Oct 222018
 

The God That Crawls (OSR)

This module clocks in at 57 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page backer-thanks, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 50 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5)so let’s take a look!

 

This adventure is intended for a group of characters level 1 – 2, and one could argue that pretty much any party composition could be capable of besting it. In fact, this module could, theoretically, be run for a single character, but I’ll elaborate on that later. The ruleset used would be, no surprise there, LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess), but, as always, translation to other old-school systems is pretty easy.

 

As far as difficulty is concerned, this may be one of the more forgiving LotFP-modules; in fact, I’d argue that it is one of the fairest, perhaps the fairest of the LotFP-modules. Save or suck, whether earned or not, or the like does not greatly influence the design-paradigm employed within. Instead, this is very much an adventure, where the greed of the PCs and players ultimately determines the difficulty and consequences of the adventure. It should be noted that the adventure has fallout potential that can change the course of campaigns, but more on that later.

 

My review is primarily based on the softcover of the module; one of my patreons donated the funds to acquire it for the purpose of a review at my convenience. I chose this time of the year for obvious reasons – this is a unique change of pace as far as horror-adventures are concerned.

 

I also own the pdf, and while the pdf is layered, there is, alas, no option to render the maps player-friendly, i.e. get rid of the keys denoting keyed encounters or the like. That being said, handing out a map to the players, in this instance, would be super counter-productive due to the whole angle of the adventure, so this, for once, gets a pass in that regard. The map does note places where the structures are instable and can be collapsed for brief respites from the threats within. More on that later. The layers in the pdf do allow you to turn off images and background and make it more printer-friendly, should you choose to print it.

 

It should be noted that this is NOT an adventure that you can easily run spontaneously – there is no read-aloud text, and the module demands that a referee is rather familiar with the peculiarities of the dungeon-complex featured within. Having to look up stuff can, in this instance, be even more of a mood-killer than usual, so if you plan to run this, do your prep-work, and do it thoroughly. If you have an excellent memory or are a veteran referee, then you should have no serious issues running this.

 

All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

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Okay, only referees around? Great!

So, the PCs are on their way to some place in the English country-side, but the module may, with a bit of reskinning, easily relocated to another place; there are rumors of a heresy or cult or somesuch, and the thus the PCs visit an old country church, where Reverend Elroy Bacon lives. This church is fully mapped and sports some interesting and creative artworks on display – while these are only described, they can provide a bit of a nice levity before the module turns dark.

 

You see, the rumors of the cult here? They’re, in a way, a kind of double-bluff: Yes, there is a “cult” of sorts, but it’s actually just a front for a secret religious order that conceals a great shame for Christianity, namely the true fate of none other than Augustine of Canterbury. Contrary to popular belief, the missionary did not die 604 AD. Paralyzed via poison, he was buried alive and then re-excavated from the lightless depths of his grave, only to be transformed into a horrid, shapeless mockery of his erstwhile form – the eponymous God That Crawls. It is a form of esprit de l’escalier that this transformation turned the man basically immune to the ravages of time. The conspiracy that began as pagan punishment became a cult, and when the Normans came, the cult was found, the goal, obviously, to keep the truth of Augustine’s state from ever coming to light.

 

Yeah. This does not bode well for the PCs. It should also be noted that clever PCs can find documents in the reverends room that, in a subtle manner, show the PCs how deep the conspiracy actually goes – these permits stretch back for years, and indeed, signatories are noted on a massive 2-page list. In another module, not even one would be given, so kudos for the obsessive attention to detail here! Now, the beginning of the module hinges on the PCs going down into the catacombs of the church, the place where the God That Crawls, looms, and a couple of simple deception angles are provided – this, in a way, represents a bottleneck for the referee to navigate, and the options, from drugged wine to force, could work, but depending on the paranoia level of your players, this may actually be the hardest part to pull off. Hence, my suggestion: Make the reverend own up to the catacombs being forbidden and warded, and hold a mass to “sanctify” the PCs so they don’t trigger the wards; all the villagers will proudly gaze upon the intrepid explorers, as they partake in drugged wine during the mass, only to have them wake at the bottom of the pit. This contextualizes the whole experience and appeals to player-ego, which may work for some PCs. Otherwise, another suggestion would be to have the villagers and reverend create a deliberate opening for infiltration. Both, at least to me, are a bit more subtle and likely to work than the suggestions presented, but that may just be me. After almost 20 years of suffering through my often sadistic GMing, my players are a tad bit paranoid, but I digress.

