World of the Lost (2016)
Rafael Chandler (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)
Level 1 – 4
The last review before I commence another megareview. Had to finish with an Lotfp entry by none other then Rafael Chandler, veteran weird horror tabletop designer, novelist, video game story writer and newly converted Lotfp heavyweight. World of the Lost is a 180-page behemoth of a sandbox, taking place on a forgotten plateau somewhere in Nigeria and evoking images of everything from the writings of Abraham Meritt and Edgar Rice Burroughs to Silver Age X-men issues. Evil necromancers, dinosaurs, alien technology, robots, mutant dinosaurs, pteramen, gigantic ambulatory carnivorous plants and cavemen. Sign me the fuck up coach.
World of the Lost is pretty impressive and cool but suffers from a few annoying design-eccentricities that will be outlined in excruciating detail as we move along. It is nominally for character levels 1-4 and it has enough content and seeds to last one an entire campaign if need be (I am guessing around 10-20 sessions easily, with 200 hexes). I will give the game credit for starting out with several pages of quick reference information, for new equipment, enemies, movement rates within the jungle, important locations, random weather tables, faction locations and so on and so forth. Finally a little fucking consideration.
A Word of Warning. World of the Lost is dense. There are a lot of locations within the plateau that are connected to its origins and it is important to study all of them so you have some idea what the fuck is going on. There are also way too many fucking random tables in this thing. You cannot pick it up and play it, it requires diligent prepping, possibly even from session to session. That also means the review will be long, thus coffee-breaks, read in segments etc. etc.
Part I: The City of Khrimia
Entry onto the Plateau is only possible in one way, the Plateau is surrounded by an impenetrable force-field (that mostly serves to keep a lot of the horrid beasties IN). The only means of egress is via a giant hole that the people of Khrimia, which perches at the entrance of the Plateau, dump their yearly tribute of silver into, as they have been doing since time immemorial. The first stop is likely to be Khrimia then, and the Pcs are predicted to want to get their grubby hands on what must surely be a staggering amount of silver by now.
Khrimia itself is interesting. A gigantic planned african metropolis (think about a million inhabitants), surrounded by vast earthworks (second only to the Great-wall of China), grown powerful on trade and religious authority and visited by adventurers all over the world. It is highly advanced in astronomy, mathematics (picked up from the arabs) and banking. For some obscure reason the GM is encouraged to place certain districts in random locations but since Khrimia is essentially a square composed of 9 of these districts this randomness is essentially meaningless.
No foreign city would be complete without a series of obscure laws, transgression of which is treated as a matter of the most serious import. Fortunately the game provides randomly generated quests as a means of appeasing the disgruntled locals in the inevitable event that the PCs break them.
Each district is briefly covered and provided with a random list of buildings. A general overview probably would have sufficed, but at least you know what type of locations each district is likely to have. A random table is added to add some variation should the PCs visit, say, the third armory that session, but the table is kind of tame and serves mostly as window dressing (crime scene, building holds an unusual animal, crowd is gathered to witness miracle of some kind, royal guards are blocking the entrance big fucking meh).
The population is divided into several factions, a religious-faction, a warrior-faction, a merchant/artisan-caste and of course, the royal faction, each with their own animal symbol. A nice touch is the city’s ruthless all-female royal guard, the Mino, a unit of such disciplined tenacity and utter ferociousness (train by fighting prisoners to the death, front teeth removed so they can administer antidotes against paralyzing venom) I would be suspecting the sandbox of nonsensical progressive pandering had it not been for one crucial detail: they are based on actual all female african elite troops.
To further woe me World of the Lost adds a second pseudo-mystical elite unit to the arsenal of Khrimia: The Strangled are the elite soldiers tasked with bringing the silver tribute to the plateau. Upon initiation each is strangled by the king and then resuscitated and making eye contact with them is a crime.
Despite all the random bullshit Khrimia is pretty well fleshed out. It gets an expanded equipment section that includes everything from food prices (to give it that exotic feel) to a new unit of currency (the Cowry, a type of seashell, something that sounds insane if it was not also real). We also see the introduction of a new Carousing rule, which involves gambling away 10-60% of your wealth (minimum of 50 sp) in exchange for essentially an instant quest hook. Most of these are pretty great. You always wake up drunk and in medias res. A map to a diamond mine has been tattooed on your arm. You wake up and have 20 minutes to prepare for a meeting with the king; a breech of etiquette means imprisonment, success means huge reward. You wake up with strange orb with mystical powers in your pocket and owing 10.000 silver to some powerful people. Fucking. Nice.
