Monday, September 24, 2012

REVIEW: Death Love Doom

Every now and then, I get something sent to me for review that I don't really know what to do with. James Raggi's adventure Death Love Doom is a good example of what I'm talking about -- not because it's "bad" so much as it's very far removed from anything I'd like have bought of my own accord. I'll explain what I mean by that shortly.

The copy I own is part of a limited print run of 200 and it's not, so far as I'm aware, available anymore. Instead, you'll have to content yourself with a 20-page PDF (plus two pages of maps) that sells for 3.00€ (about $4 US). The adventure looks similar to previous Lamentations of the Flame Princess efforts, using a simple two-column layout and a variety of "period" fonts intended to evoke the 17th century. The cartography by Jez Gordon, is both attractive and useful. The interior artwork is all the work of Kelvin Green and in his excellent signature style, though the subject matter is quite a departure for him.

On the other hand, Death Love Doom isn't a departure for James Raggi. If anything, I'd say it's probably the "Raggi-est" adventure he's written, being both an unrepentant finger in the eye of those who want roleplaying game products to consist entirely of stuff you can show your mother and a creative exploration of some of his own dark feelings. That probably sounds terribly pretentious and I apologize for that, but it's the most succinct way I can explain the visceral, emotional charge of revulsion I felt reading parts of this adventure. What I felt wasn't just disgust at something I found "icky," though. It was something else I couldn't quite put my finger on, which is a big part of why I initially didn't know what to do with Death Love Doom.

The adventure takes place entirely within the house and grounds of the Foxlowe family, who reside in London in the year 1625. That was the first of several curve balls thrown at me when I started reading. Unlike previous LotFP adventures, this one takes place not in a fantasy approximation of early modern Europe but in early modern Europe itself. Why he did this I have no idea, because, to my mind, there's no obvious payoff in having done so. At the same time, there's no difficulty whatsoever in stripping out the 17th century English references and running the adventure as a "straight" fantasy, so it's more a quirky authorial choice than a serious flaw, but it is odd.

At the start of the adventure, rumors are circulating that the wealthy Foxlowes, including Erasmus, the family patriarch and a successful merchant, have unexpectedly disappeared, possibly traveling abroad. The player characters can thus take the roles of either thieves hoping to rob their estate while it is presumably unoccupied or concerned locals looking to discover just what has happened to the prosperous family. Death Love Doom is thus a location-based adventure whose "plot," such as it is, has already occurred before the PCs step foot inside the Foxlowe house. Something has happened therein, something that has turned their residence into a veritable house of horrors, as the PCs will discover as they investigate it.

What they won't discover, at least not easily, is why the terrible things within the house have happened -- why all the members of the Foxlowe family have been killed in horrific ways or, worse yet, turned into even more horrific monsters. It's not completely impossible, but it does require a fair bit of luck and cleverness. Otherwise, Death Love Doom comes across as little more than grotesquerie for the sake of grotesquerie and that, I think, is Death Love Doom's biggest flaw. Reading the entirety of the module, I know what happened to the Foxlowes and why and it's a very chilling tale indeed. But the likelihood that the PCs will discover this is small. To them, there will be no rhyme or reason behind all the dissected children and genital mutilations and people with limbs cut off and sewn back on in the wrong places.

That's unfortunate, since it weakens the power of the module and contributes to the caricature of Raggi's adventures as being twisted and dark for no good reason. There's a very good reason behind the things the PCs encounter in Death Love Doom and knowing them makes this a much more satisfying (and unsettling) adventure. This reason is known only to a handful of NPCs in the adventure and the likelihood that they'll be in a position to share that information with anyone is not great. I suspect Raggi knows this; indeed, I suspect that the "mystery" of it all is part of the point. But, speaking as a referee, I find this a serious weakness.

Even knowing the truth behind the events of Death Love Doom, I'm not sure I could ever run the adventure. That's not a flaw in the module or its presentation so much as a statement of my own preferences. Death Love Doom is not for the squeamish; it's filled with a large number of disturbing images of the "body horror" variety, ably illustrated by Kelvin Green. This adventure is definitely not for the weak of stomach. Those who aren't so sensitive may nevertheless find it disturbing, since, well, it is. This is an adventure in the grindhouse style Raggi loves so much and should be judged with that in mind.

Presentation: 8 out of 10
Creativity: 7 out of 10
Utility: 6 out of 10

Buy This If: You like your adventures to be disturbing and horrific.
Don't Buy This If: You're squeamish and/or prefer your adventures with a "lighter" tone.

27 comments:

  1. I'll have to admit, this sounds intriguing, if only to know the story of "what happened."

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  2. I agree with this assessment. For the players it could easily be walking into a charnel house and then getting out as soon as possible, which ends the module. I am intending to run it, and when I do so it will be modified with transaction records for the necklace or suchlike. I like this, but it needs work to make it the player experience it needs to be as well as for my own playing experience at the table.

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  3. LotFP looks to tread the horror of the dark subconscious and the terror implied in grim existential fantasy. A difficult theme to pull off well. They will have some misfires. This sounds like one of them.

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  4. How do you draw the line between a horrific and disturbing adventure and grotesquerie for the sake of grotesquerie? Seems like an awfully fine line to me and might be easy to fall on the wrong side of it.

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  5. What I thought was interesting about this product was that it is a clever idea and would be great had it been done a little more conventionally. I will probably steal the idea (of the necklace and its property) and just use with less gore.

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  6. I've played it and I agree that there should be more clues as to what is going on. We found out part of it from one of the characters but when we searched the papers on the main floor we didn't find anything. Had we found another clue we might have pressed on and gone upstairs. As it was we were all too freaked out and just set fire to the place and booked it with as much treasure as we could run with.


