Sunday, January 28, 2024

LOTFP Review: The Curious Conundrum of the Conflagrated Condottiero

This capsule review will have spoilers.

Here's some boring facts about the book up front to avoid diving right into the spoilers.  The Curious Conundrum of the Conflagrated Condottiero (henceforth referred to as "4C" for the rest of this review) is 26 pages, with Kelvin Green doing the writing, art, and cartography, as he is known to do.  It's 26 pages and you can get the PDF here: 4C on DriveThruRPG - where apparently it's a gold seller.  Okay, have we given the spoiler-averse enough time to bail on this review?  Good, let's get into it.

4C is a revenge piece about an implacable undead hunting its murderers.  From the back cover:  Five men went to war.  Four men returned.  Now something is burning them to death.  We learn that the five men found a treasure cache during the war; after a disagreement over the treasure, the four murdered their compatriot and buried him in a shallow grave, then returned home with the loot.  There are several ideas on getting the players involved shortly after the time the first murder happens, and most of the adventure takes place in the environs of the small German village of SchwartzfuƟ where the players will get to put on their best Scooby Doo impersonations and unravel the mystery.  The village is briefly described, with a focus on a few key NPCs and some red herring side plots.  Like many books in the LOTFP canon this is meant to take place in the 1630's in and around the 30 Years' War.

As I was reading this, I kept thinking about 1980's horror movies like John Carpenter's The Fog with its theme of vengeful dead (in the case of The Fog, they are drowned lepers betrayed by the villagers).  In the afterword Kelvin relates The Fog was indeed a primary influence for 4C.  In the movie The Fog, the undead are terrorizing the town of Antonio Bay on the 100th anniversary of its founding and the event that drowned the mariners.  The original The Fog is a low-budget movie but I think it's held up well, highlighting the uncomfortable fact that many of our settlements or historical founders (hello, America) committed horrific things we've either suppressed or forgotten.  At the same time, watching an implacable foe exact revenge on "innocent" generations removed from the original crimes is also unsettling.

From that perspective the targets in 4C are less sympathetic (they're the actual murderers, not some distant descendants).  I don't believe it's mentioned, but there could be an opportunity to place the first murder or appearance of the revenant on the anniversary of the crime or murder pact, tying it to some kind of auspicious date where old crimes resurface to plague the living.

I suppose I've said enough about this one. There's no dungeon to be found here, so let's take a moment to acknowledge the wags who'll gripe about a Call of Cthulhu style horror investigation published for a class and level D&D style rules system. I'll conclude by saying I liked the premise and the set up of this one and will consider using it, perhaps in a future LOTFP campaign placed in the Holy Roman Empire.  By now I believe there's a critical mass of official and unofficial LOTFP adventures set in Germany.  Nor would it be hard to transplant it to ye olde England with the aid of a name generator, so we may not have to wait for a future campaign after all.

Thanks for reading.  As I work backwards through the LOTFP catalog our next visit will be to The Obsidian Anti-Pharos.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Catching Up with the Pillories (York 1630 Campaign)

 I've been away a while - 6 weeks!  I have several alter egos, in one of them I lead a global IT department and spent the last month of the year focused on "landing the plane" - making sure we delivered annual commitments and finished the critical projects.  Then the kids came home from college (I have two in college right now!  A senior and a freshman) and then it was off to Mexico to spend time with the hippies on the beach at a music festival (another persona).  But table top gaming continued apace, it was only the blogging that fell by the wayside.  Now the year has started afresh, the rum and tequila have worn off, the tie dyes are put away, let's look at what's been going on with our Lamentations of the Flame Princess York campaign.

Since it's been a while, here is the cast of characters: they've named themselves The Pillories, and include Allister (an Oxford scholar who used the library's forbidden books section during his tenure there to learn charms and enchantments); Father Blackburn, a Solomon Kane-like puritan monster hunter; Remi Knotwise - a halfling burglar; Yuri - an elf wanderer from Central Europe; Toby and Wood, two war veterans and former bandits, now henchmen (a thief and fighter, respectively).  I've kept demi-humans in my alternate 1630's setting.  Halflings are creatures of comfort that live in southeastern England, although some are employed keeping the gardens at Cambridge.  Elves are ill-trusted creatures of sorcery, banished to the dark woods of Eastern Europe and unwelcome in Christian society.  Yuri spends most of his time disguising himself.  We haven't met any dwarves yet in-game.

