PrinceofNothingReviews: The Atheneum of Yearning (Lotfp 3PP); Had I the heavens embroidened cloths…

I am proud to present the second review request, a PWYW Lotfp 3rd party supplement. I give assurences to my other patron that the GREAT WORK is by no means neglected and continues on at a steady, if at times glacial, pace. The Atheneum of Yearning by Steven Oswald is a PWYW adventure for character levels 3-6. It is suprisingly good, but suffers from shoe-string budget production values and at times poor presentation, lacking the scribbly hen-scratchings of trendy artists to prop it up to the stratosphere of OSR underground greatness. Nevertheless, not a waste of time. This is the singular vision of one man, a man who could well have many tens of dollars waiting for him if he keeps up this level of quality.

On to the adventure proper. It is only 17 pages long, with a title page, 50-rooms
and a (much appreciated) cheat sheet to help run the thing. That also means its sparse and it doesn’t get bogged down. Instead ideas are presented, often in semi-coherent form, at breakneck pace.

The premise is muddled and poorly communicated but ultimately very simple. There is a Goonies-esque secret tunnel in someone’s basement. Nicolas Vashifstok, Dean of the Atherium and maybe Cult leader (his identity and role is poorly defined, a chronic problem that persists throughout the adventure) either found or founded a library filled with weird lore in a search for the Pure Land, a utopia free from suffering. His efforts to open a gateway have not gone well, fucking up space and time and trapping him in a sort of stasis. The authorities have dealt with the problem by constructing a magically warded shell around the library. Unfortunately, others yearning for utopia have also found the tunnel and are now occupying the library. Enter the PCs, who discover the tunnel somewhere. Thus adventure.

I was rolling my eyes and biting my lips like a jaded pornstarlet about to enter into the weakest of gangbangs when I saw the hand-scribbled (yet useful, credit where it is due) map of the library but something immediately stood out. There is a list of responses for the home owner. Breaking in often causes him to fortify the house. The home-owner demands a cut of anything the adventurers carry out of his tunnel. The neighbours respond so and so. Killing the owner will do this and that. These are intelligent and useful guidelines included only for adventuress that are meant to be played.

There is a list of random events that take place on the street that chance each week but they are so vague as to be left up entirely to the GM. ‘A cursed crew has seized the street.’ ‘ A teen uses legal and illegal means to fundraise the creation of a food stall. He has no clue how to run or protect it.’ ‘Charity groups have stopped because of violence. Locals organize their defense, conflicting with desperate criminals.’ Too vague to be useful, but it is something. The city wherein this bizarre magically warded library is located really needed to be defined. Given Lotfp’s alternate dark fantasy europe, Paris or Londen would have been a good bet, provided you can figure out a way to explain a way a vast, rune-covered library that somehow generates rumours (Solution: the library has been hidden from sight via powerful magicks).

We get a rumour table but it’s weak as shit. Only d6 rumours, and all of them true and vague. Some kind of wizard heresy going on…or something, it was a bunch of rebels, the army could not kill them and that’s why they locked em in etc. etc.
Needed specificity, a problem that does not persist throughout the rest of the adventure. A shame.

Everything after that starts to kind of rock, and rock pretty hard. First of all the map. Yes, it’s ugly but it is legible, and more importantly, it A) looks like an actual library, B) allows for nonlinear exploration, C) has three floors, with vast parts of the ceiling missing and flight being readily available to allow EVEN MORE NONLINEAR EXPLORATION.

What else rocks about the adventure? Faction play bitch. The library contains several factions:

The Lost Children -a band of adults playing at being children, and in the possesion of a steady supply of pixie dust enabling flight. Think peter pan mixed with lord of the flies and you get it (And yes I caught the pig-head on a stick reference buddy).

Billy – An old man who is an expert in stealth who cannot leave the library until he fulfills a prophecy and gets rid of an evil wizard queen. The Lost children torment him ceaselessly.

