Posted on July 26, 2020
Adventure Anthology: Blood
Adventure Anthology: Blood is the last of the planned three volumes of previously independently published LotFP features. The Adventure Anthology series has included Fire, Death, and Blood. Blood was recently released in print and PDF, and my print version has not yet arrived, so I am basing this review on the PDF. Blood is available from the LotFP webstore (EU store and US store) and in PDF only from DriveThruRPG (affiliate link).
Whereas the previous Adventure Anthology volumes reprinted adventures from the period after LotFP had found its feet as a publisher, which were already beautifully illustrated and laid-out, Adventure Anthology: Blood reprints some of the publisher’s earliest modules, and has therefore been given all new artwork and layout. This means that the PDF version of Blood is a PDF of the newly laid out and illustrated versions of the originals, not a ZIP file of the PDFs of the original adventures as was the case for Fire and Death. This makes Blood worthy of purchase even for those who own the originals, and even in PDF format, and appears to be why it was released on DriveThruRPG whereas the others were not. The artwork is by the talented author, artist, designer (and soon to be nude portraitist) Kelvin Green and the layout is by Alex Mayo. Both are mainstays of LotFP and their work updates the look of these adventures to be consistent with the high standards expected of the publisher in 2020.
The adventures in Blood are quite different from the “normal” LotFP fare from the era of the Rules & Magic book onwards. As James Raggi (who wrote all of the adventures in this volume) says in the foreword, these adventures are from “back in the day when I was still trying to fuse traditional heroic fantasy with my nascent understanding of the Weird.” This is actually a fondly remembered period in LotFP‘s history with many OSR Grognards found online, who complain that Raggi’s later works are “negadungeons” or less obliquely and more crassly, “party fucks”. While I don’t really agree with this assessment of the later LotFP titles, it does mean that this may be the first LotFP product in some time which may appeal to this “traditionalist” wing of the OSR, if they are willing to give a new title from LotFP a second look. This also means that these adventures are, on the whole, easier to adapt to a “standard” D&D campaign than most LotFP modules. It could even serve as a “gateway” book to gift a 5e DM looking for something different to do with their next game.
The first adventure in Blood is The Grinding Gear. Although I own the PDF of the original, I’ve never run this adventure. The premise is that an innkeeper with good cause to hate adventurers had his own tomb constructed as an adventurer-trap dungeon as revenge on adventurers as a social class as a cruel practical joke. It’s a fun, tongue in cheek premise. At first the adventurers will find an abandoned inn, but as they blunder through it, they will find the entry to the dungeon and there the real fun begins. The dungeon is initially surprisingly conventional (remember: this Raggi’s early work before all the elements of the current LotFP formula had come together), with progressively more devious traps and puzzles, especially once the players reach the second level. If the players do “beat” the dungeon and get the final treasure, they will have earned themselves a recurring opponent who “will test them again” – more like a determined prankster than a truly malevolent villain. I can imagine that players will feel pushed very hard by the traps and puzzles in the second level of the dungeon, and will indeed start to feel like the dungeon’s designer has tortured them for his own amusement. It’s not exactly eldritch horror, but it is a lot of fun and I think between the details of the dungeon’s designer and the types of traps and clues left in the dungeon, the tone is perfect, albeit quite different from newer LotFP adventures.
The second adventure in Blood is Weird New World. I’ve nearly used this module as the basis for a campaign twice, and each time reverted to the English Civil War because the players wanted to stay there. Weird New World is a sandbox inspired by the search for the Northwest Passage (but not actually based on the geography of the real world). LotFP had not definitively settled on Earth in the Early Modern period as its default setting when this adventure was originally published – in fact, the Grindhouse Referee’s Guide actively advises against using the real world as a setting – but it would be easy enough to imagine that this giant hexcrawl could take place in our own world, as a conceit to the idea that the area being explored really was unknown to those exploring it and that almost anything could be encountered up there in the icy northern waters. There’s a good mix between natural phenomena and beasts and fantasy creatures (elves most notably). Weird New World also features the “Eskuit”, a native people of many tribes, generally with a bad impression of elves (understandable given the nasty elves found in this module). In the political climate of 2020, I am genuinely not sure how the Eskuit will be perceived – to my reading, they are presented as a fairly obvious stand-in for the Inuit and nothing seems to be intentionally offensive or insensitive in their portrayal but I am not the one who gets to make that call. Exploration and colonial exploitation were themes of adventuring in the real-life 17th Century which seem like they are important and worthy of inclusion in any game using this historical setting however broadly. Weird New World may not be our “New World” but it seems far more appropriate to me that it has native peoples of its own just as the real “New World” which was explored and exploited by the European powers in this period did. Weird New World is an interesting sandbox for an exploration/wilderness survival horror campaign, and it’s one I keep coming back with the intent to use myself. Maybe someday!
