The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions (OSR) (Priority Review)
This supplement clocks in at 155 pages, already minus editorial, covers, etc. My review is based on the print hardcover, and I do not own the pdf-version, so I can’t comment on its electronic features. It should be noted that there is a lot of blank spaces, some blank pages, and many pages that are half-empty. I counted 19 pages that are either blank or represent the same sigil, not counting the numerous half-pages. There also are a ton of pages that only have two very thin lists of one-word-lines. This book has less content than it looks like from the page-count.
This review was requested by one of my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience.
First of all, let us talk mechanics: Even though this supplement is released by Lamentations of the Flame Princess, I am somewhat loathe to call it “compatible” with the rules, or indeed the aesthetics assumed by many OSR games; for the most part, the reasons for this stem from subtle components, but the 2 pages of house rules in the back do a rather good job at illustrating this, so that’s where we’ll start.
The rules presented are for “Perception Tests”, and propose the following, among other things:
“When you size up a situation, roll 2d6 and add your Wisdom modifier. On a 10+, ask me three questions. On a 7-9, ask two. On a 3-6, ask one. If you have a positive Wisdom modifier, you get one free answer.”
The questions presented are:
“Who’s in control here?”
“What’s my best approach?”
“What’s my best exit?”
“How could I assert my own dominance?”
“How could I disarm the situation?”
“If the situation proceeds unaltered, what will happen?”
…I really dislike this. It’s metagamey and doesn’t fit my aesthetics. And yes, I’m aware that there are plenty of games solely based on such mechanics, but these aren’t games I enjoy playing. In fact, even for storygames, that sort of precognition-like insight and knowledge seems utterly in contrast to what I consider fun in them, so…yeah. Weird. A better illustration of the contention of non-compatibility would be another of those tests, one available exclusively for magic-users. I quote directly from the book:
“When you unveil your inner vision and feel yourself outward from yourself…” – then we have the rules text (same mechanics as before, save that it uses Intelligence modifier). The questions posed here are:
“Which of these auras or plasms represent a threat to us here?”
“When I put forward a subtle provocation, how do these auras or plasms react?”
“When I subject them to stern rigor, are any of these auras or plasms misrepresenting themselves?”
“When I set aside my initial impressions and carefully reassess, are there any auras or plasms present that are more subtle, more faint, or hidden from me?”
“When I dissect these plasms or auras for the fingerprints of their creators’ psyches. Whose are they?”
“Which of these plasms or auras are truly beyond my personal comprehension?”
…WTF. This is the sloppiest, most wishy-wishy piece of anti-rules-language I have ever read. First: How does a magic-user “unveil their inner vision and feel outward”? What is “stern rigor” supposed to be in this context? Why do “initial impressions” matter? This book operates under some assumption of unspoken, undefined premises, but they are not the premises shared by the LotFP-game, or most OSR-games, for that matter.
But those rules are not exactly required to use this, so let’s ignore them for now.
Let us dial back the clock a bit and let me give you an impression of when I first opened this book after drawing it from my colossal to-read pile. This book is billed as a generator/toolkit for devising seclusiae, which are a cool concept: A wizard’s (that’s the term the book consistently uses, no an error on my part! This book takes a hint from Vance and assumes the term “wizard” to be more encompassing and applying primarily to apex-power entities) seclusium is essentially their tower/home-base or dungeon, and they undergo phases, during one of which, when the master isn’t home or indisposed, they can be assailed. This book is entirely about that phase of a seclusium and starts off in a manner that had me intrigued. The prose of the introduction mimics a treatise in some aspects, and establishes this as more than just a lair, as almost a kind of nigh-impregnable demiplane-ish sanctuary. Okay, cool, looks like we’ll get heist-tools! Are the other phases of the seclusium defined? No. Okay, so what are those plasms? They are undefined magical processes akin to photosynthesis. Creatures that feed on those are called plasmids, while powerful entities are called “plasmic entities”; beyond that, the book rewrites how magic’s supposed to work in the lore of your game: Turns out that you can only cast spells due to having a so-called “plasmic psyche”, and preparing a spell is inviting a plasmid into your brain as a sort of guest.
…this may be me, but it really bothers me when a supplement makes grand, sweeping claims of how something that is bound to have existed previously, like, well, magic, suddenly gets a new background and how it’s supposed to work, particularly if the like comes without precise explanations in the details. Spells have an aura that doesn’t need to match the effect, got it. Are these consistent between spells? Contingent on the caster? Do magic items have auras that can be seen? If so, are their auras consistent? How do you see them? Does it require a spell? Are you born with it? Range? Consequences? Can this pierce illusions? No clue. Why does this spend so many words to talk about something that is actually properly codified in consistent rules-language in such esoteric and little-known spells as…I don’t know…detect frickin’ magic? I wouldn’t object to the lore-insertion here to this degree, but it makes the whole premise and system more wishy-washy and ill-defined, muddies the waters.