Scientists – A band of wizards/alchemists continuing Nicolai’s endaevours to open a gateway into the Pure Land. SPECIFICITY. WHERE DO THE SCIENTISTS COME FROM. ARE THEY THE ILLUMINATI? FREEMASONS? DISCIPLES OF NOSTRADAMUS. GIVE US SOMETHING.

Mystics – A bunch of drug-using weirdo’s astrally projecting themselves into all manner of fantastical bodies of light.

Queen Alenia – An evil sorceress/queen that killed her world in her thirst for power and is now in the library, looking for a way to ressurect her dead sister. She drains the life from her enemies and is given Deus Ex Machina immunity until Billy obtains a certain artifact and kills her. Not your friend.

What rocks is that each of these factions has clear goals, meaning the PCs can find some sort of commonality and ways of interacting with them. Excellent design actually.

Second really interesting point. The random encounter tables are progressive, meaning that on a maximum result the dice-type increases (i.e 4 on a d4 means the type changes to d6). They are meant to simulate the gradual disruption of causality, starting with fairly normal encounters (factions members), and gradually degenerating into violent earthquakes, temporal duplicates of the PCs, extraplanar memory merchants, time travellers, rips in the space-time continuum and so on. Again, some point-deduction for brevity to the point of being unclear, like so:

13. Static Tears in Space: Large tears of static appear on surfaces. Disintegrate anything entering them. Save vs spell or lose cognition when looking at them. Something from the tears communicates its wish to help viewers forget the pain of thought.

Leaving room for some GM interpretation is one thing but what the fuck does this mean? Nevertheless, laser-gun wielding man unstuck in time. Pretty good encounter. In fact all of the monsters rock. Ghost professors, Animated statue of the Library’s founder, an ooze that can take over people’s limbs, the Library guardian (tentacles oozing through cracks, lovecraftian disk-horror), a bird-headed demon who will fulfill a bargain to the letter if released (classic). The really tough monsters can generally be circumnavigated or avoided, and the horrific guardian is very powerful but can only enter the library at certain points. To keep players on their toes, traps and other hazards have been liberally dispersed throughout the library as an extra fuck you, but they never feel unfair or arbitrarily deadly (with one finger-removing arcane bastard of a trap being the exeption).

The interconnectedness is neat too, good use of keys and thank Garl Glittergold for the cheat sheet so you can figure it all out. What else? The treasure! A shitload of interesting books (The Rubiayat gives anyone a +5% xp bonus when carousing), another book that reveals unknown facts about the campaign, and in general a bunch of weird, flavourful works. Rare tea from a mystic fantasy world. A bronze executioners axe from the time of the Akemenid dynasty (some objects worth more to different buyers). A casket of ressurection (but only at great cost!). One bullshit point is the spells in this game, which are only given names so the GM has to do the heavy-lifting. Gay. Everything else is kind of neat.

There is a recurring theme of lost innocence and child-like wonder to this bizarre, cursed library. A cabinet that reveals a place of perfect wonder if you enter it and close the door (save or you don’t want to leave), a garden where you encounter your mother (no really, it is really well done and well described), a talking diary and whatnot.

If I had to use word to describe this adventure it is interconnectedness. Everything has a relation to everything else. Different component parts can interact with eachother, allowing for multitude of possibilities. It is all very neat, with one possible exception. The adventure does not give any hints or suggestions for resolving the scenario. It is possible to free Nicholas and even to save him, but no reward is suggested nor follow up given. A shame. Massive props for the appendix that contains a Lotfp currency to OSR currency converted btw.

Okay. The nitty gritty. The Atheneum of Yearning is rough and unpolished but underneath is a gem. Give it an editor, an art budget and some extra pages so the author can clarify some of the effects and what you have right here is a neat, weird, wholly Lotfp-esque adventure into a weird fucking peter-pan library of make-believe and horror. Give everything some specificity, work on the trappings of the setting, expand some of the descriptions to remove some of the ambiguity and it can easily stand with other works published thus far. As it is, it rocks but it needs work. It is, however, PWYW, so everyone can always check it out and decide what it is worth. The vibe reminds me somewhat of Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess, but content-wise the Atheneum is superior. The essentials are there. I could actually see myself running this. Well done. 7 out of 10. Check it out for yourself.

