Bloodlines & Black Magic: The Crescent City & The Book of Faiyum (O7) (Patreon Request)
Bloodlines & Black Magic: The Crescent City & The Book of Faiyum (O7)
This supplement clocks in at 54 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC/introduction, 1 page back cover, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 48 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
These pages include a 3d10 Oddity gained table, as well as a tracking sheet – I found both to be helpful when using this book.
This book was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.
Important note: While intended for use with Bloodlines & Black Magic (BL&BM), the supplement’s content imho retains much of its utility when employed in conjunction with other games, such as Esoteric Enterprises or Pelgrane Press’ GUMSHOE-based games like Esoterrorists or Fear Itself. If you’re into modern horror/dark fantasy, you may wish to keep reading even if you don’t play BL&BM.
This book is divided in two halves – the first is a depiction of the Crescent City, New Orleans, NOLA – the second would be an adventure, the eponymous “The Book of Faiyum”; the latter is intended for 3-5 characters of 1st to 2nd level. The module features read-aloud text, suggestions for the proper soundtrack to set the scene (nice!) and features b/w-cartography. Somewhat to my chagrin, the cartography for the module is not provided in a player-friendly manner – the maps are labeled…partially. You see, the one map where I’d have really thrown a fit over labels, the one that really works best for handouts…is presented in a player-friendly manner. Yeah, this gets a tentative pass in that department.
The book provides statblocks for 3 CR 2 creatures – the Drowned One will be an old acquaintance for fans of BL&BM (Bloodlines & Black Magic), while the American alligator and Louisiana black bear are new critters – and yes, they are new, not simple paste-jobs. Kudos! The latter come with rebuild rules and notes on their value within the context of BL&BM’s occult underground, i.e. regarding the magical currency dosh. The book also provides a madman, but I’ll cover that fellow in the SPOILER-section.
Okay, that out of the way, we begin with essentially THE gazetteer for New Orleans in a dark contemporary fantasy/horror game. Now only is the publisher a former transplant of New Orleans, the author of this section George “Loki” Williams is essentially a walking encyclopedia regarding the his home, so let’s see how this section fares.
We begin with a general overview of the demographics and then quickly start off with urban legends, ranging from the famous LaLaurie House to the Dueling Oak and ones that are less famous, but no less interesting – for example the notes on the LeBranche curse (unfortunately, misspelled a few times as “LaBranche”…which also brings me to e.g. a plural mistake in the section – editing could have been tighter…) or the delightfully mysterious and grisly fate of the St. Charles Writer’s Club.
But, you know, this is not all – you see, one of the appeals of Bloodlines & Black Magic that let me see past some of its flaws and rough patches was always how it blends history with its very own brand of mythweaving, and this is where the supplement takes the reins to paint a picture that is at once familiar and strange – with a quote by good ole’ Lafcadio Hearn (mostly known for his translations of Japanese Kwaidan) contrasted by New Orleans as established Passage Sur, a kind of neutral ground comprising there parishes – and yes, this book is genuinely educational regarding the different ethnicities to be found in the city, its timeline blending in captivating prose the illustrious history of this city with the supernatural. Before you ask – yes, violating the sacred compact of neutrality has severe repercussions, with the pactbreaker’s mark being a pretty nasty curse. Minor nitpick: A spell-reference has not been properly italicized in its write-up.
And if you’ve ever walked the streets of New Orleans, it should come as no surprise to you that the veil indeed is thin here, the occult barely occulted by the haze of drink and the highly eclectic blend of eccentricities. From leitmotifs pertaining corruption and reputation, but also of the sheer heat, the musical tapestry and festivals – the book manages to capture much of the city’s essence here, with notes on the impact of high water tables and local construction techniques adding a sense of plausibility.
The book then proceeds to take us all on a quick tour of the city’s neighborhoods – of course, these include the Vieux Carre, but the Low Garden District and Fauburg Treme are similarly covered. After this brief overview, we proceed towards locations: I’d, for example, make sure to visit the Azure Gem, a classic goth and punk scene bar, and if you’re into something macabre, you might also want to visit the corpse of Jazzland, what remained of this amusement park after Katrina wrecked it – suffice to say, in BL&BM’s magical iteration of NOLA, this is even less of a place you’d want to go unarmed…Of course, the popularized and famous cemeteries and the Muses Street are also rather exciting locales.
The supplement proceeds to cover briefly a variety of local NPCs, who are presented with rough ideas of their power-levels and suitable classes, but no full stats, before we essentially get the local color section – from brass bands to tour groups to scam artists, common sights and sounds are listed. New Orleans Native is a new feat – which, beyond its normal benefit, also acts as a neat way to introduce the new skill unlocks, which include locating celebrities, or using Linguistics to identify tags, lineage symbols, etc. This section also provides the commune with city spell. 6 additional feats are provided, which include being Bayou Born (+2 to Handle Animal, Survival and Knowledge (geography) in marshes, swamps, etc., double that bonus while within 7 miles of the Passage Sur. The feats are per se solid and cover cool concepts, even if their actual benefits aren’t that exciting.
More interesting: We get a variety bishop chess piece implement, Paul Morphy’s Bishop, which offers its unique focus power. Oh, and cursed dice….that actually also are an implement, which requires a “DC 22 check to master” – okay, what check? I like the idea of a cursed variant implement very much, but having the dice note implement school, if applicable, etc. would have been nice. I like this so much thematically, but this could have used some polish.
On the plus-side, we get an array of haunts and spirits – a pretty massive curated list of appropriate creatures (ordered by CR and noting bestiaries!), and a whole array of grisly haunts. I LOVE the haunts – they are cool, flavorful and well-presented. As an aside: One of them has a suicide theme, and the book has a clearly-visible box that provides a help-line and encouraging words for the depressed. Having lost too many people to suicide myself, I definitely applaud the inclusion of this boxed text.
