I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Thursday, February 09, 2023

The God That Crawls (actual play review)

The God That Crawls*, is a LotFP adventure by James Raggi (if you don't know LoTFP, read this). Here is the blurb:

A murdering cult.
A religious order dedicated to protecting sacred history.
An ancient catacomb full of danger and reward.
The God that Crawls

A dungeon chase adventure for characters of levels 1–2 for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing and other traditional role-playing games.

Why did I buy/read this? I find many LotFP adventures interesting, including Better Than Any Man, which you can get for free. So I've gathered some for my current sandbox, including this one. I ran it using my Dark Fantasy Basic.


Like many LotFP adventures, this has awesome ideas, mixed with strange stuff. It seems like they always intended to do something novel instead of the tired "goblins and skeletons in adjacent rooms" that you can find in many D&D adventures, and I commend them for that. 

On the other hand, this taste for novelty sometimes makes the adventures become "anti-adventures" - instead of something that is easy to use, they become partially exciting, partially unusable.

For example: instead of providing hooks, this book says:
The hook or motivation to get the player
characters to the church is up to the Referee,
who would know how to get the players
involved better than any adventure writer. No
hooks that cast suspicion on the priest or villagers
before the adventure begins should be
used, as the natural paranoia of adventurers
will be in effect anyway.
Father Bacon is the leader of both the church,
the community around it [...] 
He will be very adamant about not allowing
visitors beyond the altar of the church. [...] 
It is perfectly possible (even likely with
some groups) that player characters will
not fall for any of the tricks and will not
be trapped in the dungeon, especially if
the Referee seems a little too eager to get
them down there. No matter. If they just
walk away, they are leaving a lot of treasure
behind. If they do something rash
like slaughter the priest and/or a bunch
of villagers and walk away, they will have
the legitimate authorities after them
soon and that will be adventure enough.
Force nothing; this adventure provides
an environment and a handy guide for
resolving “What happens if…?” within
that environment. This adventure is not
a club with which to bludgeon players.

So, you need a strong motive to invade a church, that the book doesn't provide. On the other hand, if you do invade it, the book advises you that the PCs should be drugged or captured by troops and tossed into the dungeon. And if the PCs don't want to explore... eh, what can you do? Maybe choose another adventure.

[In practice, Raggi was partially right - the usual PC paranoia made sure that one PC insisted enough on exploring the catacombs that they convinced the priest. Had I followed the instructions to the letter, maybe the PC would have to choose violence against the priest or simply leaving.]

There is basically one monster and LOTS of treasure. It is an interesting setup, and GREAT for a change of pace. The monster is basically too strong for the PCs, and the fact that there is only one main, unique antagonist makes it feel "special".

The goal of this module is forcing the players to think about encumbrance, movement, and mapping. The life of the PCs depend on it. And there is more treasure and artifacts than the PCs can carry, making these choices really meaningful. If you play this module handwaving movement and encumbrance, you're missing half of the point.

However, there are so much gold and magic items (and most of them in a single location) that it makes them feel less special. Also, most are cursed or dangerous, to the point of saturation.

Books? Some will kill will with no save, others will curse you, and one will eventually destroy the universe. Scrolls will cause genocide across Europe if sold to the highest bidder. or give you +1 attack bonus for killing your parents. Magic weapon? Cursed. Statues? Cursed. Jewel? Feeds on blood or maybe sucks you into the void if you try to take it. A pile of excrement? Well, now that might be useful!

There are also ordinary potions and scrolls, and many items that the PCs will probably not be able to understand, carry or use.

In short, unless you have an easy way of identifying magic items (e.g., "make a spell saving throw", etc.), you'll need another session after the PCs have escaped to even start making sense of what they got. Or, if the PCs are creative and want to test the items on the spot, they'll probably pay dearly for it (and become discouraged fast).

And then there is stuff like this:
If at any point a character takes exactly 8
points of damage (at once or cumulative,
not 7 or less, not 9 or more, but at some
point has taken exactly 8 points) while on
the chariot, from any source, he dissipates
into a whirlwind of sorrow and pain. Any
player who laughs at this naturally without
prompting can dictate the results of any one
die throw in the future (do not reveal this
until the chariot stops). If it is the player
whose character has disintegrated that
laughs, he gets to determine the results of
any two die throws in the future (including
during new character creation).
Any players caught laughing insincerely
because they have read the adventure and
wish to get the bonus must paint their nose
yellow for the rest of the game session. If no
yellow substance suitable for this purpose
is available, one of that player’s character
ability scores, selected at random, will be
reduced to 3 until such time as the player
completes an entire session with a yellow painted
nose. Note this is a player-facing
effect and new characters suffer this fate
until the player complies.
I get that this is supposed to be humor... but it happens often, in random places, throughout the adventure.

Anyway, the actual dungeon is really good. It gives you a labyrinthine feeling right away, with all its passages, ups and downs, etc. Aside for a few situations where you just can't win (best not to engage at all), most objects are interesting and provide clues for the challenges ahead.

The map is decent (and good-looking) but I've found it hard to navigate due to the (baffling) use of roman numerals and shades of blue and green that look very similar on the screen (also, it is printed in black and white in other parts of the book). There are enough stairs that will make you flip back and forth constantly. Finding the way out took me a while. I misunderstood one door to be barred from the wrong side, but that's probably on me. 

In short: spend some time studying the maps before running this module.

If you want to tone things down, you can change some of this stuff or allow some saving throws, or roll to identify items... Alternatively, I think it would be fair to start with a hook that allows the players that they are going into a place full of stuff that might be better left buried, and that they must be incredibly careful when interacting with it.

The art in this product (by Jason Rainville) is awesome and flavorful.

The writing is good (if verbose), the backstory is great, and overall I'd recommend checking this out if you want to play something different than the usual stuff. I enjoyed running it and may even leave the players an opportunity to go back (they escaped with lots of treasure, so I'm not sure of what they're doing next).

OVERVIEW (explanation here):

Usable? Yes, with a bit of GM work it becomes a great adventure.

Inspiring? Definitely! Turns the idea of "monsters in the dungeon" on its head, it has great flavor and novelty.

Bloated? A bit. You could cut the page count by half if you wanted something more straightforward -although I'm sure there are people that enjoy the absurdist humor, the crazy ideas, etc..

Tiresome? No, except, again, for the "paint your nose yellow" ideas.

Clear? Yes, except maybe for the map.

In short: Awesome for a change of pace, requires some modification if you aren't interested in giving PCs of levels 1-2 the opportunity to become insanely rich, obtain legendary artifacts and potentially cause genocide and world destruction... or if you don't want to tell the players to put their character sheets in an envelope and leave in a public place yadda yadda. Way more interesting than most "vanilla" adventures.

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  1. I was a backer of this; my name is in it. I was very, very disappointed.
    I want an adventurer to be usable in my AD&D campaign. Changing the setting to Enlightenment Europe doesn't help that end. Having random books that destroy the campaign world is a terrible idea if you have or want a long-running game. And lastly, the casual blasphemy was very repugnant to me. De gustibus, I suppose.

    1. Thanks for sharing your perspective!
      I think you make a fair assessment.
      The module is bad for a campaign, and it does contain a fair amount of blasphemy (in a horror/gory sense, like The Exorcist). I have no problem with the Europe setting as I think it is easy to convert.
      I still think there is a decent adventure underneath, but I can see how it would be disappointing.