This adventure clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 21 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5). Unlike many books laid out this way, the module does have quite a lot of content per page, so bear that in mind. I do own the print version of this module – it’s a softcover with a detachable sleeve that has the maps on the inside. As a HUGE plus for everyone looking to play this online, it should be noted that the pdf is layered, and allows you to turn off the map labels. Big plus!
This review was requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.
Anyhow, as you may have noticed, this is suggested for mature audiences only. 18+. Usually, such ratings stem from (at least to my European sensibilities) pretty harmless cartoon nudity. Not so here. This haunted house module deserves the hardest of hard R-ratings you can imagine.
Indeed, I should note that this module will NOT be for everyone. In fact, it may only be suitable for a very select audience. And yes, that includes folks that otherwise enjoy Lamentations of the Flame Princess releases. If you have a trigger, then chances are pretty high that this module will hit it.
If grotesque, explicit and excessive illustrated violence, including mutilations of infants and children offend you, then steer clear. Same goes if grotesque and disturbing images of nude cartoon people disturb you. More than that, I’d like to strongly dissuade anyone suffering from depression or recuperating from it from playing this module, particularly if the like was prompted by a break-up/infidelity/failing relationship. The tone herein is allcaps GRIMDARK. This, in a way, is abyss-gazing; pure unadulterated misery. If you’re the referee, please make sure that your players can handle this adventure.
This becomes pretty evident from the author’s notes, who therein admits this module to have sprung from a nasty breakup, which, while good, first meant that hell would reign for a while – metaphorically, of course. In a way, this reminded me of some of my own best modules for my home-games in tone. In a way, the emotional struggle and pain are very much palpable in the grim and unrelenting hopelessness and misery this depicts; at least to me, it is pretty much evident that this is a form of catharsis, a transformation of traumatic experiences into a module. It is hard to explain, but unlike many dark modules out there, “Death Love Doom” very much carries this relentless bleakness with it throughout. It made me gulp. The catalogues regularly state that this is not a module to be enjoyed, but one to be endured. This is, for once, not ad-speak hyperbole. Reading this, when you’re already emotionally exhausted, can be draining; same goes for prepping and running this.
Who should consider reading on, then? Well, do you enjoy horror? Can you stomach gut-wrenching misery and excessive gore? Do you enjoy transgressive fiction and/or abyss-gazing? I know that I, personally, can draw strength from media depictions of atrocious misery, but plenty of people don’t work that way. If that sounds like something that you and your group could enjoy, then read on!
As far as rules are concerned, the module uses the Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP)-OSR-rules, but conversion to another old-school system is easy enough. The module works best for characters level 1 – 4, and as a whole, the group’s composition is less important than in many other modules. The module does not feature read-aloud text for the respective locations.
All right, this is as far as I can go without diving deep into SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only referees around? Great! So, it’s the year 1625, and the wealthy merchant Erasmus Sylvester Foxlowe, hasn’t been seen or heard from after receiving his latest shipment of imported deals, and the man lives in the Bloodworth House, a manor, near London, with his wife, mother and 4 children. Some gangs have been spotted casing the joint, expecting rich pickings. Of course, adventurers in LotFP are assumed to be misfits of a sort who can’t be bothered to get a proper job, so warning Foxlowe (or stealing all his belongings themselves!) may well be up their agenda.
The manor and its surrounding grounds are fully mapped, and the referee determines the position of the mobile, named adversaries at the start of the module, adding a certain chaos-factor to the proceedings. 12 different rumors are provided for your convenience. Checking out the stables, the PCs can make their first grisly find – a retainer, who had his head removed, and a horse’s head sewn on. That’s NOTHING compared to the horrors that have taken a hold of the manor.
You see, Erasmus hired a nanny to help his wife to help her, due to the demands of his job – said nanny turned out to be Sabrina Newguard, and he did fall madly, horribly, in love with her. So far, so cliché. However, unlike what you might expect, Foxlowe managed to keep it in his pants. Instead, a gift he presented his wife to quench his guilty conscience for his fantasies turned out to be the deadly Necklace of the Sleepless Queen, an item of the most profound morbid power. Sporting the dead sign on its inside, it is activated by handed from one lover to another person loved: The act then summons forth…the THING. This entity is accompanied by two psychic drones, the flesh-movers, which take “the lovers” – here, Erasmus, the giver, and the object of his love, Sabrina. After these somewhat insectoid, incorporeal things have parasitically merged with the two, the thing and its drones proceeded to twist the other family members, into grotesque shapes designed to inflict maximum pain while keeping them alive. Oh, and the flesh-movers will keep the two conscious. Basically, everyone has been transformed into grotesque tableaus of suffering. Applying curative magics sans surgery will fix these forms in place, dooming the unfortunates, and surgery has ridiculously low chances of saving anyone – and in many a case, the resulting survivor would pretty much be a paraplegic. That’s the best possible outcome. Told you this’d be dark.
