Saturday, October 21, 2023

LOTFP Review: Black Chamber

A new challenger has rattled its spurs and stepped through the batwing doors onto the dusty streets of Review Town to take on the LOTFP-verse.  This one is called Black Chamber, and features a theme of arena combat with unwitting victims popping out of the floor in an alien danger-room setting.  Maybe that's why the phrase "a new challenger approaches" is on my brain.  We'll look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of this one as we break down the walls of the Black Chamber.

As usual, reviews are meant for referees, there will be spoilers.

The Good

I enjoy dystopian science fiction and horror movies like Cube, or The Platform, that unsettle the viewers with a dangerous, unknown environment, and force the characters to survive long enough to figure out what's going on and escape.  Black Chamber leans heavily into that theme, temporarily trapping the players in a pitch-dark arena where bizarre and random opponents will be thrust upon them.  Adversaries can range from zombie conquistadors, robots that grind opponents into sausage, to ordinary people who have been trapped in the dark and just want to escape.

There is a back-story to this one that involves an infectious alien intelligence that co-opts living creatures, making them part of a collective while it changes their blood and organs to black oil and coal - a kind of alien zombie.  There's a constant threat of infection to the players while fighting in the arena itself, including guidelines on handling "alien rabies".

Beyond the chamber (and it's expected the players will figure out a way to escape) there's a small dungeon, where the players can learn the ancient history of the place, find potential allies, and deal with a few powerful foes.  One of the foes is a potent magic user, controlled by the alien collective, who can cast a quirky spell called Seven Gates, which opens up seven portals throughout the dungeon.  The portals can last up to several hours once created.  You can imagine some madcap chase sequences like a Looney Tunes cartoon or a Scooby Doo chase scene, as different groups use the portals to pop around the dungeon.  Oh, and the destination each time someone enters a portal is random.  Zoinks.  Cue the Benny Hill music.

Finally, if you like the flavor of Gamma World, or Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, there are hi-tech devices the players can loot, and a fair amount of treasure.  This adventure creates a balanced tone of horror, sorcery, and super science that checks off a bunch of interesting boxes.  I'd love to hear how the playtests went for this one.

The Bad

If you're in the market for a Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventure for your 1657 Portuguese campaign during the Portuguese Restoration War, you are in luck my friend.  This one is not quite "tell me you're a one-shot without saying you're a one-shot" territory, because it wouldn't be too hard to scrub the historical context and place this in a decade or setting that actually matches your LOTFP campaign.  There are certainly cases where LOTFP authors pursue their vagaries and make obscure adventures difficult to integrate into an existing campaign.  This one isn't too bad.

The Ugly

My eyes.  I love dark mode on my computer screens and iPad, but it was a bit jarring for a game book.  I'll put a picture of one of the pages below.  The aesthetic certainly drives home the oppressive theme of black, seeping infection and gives it a metal vibe.

The Judgment

I loved this one - it's why we come to the Lamentations of the Flame Princess.  It's a challenging adventure, it's got horror, weird science fiction stuff, and puts interesting pressures on the characters to escape before they all succumb to infection.  I'm not sure a first level party would even make it out of the chamber, so this is probably something for a party with a little experience.  Access to cure disease would improve their long term odds.

It's a 40-page softcover, but this should have been one of the hardcovers and gotten the deluxe treatment - it's a keeper.  I think the softcovers were community submissions.  The author here is Becami Cusack.  The best of the summer LOTFP releases have been Yellow Book of Brechewold, Temple of the Wurm, and this one.   Let's see where it lands as I finish the last two new books.

You can get a PDF of Black Chamber over at DriveThruRP (DriveThru), and it looks like physical copies are available at the LOTFP web stores (LOTFP Web Store).

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Game Reports - ACKS and LOTFP

York 1630 - F*ck Around and Find Out

I'm a few weeks behind on game reports for this one.  Our players, the magic user Allister, cleric Blackburn, Yuri the Elf, and Remy Knotwise the Halfing, have been exploring a puzzle dungeon called The Grinding Gear, a dungeon beneath an abandoned inn within the woods west of Aldfield.  Allister has two henchmen as well, a fighter named Wood and a specialist named Toby.  Rather than post a dull play by play, I'll just focus on some highlights.