 

The dungeon presented is a remarkable, catacomb-like maze with tight tunnels and cells, spanning no less than 3 levels. In the print version, the map is on a fold-out in the back, with a stunning artwork of none other than Jason Rainville on the back. The bottom of the pit is covered in slime, for that is what the God That Crawls has become – a nigh-unstoppable slimy moloch that oozes through the claustrophobic tunnels. Stairs and ladders connect the three levels in a ton of connection points, and this is where the module becomes basically a survival-loot-run: The God That Crawls can theoretically be slain by feeding it clerics and thus reducing its regeneration, but that is EXTREMELY unlikely; the more likely outcome here would be that the PCs will be running. A LOT.

 

As such, the modules lists the modalities of running from the god, navigating stairs and traps and the like, in great detail, and provides two means for the referee to simulate the presence of the God That Crawls – one that has him spawn in, while the other meticulously tracks its movements. Which one you prefer is a matter of personal taste. I gravitate towards the harder choice of having him tracked properly, but your mileage may vary.

 

Now, if the villagers managed to drug/capture/fool the PCs, they will begin a ruckus to alert the creature pretty much immediately – and form then onwards, it’ll be the PLAYERS, not the PCs, who determine the difficulty of the adventure. You see, there are A TON of treasure caches denoted by Christian symbols – but breaking these open increases the chance of alerting the God That Crawls. (And yes, a generator is provided for these.)

 

In a way, this is akin to games like the Clocktower franchise or Haunting Ground when executed properly, as the God That Crawls shows up, resulting in panic and frantic escape. That being said, there is one point of criticism I have here: The God That Crawls is not a particularly interesting chase monster. There is one note of it reacting to mass by swaying in trance, but that’s about it. It doesn’t have unique reactions to certain areas, it doesn’t have unique set-piece reactions beyond follow and consume. Now, I get why that’s the case – it makes it a singularly determined and alien force, and it allows for some breathing room regarding the second leitmotif of the adventure, one that is not explicitly spelled out anywhere in the text of the module, or other reviews.

 

The God That Crawls, essentially, is an implacable and indestructible warden of sorts. Beyond the mundane treasure-caches, there are plenty of rooms here that contain evil, or at least extremely problematic, items. In a way, while reading this, I had this one impulse: “This is basically an SCP containment facility, fantasy edition!” There are a lot of rooms here that contain items that could be considered to be heretical and even deadly. There is, for example a gem in Null Space beyond a mirror, which may well se a character trapped there forever; there is a pin that makes a disgusting tumor grow slowly, which then proceeds to become a monster under its former host’s command. There is an invisible chair, a room that can make a silver coins gold, there are cursed statuettes that can garner obedience… and there is the spear of Longinus, which is surprisingly weak-sauce for such an artifact. It bypasses all immunities and armor, sure, but it also makes you anathema to the divine…so think well before picking it up. There is a text that could ignite horrific forms of anti-Semitism if circulated, courtesy of its despicable lies; there is a diamond that increases in worth if fed with blood…you get the idea.

 

Two of the items contained in this dungeon deserve special mention, with the first being the chariot of unreality, just the axle, actually. It’s magic, engulf a chariot affixed in flames, and may pull the PCs beyond space and time! And yes, the item actually comes with a warning. A spelled out warning. In game. If the PCs still go and do it…their problem. Anyway, the chariot may have the PCs vanish – if that happens, their character sheets are put in letters, which are then to be placed around public places. If they are returned, the PCs get XP, if not, the PCs are forever lost. Now, it should be obvious that this is a meta-item and somewhat experimental. I wouldn’t use this approach in e.g. New York City or the like, but yeah – it’s interesting. The chariot can also evaporate PCs if they take a specific amount of damage – reacting to that with humor is intended to be rewarded, which is a nice idea.

 

The second item would be The Book. Its write-up is a whole 6 pages long, and it is one of the most twisted, genuinely creepy artifacts I have ever encountered in a roleplaying game. It has been separated into different parts, so-called signatures, and these do contain a whole array of rather potent and unique spells; writing on it states that it must be assembled or kept apart and researching it…well, is nigh impossible. Why? Because The Book corrupts information. The more signatures are assembled, the more deadly it becomes, as everything starts unraveling – the item can well destroy all of existence, corrupting math, planes and the like. Beginning the process of assembly, having it fall into an enemy’s hands and then stopping it would be an amazing, utterly horrific campaign of apocalyptic proportions. I adore it. Unfortunately, I adore it more than pretty much anything else in the module.

