Friday, October 5, 2012

Review: Death Love Doom

Tour de LOTFP continues this week with a third review, this time the controversial Death Love Doom adventure module.

The back of Death Love Doom indicates it's a limited printing of 200 copies, with a big red warning "18+ graphic content"; I imagine it's sold out at this time, but a review is worthwhile since you could still get the PDF.  This is a gruesome adventure guaranteed to horrify and frighten players just in time for Halloween.  The physical book is a 20 page A5 sized pamphlet, with a detachable cover so the referee can keep the maps handy at all times.  The detachable cover with maps hearkens back to those modules of yore; that's about the only thing in common with those 1970's adventures!  Like The Magnificent Joop van Ooms, I'm going to grumble the text is awfully small and cramped, zine-like, on the tiny pages.  Spoilers abound, so read no further if you intend to be a lucky player in this one.

The premise of the adventure is simple; word spreads around the London streets that something has happened to the household of a wealthy merchant, and his country estate is open for looting.  The characters are assumed to be one of the first or second groups of robbers that heads out to see if the rumors are true.  There is a great fortune waiting out there to be had, well over a hundred thousand XP or more by my quick count.

Shortly after breaching the grounds, it's very clear that something is wrong - bodies of the staff and family are found, gruesomely mutilated and altered.  And then the characters discover that not everyone is dead; some of the agents of destruction are ambulatory and actively searching for intruders.  Yikes!  This adventure is guaranteed to create delicious tension at the table; there is lots of treasure and loot lying around unguarded, but the players are experiencing mounting horror; how long will they continue to place their characters at risk of a fate worse than death, just to earn tons of easy XP? This adventure puts the risk-reward management firmly in the player's hands.

There are very few adventure modules in the D&D space that perfectly capture the tone of a horror movie, and that alone makes this an amazing piece.  For that matter, I can't think of many Call of Cthulhu or horror scenarios that do the job this well, either.  In most COC scenarios, the players are committed to see things through, and they march in stalwart fashion with grim resignation towards the end of their characters.  The players here completely control their decision to enter the mansion, and how long to stay, and the weight of choice makes all the difference.  Unfortunately, there are some pieces of information, once known, that can't be forgotten - and if the occurrences at the mansion are not resolved, the matter doesn't end just because the characters flee into the night.

There were some early reviews that flipped out about Kelvin Green's gruesome artwork in this book.  Yeah, it’s beyond the pale for a typical fantasy gaming book; once you recognize that this is a horror adventure, and compare it to equivalent properties in the horror genre, it's not much different from what you'd see in the Hellraiser or Exorcist franchise of movies.  Creepy mangled humans, spider-walking backwards with their heads rotating around unnaturally… except the folks in the module are all naked and their "junk" has been messed up.  Pinhead and his Cenobite colleagues would be kin to the primary antagonist here (if Pinhead was buck naked).  So this is definitely not a book to leave lying around for the youngsters to leaf through.  Don't download it at work, either.  Or read it in a public place.  Your spouse may question your judgment, as well.  Beyond that, it's all thumbs up.  / grin /

Should you buy this one?  Like I intimated above, it's a fantastic horror adventure for your retroclone or D&D style game, and Halloween is coming up.  There is some solid refereeing advice on how to present the location and continually ramp up the tension for the players.  I would love to run this one at some point.  The biggest question to ask yourself is whether your players would enjoy setting out on a simple B&E caper, and could handle the mounting horror when they find themselves at the scene of 'My Bloody Valentine', with Pinhead's demon-possessed naked Grandma hunting them with a pair of freaky scissors?  Can a horror adventure actually get much better?

The defense rests.  Bravo, James & Co. - encore, encore.


  1. Everytime I read a review of this adventure I become even more intrigued...

  2. I agree - this sounds awesome.


  3. Wow, that's a very positive review! Myself, I think the module is decent, assuming you (and potential players) are okay with the body horror elements. However, I think it is flawed by hiding most of the interesting backstory from the PCs. Pretty much the only way that PCs can learn much of that backstory is through dialogue with the monsters, which seems like it would be difficult to pull off well.

  4. Allright. You sold me! I just ordered it from Noble Knight. They still have some in stock, if anyone else is looking.

  5. Brendan - I don't see that the secret history of the artifact is an issue at all, considering how the adventure would likely unfold in play. There are enough witnesses still alive and retaining their faculties, that the DM can reveal it's related to "that horrible piece of jewelry that started the whole thing...", and that's the extent of the information the players need.

    If the characters flee, the monster-jewelry finds it's way into the hands of the upper crust and eats its way up the food chain until it gets to royalty. If the characters somehow defeats granny, they have direct possession of the artifact. Either way, piecing together the intricate origin, and how the item passed through different hands to the merchant, is the type of lore that should only be discovered *after* surviving the horrors at the estate, escaping, and regrouping.

    I've seen the same criticism elsewhere, albeit worded more strongly - 'This adventure is all fail because the intricate backstory and the vulnerabilities of the powerful evil artifact aren't dumped right in the player's lap like a neatly wrapped gift.' Maybe my perspective is informed from horror games, where there's always the need for research and information gathering before a viable plan can hope to be executed.