Thulian Echoes (2014)
Zzarchov Kowolski (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)
Level 2 – 5
We are back with yet another Installment of the modules from the twisted mind of Zacharrov Kowolski, that strange Canadian pervert that sets all our hearts ablaze. Thulian Echoes is an honest to god adventure module verging somewhere between meta-narrative brilliance and the nonsensical. I shall attempt to explain.
The central conceit of Thulian Echoes is great: The party somehow gets their hands on a diary belonging to a previous group of adventurers from around 100 AD. The diary is not read aloud but the players actually take the parts of the adventurers (A Roman, A Rabbi and A Gladiator walk into a dungeon etc. etc.) exploring the dungeon.
Now here is the second good design choice: The dungeon is actually really unfair. I mean bordering on Tomb of Horrors level unfair. Unannounced death traps, tough monster encounters that are hard to foresee or misleading, deadly poison gas that you only notice when you have already been exposed to it, and of course, the Mad Wizard Xenophon, builder of a wizardly lair on a barren island off the coast of Iceland! It is quintessentially Lotfp in that it is packed with treasure but people pushing their luck will get their shit wrecked. But the twist is…this time you get a do-over with your own heroes more then a millennia later!
Ah, but here is where it gets complex and interesting my lovelies. Because your actions in the past (in the diary), influence the state of the map in the future. Did you eat apples on the island and did your party leave at least one male and one female dog on the island? BAM THE ISLAND NOW IS FORESTED AND HAS A FERAL DOG POPULATION BITCH. Did your party leave the gateway into the tunnels of the Hollow World open? TOUGH SHIT NOW YOU MAY FACE WANDERING SUB-MEN AND PREHISTORIC SALAMANDERS. Not everything is negative of course. The players can definitely make progress by removing or identifying some of the threats with the (almost certainly doomed) past-pcs, though the game allows for their escape.
In a rather interesting twist, players can and actually SHOULD abuse this time-travel mechanic by having their past proxies stow away items for the current PCs to find. It is really cleverly handled and there is nary a railroad to be found. I should point out how fucking weird some of the results are: There is a series of events (though unlikely) that allows you fucking around with a certain Vrill (magic earth jelly) powered-machine in the heart of the complex. It results in a fatally irradiated copy of the PC (or a certain Viking NPC) appearing inside the device every 37 minutes and living for +/- 24 hours before expiring. This process can continue on in the present day. Are there no creatures inside the complex? Then you are going to have a bad time.
Surely y’all are thinking BUT PRINCE, WE ALREADY KNOW WHAT IS THERE HOW IS THAT AVANT-GARDE? Kowolski pre-empts by giving you the finallest of final OSR solution. A RANDOM TABLE BITCH! In the meantime the island can get colonized by either Irish monks or Vikings (with different results), raided by another adventuring party, and the weirdest and most bizarre result of all: Turn out to be an elaborate hoax by a hideous murder cult intent on luring fools to their shit island where they can kill them.
Also there is a tunnel to the hollow earth. Did I mention this? Because there is one. It takes many days to reach the hollow earth and the journey is generated using random tables but fuck me you can go there. You probably will not have sufficient food to press on, and everything sucks down there. Kowolski takes a page from Lovecraft and arguably Merrit by including among the encounters not only prehistoric salamanders but also the hideous Sub-men, technologically advanced sociopathic humans with advanced vrill technologies, as well as a few Degenerated Elder Things if you MUST keep pressing. The Hollow Earth itself is, sadly, not covered in this ultra-dense 33 page fantasy-fest.
So at this point one may ask why this adventure has not been given a 10 out of 10. It’s clever, and the possibilities with the time-travel gig are well-explored, very well in fact. And no railroading bullshit. Some of the adventure feels a little pointless. Xenophon himself has obtained a sort of immortality but could not transfer his volition and drive. Thus he is content to merely exist in his bizarre space-warp lair, unless someone were to stumble upon him, in which case he resorts to murderous violence. Since he has no drive, he won’t re-memorize spells, but even a retainer-heavy party is going to fucking die against a 16th level wizard. While it is theoretically feasible party A or B either takes him down or makes off with some of the (admittedly very interesting) treasure and librams in his space mansion with no walls, my guess is a lot of the sugar-dirt is going to remain there.
In addition, it is entirely possible for the players to permanently deprive themselves of the Library of Xenophon through actions that they have almost no way of foreseeing will end up like that. Kind of shit, not that the adventure will not be entertaining though.
What else? The treasure? Yeah it’s good. Rock books, manuals on golem construction, strange vrill-infused weaponry it’s all neat. Good monsters too. Animating statues (classic). Shadow Satyrs. Lovecraft shit. The adventure even has a nice historical fantasy vibe to it with its references to ancient Rome.
I honestly find it hard to judge this thing. My brain. It is melting. It cannot handle this amount of power. Fucking check it out. It’s Tomb of Horrors marrying the best-est time-travelling adventure I have seen so far and giving a massive deepthroat to some of the pulp stuff that inspired DnD as Gary Would have Wanted. It is not even so long the time-travel mechanic gets inconsequential or boring. My only complaint is that some results make other results impossible so the players won’t ever see all the cool shit that could happen. It has fucking replay value of sorts.
Pros: Great concept. Awesome Pulp shit. Brings the Pulps back to DnD. Replayability up the wazoo.
Cons: Some bullshit traps that would make Tomb of Horrors swoon with envy
Alright Disregard everything I suck cocks. Kowolski did a damn fine job on this one. Classic premise, neat-twist allowing for whole new modes of gameplay, genuinely a new idea, atmospheric detail etc etc. The open-endedness makes one cry that much of the module will not be used in a single playthrough. Even the deadliness becomes somewhat forgivable since you have warning in the form of lab monkey PCs. 8.5 out of 10. Amen.