentary and criticism, positive or negative, but we prefer respectful discourse and a chance to weigh in with our own opinions when it seems appropriate. What prompted my reply, however, was someone that pointed out a 4/10 star review you felt compelled to post on boardgamegeek. Being already aware of this review, and your praise for the setting, I found it odd you deducted 60% for the 41 page adventure in the 122 page book (34% of the content). You are welcome to whatever opinion you may hold, though as influential as you are with your readers, I feel you do them a disservice by not giving a full review and us a disservice in essentially inverting your rating from your review. Some of the points you addressed I actually appreciate on the surface (level 9 guards, and a comically low level heroic NPC in a leadership role, whose low level does seem at odds with his description), and will pass those along during the redesign process for consideration.

    In summary, thank you for purchasing a PDF of Memento Mori / Memento Vivere from DriveThru RPG and taking the time to share your thoughts on your blog and boardgamegeek. We hope you’ll check out our future projects and circle back to future incarnations of this one, as we think Anon is an worthwhile and interesting place to let your mind wander for a spell.

    -Wyrd Valley Press

    • WVP says:

      One last thing to mention, as quoting the book out of context appears to be eliciting strong reactions from your other commenters… The 2 GM’s notes near the beginning of the adventure module on page 71 read as follows:

      GM’s Note: There are sections of this adventure that utilize what is often known as “railroading,” where players do not have much of a choice, narratively, as to how the events play out. These instances are minimal and, where they must occur to either move the story forward or to capture the Kafkaesque nature of the setting, they are written in a way as to minimize penalizing the players for such events outside their control. GMs should do their best not to reveal such plot bottlenecks in the story (such as if the PCs get captured by pirates and end up in the Bilge Deck, should events take them down that path). If not revealed to the players directly, such plot devices should feel completely organic, presenting the players with a solid “illusion of choice.” While railroading in adventures runs counter to many RPG players’ (and the author’s) design philosophy, in this particular adventure it is felt that the few occurrences serve the overarching plot and theme well enough to utilize. Sometimes in life, events line up in such a way to create near-inevitabilities, and we must do our best to navigate the results. As this book i as much a foray into philosophy as it is an adventure, consider this a Kafkaesque experiment!

      and

      GM’s Note: The most likely paths that events may unfold in are presented as a flowchart on page 70 for your convenience. Each section of the flowchart corresponds to its own detailed section of the adventure. In each section you will be given all the relevant information needed to run that part of the adventure, as well as be presented with the most likely outcomes that may arise under each entry’s Developments section. Creative GMs are encouraged to adapt, alter, and embellish each section as they see fit.
      Whenever a section of the adventure refers to information found elsewhere in the book, such as monster or NPC statistics, tables, places, or the like, this will be noted with the relevant page number for easy look-up at the table. Less flipping pages, and more playing!
      Since time is subjective on the island of Anon, events need not always occur in a tidy fashion. Do not worry too much over how long things take in relation to other events. For example, if the party splits to pursue both the cultist and the killer after the murder, each taking a different amount of time, feel free to have the party conveniently reconvene at the same time afterward.

      As you can see, this is a call out to very niche bottlenecks in the many many possible outcomes (including the infinite not covered in the text). These are specific reactions to specific actions, if and only if those actions are taken. And they are for the GM only. We called it out in our adventure, but this occurs in nearly every adventure that is not a sandbox. I hope this clears up any misconceptions caused by your truncated quotes.

      Happy gaming, all,

      -WVP

  5. Reason says:

    I think you’ve just bumped into an 0e/OSR crowd who do not enjoy railroady adventures. Even if they are railroady for a stylistic reason, sections of this readership still see railroading as not much fun. Even if it is disguised. The “illusion of choice” is not going to help your cause among a crowd who think that one of the few, irreplaceable, fundamental advantages ttrpg’s have over other gaming, is “actual choice”. It is considered a core element of play and the social contract entered into when playing old school style.

    Yes there are some railroady 1e adventures. They get called out too. The Dragonlance series being the epitome. And those ARE railroady (A series) tend to be tournament/convention modules.

    At times, Kafka’s stories give you no choice because they are novels. Character are drawn along by events beyond their understanding, but they still have choices – wtf do you do after being transformed into a bug thing? That’s a common enough RPG event. It’s Kafkaesque. But usually you did something yourself to get to that point. maybe that is also the case in Memento Mori- but we can’t tell.

    Maybe include a preview section of the adventure, so people can figure that out for themselves?

    Or do you mean Kafkaesque in the sense that time is distorted or impenterable? Or the sense that forces are at work carrying protagonists along relentlessly no matter their choices ala The Trial?

    Amerika sees our protagonist make many choices, each of of which seems to carry significant consequences, which seems more fitting for an rog scenario- who does he talk to/trust, where does he go, what is to be done with his trunk? Again in Amerika our protagonist confronts a slightly baffling world but it’s ALWAYS his own choices which pit him at odds with it.

