The Undercroft #5 (OSR)
The fifth installment of the Undercroft-‘zine sports 30 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), already disregarding the usual front cover, editorial, etc., and this time around, we have a focus on strange and dangerous magic items.
The installment is intended for LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) rules, and as such assumes a pretty low player character powerlevel, and the fact that magic is both potent and dangerous. Adaption to other OSR-systems is easily possible, though in high magic worlds, many items herein will some of their appeal.
As before, the Undercroft deals with HORROR content, or at least with a fantasy style that is rather dark, so if you’re easily offended, you may want to steer clear.
Okay, that out of the way, Chris Lawson has contributed two sections to this ‘zine, both of which I consider to be a success: The first of these would be the smiling goat’s horn, a mummified goat’s head attached to a curled horn – blowing it will cause all nearby farm animals to become thieves and steal valuables to present to the owner of the horn; then, they will proceed to sing like a classically trained choir, making sleep nigh impossible. They can’t be slain anymore, and will only leave the owner’s side to steal more – until full moon hits, where a pack of wolves will hound the owner. Said wolves can eat the farm animals, granting them final death, and the owner some peace and quiet. In the aftermath, a black goat will come – and it will feast upon the owner’s corpse at one point. It’s inevitable. This oozes folklore, twisted and weird, and is just frickin’ awesome. I love this item, its narrative implications, its angles – it feels magical. Huge kudos! The second item Chris Lawson contributed, would be a monocle, the Opticaphobicascope, which must be pushed, painfully, with the eye into the socket. The item has powerful benefits and can help discern a lot, but it also causes the character to embark on a form of introverted solipsism based on an egocentric projection of the wearer – represented in three stages of madness. I love this one as well – it has this visceral touch, the downsides are pronounced, and the detailed, multi-stage madness engine? I’d love a book full of those. Two definite winners.
Oliver Palmer presents the next item, the Washer Woman, a cursed porcelain statue that will displace items the wearer has, if left, it will be present. It will not respond kindly to being smashed. It is a classic, annoying, and eerily efficient creep-factor I enjoyed seeing. Frank Mitchell presents us with something utterly different, in that his contribution actually consists of the highest power-level possible – 7 artifacts that are a twist of a RPG classic, namely the sundered rod. Instead, we are presented here with the body parts of the sundered god. Left arm and right arm have different properties, legs share their properties, and torso, head and phallus represent the remainder of the parts. (As an aside, if you count the legs as separate parts, we arrive at LotFP’s occult 8 as a leitmotif, which was probably intentional.) The sundered god is btw. none other than Baphomet – and e.g. the left arm may be wielded as a weapon that causes those hit to save or die, but also demands the same from the wielder. The right arm creates revenants, but allows for no control over them; the phallus is addictive and can really make having your own cult super easy – if you manage to not become addicted yourself, that is. Oh, and it can result in those really volatile, murderous types of unhealthy, obsessive love. But hey, nobdy’s perfect. And before you ask – yes, the parts of the sundered god can be grafted onto the living. Or, you know, you could place severed heads on the torso etc. And yes, we learn about the none-too-pleasant consequences of assembling this sundered demigod thing again. Tl;Dr: Don’t. No, seriously. …oh boy, you’re playing LotFP, of course you’ll now assemble it, right? Damn, what have I done…
The final article in the ’zine was penned by none other than Melsonian Arts Council’s master Daniel Sell, and is titled “The Precocious Abundance of Holy Mountain.” How an abundance can be precocious, I’m not entirely sure, but oh well – perhaps it’s a joke I’m not getting. The article contains 6 different devices with a dark science-fantasy slant, for they are intended for use with the setting implied by Rafael Chandler’s excellent horror bestiaries, the Teratic Tome and Lusus Naturae. To be more specific, they are intended for use in the rather gore-and fluid-centric SlaughterGrid adventure, and while I am not a big fan of that module, per se, I think that the material would have enhanced my experience. It should be noted, that the items can easily be used in other contexts as well. We get, for example, rules for aqua gravis (including what happens if you drink a little, or lots of it, or when you burn it). Custodians are kinda sentient, humanoid, small shapes sans head, with a hole in a surface reminiscent of cooling magma, and a layer of aqua gravis used for communication. Interacting with them, and making more, is touched upon. There are the Ven gates, connected to a race trapped in a moment nigh the end of time (for good measure); there would be exigentia, automatic science-fantasy surgeon machines that are…well, not 100% reliable. The best illustration herein would be the twisted lung spider – a leather muzzle that seems to consist of scissors of all kinds. These things, when activated, will drill into your torso, pop your lungs, and breathe for you. You can’t talk, not scream or groan, and the thing now breathes for you…and renders you immune to all poisonous fumes. Hey, that’s something. Finally, the SlaughterGrid itself is also contextualized properly. If you play SlaughterGrid, play it with these added.
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules language, I noticed no serious snafus. The ’zine adheres to a one-column b/w-standard, and the magazine sports quite a few rather nice b/w-artworks. The ’zine’s physical version is a nice stitch-bound little softcover, with sturdy covers – no complaints, and that’s the version I’d recommend.
Daniel Sell, Chris Lawson, Oliver Palmer and Frank Mitchell provide a thoroughly enjoyable ’zine of twisted magic items with serious drawbacks, but also amazing flavor and cool effects. If you’re looking for a particularly vicious item, look no further than this humble ’zine. All killer, no filler – 5 stars + seal of approval.
You can get this genuinely cool little ‘zine here on OBS!
Missed The excellent, dark fantasy/old-school bestiaries mentioned above?
Lusus Naturae’s pdf (PWYW) can be found here – print has sold out, alas.
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