    As for the tone of the game, it is indeed disturbing but it worked for our group. It's horrific in a way that emotionally affects the players. It messed with our decisions, our play and kept us off balance. We had an intense gaming experience and a lot of fun. Even though one guy said he was going to watch disney cartoons until he felt clean again.


    It is certainly not for every group but with the right group it can be fantastic. I found it to be a satisfying gaming experience. When I run it I will definitely add more clues to entice the group to stay in there just a little longer.

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  7. Thanks for the review, James!

    Yes, doing the art for this was quite the departure for me, and I'm not sure it's something I would do again, but I wanted to stretch myself and see what my limits as an artist were. It seems pretentious, and perhaps it is, but that was my motivation.

    Also, James Raggi, for all his confrontational public persona and extreme adventure content, is a jolly nice fellow, so when he asked for help I was happy to do so, although I did think he'd made the wrong choice of artist.

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  8. Nice review. I also bought this module a few weeks ago, but haven't run it yet. If I do, I'll definitely mod it out quite a bit. Especially with setting.

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  9. I wonder why LotFP is considered part of the OSR. It seems very much like a game from The Forge which is about as new school as you can get.

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  10. What do you mean? The rules of LotFP are heavily based on D&D and the whole thing got kicked off with a system for randomly generating monsters. What's not old school about that?

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  11. Great review, and tempts me to pick it up. I think a lot of adventure modules have exactly this problem, building up an impressive back story that the author forgets to provide the keys and hooks to the GM to convey to the players. The number of times I've run a published scenario in which by scenario's end it became clear the players would be completely clueless as to the nature and origin of the module's events is surprising. Sometimes it feels like fellow GMs are writing these for their own interest, forgetting that there's going to be a table full of players who need to be included, too.

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  12. I've found Raggi's modules tend to be half baned in parts, but their fun to read and full of great spin off ideas, so I'm looking forward to picking this one up too. I'd love to see him do some tour-de-force "Tomb of Horrors" type adventure one day.

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  13. I'd be interested in hearing how you feel it's "Forgey", for lack of a better term.

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  14. For those who have read or played it, how much work would it likely be to add more clues and hooks to give the players a fair shot at understanding the situation? It sounds intriguing enough to maybe be worth the effort.

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    1. It wouldn't be too difficult. A journal entry or letter would do the job, as would talking to a survivor; some very bad things happen to the family at the centre of the plot but not all of them are dead. I can imagine that you could get some quite effective horror out of a conversation with one of them.

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  15. "disturbing and horrific" sold. i love where this dude takes RPG writing and concepts. metal + weird fiction/horror = good.

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  16. What an embarassed review!
    It seems you dislike this product quite a bit but you do not feel entitled to say so. It's like... "I don't like it and I would never run it, but it's entirely subjective, it's just me... sorry... I'm probably a puritanic, faint-hearted guy, you guys have all the reason to like it!". Why don't you say plain and simple that you don't like dissected childern and genital mutilation in your adventure? And it's not fun for you.
    What's the difference from saying you dislike D&D4th grid-based combat and it's not fun for you? Is disliking grid combat a more objective dislike? Less moral? Or one should not speak ill of OSR icons?

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  17. From what I have read, this post among many others, James Raggi is an exceptional artist and writer and LotFP is a unique and laudable addition for OSR gamers. But I think I fall into the camp that is more Hitchcock than Clive Barker. Maybe more M. Night Syamalan's, "The Village," over Marcus Nispel's "Conan." Maybe it is a personal failing but, while gaming, I think I would rather experience fear, suspense, mystery, and adventure without the grotesque elements.

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  18. SPOILERS-ish!

    Not much needs to be added. If you slow down Myrna's inevitable death, the PCs could get some critical info from her. Although as it stands now, quick-thinking PCs might be able to save her and get the info they need.


    I would probably just add some clues to the papers in the office to give the party the incentive to keep searching. Because the players are under a lot of pressure from the situation they can't hit a wall without losing hope. If there is something in that office to hook them I think many groups will go upstairs to find the rest of the info.


    I might add more to the upstairs as well to keep them on the line once they are hooked. Letters or journals seem like the best way to lay down clues and since it takes time to read them, it gives the wanderers time to catch up with the PCs.

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  19. I think the only real issue I have with this review is your Utility rating of 6/10... I think a 3-4/10 would have been more appropriate given the rather controversial nature of this module. Otherwise, I think it's pretty spot-on.

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  20. I'm very sure you've confused LotFP with some other game.

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  21. This sounds excellent.

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  22. I'm very sure you've confused LotFP with some other game.

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  23. "As it was we were all too freaked out and just set fire to the place and booked it with as much treasure as we could run with".


    I notice this happens a lot anytime people are introduced to Raggi's stuff. Such as in "Death Frost Doom" you would hear stories of players abandoning the adventure even before they got started because they were freaked out by the atmosphere. it's even kinda funny to think that the PC's( i.e. the Players) has no problem going into dungeons and killing orcs, but when he comes across a severed finger lying on the ground or a creepy old man tending a graveyard, it freaks them out.


    A module like this BEGS to be explored, so should i ever GM it, I'm going to make sure anytime tries to "torch the place", a ghosty wind will blow out the flame.

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  24. I'm sure I posted a reply to this question, but it seems to have disappeared. Anyway, it was more or less the same advice as David gives.

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  25. ---- rail ---- road -----
    but i can totally understand the impulse.

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  26. Am I saying you should strong arm the players to keep their PC's in the adventure? No I'm not! You enter some nasty house of hell doesn't man your going to do whatever you want inside and what I'm suggesting is not making it so easy for them. Use your imagination if you have one.

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