The character along the bottom - left to right:  Wood, Allister, Remi the halfling, Yuri the elf, Toby, and finally Father Blackburn

These players were all new to Lamentations of the Flame Princess, so the campaign has been set-up as a bit of a "greatest hits sandbox".  The first adventure they did was Tower of the Stargazer, out on the Yorkshire Moors.  They learned of a mysterious patron, "The Doctor", who collects oddities and curiosities.  They were lured north and west to a challenging puzzle dungeon called The Grinding Gear.  The last game report was about halfway through The Grinding Gear (all the previous ones are here:  York 1630 game).

The Grinding Gear Wrap-Up

There's a point half-way through The Grinding Gear where the party can become trapped in the dungeon, and it's critical the group has been keeping records of food, water, and light resources.  This isn't a game like 5E with infinite light or "we're all mutants with darkvision"; darkness is an actual obstacle and the players need light to solve puzzles and escape the dungeon.  When the Pillories got trapped they had 2 days of water, rations, and 16 hours of oil for their lantern, and a small number of torches.

If the players have been reasonably astute along the way, navigating The Grinding Gear's remaining puzzles isn't terribly difficult.  Early on in the campaign, they adopted the practice of avid note-taking, using a shared Google sheet to track marching orders, supplies, XP totals, handouts, in-game notes, etc, and it's really helped with game recaps and memory.

However, my players couldn't resist playing the organ, they were sure something good would happen - see the picture below.  It could've been worse; several characters were rendered deaf for a few hours, but the effects weren't permanent.

Play that organ!

Beyond the puzzles, there's a trick sarcophagus that hides something important, captured here in another sketch by one of the players.  All-in-all, the Pillories were able to escape the Grinding Gear with 8 hours of cushion on their light sources, having found the principal rewards left behind by the dungeon creator, Garvin Richrom.  (Garvin Richrom will be a recurring character in the campaign, there's a lot that can be done with him).

Yuri and the sarcophagus

The LOTFP rules enable magic-users and clerics to write scrolls in their downtime, and The Pillories have discovered the benefits of investing profits into their library, which enables scroll writing, so downtime between adventures is not idle time.

The Downtime Interlude

There were several items founds in The Grinding Gear that the players didn't know how to use right away; the magic users needed to research and develop an Identify spell, and then there was trial and error to figure out the command words.  For instance, they had recovered a wand that belonged to the Medieval alchemist Sylvanus Fulgur; with Identify, they learned the wand could paralyze or immobilize a target.  Fulgur's manuscripts were in Latin and Greek, so Allister spent weeks working through all the different ways a Medieval alchemist might say "freeze" to find the triggering combination to activate the wand.  At one point he was luring in destitute people off the streets of York to practice on them.  "Would you like a sandwich, you look hungry?  Just step into my parlor while I point this innocuous looking shaft of rowan at you."

Allister trying to figure out the command word

Father Blackburn learned the workings of a gnarled staff of almond, like that carried by an Old Testament prophet.  In fact it was a staff of healing, and each time he uses it, his hair and beard grow long and flowy like Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments.  So he carries it but hasn't used it much.

Also during the interlude, they met The Doctor.  I've introduced The Doctor as an actual physician, apothecary, and lecturer at Cambridge, in addition to a collector of rare curiosities.  He hosted the player characters at his estate near Harrogate, where he studies the healing property of the nearby baths.  His time in the library at Cambridge brought a reference to a pre-Roman cult that had discovered the secret of immortality, that which eluded his Medieval predecessors, and was looking for a book that contained a reference to the location of the cult.  Correspondence between two 16th century bishops alluded to a place of safe-keeping beneath an English church, from before the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  He wanted the player characters to be his agents in finding the church, discovering if there actually was a secret store of hidden books beneath it, and finding the book in question.

The Doctor:  apothecary, madman, flautist

He showed them an arcane symbol they could expect to find on the cover:

The players spent some time calculating costs for the expedition - per diem for the overland trip to Dover and back, and reasonable wages.  The Doctor is only interested in the death book; if they find other treasures beneath the old church, they can claim salvage rights.  Of course he'll disavow them if they get caught breaking any laws.  Furthermore, he expects the death book (Loqui Mortuis) to point towards the mountaintop stronghold where the Romans overthrew the death cult that was terrorizing the surrounding highlands.  There could be further opportunities for the players on such an expedition to western Scotland if they handle this part of the operation well.  A deal was struck, and our characters set out for Dover.

If you know the LOTFP canon well, you'll recognize the pre-Roman death cult as an arrow pointing towards the adventure Death Frost Doom; the items sequestered beneath a church in the English countryside lead to the adventure The God that Crawls; the Doctor himself is the mastermind behind Kelvin Greene's Strict Time Records Must Be Kept, although perhaps that adventure is still some way in the future.

This is a good-sized recap for today, we'll resume with how the players have been faring in The God That CrawlsSpoiler:  It's been great fun.  We'll be back soon.