 

In a way, the module may be too successful at its SCP-angle for its own good. The creepy and dangerous items with the God That Crawls as a kind of warden make for a super-unique angle, but one that would make more sense, at least to me, in the Vatican or a similarly heavily fortified place, framed by a heist narrative. The vast impact of the items and their religious significance in a couple of cases ultimately mean that it was a bit hard for me to suspend my disbelief regarding how they ended up so comparatively poorly guarded.

 

They also, in a way, dilute the focus, away from the survival horror aspect of the constant threat of the God That Crawls. The magical items and their cool angles stand in no true relation to the God That Crawls, and while PCs will probably experiment with a few of them/take them with them, the two focuses of the adventure never wholly align. Don’t get me wrong: They don’t impede each other in a crucial manner, and in a way, the dangerous items represent the true price to be gained here, but still. A sense of disjunction never wholly left me. That being said, this may well never actually come up in play for your group, as the whole containment site angle is very much a place that the players are not guaranteed to find or explore in detail.

 

Groups that find them, that are excited by the items may well consider the God That Crawls to be a nuisance of sorts, while paranoid/careful groups may well only encounter one or two, or even none of the items prior to escaping. Granted, most of these items are separated from the God’s roaming grounds by a chasm that it can’t cross, allowing for plenty of experimentation, but ultimately, the items, to me, somewhat diluted the frantic pace of the adventure.

 

If you manage to get the God That Crawls hunting the PCs done right, if you manage to incite the panic this module goes for, then the items will be less of a point of interest. This, in a way, ties in regarding my previous observation – the God That Crawls, in lack of a better term, doesn’t have a particularly compelling “AI”; adding a couple of “scripted” encounters is easy and should not overexert the prowess of any referee. Still, adding a couple of unique behavior patterns to keep up the pressure would have made the creature more compelling, at least for me. To give you an example: Within aforementioned chasm, there are mini-gods, split off over the century from the horrid slime-thing. They can’t, RAW, escape, but having conditions to free them would have made this more interesting – as would having the God That Crawls exhibit a kind of animal cunning, a couple of unique responses. The module, for example, allows the PCs to initiate collapses to get a respite from the God That Crawls – making the creature affect, at least potentially, the integrity of the complex, making it cut off PC routes and the like, would have added a whole new realization of terror here. Granted, once more that is easy enough to implement, but yeah.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level – I noticed no grievous glitches on either levels. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard and manages to present quite a lot of content per page. The artworks by Jason Rainville are excellent, top-tier – no surprise there. The cartography by Devin Night is also full-color and neat. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and the softcover print version is a nice book.

 

James Edward Raggi IV’s “The God That Crawls” is a module I wrestled with for a while. It plays better than it reads, courtesy of the smart design of the complex, and it requires some serious prep-work by the GM to become familiar with the complex and the plethora of stairs and ladders connecting the levels. It does reward the referee for doing so with the best execution of its trope I have seen in quite a long while, though. This is a good module, one could even argue it to be great. However, as discussed in the SPOILER-section above, it doesn’t feel as “whole” as e.g. “Death Frost Doom”, “The Grinding Gear” and some other early modules penned by the author. It has all the trademarks you’d expect: Lavish attention to detail, a bit of meta-game shenanigans, horrific stuff that can happen to the PCs, a focus on player-agenda over character-agenda, a focus on letting the greed of players/PCs dictate, in a way, the difficulty of the adventure…it’s all there. This module, in spite of my nitpicking above, is one that is definitely worth owning.

 

Nevertheless, I couldn’t shake that feeling, that, with a big more unique set-pieces pertaining the primary antagonist within, with a tighter focus or a more expansive scope, this could have been legendary. With a couple more pages to add a few unique reactions for the main antagonist, this could have been even better, a masterpiece; with a couple of mini-puzzles beyond navigation, this could have made for a longer and truly nerve-wracking exploration. Without the SCP-ish angle, this could have focused a bit more on the main theme of the adventure; with an expanded focus on this secondary leitmotif, it could have grown into something utterly brilliant.

 

This module, in a way, almost reaches true greatness, but can’t quite make the transition to it. The beginning is also, imho, somewhat rough on the referee. Still, this adventure is very much worth checking out. If you’re looking for just a collection of inspiring, nasty items, it may well warrant the asking price for these. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

 

You can get this adventure here on OBS!

 

The print version can be found here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

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