An Endzeitgeist.com review
This module clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 31 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5). I own the Pdf-version of this supplement, and one of my generous supporters has sent me the softcover print copy of this adventure for my edification as well (#114 of 666); while the gentleman in question did not tell me to review the book at my earliest convenience, I’ve had it for a while, and so figured, it’d be time to cover this.
This module contains a drawing of a penis-shaped creature. If that offends you, steer clear.
Anyways, the first thing you need to know, is that this module is a farce, or, depending on your tastes and humor, a satire/response. This is not a form of judgment, it is an observation of what this offers, as it is nigh impossible to take a look at this review in a vacuum; this is very much a result of the internet. What do I mean by this? Well, as you may have gleaned from my reviews of the early Lamentations of the Flame Princess material, I do like the radically dark nature of many of these modules; I enjoy the bleak horror/dark fantasy angle for the most part. Here’s the thing: Even before the shock-for-shock’s-sake angle became so pronounced among the modules, there were plenty of folks that reviewed LotFP material, and quite a few of them were offended in their sensibilities.
That is every person’s prerogative, of course.
Where I start taking umbrage, though, is how these reviews conveyed their displeasure and dislike. I usually try to keep away from other reviews to avoid coloring my own opinions…however, here, it was nigh impossible to do so. You see, one can state that one doesn’t like the BDSM-like humiliation games one of the NPCs in “Better than any man” proposes. Totally valid!
But they were not mandatory to solve the module. They were not a crucial component of the adventure.
One can say that “The Monolith Beyond Space and Time” is nigh unbeatable for your average dungeon-crawling group, and this would also be correct in a way…though the latter is clearly by design, and by genre. (See my review of that one and the assumptions of dungeoncrawling fantasy vs. investigative and methodical horror gaming.)
I don’t want to tell anyone their opinions aren’t correct.
However, I did read a bit of the outrage reception, of how the modules were condemned for being too deadly, arbitrary, etc. – and I couldn’t help but feel that many of them, either deliberately or due to their perception being colored by a kneejerk outrage response, failed to see the point of these adventures. There were valid points of criticism, sure – but some also were simply unfair.
I am not sure if this module is a form of resignation or a deliberate trolling; if this is the response of a wounded ego or a troll, or a combination thereof. But much like a certain book about crystal-headed clone children, this module took all those criticisms and molded them into a module. It quite deliberately creates the bad adventure that the often brilliant earlier LotFP-modules the author penned were made out to be.
This means a couple of things: We begin with a multi-page spanning rambling diatribe of a thoroughly unpleasant, old-man; including a bonus-rant for games that feature demi-humans. We have a dungeon that indeed is there to be a pretty random and frustrating meat-grinder par excellence, and this “You want to see bad? You think my modules did this and that? Well, there you go!” response oozes from every page, every concept. In a way, this could be seen as a deliberately disjointed rebuttal in module form.
But…how does it work? What exactly does it contain? Well, in order to discuss that, we have to go into SPOILER territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, so, this nominally takes place in the Swiss town of Schwarzton. This may in itself be a pun. The German composite “Schwarz + Ton” would mean “shade of black.” If the common English town suffix “-ton” is instead referred to, it is a deliberate step back from the careful research that went into “Better than any man”, for example – “-ton” is not added as a town-suffix in German. There is a general, isometric overland map of the vicinity sans scale provided. I already mentioned the rambling, sexist, racist old geezer that acts as the central hook for the module. You don’t have to be a rocket-scientist to notice that this is a deliberate construction of the things LotFP was accused of.
There are kids missing, and a Satanist cult might be responsible. The PCs are pointed towards a complex, and then, suffering commences. The complex, you see, is a deliberate, ridiculous negadungeon (a deadly dungeon that will see the PCs worse off for having mastered it, if at all still alive) of the hardest kind. It’s not Grimtooth-level of ridiculous and gonzo; it can be beaten if you are careful, lucky and really understand how its aesthetics of in-game logic work, but oh boy. Oh boy.