Okay, but all of that’s pretty irrelevant if the generator for the actual seclusiae is cool. And frankly, the idea behind the eponymous Orphone’s sanctuary is cool: The lady has started exploring plasmic realms (yep this also bleeds into cosmology…) and found a realm called Paume, which she planned on exploring in essentially a kind of suspended-animation tank. She did not expect that she’d be essentially locked in a perpetual orgasm by Paume, and now is stuck, and probably won’t be too happy, even if saved. The thing on the cover is her plasmic entity guardian Anguilla. Okay, cool premise! I am stoked!
…this excitement did not survive contact with the actual section of the book. Instead of providing an actual environment, this book acts as a weirdly specific, yet puzzlingly rudimentary generator that is almost bereft of mechanics. Let’s take a look at the guardian’s entry:
“Anguilla is a plasmic creature of a central node and extending tendrils. The node resides within the walls of Orphone’s ceremonial chamber, and if somehow exposed, appears as (choose 1)”
- An echoing turbulence.
- A screeching pulse.
- A prismatic melancholy.
“it can extend its tendrils into the reality of the chamber, however, and they have a much more concrete form, serpentine in shape (as its name suggests), eyeless, and (circle all that apply):
- Toothy maws.
1.Hooks and barbs.
- Sticky skin.
- Bone carapaces.”
Yep, this book pretty much works like one of those mood-diaries, where you briefly circle preselected stuff as a reductive shorthand for your emotional and mental state. To save time when not enough time is available for proper introspection, this may be a good call, and as a consequence, when time is short, and you need to prep the game? Having a well-written environment with some stuff to select from premade, easy to customize to your whims? Good idea!
It’d make preparation quick and easy, right? Well, in theory. Thing is that this book is not interested in doing ANY of the hard work for you. And I mean NONE of it. To illustrate and stick with the example, Anguilla gets the following “mechanics”:
“Mechanically, create Anguilla in two layers. Anguilla’s central node has hit dice, and each of its hit points appears as an individual tendril. Then, each of its tendrils has its own hit dice as well. When a tendril loses all of its hit points and is killed, the node loses 1 hit point that the tendril represented. Anguilla can extend at most 7 tendrils at a time. Write up Anguilla as you would any monster.”
You do that.
You designate damage, HD, special abilities. You do the job of an author and game-designer.
Apart from being just another lame tentacle-monster with a body-node, this is symptomatic for the book. It has a format that would at least somewhat validate its presentation as a timesaver, and then omits the stuff that would render it actually, you know, useful.
Did you expect pregenerated spell-lists? Tough luck, none here. A magic item generator? Nope. A hazard generator Nope. Stats for anything? Nope. So, in spite of looking like a quick-to-use “choose x-type” of workbook, this requires a ton of work, even for its most fleshed out seclusium.
Oh, I haven’t mentioned that, have I? Well, there are three seclusiae herein, and Orphone’s is the most fleshed-out; the other two are concept-wise blander and more generic, and progressively less fleshed out. The final section of the book then presents the general seclusium generator, and the “maps” – these are essentially a few obscure blotches that look a bit like the map of a country, and on it, you’re supposed to draw the seclusium. One has a very rudimentary pattern in the middle. No, we do not get geomorphs or handy tools. Draw, peasants!
At this point, I think it’s clearly established that the book is not user-friendly. But is its dressing good? There’s value in that, after all. Let me give you a few examples. For the magical elements of Orphone’s seclusium, we have:
An usual tree. “For its aura, choose 1:
- It grasps and draws at your plasmic self, like a beggar for food.
- Its aura is silent and imperceptible, but conveys an undeniable sense of the predator watching the prey.
For its desire and impulse, we choose 1:
- It would dissolve “right” and “wrong”, allowing utmost liberty…
- It would bring death…
…by inserting wheedling, provocative words directly and unsubtly into someone’s thoughts.
When people come near it, have all make a Magic save [sic! – that’s saving throw versus magic]. Failure means that the voice can speak in their thoughts. The source of the voice, the tree, isn’t obvious and it will likely mislead anyone who intends it harm. As with many creatures who despise their own existence, it will nevertheless act to prolong it.”
…so, telepathically talking tree. No other effects. Got it.
If you think I’m being unfair, choosing a bad example or focusing too much on one seclusium, let’s take a look at a servant of one of the wizards, Bostu the necromancer.
His servant Abmo Om “[…] is a man and is/has (choose 1 distinctive feature):
- Unusually tall.
- Waist-length hair.
- Kindly eyes.
- A delicate face.”