At one point they encountered a set of stairs that led up to a landing, the passage turned right, and the stairs continued up.  The landing was one large pressure plate trap, and anyone that triggered the trap got launched in the air by a spring-loaded wall that threw them off the top of the stairs, like a giant pinball bumper.  The players avoided the trap and straddled the corner to avoid the pressure plate - that's not the interesting point.  Later in the dungeon when they ran into some "fast zombies" (ie, ghouls) the cleric used a scroll of turn undead to drive them down the same hallway - he quickly reasoned he could make them flee down the stairs and let the pinball bumper take care of them.  There was a moment, much later in the game, when they went by that way again and found the broken bodies of the zombies at the base of the steps, horribly mangled after being launched into the air.  I think one of them was still snapping it's jaws futilely at anything that came near, unable to even crawl with it's broken body.

They were running low on water and needed to leave the dungeon and return to the surface (they hadn't yet found the water source in the dungeon).  So they returned to the surface and carefully retrieved water from the well, cautious that there were still mosquito bats in the vicinity living in the attic of the inn.  It had been several days since the players first smoked them out.

A random encounter while the players were staying top-side brought some inquisitive bandits into the area of the inn, and they caught sight of some of the players fleeing into the inn and barring the door.  The bandits gave up investigating the statue and bodies in the clearing to mess with the players in the inn.  "You better leave us alone - don't f*ck around and find out", yelled one of the players through the door.  (We're from Philly where Gritty - the Flyers mascot - is basically the mayor of f*ck around and find out).  One of the quick thinking players ran up stairs with a pot and pan and started waking up all the mosquito bats in the attic with a huge racket, while the players continued to goad the bandits into yelling back at them through the front door.  This picture perfectly captures the moment the bandits got swarmed by angry mosquito bats while the halfling and elf laughed at their misery from the safety of the inn.  I love how this group repeatedly figures out how to use the environment as a weapon.

Here's a pic from a previous session when they were exploring an area with pits, and the halfling went down to explore after they killed a ghoul safely from outside the pit.  The halfling player was over the moon with the way his character has been depicted in these game vignettes.  He's even got a tiny pin with The Pillories logo on his hat.

ACKS Greyhawk - Let's Look Fabulous

In Greyhawk news, they did it.  The players finally had enough of Temple of Elemental Evil level one and started exploring the second level.  They seem to be figuring this D&D thing out.  They murdered a minotaur, and cut through a lair area with room after room of bandits wiping them out with a barrage of sleep spells and scooping up the spoils.  As an impartial observer, I believe they'll start getting more experience and leveling up... their insistence on grinding out all of level 1 was getting a little tedious.  Note - there is a horrifying room in the top center of level 1 with like four Earth Elementals patrolling it... the players learned about this place by interrogating some bad guys, and astutely decided to leave if for now.  They found a scroll of protection vs elementals on level 2, so now the wheels are turning.

Their fabulous moment came when exploring a junk-filled room with chests and wardrobes... full of many garments, clothes, dresses, and other sartorial accoutrements.  Old Gary (or perhaps Frank) was being generous when he wrote, "If care is taken in sorting, adventurers can fill three large sacks with good garments, worth 500gp per sack".  This was the last thing the players did on their way out of the dungeon for the night, and many jokes were made... "gee, we barely get any experience for fighting in deadly combat, but bargain hunting for clothes in the bandit's thrift store and suddenly my mojo is pointing up".  Like my son the football player always says about his "drip", look-good, play-good.  That's 1500xp of looking good for you, fellas.

In other ACKS news, I just learned that ACKS 2.0 (second edition) will be hitting the kickstarter later this month.  Oof - I love the compactness of the original book, it's an all-in-one, but ACKS 2.0 will have a player's books, judge's book, and monster book.  It's a great rules set for combat heavy, oldish school heroic fantasy, but a three book set is not an auto-buy for me - I have questions.  We may stick with first edition, we'll see.  Anyone else in the same boat or you diving in?