But before we get to the dungeon, let’s talk briefly about the meta-aspects that we can see in LotFP-modules. (E.g. the chariot in “The God That Crawls”) – I don’t particularly like them, but they’re easy enough to ignore, and some common sense and caution can make them work. Perhaps you’re one of the persons that liked them. That’s totally valid.
The complaints fielded against them depicted them as random and breaking immersion, and thus, the complex is front-loaded with one instance where the PCs can find a handout/book and beseech Twinkly the Star (as from that kid’s song), who doesn’t like the referee making the life of poor PCs a living hell. As such, there are 6 different effects like open rolls, 3 truthful responses, etc. – and these genuinely may be required to have a realistic chance of getting out of this module alive. Referees could contact an e-mail address and get a retaliatory benefit, custom-tailored for the first 250, but since I got the print version of the module as a donation, I did not claim that aspect of it. Still, it generates a rapport, which is per se an interesting aspect, even though I personally really don’t like it. That being said, this module basically requires Twinkly for the PCs to have a chance in the dungeon.
The second rebuttal of the “So random” claims would be the by now infamous solution of the module – the complex, the cult? Red herrings. The culprit is a relatively smart bear. Kill the bear, folks are safe. It’s a random encounter. Whether you consider that to be stupid or genius depends on your personal aesthetics and that of your gaming group.
Anyhow, the dungeon. It’s basically a super-twisted kind of containment facility, engineered by the Duvan-Ku (responsible for Death Frost Doom and tied to Death Love Doom, so if your players know these modules, they’ll at least be warned…). In a vermin-invested pit, there is a secret passage that leads to a room with levers. 3 of them, which can be in 3 positions each. These levers influence doors, deadbolt and open them, etc., and the table of their effects is almost a whole page long. It is pretty random, and while theoretically the PCs can learn by trial and error how you have to use these levers, it’s basically just a huge amount of methodical trial and error. It is deliberately not fun. It, ironically, with Twinkly and magic, may well be solved, making it more functional than quite a few modules I’ve read.
The general notion of being a farce extends to the entities contained within: We have, for example, the Half-Realized Poorly-Conceived Terror, which was, unless I’m sorely mistaken, one of the scathing condemnations of earlier LotFP-modules. It’s basically text that can come alive as some form of half-finished art. The creature’s attacks, though, are interesting, capable of leaving tattoos, transform items (or facial features) into lines, and could be considered to be genuinely creative and interesting. The same applies to the other creatures herein, most of which do also get their neat one-page b/w-artworks. There is, for example, a massive maggot-thing, the luck-sucker, which can fart a die-chain debuff (reduce die-size); It can theoretically be slain, but yeah – it’s super-deadly, and at 8 HD, a veritable TPK machine. Like the whole complex.
You see, the main treasure may be valuable, but it also is a super-deadly trap that will annihilate even mid-level parties. There is a way to get it, but it is predicated on not having plundered the complex or the dead bodies inside – and where showing respect for the dead made sense in previous modules, here, it’s just what the critics claimed it’d be. Random.
There is another first here, and one I really dislike: Namely random PC humiliation. There is a creature in the complex (the sole critter sans artwork) that is basically indestructible – a disembodied consciousness that makes the PCs piss and shit themselves, and then animates the feces to attack. And no, PCs can’t be “emptied”; this is not telegraphed in any way. Unlike the “humiliation for information”-angle in “Better than any man”, this is just random humiliation for humiliation’s sake – there is no player agenda or the like. There also is a sadistic trap that can see the PCs caught on an endless stair, though that one is at least creative in its devious implementation.
So yeah, this dungeon is a random, ridiculously lethal meatgrinder. It is a negadungeon that really wrecks PCs to bits, and it is not fair. Even dungeon-crawling veterans may well be TPK’d and call BS on quite a few aspects of this dungeon. Exploration is discouraged actively. (Come to think of it – the horror-end/sub-level at the end of “Better than any man”? You know the one where the character’s DEITY tells them to go back? Isn’t the like pretty much what some folks erroneously claimed that one would be?)
The whole dungeon atop the haunted hill feels like a caricature of a combination of “Death Frost Doom” and “Better than any man” to me.