Okay, and from here on, we move towards the aforementioned adventure. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only GMs around? Great!
The module by Tim Hitchcock kicks off when cell phones across the city project a blank text – that requires Pierce the Veil to realize that it’s not blank after all: “Find Faiyum, Contact Eratosthenes.” Yep, the man of Cyrene, the polymath – the ghost librarian needs a favor, namely the retrieval of a stolen tome, the trail of which, bingo, leads straight to NOLA, namely Madame Estelle Verdereau. The flight may seem uneventful, but establishes a woman named Sophia – the roleplaying with her is flirtatious enough, but things aren’t exactly as innocent as it seems, she is working for one El Santiago – the aforementioned tracking sheet provided for the handout allows the GM to keep her actions in mind.
Anyhow, once arrived in New Orleans, the PCs will have to deal with the rather uncooperative butler of Mme Estelle, only to find the woman slain and transformed into a poltergeist; with some proper detective work, more information on the eponymous book may be unearthed, before the trail branches off either towards Algier’s Point and a warehouse owned by “El Santiago”, the club Alexandria, that El Santiago likes to visit – obviously a boat, or a place in the country. The fellow is btw. not to be trifled with – provided his goons haven’t made that abundantly clear already. The man is working for the Archons – but he might well seem to be the lesser of two evils, considering that suspect/interested party number two, one Mr. Onnos, a pseudo-pharaoh and protector of remote St. Armand (hexploration map, player-friendly, included), is a werecrocodile. So he’s evil. Right? Well…actually, Onnos has pretty much a legitimate claim to the book; El Santiago is clearly the worse person, so stealing the book back from his warehouse…might be a solid call. Then again, you know…ahem…were-crocodile. Onnos is not to be trifled with. As a whole, the investigation here is open-ended, accounting for different sequences in which the locations might be visited.
Editing and formatting are okay on a formal and rules-language level – I noticed quite a few hiccups in formal criteria, and some pertaining to rules. In these disciplines, the book needed more fine-tuning. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, with a single red line through from top to bottom; the line has a breadth of one pixel, and is confirmed as intentional. Personally, it irritates me to no end. The artworks used are nice b/w-pieces, and the cartography in b/w is also pretty nifty, though I’d have loved to see a map of NOLA “occultified” included. Player-friendly maps for the encounter areas beyond the hexploration part of the module would also have been nice.
This book by George “Loki” Williams, Jaye Sonia and Tim Hitchcock oozes passion project in all the right ways; it is a brief city guide that misses nary a paragraph without providing some sort of interesting information that you can use in play.
Let me make that abundantly clear – what is here, to me, oscillates between “I love it” and “nice.” This is a compelling book.
And yet, it is also a flawed book.
The module is probably even better than Tim Hitchcock’s “The 58th Seal” and delivers a surprisingly compelling and modular investigation that falls more on the “occult politics” than on the “horror”-angle f the game/setting; I just wished that a) the information design/structure was a bit smoother and required a tad bit less close reading, and b) that the whole “here’s an agent”-angle had been developed slightly more; you know, with more encounters in the city, chances to meet, etc.; the individual in question even gets a handy tracking sheet, so having more impact there? Would have been awesome. That being said, I like the set-up of antagonists, and while it’s not exactly a scary adventure, it captures the spirit of the city.
…as much as I like the module, though….I’d have preferred to get more content on the city itself. The genuinely interesting and inspiring notes on the city cover 20 pages of the supplement, and I feel like it barely scratches the surface of all the things you can do with NOLA in a BL&BM game, of what makes it tick. From the culture and history to the surrounding landscape…heck, music alone could probably provide a whole chapter worth of ideas and hooks.
In an ideal world, there’d be a book of this total length or more on NOLA, and a companion module with slightly more pages. Jamming both into one book wasn’t a good call as far as I’m concerned.
As presented, this supplement feels like a first glimpse – and the authors acknowledge as much, mentioning in the introduction that one should consult the bibliography at the back.
Guess what’s been cut? Bingo. The bibliography. 🙁
As a reviewer, and as a person who genuinely loves what he’s seen of NOLA, this leaves me in a weird spot. On one hand, I very much want to love this book, and love a lot of what’s here. On the other hand, the issue of Storm Bunny Studios’ editing sometimes being not as tight? On full display. On the one hand, the authors’ expert writing made me feel like I was back in a weird, changed NOLA…and on the other hand, I was almost annoyed when I realized that the gazetteer-section had already ended, that I had arrived at the module. My mind’s questions rang loudly – “But what about…??”
In a way, the same holds true for master Hitchcock’s module to a less pronounced degree– it is a cool one and plays well, but it is a scenario that feels like it’s missing a few pages to reach peak awesomeness. Both components of the book have their charms and downsides.
It took me quite a while to enunciate, but ultimately, I *love* what this *begins* to do both regarding the sourcebook and the module parts; I only *like* what it actually does with them.
In many ways, this is a book that’s easy to love if lore and concepts are your focus; if you’re primarily into the rules aspect, you’ll probably be less enamored with it, particularly if you’re picky regarding typos and player-facing rules; I can see this range from anything between 2 to 4 stars for an individual, depending on your focus, your preferences, etc.. For me, the range here gravitates to the upper end – I like what’s here too much.
In the end, my final verdict can’t exceed 4 stars; anything more would be plain wrong to me, and anything less would be a disservice to how cool the book is.
If anything, I sincerely hope that Storm Bunny Studios gets the funds to continue BL&BM for a long time, and to improve and perhaps even expand upon this book at one point. I’m not done with NOLA, and I have a feeling that neither are the authors.
You can get this book here on OBS!
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