(Whew, busy couple of weeks guys. Expect a return to regular programming soon. DCC is being read as we speak, and I am at session XX of Carcosa. Good times.).
I Return. Ready to shoot down modules from the heavens of the OSR and to either deliver a merciful kick to the throat or watch them gasping out their last moments in a long agonizing drawn out passing. The God that Crawls by James Raggi is a perfect candidate for a review since it is A) interesting and B) not shit/disgusting. I had started to give up hope for new Loftp after Monolith and Death Love Doom, but Raggi manages to pull the craft out of its death-spiral and into a tear-jerking ascent into the sun with this one.
This is the module James Raggi wishes James Raggi could deliver on a consistent basis. It employs the historical setting to best effect to give the whole some pleasant versimilitude, defies established tropes in favour of something different (more like a CoC adventure), breaks some of the rules and it is still cool, is properly weird in that Lovecraft/Solomon Kane and, perhaps most importantly, looks like it might be fun.
Our adventure for character levels 1-2 commences with a railroad (forgiveable since ample options are given to counter the actions players might take that are at the very least plausible). The players are either tricked into entering the catacombs underneath an old church or are captured and left there (sans missile weapons but with their equipment intact). What follows is a diverting and classic horror scenario where our heroes must locate the exit whilst being chased by the gelatinous immortal horror that is St. Augustine. To add to that rather nice premise, there is that risk vs reward factor: the catacombs are filled with treasure but looting it takes time and makes noise, thus increasing the chance of attracting St. Augustine.
The introductory railroad part is overly long and detailed. 6 pages on the church. Almost a page is devoted to describing various paintings in the church, but none truly foreshadow or hint that something might be awry, it feels like window dressing. Same for the 2 pages of historical documentation of what king and what pope signed the permits for this Catholic Church to exist upon English (and thus Anglican church) soil. Raggi wanted to write a historical adventure with this one and takes it too far. An unusually gruesome and suffering crucifix in the nave taken from the Holy Land IS a nice way of showing that something is awry. Notably missing is a good adventure hook, but I guess you could make your own.
The directions for railroading your team of dummies into the pit are so elaborate and covered with multiple redundancies as to make the pc’s entering the pit a virtual guarantee. Has Raggi ever heard of the Player/GM contract? If the pcs refuse to enter the pit the priest thanks them and offers them a bottle of wine (drugged). If they don’t fall for that Father Bacon contacts a local aristocrat and has the adventurers arrested (and dumped into the pit). A nice touch is that the villagers and the priest are not evil, they merely understand that this secret must be kept buried and that the God must be fed (unbeknowst to them, it needs no food). So yeah, I get that we are going for a sort of quasi-historical vibe here and I appreciate attention to detail but not attention to largely peripheral details. Anyway, the PC’s will inevitably find themselves in the crypts below the church where the adventure proper may begin.
Mad props are in place for the guidelines on handling the God that Crawls. The GM may opt for a sort of hardcore mode where the God’s movement is tracked along with the players or concessions may be done to the lazy GM and the creature may be encountered via a random encounter table. The chance of encountering the god of course increases as the players make noise, raid treasure caches or if they have misbehaved in front of the ancient crucifix. Bitchin. Bonuses for rules for running down stairs or jumping down laders (i.e fast but dangerous, with a chance to sprain ankles). I recommend the encounter table option to cut down on bookkeeping.
The map proper is a nice bit of work for a tense chase scene. Long corridors, branching pathways, myriad entrances up and down, with curveballs to brake up the symmetry. It should be fairly difficult to find the exit, though there are some hints to be found in the tomb for careful explorer. If I must level criticism, a lack of dead ends means the PCs will, with few exeptions, be able to escape the God provided they are not severly encumbered. Until, presumably, they need sleep. There is a possibility of collapsing a tunnel or even flooding a subpassage with water. The map takes some time to wrap your head around with its various stairways and ladders, thus I recommend careful reading before commencing the adventure.
What sells the adventure beyond its premise is the treasures in the catacombs. Beyond some nice screwball treasures that eat up time and make noise with little reward and various treasure caches filled with arcane lore and filthy lucre, the truly interesting shit is to be found in the deeper catacombs. The gold standard for Loftp products and maybe the OSR in general. Cursed terracota statues with curses that impact gameplay instead of giving a mechanical drawback! The Spear of Longinus! A book that can unravel the world (and which will see little use in the adventure proper, but it’s still a neat addition to the campaign, and various pages are scattered throughout the catacombs for that little extra something something). An inner sanctum with artifacts deemed dangerous to christendom! A book that promises the secret to the deadliest, most undetectable poison but which will itself cause death upon reading. A pin that will grow a hideous albeit friendly abomination from the character’s own flesh! Dangerous, forbidden knowledge! A Diamond (from ancient Summeria of course) whose value may be increased via human sacrifice! Good stuff on the whole, but much of it is suitable for a long term campaign, not the immediate adventure. A critical point of what makes these treasures good is that many of them generate gameplay or influence decision making, as oppose to simply giving a mechanical benefit.
There is one item that is so absurd as to require a paragraph in and of itself:
A sort of chariot of Helios (The Chariot of Unreality!). It is useless during the actual adventure but it may be used to travel vast distances at great risk to the driver. If the driver elects to travel for over 5 rounds there is a chance his character will be desintegrated. Raggi then recommends the GM takes your character sheets, put them in envelopes with adresses on them and leave them in a public space. If they get returned, for which the GM is to offer the price of one McDonalds meal the character may return with additional experience points. As I have stated before, a Raggi adventure is seldom dull. I envy this child-like vision of reality and hope it will never be extinguished by the harsh deluge of everyday life.
To summarize, God that Crawls is really two things. A historical weird horror adventure using a classic trope (heroes are trapped and must escape as a monster chases them), and a vault full of interesting shit (some of it unlikely to see use by the PCs in all honesty) to kickstart all sorts of events later down the road. A good way to kickstart an Loftp campaign really. Even if the adventure has run its course and the players escape with little in the way of the forbidden arcana locked within the deep vaults, I can see no reason why many of the items described within cannot be littered throughout the campaign world.
Pros: Good execution of a time-honoured horror trope. Nice unique treasures. Map is properly maze-like. Good atmosphere. Good hooks for subsequent adventures.
Cons: Many of the treasures will see no use during the adventure. Map takes time to wrap your head around. Wasteful description of the introduction and lengthy description of an artifact (The Book) eat up pages like there is no tomorrow, making the adventure considerably shorter then it appears to be. Extensive Bookkeeping mandated. Should be attempted by GM’s with a firm grasp of the concepts of pacing and horror adventure in general only.
Final Verdict: The first decent neuRaggi adventure, despite some odd design choices, is likely to provide a fun, diverting, tense and relatively unique experience. Raggi’s anarchistic flair for the dramatic nonwithstanding, a valiant effort. The Raggs is baggs. 6.5 out of 10.