No Dignity in Death – The Three Brides (2009)
James Raggi IV (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)
Levels 1 – 3
I keep getting drawn back to Loftp. Not because it is good (though some of it certainly is), but because it is very rarely dull. Raggi’s old adventures thus far have been, with the possible exception of Death Frost Doom, takes on venerable adventure templates; the wizards tower, the wilderness adventure, the tomb, the tomb of horrors clone etc. This one is that venerable behemoth of the roleplaying game genre as a whole; The Investigative Adventure. Or rather, one investigative adventure and two … miscellaneous adventures? taking place within the same location and the tenuous connection of featuring dead newlyweds to cement them into a vague and rickety thematical
Like every proto-Loftp module it assumes the generic medieval fantasy setting so it is very easy to transplant into your home campaign. With minimal conversion it could be used in the contemporary Loftp setting of Early Renaissance Europe, provided the GM does not mind introducing a dwarf or too in his campaign (I guess you could replace them with extremely swarthy Germans or something along those lines).
The game takes place in the fictional town of Pembrookton, a remote and eccentric place with insufferably wealthy inhabitants that look down on foreigners (as did everyone in ye early modern period). Bastards. But they are rich. And for the most part unused to violence, since they rarely experience it. This seeming dichotomy merely adds to the vibe one gets. Pembrooktonshire is off in a subtle way. The linked adventures have an almost folkloric feel to them.
The first adventure is a classic rural murder mystery. A dead bride, a wedding, witnesses, a ticking clock, and an overzealous high level rival investigator that plans to burn an entire family of gypsies to death for heresy and murder. The burning of gypsies is presented as a thing to be avoided for some strange reason and thus our heroes must find the real killer and prove his guilt to the Knight of Science (the other investigator and also main antagonist).
An investigative adventure with one part hunting for clues and three parts social interaction. Excellent! The knight of science is a real douchebag, the religious inquisitor and arrogant bastard that may not be quietly murdered on account of his great skill at arms and retinue of armed men. But! He is not the murderer!
The text gives several locations and a write-up of the witnesses. A note by Raggi that the GM is free to change the identity of the murderer seems nonsensical. While it is not laid out in the most efficient and transparent fashion players who take the time to
interrogate all the witnesses should find enough clues to know that the murdered bride was having an affair (I like the hint of making the mother and younger sister of the bride really slutty) and the killer’s obsession with a storybook hero printed and authored by the family of the bride. Nice. We are even provided with a ticking clock element to keep things interesting. A nice, folkloric, almost picaresque murder mystery that is very unusual and thus welcome. If it errs at all it errs on the side of sparseness, giving inadequate guidelines on how to handle the way the Knight of Science and his retinue act towards the inquisitive players. Successfully completing the adventure yields a nice monetary reward, a prestige reward and a unique magical item, and adequate exploration of the consequences of alternative ways of completing the scenario are given (if one, say, simply frees the Gypsies by jail breaking them out). Should take you about a session. The almost complete absence of supernatural elements should come as either a refreshing twist or a depressing failure of imagination, depending on your fantasy preferences.
Part II; Folkloric fairy tale with fucked up twists galore. The scenes here are nice but, depending on how the game plays out there is not much room for player interaction and they might miss the adventure entirely. The adventure is otherwise a really fucked up and original take on a classic fairy tale premise.
Every 10 years Pembrookton holds games concerning the grooms of six soon to be married couples, all beautiful. The games are dangerous, and can be lethal (e.g all six men step into circles equidistant from a central point and are given a rock to use for defense or to throw at others. If one leaves one’s circle or falls to one knee one is disqualified. Each round more then one contestant remains the rock’s weight is increased by a quarter of a pound). The games end when one contestant dies. If he dies, his wife to be is then to be the chosen sacrifice to placate the mountain spirit that protects the village.