    For a Bryce review- he noted MANY positives (trust me, if it sux, he’ll say it) and if you would like to counter some of his opinions on the adventure section- add a few relevant pages & let the buyers decide.

    Genuine thanks for engaging with the review/commenters and sharing your insights and working toward outting out thought provoking content.

    • WVP says:

      When you’re in a dungeon room, and you have the option to go left, right, or back the way you came… or to potentially find a secret door or dig through the wall, whatever. That is a choice. But the consequences of the choice may change your available choices thereafter. When dealing with an NPC, how they are treated, whether they are killed, etc. will impact how they can be dealt with in the future and how they may react to a given set of events.

      The most likely outcomes for a given pointcrawl event in the adventure are detailed, but they are by no means the only outcomes. The flowchart is merely a GM game aid to navigate the most likely series of events, and the resulting in-world changes that likely will have occurred in response. Sometimes these paths narrow, based on player choice, creating bottlenecks. Had the players made other choices, the events would be more open. I don’t really know how else to explain this.

      It genuinely seems that the reviewer got most of the way through the book, found something he didn’t recognize or understand, and glazed over, skimming details and making assumptions without actually analyzing the information. If he had claimed he had a hard time navigating that information, that he didn’t understand how the adventure was written compared to what he was familiar with, and had suggestions for how that information could be better presented, that would have been a more honest and valuable critique, based on what he has written so far.

      The adventure has a number of Kafkaesque elements, honestly. Scenarios that (if even interacted with at all) seem to be a dead end or insurmountable, until/unless the players simply take action outside of what is presented to them by NPCs (a la The Parable of the Law), events will happen a certain way *unless the players act in a way to disrupt those events*, time is indeed distorted in the setting and parts of the adventure, etc. The players can get swept up in events, yes, but their participation in a forced narrative is not at all required.

      Regarding the bottlenecks, for example, IF the players make certain choices that lead them to being attacked by certain enemies and IF the player characters are captured, then the adventure bottlenecks. While the GM is welcome to go off-script and do what they please (even killing the PCs), the story from that point assumes they are taken to a specific place after being captured and the story continues after they wake up there. That’s one of the bottlenecks. It could have been avoided.

      Look at the flowchart that the reviewer posted (without permission, mind you, which essentially outlines the skeleton of the entire adventure). Imagine that the boxes (which represent *likely* boolean events in the adventure) are instead rooms in a dungeon. The choices are directions. In a dungeon, there is much more railroading than in a pointcrawl adventure, as with a non-confined space, players can literally do as they wish. If you turn a certain way enough times in a dungeon you will inevitably end up at a specific location—in that same vein, if you make certain choices in a pointcrawl narrative adventure, you will inevitably end up at a specific series of events that culminate from those choices. But you will not if you make other choices. I don’t understand, truthfully, the hang up on fixating on the word “railroading,” when I’ve not only explained it clearly here, and the author not only clearly explained it in the adventure, and the flowchart is clearly not a railroad, but the adventure itself (if you, the reviewer, or anyone else cares to play/run it) doesn’t railroad the players in any traditional sense of the word. The extent of railroading is in the form of potential eventualities, if you will. If A+D+C+E, then F. But, if another sequence, then perhaps never F, or F-modified.

      You say “It’s Kafkaesque. But usually you did something yourself to get to that point. maybe that is also the case in Memento Mori- but we can’t tell.” But, you can tell. You can tell by the adventure flowchart, you can tell by reading the book. You cannot tell based on what the reviewer posted here and on another site (which is why I am even commenting here—this review is fine; it details positive and negative opinions, but the RPG Geek review is an inverse of that, giving a 4/10 star review for a an optional part of the book that the reviewer didn’t bother to read and clearly did not understand, misquoting it even).

      I’ll leave it there. I think you’re correct in that I stumbled across an OSR group that is quick to judgement over scare words.

      Perhaps when the author revises it for 5E and OSE, I will advise him to omit describing the adventure as utilizing railroading. It was intended as commentary on the medium of TTRPG (railroady by default, excepting sandbox games) and showcasing the Kafkaesque nature of consequences and events and the Camus-like hope of adventurers in the face of such events. We stand by that design, however, as this adventure is not your average D&D hack n slash, nor is it a grandiose Pathfinder/World of Darkness-esque drama club indulgence. It’s about life, death, hope, futility, meaning, and similar such themes, using the TTRPG as a medium of conveyance.

      -WCP

  6. Kit the Gamemaster says:

    I recieved a copy of this book. I actually thought that the setting dropped with potential. The adventure also seems to showcase many elements of the setting in an effective way (which is kind of the point of published adventures). Maybe it’s not to everyone’s taste but for me it’s a definite case of shut up and take my money. More adventures and expansions to this setting please!

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