Blood in the Chocolate (OSR) (priority review)
This module covers 54 pages, already not including front/back cover, etc.
This review was requested by my supporters to be covered as a priority review alongside “The Idea from Space” (SPOILER: Idea is better); usually, I go for a chronological sequence, but this time around, the module will cease being available at the start of December, and for all the completionists, I wanted to have this review ready before the module vanishes.
Triggerwarning: The module is obsessed with rape, getting the party to participate in rape, or the adventurers being raped. Plus: Good chance of witnessing children (regular ones, not alien things masquerading as them) dying when running this.
My review is based on both the hardcover and the pdf-versions. “Blood in the Chocolate” is billed as a low-level (as in level 1–4) psycho-sexual romp in the vein of a messed up version of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, and as you probably are aware of, it won some awards. Now, on the plus-side of things, the module does several things right when it comes to presentation: The interior of the front cover/first page spread contain quick reference information and a b/w-overview map (not to scale) of the environments, making quick reference simple. Base stats for creatures encountered and random chocolate effects are in the back cover/last-page spread; additionally, these last pages have a visual representation of the number of adversaries, so you can just cross them off if you can bear actually writing in your gaming books. I can’t. But I can see this being helpful. The full-color maps are decent, if not spectacular, and feature 10-ft. squares. Like in Kelvin Green’s neat “Forgive Us”, each room’s write-up contains an extract of the map, showing the respective room.
Alas, not all is well in the formal department: For one, there is no player-friendly version of the maps included; secondly, the pdf features no bookmarks, making that version next to useless when running it. Do you remember when LotFP used to have layered pdfs, where you could turn off annoying numbers and secret doors, etc.? Yeah, don’t expect that here. The artwork you can see on the cover is also the style you can expect to find inside. Personally, I’m not fond of it, but art is a matter of taste and is not something I’ll penalize the module for.
Okay, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
Okay, only referees around? Great.
So, this time around, I’ll start with my thesis: I can’t fathom how this managed to win any prize, and I’m pretty positive that the people who awarded the prize or voted for the module never bothered actually playing it.
Because there is a lot to be criticized about this adventure.
Don’t get me wrong: The elevator pitch of “What if Charlie with eldritch horror” is pure awesome and had me super stoked to run this module, but this excitement went down the tubes, and like a waterfall of chocolate sludge, it never ceased going downhill.
Let’s start with the premise: It’s 1617, Friesland in the Netherlands, and rich widow Lucia de Castillo’s chocolates are taking Europe by storm; they are positively addictive and threaten to destabilize an already extremely unstable Europe further. Lucia is the villain; daughter of an Incan lady and a Spanish conquistador, who married a Spanish Comde and, surprise, surprise, the entire family of the Comde died, leaving Lucia everything. Now, on the plus-side, Lucia is NOT a victim; she’s not traumatized or anything; she’s just a ridiculously evil businesswoman; she’s pretty “thicc”, I guess, and that all would be neat, but the book focuses its ostensible “psychosexual” angle primarily on her, coaching the referee regarding her sexual preferences (prefers women and effeminate men), etc. – which would be fine if that sort of thing was in any way actually relevant to the module, which it’s not. Lucia is essentially a powerful brawler/boss encounter, and the chances to even encounter her in a non-hostile manner are pretty much zero. This generates the weird impression of there being some sort of kinkiness/fetish going on, but I’m only mentioning this because some people are bothered by that sort of thing. I won’t kinkshame anyone.
Anyhow, my issue with Lucia boils down to another factor: She makes no sense and has no real plan. She just goes about her being evil and considering that the module spends several pages driving home how important she is, she remains, ironically, paler than most evil tower-dwelling cliché-mages. Considering that “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” has plenty of interesting and horrifying angles, that is a gigantic lost chance. It’s the least of the module’s issues, though.
On the plus-side, the module has proper rules for the magical chocolate (mostly cosmetic d12 table) and comes with 8 diseases/poisons based on sweets and the Charlie source material. The good thing about them would be that they are genuinely interesting and tend to feature more than one stage: From vocal cords encased in nut brittle to vomiting chocolate to getting taffy skin, these do evoke body horror (GOOD!), though the rules aren’t always sensible: Taffy Skin Disease can be slowed by “freezing your body and keeping it cold”; okay, doesn’t that kill you? What constitutes freezing? No clue. The star here is the noxious berry curse, which requires juicing to prevent being fatal. Okay, you’ll be blue like a smurf anyway afterwards, but…yeah. As a whole, this section could have been improved with more nonmagical ways of treating the diseases (some do have that!), because frankly, these effects and the adventurers trying to deal with them are the single most (to me, the only) fun component of this adventure. And they will have to deal with them, because pretty much anything is infectious. Also: There are two children to be “rescued”, but of course they are super-infectious (no save) carriers of the diseases that penalize showing compassion/being decent people. Yep, misery/nihilism quote fulfilled in the cheapest way possible.