Anyhow, the cult. If the dungeon is a scathing troll of the claims re dungeon-design and structure, the cult is all about the gritty stuff that more prude people may be offended by. The cult is basically a sex-cult that worships the penis-walker. I never though I’d write those words in sequence. The penis-walker is a ginormous, walking penis-shaped alien, with retractable filaments coming from the head. The entity is actually misunderstood; it’s a potent telepath/empathy of sorts, and it releases emotions as clouds – which are thoroughly misinterpreted by the primitive human brain. The poor, crash-landed dick-alien just wants home to its mate (who is, as it can glean, coupling with another member of its species back home), and the humans and their orgies? They miss the point. Not that the PCs will ever know. It takes Intelligence 30 to understand the penis-walker and realize that the whole satanic cult thing is actually a horrible misunderstanding. So, it’ll be more likely that the PCs slay the 0 HD creature. How the cult takes this? No idea. Nor do we get stats for the pseudo-satanic sex cultists. But, as noted before, this is another red herring. One that the PCs probably only notice if they observe the village, as opposed to running into the death trap dungeon…
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard, and the module sports quite a few nice b/w-artworks. The handout letter is nice, and so is the cartography. The map of the dungeon, alas, does not come with a player-friendly, key-less version. The print copy is stitch-bound, and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
James Edward Raggi IV’s “Fuck for Satan” is basically post-modernism at its most hipster-like, in a negative sense, coming finally to RPGs. It takes the whole aspect of meta-playfulness with the reader/referee/player, and wraps it in a trollish “So you think that’s what I wrote? Well, all right, I’ll give you the hack job my modules ostensibly are!” One can’t help but feel a certain degree of admiration regarding the 0-fucks given attitude here.
Or, well, it could come off as someone deeply wounded by the often unfair criticisms fielded against work that did ooze passion, that was often smart and intricately detailed.
Either way, the adventure is not meant to be enjoyed on any traditional level, save that of detached irony and appreciation of how it lampoons module-structure and narrative tropes. It is, then, a testament to how bad plenty of adventures are, that I can genuinely point towards a whole slew of them and state that this is still better.
Indeed, there are plenty of good ideas in this book – it is not uncreative or per se slapped together, and if you need ideas to scavenge, there are quite a few of them to be found here. The module is also less “Lol, random everyone dies 1111onelevelen!” than the crystal-headed
children adventure, and more skill-based. There is a way to solve this, and one that does make sense.
Is this fun? No.
It’s not designed to be fun. It can be an amusing experience, but the target-demographic of this module is very, very narrow.
Most groups and referees will probably consider this to be a curiosity; as for actual play: There are certainly super-jaded roleplaying games veteran cynics out there that are bored by most commercial modules, because they’re too easy. If you want to test your mettle as a party against a module that is deliberately designed to screw you over, then this will deliver. This is a module that is very much worth trying to win, chuckle about how your PCs horrifically died, and then move on – if that is what you’re looking for. I’d firmly advise against using this in an ongoing campaign, unless your players are the best, most lucky, brilliant and jaded RPG-players ever. As a one-shot? Yeah, I can see it being “fun” for a very select group of people.
As a final aside: I really wish the author would go back to writing modules that are not like, well, this one.
How to rate this? Oh boy. If one were to rate this as a satire, it’d be one in the tradition of Juvenal. There is no redemption here, just scathing bile. It’s the only true farce of a roleplaying game module I know of, and it achieves its obvious goals.
Reading it on a meta-level, as a cynical deconstruction of criticisms, of narrative structures, this has some value. But as a whole, I wouldn’t consider it to be compelling in the sense that even folks that adored e.g. “Death Love Doom” will necessarily subscribe to. For most groups, this will be a curiosity at best, and probably one they will never actually play. That being said, for the exceedingly narrow target demographic that this may cater to, there might be serious fun to be drawn from it. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, and while most folks should probably round down (I know I’d consider this, as a person, at best a 2-star offering…), there’s a chance that you and your group might just fit this very niche audience; as such, my official verdict will round up, mostly due to in dubio pro reo.