There is a lot of information provided about the festival, the names of the contestants as well as means of randomly generating age, personality traits and who lives and who dies but beyond some gambling there is not much interaction with the players at this point, although there certainly can be.
Again, entirely against common wisdom and god’s law, the adventure expects your players to be apalled at this gay village festival where one man dies and his bribe is sacrificed to ancient mountain spirits that supposedly protects the village. If they are and they express some hint of dissaproval they are contacted by a conspiracy of likeminded fellows that seek to stop the sacrifices, revealing that they are instead done to placate an evil dragon that would otherwise burn the village. They are equipped with a potion of dragon control and ordered to ensure the bride returns safely so she may flee and start elsewhere, and the treasure is theirs to keep.
An extra fucked up dimension is added when it is discovered the dragon has been dead for decades if not centuries and an asshole band of dwarves has continued to fake the creature (by using a flamethrower-esque device in a cave), and then help themselves to the bride’s jewelry when everyone departs, leaving her to starve or dehydrate. Harsh. For contemporary Loftp one could substitute foreigners for dwarves but this depends on taste mostly.
The resolution of the problem provides an interesting problem for the player. Revealing the deception will result in war between the village and the dwarves and the destruction of their idyllic lifestyle as bandits return to the area. At least handling the problem will require some thought.
Overall, very interesting and flavorful backdrop and a nice setup but essentially a railroad with a single combat encounter at the end. Can be finished in one session easily.
The third and perhaps last part is a stand alone cabin on a cliff with a cave beneath it, to be discovered if the Pc’s are so inclined. A search for the bodies of some locals along with the promise of a hidden gemstone is the carrot.
An investigation/dungeon adventure with some interesting environmental hazards (steam!), a host of clues pertaining to what actually happened (Raggi seems to have some knack for the slow burner discovery adventure or perhaps I should read critically acclaimed CoC adventures and reserve judgement/sneer until then), a strong focus on single monster (a banshee!), a story of tragedy and murder and no way in fucking hell your players will survive a Banshee. Then again, it is quite possible to avoid it and help yourself to the delicious treasure in the lower caverns. The lower caverns are okay, the concept of a steam cavern helps the overall feel, and the various critters should provide adequate diversion until the body of the prospector is located, thereby instantly attracting a 7 HD Banshee that they might be able to put to rest but that will probably kill them. Am I missing something? How is a low level party supposed to handle a fucking Banshee?
I don’t really know what to think about this one. A kernel of a vague idea with at times haphazard execution.
The product ends with some ideas for further adventuring in pembrooktonshire, which follow logically from what was set up before and therefore deserve neither mockery nor praise. Needs more weird.
I’m rather stumped overall. The first and second parts are a lot stronger then the third and the whole combines to provide a strange, folkloric sort of adventure, still recognizable as D&D but thematically different. The most interesting thing about Three Brides is still Pembrooktonshire proper. A weird, subtly off-putting village of strange people with bizarre customs. Raggs would later publish a list of npcs for Pembrooktonshire, a good idea.
Pros: Solid investigative part. Strange picaresque atmosphere.
Cons: Last adventure is a bullshit TPK. Distinct but not really noteworthy.
Three adventures, one pretty solid, one atmospheric but very short and the third not shit but nothing special. I promised to stop reviewing mediocrities. File under; miscellaneous and investigative adventures. A good journeyman’s attempt at an adventure but nothing to really recommend it above a sleuth of others. Pembrooktonshire is an interesting backdrop for adventure but the adherence to classic D&D makes it all feel a bit incoherent and in need of a solid theme. Investigative adventures are cool and all but they thrive on atmosphere and three tonally dissonant set pieces with only vague connections don’t do it for me. I dig the small town folkloric vibe though, but why are the dwarves so bog standard?
I feel like I should like this more but in the end it is three sessions worth of decent adventure with a foreshadowed TPK. Nothing to really put Three Brides in the noteworthy category. For Loftp completionists only. 5 out of 10 dead hookers.