So, how do these effects manage to remain contained? The chocolates contain effects like mania, gas, and addiction, so how is there not a lynch mob at the factory gates? I’m getting ahead of myself.
So, how does Lucia create her chocolate? Well, her Wonka-inspired factory includes essentially an eldritch coca tree, including mutated mosquitoes, and a tribe of pygmies she enslaved; these were, according to the lore of the module, Inca precursors, tainted by a cocoa tree (said eldritch tree), which itself resulted from a massacre committed by some Maya magic-users. Today, they are essentially super-degenerate, and they primarily engage in blood orgies and berry orgies when not doing their oompa loompa chores. That obsession with rape is the only other part of the module that could be considered to be “psychosexual.” I’m leaving this information without a further comment here.
If you expected the chocolate factory that the party is supposed to infiltrate to feature genuine wonders, creative environments, etc., I am afraid I have to disappoint you; the aforementioned diseases/hazards are as weird as the module gets. If you expected some creative uses of the themes, unique combats on boats, perhaps a take on the insane sequence of the first movie…you won’t get that here.
Furthermore, there are two factors that we really need to talk about. As in the bad “We need to talk” kind of way.
The first is the implicit setting. I’m totally on board with the general assumption of Lamentations of the Flame Princess’ default assumption of a weird 17th century setting; the huge benefit is that you have sheer endless lore to fall back on and using the weird in subtle and less subtle ways in that context makes it more plausible and effective.
In this module, that premise falls apart ridiculously fast. It makes zero sense that the chocolates even make their way across Europe without melting and spoiling, considering the lack of modern refrigeration options and preservatives. Granted, logistics were better than most people are aware of, but not that good. Secondly, the Netherlands were not a lawless murderhobo-wasteland.
No, when the adventurers kill off Lucia, they can’t just run her factory (using the property rules, and don’t really contribute anything substantial to the module); it’s not how things worked. This lack of care and consideration also shows in the details: One artwork, for example, features the equivalent of “Help yourself!”-signs for chocolate, and the art direction couldn’t be bothered to check that the non-English languages were correct. For example, the German “Bedienen Sie Dich” is incorrect in that it mixes formal and informal, and the incorrect reflexive pronoun; that should be “sich”; also: lower case. Okay, that admittedly was a nitpick.
Killing Lucia would be illegal; selling addictive substances would be illegal. The whole premise of the module DOES NOT WORK. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Either you have an intricate multipage backstory contextualized in history, or you can have a nonsense funhouse dungeon. Not both. And don’t get me wrong, this module takes itself, its villain, and its encounters 100% SERIOUS. This is NOT supposed to be funny. This is supposed to be serious business. Oh, and kidnapped children. Yeah…
It gets worse. The factory is steam-powered and FAR, FAR beyond ANYTHING that existed at the time; the tech there? Would have sufficed to revolutionized European warfare, industry, etc. – and Lucia makes dumb magic chocolate?? It makes no frickin’ sense. Even if you use the “she just wants to earn money”-angle, the premise makes no sense, as her tech would seriously make her the richest woman in Europe. The module, the villain, nothing makes sense whatsoever. Oh, and to completely dispel the entire “but this is supposed to be funny”-argument: If Lucia betas (no, not a typo) the party, she’s likely to turn some of them into sex slaves. Yep, that’d be rape.
Think this is funny yet?
Okay, so perhaps you don’t care about the glaring historic and cultural analphabetism breaking any form of suspension of disbelief. Perhaps you don’t care about the villain making no sense. Does the module still have something to offer to you?
Well, if you’re one of the people who purchase modules for the writing and/or to reminisce, let me come out and say that the prose is not exactly good. Now, I do like the bullet-point-y presentation, and I’m aware that, particularly in OSR-circles, there are plenty of people who do not want any purple prose. I get that. But there’s a difference between bullet points that inspire, and ones that don’t. At least in readaloud text (provided for ONE of the social interactions the module has planned, but not for any of the others), some flavor would have been nice. To give you an impression, here are two texts from the same NPC, when asked about guards or Lucia:
“Most of ‘em are friendly enough, but some are right queer. Jittery, shaky, always licking their lips. They don’t blink either. Whatever you do, don’t cross them. They’ll shoot you dead!”
“She’s an incredible woman. Bit frightening, to be honest. I’ve never met a more driven person. She’s a tad eccentric though. Armed to the teeth, too. No one dares cross her. Don’t tell anyone I told you this, but I’ve heard rumour that she prefers the company of women. How un-Catholic of her, but it’s not my place to judge.” (Blood in the Chocolate, pg. 26)
…yeah, the remainder isn’t too great either. I rest my case. It’s also inconsistent, as none of the other NPCs get that sort of treatment.
Now, ALL of that, the misery, the logic bugs, the shortcomings in the prose—all of that could still be remedied by the module actually playing well.
