[Sourcebook] Realms of Crawling Chaos (2011)
Daniel Proctor (Goblinoid Games)
After the stunning success of having achieved 3 sessions of Carcosa with nary an awkward rape scene taking place, your Prince has been scouring the internet for supplementary material to bolster Carcosa’s somewhat anemic repertoire of items, enemies and bricabrac. I stumbled upon Realms of Crawling Chaos by Goblinoid Games, a supplement for Lovecraftian fantasy gaming for Labyrinth Lord. “But Prince,” I hear you ask, “how will you bridge the vast mechanical chasm that seperates these two entirely different gaming systems?” And then follows the sneering and the derisive laughter and the spilling of whiskey.
Realms of Crawling Chaos is a lovecraftian roleplaying supplement for old school games, based entirely on the writings of Lovecraft UND ONLY LOFFKRAFT MITT VILLEICHT ETWAS CA SHMITT UND AR EE HOWART ABER NICHT ZEE HUND CARTER as we are informed in the dedication. It is the culmination of one guy reading Lovecraft’s work without reading all the assholes that came after him. Since that has been my approach to reading Lovecraft, I hope I will like this supplement. Theoretically I should.
We begin with a note on the layout and appearance. These things are boring so I do not normally comment on them but I noticed an effort has been made to make Realms of Crawling Chaos resemble the old AD&D supplements as much as possible. I have no strong opinion on this. The art is perfectly serviceable but not particularly noteworthy.
Our work starts out with a short introduction on the major themes that predominate Lovecraft’s writings, so a prospective GM may consider such filthy and decadent concepts as style and theme and mood when he attempts to integrate Cosmic Horror into his Sword & Sorcery game. Sensible design or a conciliatory bone thrown to the filthy narratavist hordes standing at the gates of noble rpgdomhood? Basically that first thing I said. If you are familiar with Lovecraft, you will recognize these themes; the Insignificance of Man, the Vastness of the Universe, An uncaring Natural world, mankind as nothing more then an animal, superior otherworldly creatures and science and even knowledge as a double edged sword.
As previously mentioned, Realms of Crawling Chaos is not a campaign setting but a supplement designed to help you make your own campaign setting or “Realm of Crawling Chaos.”. Those are always good fun, striking a balance by giving inspirational material without fleshing everything out to the degree that no originality is possible (people claim this happens more often then it does, I have seldom seen a campaign setting that was so fleshed out I could not do something wonderful and original with it without violating canon. I remind you that I play Dark Heresy, and Warhammer 40k lore can literally fill bookshelves if not closets).
A Realm of Crawling Chaos is assumed to have humanity as the dominant species, technology around the middle ages, any advanced technology the product of extinct civilizations or aliens, and the world is dark and violent and instead of dragons you get shoggoths. You can still dungeoncrawl but adventuring takes on a more sinister aspect as you come into contact with things that you were not meant to know and thus even adventurers, already distrusted at the best of times, are often feared or loathed. Ideas for campaign and fluff variants are given, which is what I kind of like. Its meant to inspire you to make your own lovecraftian fantasy setting and so it gives you ideas so you can do that. The way its handled, I’m guessing a game set in a Realm of Crawling Chaos would not differ overmuch from your garden variety DnD campaign. It emphasizes what is already present. We end with a short glossary on various aspects of lovecrafts work that return in the game, R’yleh, Yuggoth, cults etc. etc.
Realms of Crawling Chaos gives us the chance to play some new races. The Sea-Blood, an interesting race of deep-one/human hybrids that manifest more traits of their Deep One ancestry as they level up and receive increasingly powerful visions and compulsions to dwell in the sunken cities beneath the waves starting from 4th level, meaning you get a 1d6 month timer after that before your character casts off his possessions and joins his Fishmen parents beneath the waves.