How grotesque? Oh boy. So, Erasmus and Sabrina have insectoid things on their back, are fully cognizant of what happens, but are not in control of their bodies, as the flesh-mover can lash forth with a poisonous stinger from Sabrina’s vagina. Erasmus instead had his genitalia impaled from the back and now shoots acidic, black sludge from his penis. Yes, there are artworks for both. These are perhaps the most harmless ones. The maddened grandmother Penelope has replaced her nipples with her eyeballs and keeps her torture-instruments stuck in the raw meat of her genitalia. Her attacks, when scoring the occult “8” as damage (a leitmotif in LotFP), can rearrange her victims.
The 1-year-old-infants are particularly chilling: One of them has had his limbs amputated and sewn on to his brother. Instead of his limbs, pseudo-clock like limbs have been attached, his eyes removed and replaced with a grotesque pair of glasses, a clock set in the chest cavity. Touching the fellow, getting close, may mean rewinding the time for the horrors already defeated, which can be super-deadly. The limbs missing from the poor toddler? They’ve been sewn on to his brother, who had the top half of the skull removed, the brain lying there, bare, with eyes and nerves similarly still attached. The chest cavity has been opened, and in full-blown misery-mode, many of these unfortunate kids feature gold in their bodies – taking it kills the respective kid. Did I mention the castrated boy who had his teeth removed and limbs/heads sewn back on in the wrong way? The girl turned chandelier? What about Myrna, Erasmus wife, who had a miscarriage and who is now dragged around by her innards, courtesy of the undead foetus that was once to become her youngest child in a horrid twist that should be considered to be the utmost bleakest possible twist on anti-natalism? Even witnessing the latter can utterly. All of these folks are still ALIVE. And yes, we get b/w-artworks. Usually, Kelvin Green’s comic-like art style would make these look less…disturbing, but he has actually managed to make them feel even more twisted than they’d otherwise look.
Told you that this was twisted, right? I did warn you. And yes, the descriptions are VERY detailed.
The thing, just fyi, can’t really be slain, and the amulet is similarly nigh indestructible, increasing its value constantly – the fallout from this module for PCs managing to survive the encounters with the horrors within will be serious.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious glitches on a formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard, and the pdf has plenty of original b/w-artworks that illustrate the gruesome fates of the poor NPCs within. The softcover, as noted, is a nice little booklet, and the pdf has a plus in that its cartography is layered and thus, player-friendly. Really nice to see.
Oh boy. James Edward Raggi IV knows how to create nightmare fodder. Far beyond mere gore, far beyond the usual dark fantasy/horror-angle of his books, this is gut-wrenching misery, truly frightening gore and twisted body horror of the most explicit kind. If grimdark misery and pain, hopelessness and an acceptance that, sometimes, killing an innocent may be the only viable option, then this could well be for you. This is apex-level dark, as the rewarding for bad behavior, the futility of trying to be good, makes this, even for LotFP, easily the darkest, most twisted adventure/supplement in the whole catalogue.
To the point where, in spite of my own predilections, I am frankly not sure whether this could be called “fun” – it’s an experience, and a depressing and twisted one at that. It’s a module that might well be used as a threat, as a dark consequence of PC behavior. It’s perhaps the only commercial module I have ever read that managed to genuinely make me uncomfortable with its depictions of misery and pain beyond measure.
Let me make that abundantly clear: If you think that LotFP’s usual material is “too dark” or “borderline”, then this may not be for you. If LotFP’s regular modules, on a color-scale, were black, then this is frickin “vantablack”; a whole different level of darkness, sadness, and grotesque horror. I’ve had this module for more than a year now, and to this day, I am not sure I actually *like* it or consider it to be too much to stand.
Thankfully, as a reviewer, deciding that is not my task. On a formal level, this is a precise module that succeeds very well at what it attempts to do. It sets out to achieve exactly that reaction. If I were to criticize something, then that the house itself is simply not as interesting as in the author’s other modules. Having a series of nasty traps set up by Penelope as they explore, a bit more dynamic elements, would have further enhanced the replay-value. Provided you want to play this more than once.
How to rate this? Well if the above has managed to offend you in any way, then steer clear. For folks triggered by any of the dark themes within, this most certainly is not suitable. If you can stand the darkness, if you want to experience a truly abyss-level dark adventure that manages to be somewhat psychological in its grotesque gore, then this might work out rather well. As a whole, I think that the module succeeds in what it tries to do. As such, my final verdict will be 4 stars. Caveat emptor, though.
You can get this Hard R module here on OBS! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!