The module is a badly-crafted slogfest that absolutely astonished me. Let’s start with the human guards: They are 2nd level, and Lucia is a 28 hp, AC 16 boss; I’m cool with a tough boss, but I do not recommend this for first level.
Oh, and there are a few pygmies.
150 of them.
Now, granted, the adventurers can theoretically befriend the pygmies. To do so, you must fulfill two of the following prerequisites: Giving them food from outside is one; instantly learning their language with the skill is another…kinda logic buggy, but okay. Third would be eating cocoa (bad idea); fourth would be participating in a berry orgy. To the climax. Yes, the module specifies this, of all things. Sacrifice blood orgy participation does not suffice.
But even if you do befriend a pygmy, as soon as one of the mutated mosquitoes attacks and is killed, or once the adventurers try to deal with the tainted tree, the pygmies become hostile. Yeah, there is a good chance that this devolves into an atrocious hackfest that the party is very likely to lose in a slow, slooow, s-l-o-o-o-o-w and drawn out and bland way.
Beyond that, the most likely goal/hook for the party is to steal the recipe of Lucia’s chocolate for her competitors. There also is the issue of a musical door leading to Lucia’s room. If you thought that playing any Charlie-theme would work…WRONG. You have to play Greensleeves. Now, how do the adventurers find out about that? One half-mad, raped, berry-cursed female burglar is trapped in one room. Only…her section/write-up does NOT mention that she knows the melody. So, what if she died? If the party doesn’t find her? Tough luck. There are no clues, there is no note of Lucia singing the tune anymore. And even if the prisoner mentions it, the leap of logic is worthy of old Sierra games. This is not a well-designed module, and it does not play well if run as written. Can you try to salvage it? Yes. But why bother?
For the treasure? There is not a single piece of cool magical treasure. For the locales? You can probably improvise a cooler factory after watching the movies. For the aftermath/consequences? The adventurers can turn smurf-blue, become incredibly fat due to the diseases, etc., and get some mundane treasure. But not magic, not even one of LotFP’s usual high-risk/cursed ones. There is a surprising dearth of stuff do and interact with throughout the module, from rooms to NPCs to everything, and engaging with the dungeon actually is pretty consistently penalized, because pretty much everything is infectious.
Editing and formatting are per se okay on a formal and rules-language level, but the text would have been sent back for revision from me. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard; artworks are full-color and a matter of taste. I disliked the full-color cartography and was disappointed by the lack of player-friendly maps. The pdf has no bookmarks, which renders using that version inconvenient and grating. The hardcover is formally well-made, as usual for LotFP.
I wanted to like this module so much. It could have gone in several cool ways:
- Funhouse whimsy punctuated by grotesque horror.
- Genuinely realistic and gritty horror; a grounded what-if scenario.
- A political intrigue, set against the dynamics of competing patricians…
- Religious conflict (much more relevant than color of skin back then…)
- …and so on.
Kiel Chenier’s module fails, no matter what measure I apply to it; as a historic module, it is a total mess and makes no sense; as a funhouse dungeon, it’s dreary, depressing, and not just grimdark fantasy/horror (which I like), but ventures into misery-porn (which I despise). As a psychosexual romp, it fails to do anything except the lazy cheapshots of rape and dead kids.
This module is pure misery, and it doesn’t even do that right.
For contrast: “Death Love Doom” does abject, nihilist misery right, and I respect it for that.
“Fuck for Satan” is a meta-troll and does the super-lethal dungeon in a rewarding way, and one of its angles is more psychosexual than anything herein.
“The Doom-Cave of Crystal-Headed Children” can be grim and is essentially a troll…but at least it is funny in a very bleak and dark way in its outrageous ideas.
I managed to get something out of all of the aforementioned books. I’m neither a prude, nor a reactionary, nor am I offended by “Blood in the Chocolate”’s blunt-force fetishism and edgelordism.
I am offended by it being the most egregious waste of a genuinely cool elevator pitch that I have seen in my entire reviewer career; I am offended that, thanks to this module, we won’t be getting any actually GOOD (or even mediocre) “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” horror module in the foreseeable future.
Final verdict? This gets +0.5 stars for the basic idea behind the multistage disease/poison effects, resulting in a final verdict of 1.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.
For non-collectors who are intrigued by weird premises and otherwise enjoy LotFP offerings: Get literally anything else in their catalogue; I’m pretty positive that you’ll have a better time with anything else you choose to get.
If you are a completionist collector and don’t have the book yet but want it for completion’s sake then act now, for its license runs out in December, which’ll make this book vanish.
As far as I’m concerned, I genuinely don’t know what to do with my hardcover. It’s the first LotFP-book I don’t want on my bookshelf. Any takers? My final note to this one going away would be “…and nothing of value was lost.”
I’d rather recommend getting any of the other LotFP-modules, though. For example, here!
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