Additional rules are given for playing Subhumans, White Apes and White Ape/human hybrids but the Sea Blood is by far the most interesting one. The rest is merely some ability score bonuses and penalties along with AD&D inspired level limits, thief class bonuses or penalties and some racial classes that amount to multiclass characters. An opportunity for flavor is tragically lost and traded for the ability to detect secret doors or gain saving throws vs poison. C’mon Realms of Crawling Chaos you are better then that. A last campaign variant is mentioned, remove the Cleric to make the game more lovecraftian-y. So far RoCC is essentially AD&D with a palette swap.
There is hope in the form of a New Magic section. I subtract a point for not giving us a list of wizard spells to ban or allow to make the game feel more lovecraftian-y, which was a standard feature in 2e’s historical supplements and worked to great effect.
We are introduced to a new type of spell, the formula, which combines elements of alchemy and magic. Essentially, they are a cross between magic items and spells, and they aren’t really THAT new in concept, I direct you to the Clone, Heart of Stone and Simulacrum spells for AD&D and you will know enough. Regardless, the spells effects are appropriately Lovecraftian and the spell components even more so (needed; salt, mercury, sulfur, tea and the blood of a snake). Spells are given to condense essential salts, create drugs with which to astrally travel, preserve or reanimate tissue, poultice of healing and the concoction of an elixir of Living Death. This is a great take on magic item creation and flavorful as hell so I award it a point. Other spells concern such matters as the banishment of Yog-sothoth, the grafting of limbs, the transfer of minds and various summoning rituals. I find it necessary to point out many of the spells require turns if not hours or days, which is great and in alignment with the lovecraftian take on Sorcery. Most importantly, the role between magic and Yog-sothoth is made explicitly clear. I judge the magic section to be sufficiently innovative and useful in excess of my personal benchmark for supplements of this nature.
Naturally, no lovecraftian fantasy roleplaying toolkit would be complete without monsters, and these are provided. It goes beyond the few Lovecraftian creatures given in Deities and Demigods, satisfying my first criteria. As for the monsters themselves, if you are at all familiar with Lovecrafts work you can probably predict what the bestiary looks like as well as I can. RoCC goes for the completionist approach, surpassing Carcosa in this regard. Alongside such familiar creatures as Shoggoths, Space polyps, Great Race and Deep Ones we are given some sort of new creatures, most of them degenerate descendants of humankind or ape-men or whathaveyou (these probably take the place of humanoids in a RoCC campaign, alongside favorites like the Ghoul). Stat-wise, the more esoteric creatures have been given psychic powers to beef them up a bit, but overall the creatures are somewhat underwhelming. I suspect a well-equipped first level party will prevail against many of the horrors described within with only minimum casualties (Shoggoths, while still nightmarishly powerful, are only 7HD what’s up with that?). I wish to give a shoutout for including stats for giant blind albino penguins but also lament the omission of an angle-walking ability for the hounds of Tindalos. Some of the lesser Old Ones (Dagon, Abhoth etc.) should provide a suitable challenge for a mid level (5-7) party albeit one equipped with at least one +3 weapon whilst Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep and Yog-sothoth remain appropriately un-fucking-beatable. A smackdown with Yog-Sothoth should be a nice capstone of your RoCC campaign.
One or two creatures from the writings of Clark Ashton Smith also show up, so alongside your Elder Things and your Ghouls you get your Lamiae and your Tsathogguah to stir the pot a little (edit; the Lamia is drawn from Lovecraft’s short story Medusa’s Coil and Tsathoggua , while originally conceived by Smith, is referenced in Lovecrafts work). This section is satisfactory but I can’t help but feel that many of the creatures are a bit underpowered, depriving them of some of their impact. Copy-paste hack-writers take note, even the Succubus in the RoCC has been given a complete mechanical and flavour overhaul, as God intended.
