Posted on July 25, 2020
Fermentum Nigrum Dei Sepulti
Fermentum Nigrum Dei Sepulti (henceforth Fermentum) is a new adventure from Lamentations of the Flame Princess available in print and PDF from the LotFP web stores (EU Store and US Store) and DriveThruRPG (affiliate link). This review is based on the PDF version of the book so I cannot comment directly on the book quality except to say I expect it to be outstanding as all my other hardcover Lamentations of the Flame Princess books have been.
Fermentum is a weird fantasy monastery-crawl (that’s a thing now) featuring zombies controlled by an intelligent alien yeast which is used by the monks of the aforementioned monastery to brew outstanding beer famous through the local area of your campaign setting. The designer, Gord Sellar, cites as one source of inspiration “The Color(sic) Out of Space” by HP Lovecraft1, and this story probably best captures the initial premise of what is going on at the monastery, although Fermentum adapts this heavily both to the ostensible theme (monastic brewing) and to gaming purposes. This is not quite Gord Sellar’s LotFP debut, as he contributed to Green Devil Face #6, which is for some reason not available on DriveThruRPG and is thus the only issue I don’t have a copy of, but it is the first complete LotFP book he has completed as sole author. I believe it is one very worth of his reputation as a SF/weird fiction writer. This review attempts to avoid significant spoilers.
Fermentum features a unique set of infection rules for what happens when the “Black Barm” (the intelligent alien yeast) infects the player characters. This system features infection cards, which appear in the back of the PDF (presumably they’ll appear in the print book too) which should be printed out, cut out, and shuffled into decks to be drawn at the appropriate stage in the infection. At first I was disappointed to see this design choice as this product is a book, after all, and does not include separate cards, and it struck me initially like an awkward gimmick. Having read the cards and the explanation of how they are to be used, I feel much more comfortable with the decision and think that they neatly resolve what might otherwise be a fundamentally “unfun” (in a bad way) aspect of play with the adventure. Without spoiling the contents of any card, the infection cards are mostly provided as a tool for players to roleplay out the result of their player character’s infection. This mitigates the problem in play which some spells, powers, and effects have of taking control away from a player and effectively rendering them a spectator rather than a participant in the game. It is true that they are gradually losing control of their characters as the infection becomes worse, but through the use of infection cards, the players are given a lot of scope to interpret the effects of the infection on their character. The infection cards are the primary new game mechanic in Fermentum and I think they achieve both the narrative purpose (protagonists falling under the “spell” of the unknowable alien entity as in “The Colour Out of Space”) and the gaming purpose (preserving the players as active participants in the game and in the shaping of the impact of the infection on their character) admirably.
While I’ve visited medieval monasteries as a tourist, I’ve no particular expertise in their particulars. With that disclaimer, the monastery itself (the Abbey of St. Christopher, technically) feels realistic to me, and Sellar has rendered the primary adventure location in a way which feeds true to historical reality, overlaid and overwhelmed by the weird caused by the Black Barm. This creates wonderful contrast between the mundane and the extraordinary. The adventure is assisted in this with maps which are both attractive and functional, and which are generally presented on the same spreads as the description of the locations depicted on the maps. It’s functional, realistic, and evocative.
Although it is by a different artist, the obviously Gonzalo Aeneas, the interior art work is reminiscent (in a good way) of Jez Gordon’s work in earlier Lamentations of the Flame Princess releases. Fermentum is illustrated with high contrast black and white interior artwork featuring recognisable but distorted human forms highly suggestive of “the weird” which is going on. The layout is reminiscent of a 17th century printed book in many ways, with supposedly handwritten marginalia in a variety of languages. The effect is slightly spoiled by the use of modern “hand writing” fonts rather than being actually handwritten (although that’s probably necessary for legibility). Colour coded tabs adorn the outer edge of each page to make it easy to find your way through the book (very handy given the PDF is 104 pages long including the infection cards). The whole presentation is consistent with the high standards we have come to expect from Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
Fermentum is an inspiring and substantial addition to the Lamentations of the Flame Princess product line-up, at over double the size of the largest of 2019’s offerings. It is at once something new and impressive from a new (to our hobby bookshelves anyway) and impressive author, and entirely at home thematically and aesthetically with the existing Lamentations of the Flame Princess range. I highly recommend it!
- Lovecraft of course being an Anglophile retained the proper u in the word colour in his title, unlike the recent film adaptation of the story, which is excellent despite the spelling.