Sunday, October 7, 2012

Review: The Monolith from Beyond Space and Time


Part 4 of my Tour de LOTFP, reviewing the recent spate of adventure modules by LOTFP

I had saved reading The Monolith from Beyond Space and Time until last; when this adventure was released, I remember seeing some reviews here and there that blasted it as a railroad with encounters that were patently unfair or poorly designed, so I wanted to wait and let things settle.  I finally took the time to read it last week.

The premise of the adventure is that a mysterious valley has appeared within the milieu; if/when the player characters choose to investigate, they have the chance to encounter the reality-bending structure at the center of the valley, the monolith... from beyond space and time.  The core of the adventure is basically the following conceit; characters that manage to view the monolith are forever changed, and the only way to resolve the situation involves a monstrous choice.  In that regard, the adventure module is a fantastic success.  The monolith creates the kind of situation that the players will puzzle and equivocate over for quite a bit of time.  The 'agonizing choice' is a familiar trope in horror adventures, and this one presents an excellent dilemma.  For that reason, it's probably most important to place this adventure in an ongoing campaign.  It's unlikely many of the side effects of exposure to "beyond" would be noticed until leaving the valley of the monolith, compelling the characters to revisit the valley in search of answers or resolution.  Playing this as a one-shot misses out on the interesting campaign ramifications of the monolith.

The adventure includes rules for traversing the valley of the monolith, along with a handful of sample encounters to be had while there.  The encounters do a decent job of portraying the valley as a nexus where things from different times and places interact due to the presence of the monolith.  That being said, a few of them function more like traps, and not necessarily well designed ones, either.  The author encourages the referee to create additional encounters for the valley, and I would probably swap out or alter some of the ones provided.

Physically, the books is in LOTFP's now standard A5 format, with easy to read text in a two-column layout and simple design.  The art is fantastic, with many full page pieces by Aeron Alfrey.  Monolith weighs in at 46 pages.

So how would I rate this book?  It's another strong horror offering in the LOTFP line, but I place it behind Death Frost Doom or Death Love Doom.  Here, the horror issues from the alterations that happen to the characters, and the consequences that ensue; it's very personal and creates a significant quandary for the players.  That said, this adventure errs more on the side of "high concept" and seems to be a statement regarding what a referee should be willing to do to achieve The Weird Aesthetic ™.  Some of the encounters and situations are heavy-handed and push the artistic agenda more than I like.  I'd still rather have an intriguing adventure like this one, which breaks new ground and promises complex, messy situations, than a retread dungeon crawl.

Ostensibly, this is supposed to be the most "Lovecraftian" LOTFP adventure to date.  Post-Lovecraft myth makers introduced the motif that exposure to the "numinous beyond" spreads madness and corruption to those that learn the true nature of the universe.  In that regard, I'd consider this a modern interpretation influenced by post-Lovecraft writing and not a pastiche like many Call of Cthulhu scenarios.  The otherworldly encounters in the valley and monolith would seem equally at home in an episode of the Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, or reality-bending sci fi films like Solaris or Event Horizon.