The magic item section. Tips on how to handle magic items in a RoCC campaign are given in the Appendix. The items are, of course, drawn from Lovecrafts work and are thus suitably Eldritch. As should be obvious, you won’t find anything that gives you a +2 against saves vs fire or a +1 to hit. Instead the items are disturbing and alien; strange stasis tanks, necromantic spirit bottles, a bizarre device that transforms living creatures into copies of the life essence stored within it and so on. What is great about these items is that very few of them are really useful for dungeoncrawling or combat purposes, some of them are downright hazardous and all of them are flavorful as hell. Cribbed from Lovecraft but done so with care and sophistication and full credit given. Nice. This section is cool.
RoCC decides to give Carcosa a run for its money by including psionic power rules but unlike Carcosa these are meant only for NPCs. The deviation from Lovecraft’s canon is noted. Let’s see if the Psionics rules can compete with those in Carcosa. Spoiler: Nope.
We are introduced to a psionic combat system based on PR’s and Wisdom scores and mental attack roles. Creatures must therefore be assigned Wisdom scores to make it work, which requires one to assign Intelligence scores where none are given in Labyrinth Lord, which requires GM’s discretion. Are we having fun yet? I will say RoCC provides more powers then Carcosa, but since all of these powers are basically cribbed from AD&D I cannot give it any credit for this. Some of the powers are metapsionic in nature (i.e they affect the way psionic powers affect the user), making the choice to include them in a system that only gives psionics to NPCs all the more baffling (there are a handful of artifacts that can give one access to psychic powers but meh).
We arrive at the Appendixes. First up are forbidden tomes, since no game of lovecraftian fantasy would be complete without grimoires of forbidden lore. The use of actual tomes from Lovecrafts work is jarring in the context of a Lovecraftian S&S game. I can accept a Silver Key in my make-pretend fantasy world but a book named Unaussprechlichen Kulten is going to make little sense unless my world also has Germans. Fucking around with grimoires in RoCC requires Int rolls and Wis rolls and if you fuck up too badly you get to roll on a special table to see how fucked you are. I’ll give RoCC credit for providing effective rules to make learning spells more interesting and far more dangerous. Afflictions range from being permanently stricken with horrendous nightmares and waking dreams to losing 1d4 Con, going permanently insane, getting stalked by a heinous supernatural creature or spontaneously combusting. Excellent.
The second section belatedly gives you three pretty neat random d100 tables so you may generate your own lovecraftian magic items, suitably eldritch, strange and with appropriate drawbacks of course. Magic items in RoCC are meant to be rare, dangerous and created by nonhuman hands often for unfathomable purposes. These are great and they are going straight into my Carcosa game. The items are not literally cribbed from Lovecrafts work but instead they are made in the spirit of his work, which is what makes them great. This section gets a massive plus. Some sample artifacts effects include: Render recently deceased creatures into potions of longevity several times per week, -2 on reaction rolls vs cats, surgically transforms user so he now has gills at the cost of 1 point of cha, devolve targets into their ancestral forms etc. Great job on this one.
We end with notes on converting to mutant future and a very thorough list that gives full credit where it is due, stating each item or creature and the story it was based on.
Overall, Realms of Crawling Chaos is a functional toolkit for introducing more Lovecraft into one’s campaign. I think an opportunity was missed by not giving more advice on how to give your game that little extra Lovecraftian flavour. RoCC is functional and useful but, with the exception of its random eldritch artifact generation tables, in no way exceptional. It does what it needs to do and does it well; give you the tools to make a Lovecraft-inspired fantasy setting. It is available in pdf form for 5$. For 5$, the content it provides is more then adequate to justify a purchase. In short, if you feel like running a game with just that extra dose of Lovecraft and you don’t feel like reading all those stories and doing all that work RoCC is exactly what you need.
Pros: Stats for all your favourite lovecraftian beasties. Nifty random lovecraftian artifact generation table. Flavourful spells and magic rules. Does what it says on the tin.
Cons: At times lacklustre execution of lovecraftian beasties. Races leave something to be desired. Completionists may balk at the lack of the more obscure creatures.
Final Verdict: 6.5 out of 10 Elder polearms.