Sunday, December 23, 2012

Behind The Unappealing Cover Of This Dull Brown Module...

Currently working my way through Matt Finch's Spire of Iron and Crystal and Rob Conley's Scourge of the Demon Wolf. Maybe one day I'll get around to talking about them. Meantime here's my take on James Raggi's module God That Crawls.

 -The whole thing looks terribly professional. The basement aesthetic of LOTFP stuff from just a few years ago has been totally annihilated. There are still a few typos buried in there but what're you gonna do?

-That said, it's taken me this long to read it because it has possibly the worst cover in the history of RPGs. By no means poorly executed, I hasten to add, but radiantly lame anyway. It's a bunch of pilgrim-looking thanksgiving losers in brown walking beneath brown clouds toward a brown church. Pretty much every synonym for boring in the mostly very boring history of western painting and every single thing D&D adventurers go adventuring to get away from packed into one small rectangle. James: why on earth did you make Jason Rainville paint that?  Luckily: Jason's considerable technical chops are put to much better use on the Tales of the Scarecrow cover, so you can rip that off and glue it on here.

-So anyway, this plus the title The God That Crawls and the slimness of the volume suggests what you'll be getting is a very professional exercise in a single (Cthulhu-via-Carcosa-esque) monster against a backdrop of boring pilgrims.

-That impression is incorrect.

-Here's what you actually get:

A framing story of how a monster got in a place.

An explanation of how the villagers around it act.

A description of the monster and its schtick.

A dungeon with a nicely functional-looking map.

A lot of rooms with intriguingly weird things in them.

-Here's the best bit: these parts are written and presented in such a way that they can very easily be ripped out of this adventure without using any of the others.

You could easily...

...use the backstory without this specific dungeon or monster,
...use the villagers without the weird rooms and just have a simple horror one-shot,
...use the map and rooms without the main monster and its modus and just have a dungeon,
...use the backstory and modus for a different kind of monster,
...use the monster's schtick in a different dungeon,
...use the monster's schtick and all of this dungeon plus add stuff to make a bigger dungeon more interesting,
...use the room descriptions as a "list of weird rooms/items"*

Some dungeons you can't do this with because things are too interconnected: rooms and ideas rely for their functionality and significance on other rooms or the overall graphic and information design obscures which parts are cleanly detachable.

Now full disclosure. Not only was my copy of God free, but a team of amphibious caribou in black metal corpse paint haul a sackful of beer money from the far Finnish tundra and deposit it on my doorstep quarterly courtesy of the modules' author, so maybe I have no integrity and am lying to you all, but I tell you this: several things from this book are being copied from it into next week's adventure for my group as we speak, including the nifty map rooms and the fragmentary spellbook (which reads like a pulpified collaboration between JL Borges and Grant Morrison).

The overall tone does somewhat harken back to the rich weird dark vein James hit with his earlier thing  Death Frost Doom, though with an overlay of occasional gonzoness and researched pseudohistory that, for me,  alternates between intriguing and moodkilling. DFD--my favorite published one shot--was of a piece in a way you didn't really want to tear apart--this one is a bit more of grab bag.

-People think of Raggi and think "things that will kill you for touching them". I'm starting to notice another theme: he's interested in effects that only matter in campaign play. Like a lot of the tricks and curses won't necessarily make a difference right there in the dungeon trying to solve that dungeon's problems, but will change the nature of the campaign going forward--luck mechanics, stat changes, attracting unwanted attention, etc.

-Also: I hack everything. But as-is and uncannibalized it still looks like it'd run pretty decent, barring any kind of logistical hangups buried in the map that I haven't discovered. I'd put it up there in Challenge of the Frog Idol territory.

*(You also get what I strongly suspect is a pixelbitch puzzle for history obsessives, but solving it's not essential to understanding or surviving the adventure.)

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