OH BOY! Can you see how AWESOME this is? I mean, that’s pure poetry! Genius! Kindly eyes? Man, I’d have never thought of that! Unusually tall? WOW! And the final entry put everything into perspective! A delicate face! I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. The genius. The audacity. The imaginative potential! So magical! This is the be-all, end-all of RPG-writing, an epochal work…
*krzkrzkrz* Reviewbot-9000 has experienced sarcasm-overload. *krzkrzkrz* Rebooting. *blipblipblip*
Where was I? Oh yeah, I was extolling the virtues of this splendorous tome.
The guidance provided for the referee is on a similar level. The book, for example, gives us the super-handy primers for when the player characters arrive:
“Who will meet them (if anyone)?”
“What magical auras will impose themselves upon Magic-User’s [sic!] attention?”
“What dangers and threats will fighters notice?”
“What atmosphere or mood will clerics become aware of?”
Who needs magical effects, traps, items, monsters, maps, NPCs, spells or anything like that when we have prose this compelling, guidance this brilliant and helpful, to aid us? A veil has been lifted off my eyes. I was blind, and now I can see! Hahahahaha. All RPG books in my library did dressing the wrong way! Formatting conventions are mere impositions of authority. Editing is for the unenlightened. Precise language is a crutch! The glory of the blank page! This book is the holy grail of…
*krzkrzkrz* Critical overheating in sarcasm-processor detected. Review abort. Review abort. *krzkrzkrz*
Editing and formatting are decent on a formal level; there are plenty of deviations from LotFP’s standard, and indeed, those of all comparable OSR-games I know of. The rules-language is atrocious where present, making you almost glad of its imminent scarcity. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard with sparse, solid b/w-artworks, and PLENTY of filler. Wide margins, a ton of filler pages, some blank for no reason. The hardcover feels weird. It’s lighter than all other LotFP hardcovers, even those of smaller books, and the paper has a slightly brownish tint. The book feels almost like a non-premium-PoD; I’d say that lulu’s PoD-quality is higher than that of this book, which is utterly baffling to me, considering that LotFP usually has really high-quality print books.
D. Vincent Baker’s tome on seclusiae is the most bloated, vapid, useless book I’ve read in ages. It fails in all ways I could review it:
As a setting supplement, it doesn’t offer interesting dynamics.
As a workbook, it is inconvenient and lacks all the components that would make using it for quick game-preparation work.
As a book of lore you read for the fun of it, it is too obtuse and incomplete to provide even a halfway decent reading experience.
As a dressing book, its entries oscillate between pure boredom and being utterly bereft of any sort of substance.
Indeed, that’s how I’d describe this book: I’d call it vacuous, were this effect not obviously intended. It’s a void of content, concealed by words. This book’s dressing, when it’s not jamming some terminology and assumptions into your game without explaining or defining them properly, is a great book for people who say “my truth” and argue that their subjective opinion should be taken as objective fact. It’s all about wishy-washy emotions, about how things feel, as opposed to how they are in the game world. From a design-perspective, it’s a bit like having the thief detect successfully a trap at a chest’s lock, but still trigger it, because the trap wasn’t there. Or to suddenly recognize that you’re walking straight into a blade. Its wishy-washy imprecision dissolves the consensus of language that is required to actually share a meaningful narrative.
The language herein is like one has taken a huge piece of old lard and smeared it on the language that is the camera lens into the worlds we play in, obscuring everything and turning all into this mushy, indistinct and hazy blob.
And yes, I am one of the people who enjoy surreal and dream-like prose; I love Machen, and I enjoy Vance, to whom this book is dedicated. I like flowery prose and I’m one of the weirdos who actually buys books of poetry. But this isn’t dreamlike – it’s all about the feels, which’d be fine, if the book had any proper substance to back it up.
But it has none.
Neither on a rules-level, nor regarding the actual functionality of the seclusiae, nor regarding their lore.
And if you think that the basic idea of the seclusiae is great, and that the author usually does much better? Well, I concur. But one solid idea does not make a book, and in fact, all value I could derive from this book would fit on half a page of paper. This book is incredibly bloated, repetitive, and yes, infuriatingly obtuse without earning it in any way. There is no substance behind its bloated language deprived of concrete meaning.
Do yourself a favor, and instead buy the superior and actually useful Raging Swan Press’ dressing books.
Or any other LotFP-book. Of all of their books I’ve covered so far, this is the only one I’d consider to be absolutely useless. How this could happen to the publisher, and to the author? I genuinely can’t fathom.
Final verdict? 1 star.
As an aside: I am aware of the irony of a sarcastic review being subjective to a degree; if you do own this book and consider it to be a valuable addition to your library, please do tell me why. I’d genuinely be interested how anyone can consider this book worthwhile owning, and what they see in it. Because I tried hard to see the positive in it, only to have it fail by any of the myriad measures I tried applying to it. This invitation also obviously extends to the person who requested this – if it was a troll, it was masterfully done. 😉
Edit: Yes, this was submitted to troll me. Well played! 🙂
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