There are 3 porters tied to slabs being bled to death. They were caught trying to sneak into the factory. 2d6 pygmies are having sex around them, covered in their blood
Blood in the Chocolate by Kiel Chenier is an adventure for low-level characters nominated for the coveted Ennie 2017 award (Edit: It actually won gold for best adventure). A close and personal friend recommended it to me and when I read the synopsis I was at least a little excited. “Boy!” I said to myself. “Nominated for an Ennie?!? It must be good! Any adventure set in my beautiful Netherlands would surely be worth my time. Finally the mighty Dutch Republic would receive the recognition it deserved!” Holding aloft my newly minted copy of Blood in the Chocolate, tears of happiness streaming down my face, I capered off to my hovel to begin the reviewing process. Tragedy ensued.
Being a cynic is not always the most conductive to long term happiness but you do get to be right a lot.
Blood in the Chocolate is an adventure centred around the burglary of a willy-wonka inspired chocolate factory. It is supposed to be shock-funny in the manner of The Doom-Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children, and it shares some of its design elements (i.e the main antagonists are great hordes of slow moving, weak opponents) but it ends up being boring, stupid, miserable and disgusting (not in a funny way sadly). This won an Ennie for best Adventure? Is Kiel a mind-controlling mutant super-villain by day and a shitty-rpg designer by night? All of this will be answered and more (but the answer is no, he is a shitty-rpg designer by day and by night).
The setting is the province of Friesland, 1617. A half-spanish half peruvian fat lesbian (no I am not making this up) named Lucia de Castillo is taking europe’s aristocracy by storm by suddenly introducing chocolate to the castles and manors and they fucking love it. No one knows the secret of her creation process. French competitors hire the crew to break into her factory and figure out the secret of her succes (spoiler: the secret is narrative affirmative action). Enter the poor, dumb shmucks that you roped into playing this adventure.
The adventure does an admittedly decent job of quickly spelling out the political situation in Friesland by giving you some quick facts, some of which are quasi-relevant to the adventure (i.e now your ridiculous premise is at least given some serious context)*.
It then gives us three pages of stupid backstory for a ridiculous premise that makes no sense but whatever, fuck it.
So a tribe of pre-Inca’s worshipped cocoa trees until 5 evil Mayan shamans came by for no reason (no really, the adventure doesn’t know either), tried to take on a tribe of 100 people and got killed. Their bodies seeped into the soil and apparently infected the cocoa tree, making it grow huge and the natives stunted, savage and pygmie-like or something. They had no contact with anyone nor did anything interesting until Lucia de Castillo appeared. The adventure talks on and on about Lucia de Castillo but TLDR Castillo is a half-peruvian/spanish lady with a lengthy origin no one cares about and after her husband dies she decides she don’t need no man and goes on expeditions and finds the Cocoa tree and the tribe of natives. Figuring out the sorcerous cocao stuff is addictive and delicious, she then proceeds to transport the entire tree+tribe to Friesland and start her business, thus this adventure.
Anyway, after the completion of this fucking novel of irrelevant tripe, let’s take a look at the adventure proper. So the players get hired by Lucia’s french business rivals to obtain various samples of candy from the factory, with different rewards for different samples (chocolate, mundane ingredients, the secret recipe etc.). There is even a reward for killing Lucia and taking over the entire factory and then pawning it off to the French, something which would work fine had it not been for the fact that it is ILLEGAL AND WOULD GET EVERYONE ARRESTED FOR MURDERING A WEALTHY BURGHER AND THEN ATTEMPTING TO PAWN OFF THE FACTORY WITHOUT ANY SORT OF OWNERSHIP DOCUMENTATION.
This adventure gets a lot of things wrong. First the map itself. Apparently Lucia not only learned the secret of delicious addictive chocolate but also figured out how to construct an industrial age steam-powered factory complete with a boiler room, automated presses, a wheel and so on and so forth. An entire page is devoted to explaining the 7 fucking steps of making cocoa pods into chocolate bars. You’d think a factory inspired by Willy Wonka would have all sorts of bizarre shit going on with industrial processes that don’t make any sense and make for fun encounters but for some reason the factory is depressingly mundane and grey. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the map does allow for nonlinear exploration (of a sort, you can actually climb its walls and immediately break into Lucia’s quarters if you are smart so props for that) so it isn’t terrible but the rooms are fucking dull. So many of them are just industrial machinery + Pygmies + maybe some heat do you like heat? No secret doors either. There is a room with a bunch of random candy vats ah la In Search of the Unknown but they are almost all negative like everything else in this shitshow of an adventure.
