Posted on February 3, 2020
Over a year ago, my Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign encountered a cult of alien hybrids of my own devising, whose cults and rituals were dedicated to the perpetuation of their reproductive cycle. I developed quite a bit of detail about that cult, and eventually the idea struck me that it might make a reasonable module to publish. I am pleased to say that I finally made the adventure available to the public earlier this week: Womb Cult, available on DriveThruRPG in PDF, and print (soft cover and hard cover)!
Preparing an adventure for your home campaign is different from preparing one with the intention to publish it for a broader audience. I am still not sure I have entirely succeeded – maybe somebody will review Womb Cult and I will find out. I thought I’d write anyway about the approach I took and why, in case that is useful to anybody. That way, at least if you get Womb Cult and decide it is bad, you will know what not to do!
My campaign is set in England during the early years of the English Civil War, so when I ran Womb Cult in my regular campaign, it was set in rural England. Most of the official Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventures have a defined setting, although it is rarely difficult to modify them to place the adventure somewhere else. Sometimes modifying them is more difficult. I have quite a few adventures which I have yet to use in my own campaign because they are not easily integrated into Civil War England. This is not a problem unique to Lamentations of the Flame Princess of course, but I feel less able to easily muck around with an historical real-world setting (albeit with weird fantasy overlays) to make an adventure fit than I would in a purely fantasy setting. This could well be an issue other referees do not have, but it informed my choices as I prepared Womb Cult for other people’s games.
I wanted Womb Cult to be usable for the “generic setting” of Lamentations of the Flame Princess – namely, Early Modern Europe. I didn’t want to tie it to a particular country or region, though. So instead of a defined region with named towns and villages with the location of all the cultists precisely mapped out, I developed the module as a “tool kit” to infest any region area in your campaign with an alien-hybrid womb cult. This would make the module usable in any rural area of Early Modern Europe. At the same time, I know that many referees buy published modules to reduce preparation time, so I still provided maps with the locations of hybrid households and the like mapped out – but these were “generic villages” without names, so the referee can use the maps as they like, assigning them names appropriate for their campaigns. I was assisted in fully realising this objective by the other half of Grimm Aramil Publishing, credited in the book as the killer of my darlings, Adam, who made sure I stripped out the English Civil War-specific timeline showing how the cult integrated itself into the events of my own campaign.
There are some traces of the original setting left in the module – the pagan gods honoured by the cult are based adapted and morphed from a base of the ancient paganism of the British Isles, and I do give an English name for the cult’s leader. I don’t think the gods should be a problem and names are easily localisable.
Done well, investigations are great tabletop fodder, especially with a horror/weird fantasy vibe – the success of Call of Cthulhu is testament enough to that I think. Before the player characters are likely to find the cult’s lair in Womb Cult, they need to investigate the cult and its goings on. It’s easy to fall into a trap with investigation scenarios. Even among published modules railroads abound which drag the “investigators” from scene to scene, stopping them until they find whatever clue is necessary to progress them to the next scene, all the way until the inevitable confrontation with the bad guy. I wanted to avoid that. I was also aware that given I deliberately designed the publication version of Womb Cult as “setting neutral” (within the broader assumed Early Modern Europe setting), the adventure as presented could use more hooks to encourage the player characters to be involved.
I tried to combine random events caused by the cult’s actions (some of which might directly involve or even target the PCs) with random clues and stories for NPCs to give to the players when they were interrogated. After all, there’s no forensic science in the Early Modern Era – if you want to know what’s going on you’re going to need a witness, or a carefully chosen magic spell, or both. The party should build up both real clues and red herrings as their investigation proceeds – or they may even have a relatively early confrontation with alien hybrids which, if they are triumphant, presents them an opportunity to force the most important details out of their captives.
Womb Cult‘s approach is an attempt to address an investigation with an OSR style of play and a generic setting. It has worked for me when I have run the module – I hope it works for other people too. Maybe I screwed it up completely – constructive criticism welcome!
I’m not an artist but I have been privileged to collaborate with a very talented one on Womb Cult, who has brought the alien hybrids and their life cycle to life in the artwork throughout the book. From the “birth ritual” depicted on the cover, to the three full-page black and white interior pieces depicting hybrids and hosts, to the illustration of the womb parasite which manages to look vicious and malignant despite its slug-like size and shape, I am really pleased with the artwork. The cover has so far attracted quite a few positive comments so hopefully whatever audience Womb Cult finds enjoys the art too.
More work than it looks like
The main thing I discovered producing Womb Cult is that preparing an adventure for publication is a lot more work than it looks like. I have a full-time job and I worked on other projects between, but I have been working on Womb Cult in bits and pieces since 2017, when I first started preparing it for my Lamentations campaign. I started and stopped and wrote and re-wrote and abandoned it and picked it up again several times over 2018 before finally settling on the “setting neutral” approach for my final rewrite in 2019. After some constructive criticism, fat trimming, and more play testing, it was finally ready in late 2019, but didn’t go live on DriveThruRPG until January 2020 because I had to wait for proofs to arrive over the busy Christmas period. The whole process gave me a new found respect for published adventure modules, even the ones which I don’t think are very good. I sincerely hope Womb Cult doesn’t fall into that latter category, but getting it into print was a huge learning process in any event, and holding the printed product at the end – especially the A5-sized hardcover (which fits in so well with other Lamentations books) – ultimately immensely satisfying.