The third adventure in the Blood volume is No Dignity in Death. This module is an extremely early one in LotFP history and until now I’ve only had it in A4-sized PDF, so the format update to be consistent with the rest of the LotFP line is extremely welcome. This adventure features “gypsies”, with Raggi’s heavy disclaimer that the portrayal is intentionally inaccurate and explanation of the prejudice against these people which he observed when he first moved to Finland and how surprising it was and how this influenced his decision to make the victims in this adventure gypsies to see what his players would do with the setup. Dealing with the prejudices of your players towards the ethnic group of the people they are supposed to be helping in an adventure may be a lot heavier than you might prefer in your elfgame! Much as the presence of the Eskuit in Weird New World may offend some, so may the presence of gypsies in No Dignity in Death – and it is not my place to declare these portrayals as “fine”, but at least in this adventure Raggi has made a conscious decision to make the victims who need the party’s assistance an exaggerated stereotype of an ethic group which is the victim of discrimination even in “enlightened” 2020 Europe. No Dignity in Death is set in Pembrooktonshire, a fictitious community which would be easily enough incorporated into a typical fantasy campaign setting or into Early Modern Europe (although it will require significant modification to really strike an historical feel, which may end up ruining the vibe).
There are really three different “adventures” presented in No Dignity in Death all presented in and around Pembrooktonshire, which is enormously detailed, with about one hundred pages of this volume given over to describing the community and its inhabitants in the People of Pembrooktonshire chapter. There’s a huge amount of material to mine here and Pembrooktonshire could easily become the base of your campaign. The key thing to know is that Pembrooktonshire is isolated and insular and has a strong sense of character which will come across in play. The players will realise that this is a distinct community with its own traditions and local culture. It’s also a profoundly weird place, albeit a very different kind of weird from the weird found in most of the more modern Lamentations of the Flame Princess line – it’s more surreal than horror, in my assessment. The three adventures in No Dignity in Death can be summarized as: a murder mystery, a deeply messed up local competition/human sacrifice, and a location-based adventure in the mountains. With all the details from the People of Pembrooktonshire chapter, these adventures have the potential to come to life, especially if you and your players like to get into character and roleplay social interactions.
The final adventure in Blood is Hammers of the God. In another departure from “modern” LotFP, which eschews demihumans, this adventure is based around dwarfs. This has advantages and disadvantages. How much do you like dwarfs? Depending on how much “dwarf lore” is established in your campaign setting, you may find that the adventure isn’t usable because dwarfs as they appear here are not the dwarfs of your campaign setting. If your dwarf lore is a bit more malleable, however, then this adventure is a world-building romp. Despite this being the most “traditional fantasy” adventure in the module, the weird horror flavour of Lamentations of the Flame Princess starts to come through with wormholes, aliens, and tentacles on random tables and in room descriptions. The appendices of this adventure have some useful tables, but one of them is very strangely laid out – “Appendix II: Book Descriptions” is a d100 table which spans many pages, but strangely, the reverse pages are blank. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for this layout decision – I am just reviewing the PDF though since the book has not shipped yet, so perhaps I am missing something which will be obvious once I have the physical copy.
Overall, Adventure Anthology: Blood revisits some early Lamentations of the Flame Princess modules with modern art and layout. Even for owners of the original modules, the new art and layout certainly justifies the cost of the PDF. I look forward to receiving my physical copy, which I am sure will be up to LotFP‘s usual excellent standards for physical products. As someone who discovered Lamentations of the Flame Princess after the originals of these modules were already out of print, I am very pleased that these adventures have been made available again in anthology form.