Each of these hooks needs to be fleshed out by the GM but as hooks or seeds for adventure they are fine indeed. Good stuff. The addition of a list of African weaponry with actual fucking statts is welcome and damn near professional (shut up and gimme my Assegai) and it even includes new armor, granting it a never before seen level of due diligence for an Lotfp product (seriously though, well done).
Religion in Khrimia is again, lovably pluralistic. Two major regions maintain a rickety stranglehold on the population, the shamanistic Edo faith and the more traditionally polytheistic Igbo faith. Both are covered sparsely, but sufficiently for the GM to fill in any details. In a very interesting twist, it is possible to pray at a variety of old shrines or perform missions for the religious factions with access to a randomly generated 1st level clerical spell as a reward for your cleric. The clerical spell generation table is pretty expansive but the random side effect when you cast these spells is what sells it. Every animal within a 1 mile radius goes berserk, time gets altered, everybody gets false memory, casters worst memory takes physical form and stalks him for 24 hours etc. etc. Ultimately more blessing then curse, but hey, extra cleric spells. Points for the manifestations: …While Ghostly crocodiles devour the sun, black lightning snakes from earth to sky, a river of blood snakes across the heavens etc.
More things that make Khrimia interesting. Randomly generated weird buildings left by ancient sorcerers (The Sodality of Conjurers, now fucked off). The format is kind of shitty. Random structure (an obelisk say) with a random unusual thing (contained within sphere made of water), with a random guardian (aggressive monkeys wearing tiny suits of chainmail) and a random reward (Bonus of +10 to your next saving throw). While the guardians and effects are not statted out, to Chandler’s credit, both the treasure and the guardians are fairly original. No classics like the golem or the animated statue here, instead you shall get invisible men wearing visible masks and daggers or sentient traps that hunt you (not specified sadly). The treasure is also kind of fresh, including things like a sword that increases in damage dice with each hit but vanishes at d20 and a gateway to Narcosa (speaking of Weird, that one is SO going on the list).
Err…what else. The city alone could be a sourcebook. The rumor table is very good, serving either as set-up, plot-hooks or a background. The rumors are never explicitly false, always GM’s discretion, a term we shall come to curse before this review is over. Some of these things would stir things the fuck up if proven true, like this one: The king is not potent; all of the children that his wives and concubines bore him are from other men.
The King’s district-sized palace itself is presented as a procedurally generated structure for no sane reason that I can envision. The fetishization of random tables reaches Trascendental proportions. Each randomly connected, randomly generated room contains random NPCs with random motivations. My only question is WHY THE FUCK IS A BUILDING THAT ONE DOES NOT EXPECT TO BE USED FOR DUNGEON CRAWLS GENERATED LIKE A DUNGEON CRAWL? WOOOOH IT IS DIFFERENT FOR EVERY RUN. No. Fucking no. In situations like this it is infinitely better to just write ONE good version then to cobble together some rooms haphazardly using single world descriptions. Armory containing a plaque and a dais and a Neutral Bureaucrat IS FUCKING WORTHLESS. It inspires nothing. Fortunately Chandler gives us some entries to get us started.
ALL THESE FUCKING RANDOM TABLES ARE DRIVING ME NUTS. RANDOM REASON YOU MET THE RANDOMLY GENERATED NPC WITH THE RANDOM MOTIVATION AND THE RANDOM DARK SECRET. Prince is a Cynical Dutch Blacksmith who wishes to Abolish the monarchy but he secretly committed horrible murder! In true crapsack world fashion, everyone but the wealthy elite has a dark secret. To Chandler’s credit, there are so many of these fucking tables for commoners, soldiers and artistocrats that you can probably generate yourself quite a bunch of city inhabitants and I suppose it is in the spirit of the Sandbox. He also shows you that you need to use your fucking creativity in combining the stuff together. Anyway, several bazillion random tables later, we get to a random quest generator (Of course we do). These may be performed for powerful nobles or to avoid punishment after having broken the divine and sacred LAW.
The quests are about as simple as you can get, real basic bitch stuff, but still very useful if your adventurers are in a pinch and you have nothing to go on and you need something quickly. You even get random locations so you won’t have to do much. There are of course, separate randomly generated quests for temples and the aristocracy, a distinction I at least appreciate.
Overall, why the reliance on fucking random tables quickly becomes maddening, Khrimia is an interesting, anachronistic city. A bizarre cosmopolitan anachronism in deepest darkest Africa. All the tools are provided for the PCs to go here and adventure for a long time, and it is but the gateway to the true adventure that lies beyond. Also good job on the equipment, carousing, numerous plot hooks and quests and shit to discover, and so on. This is not the perfect sandbox city (a distinction reserved for greater, older works I’m sure), but it certainly contains many if not all of the elements a good Sandbox city SHOULD have.
Next up, the actual sandbox part of the motherfucking sandbox.