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11 thoughts on “PrinceofNothingReviews: The Atheneum of Yearning (Lotfp 3PP); Had I the heavens embroidened cloths…

  1. Thanks for the review man. I figured fuck it, why not send my adventure off to the blogs I read? i think you’re right on the specificity. I tried a bit too hard to “keep it terse” and was fighting word count a bit too hard probably. As far as the rumors, I honestly couldn’t really think up any good ideas for that part. I probably could have mostly cut that and expanded the street encounters since that’s what my players were interested in during play. Glad you liked it overall though. As far as art, I guess I’ll have to learn to draw. I’m too cheap to buy art and I refuse the indignity of loading a module with Gustave Dore and clipart.

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  2. If one must err, better on the side of brevity than waffle. Most adventures have too many fuggin’ words in ’em.

    The rumour table seems more like a list of hook suggestions to me. “One of these will motivate your group, pick it.”

    Exploding encounter tables are a thing I had not thought of, congratulations on that front.

    Also: I think you picked a dud example there, O Prince. Perhaps it’s exposure to The Book Of The War or something but the quoted ‘static tears’ encounter/event makes perfect sense to me.

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    1. It’s not a disaster, I’ll grant you, I would have liked a note to clarify whether the lost cognition is temporary or permanent condition. The rumor table/street happening stuff is weaksauce.

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      1. That’s fair, heaven knows I’m about to grill Barony of the Damned for the same sort of nonsense. Yes, I can decide if something is temporary or permanent, but what about the poor creatively-dead zero-initiative shmucks for whom modules are the target audience (chortle, snortjoy, swig Bushmills, fondle imaginary buttocks etcetera)? Some people need to be told things and some people don’t have the confidence to gauge which would be more appropriate in the moment and even I, dear Prince, sometimes wonder if I’m making the right call by ending an effect when I do. So you’re all right.

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      2. [reeeeeeeeee]

        It’s like I could easily make an arbitration that would work just fine but I JUST…HAVE…TO…DO…IT…AS…INTENDED.

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  3. SPECIFICITY. WHERE DO THE SCIENTISTS COME FROM. ARE THEY THE ILLUMINATI? FREEMASONS? DISCIPLES OF NOSTRADAMUS. GIVE US SOMETHING.

    I’d play them as Brandoch Durr Hurr and his fellow grad students at Southern Hibernia Institute of Technology.

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    1. A decent premise, hampered only by the fact the Irish have neither colleges (and thus, blessedly, no leftists) nor, indeed, education of any sort nor technology of any kind besides the technology of distillry and brewery, about on par with 17th century Germany. Kent has informed me many times.

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  4. Queen Alenia – An evil sorceress/queen that killed her world in her thirst for power and is now in the library, looking for a way to resurrect her dead sister.

    Sounds a lot like Jadis, later the White Witch, from C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Magician’s Nephew’. Lewis is twee and preachy, but he did have some powerful imagery, and his description of the doomed world Charn is some of his best writing.

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    1. You fucking nailed it. One of the problems one has growing up in Swamp-Germania is that a lot of children’s classics that would be so well known as to form part of the collective unconscious in Muhrica are unknown or at the very least unfamiliar here. I have familiarity with Peter Pan because of the goddawful disney and cartoon series but a lot of the classics like Lewis Caroll, Wizard of Oz and Lewis’s Narnia are all but completely unknown here.

      Peter Pan and Lord of the Flies are also clear source of inspiration for this adventure btw.

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  5. When I read through this adventure the premise immediately made me think of the line from this video about being a forgotten chosen one

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