The argument that it is just meant to be a nonsensical funhouse dungeon is belied by the bullshit 3 pages of backstory, factory explanation and the boring factory interior. While it does indeed have an inner courtyard with a boiling hot chocolate river and another hothouse with the pygmie tribe, giant cocoa tree and huge mosquitoes worshipped as divine animals by said pygmies, these are little breaths of fresh air in a wasteland of dullness. Why go for the realistic approach?
This seems like an appropriate time to to mention the secrets of the fucking steam-powered factory could have easily got Lucia a nation state of her own by producing, oh I don’t know, muskets instead of fucking chocolate but that would make too much sense stop fucking thinking this is just fun! fun! fun!
The outside factory is done alright. Guards (2nd level guards? In lotfp? Harsh) in towers keep watch, there is a random dice roll to determine any activity at the docks, the adventure takes into account that players might pose as dockworkers to get close to the factory and notes any weaponry or armour makes the groundkeeper Karl suspicious (he has the keys). Talking to Karl nets you such gems as:
“She’s an incredible woman. Bit frightening, to be honest. I’ve never met a more driven person. She’s a tad eccentric though. Armed to the teeth, too. No one dares cross her. Don’t tell anyone I told you this, but I’ve heard rumour that she prefers the company of women. How un-Catholic of her, but it’s not my place to judge.”
Truly Kiel is a poet and a scholar. Anyway, the guards attempt to arrest trespassers if possible and can be bribed so all is not lost. If the players get captured Lucia uses them for experimentation or as sex slaves because this is a funny adventure and nothing is funnier then getting raped by a fat lesbian woman. In fact, the topic of fat women getting sexually assaulted is a returning feature. The Pygmy tribes have something called a Berry Orgy where they fuck/murder the hugely bloated (like the blue guy in Willy Wonka, a side-effect of some of the chocolate) females to appease their chocolatey god, and some other broad you find in the cellars is being treated (this temporarily abates the effects of swelling up) in some sort of industrial press. What a mess.
So Lucia is obsessed with Peter Paul Rubens paintings of herself and if the PCs are smart they find a bunch of his paintings in the entrance room and meeting room almost the second they break in and they are about 1000 sp a pop. Stealing any of them or fucking with any of the locked doors tends to trigger a gas trap, infecting your players with some sort of weird disease that transforms them in various, candy inspired ways. You can swell to enormous size (even if you somehow survive, your skin is now permanently blue, there you go fucktard!), turn into taffy, emit a scent that causes others to want to eat you, swell up into a sort of helium balloon (notice a disturbing trend towards making your players fat), get rocky candy skin, get addicted to chocolate to the point where you will keep eating it until you explode (take a drink) or explosively vomit corrosive chocolate. Just about everything in the factory is coated with berry poison.
Let’s talk enemies. The primary and most common antagonist is the humble pygmy, and the adventure is at least well designed in that it gives you a pygmy tracker so you can cross out how many have been killed. Pygmies are weak, slow and pretty dumb. On the minus side, they all have blowguns with save vs poison BERRY POISON/PARALYTIC POISON so fuck you if you didn’t spend your starting sp on a helmet/pikeman’s armour/tassets/buff coat combo. They are not immediately hostile and it is even possible to befriend some of them but fucking with the magic Cocoa tree will gain you their ire. They are led by, you guessed it, a giant fucking fat pygmy woman with spellcasting powers. The only other monster (besides Lucia) are the giant mosquitoes that fertilize the cocoa tree and reproduce by implanting their eggs into human hosts (and I guess an animated milk monster somewhere). The adventure mentions the larvae mind control the host but nothing is done with this and it is never brought up again.
What else? Uh fuck. The treasure is okay I guess. A nice mixture of precious lady apparel, paintings, sacks of sugar, some gemstones here and there. Nothing hidden anywhere and all easy to find but whatever, it’s not lazy.
Getting the secret recipe is fucking difficult because the chest is trapped with a vial of acid to destroy it if it is opened without Lucia’s personal key but at least some props should be given to Kiel for statting out the factory costs and its monthly upbringing in case you actually decide to keep it, however unfeasible this may seem. The Lotfp property management rules are actually used here, which is good because apparently someone must. The only magical item is an Inca amulet owned by Lucia herself which prevents poison and disease and retards aging by half which was given to her by her late husband, and removing it means she immediately gains 200 lbs. and begins aging to death rapidly. I guess you could theoretically shoot it off her since otherwise you are facing a 28 hp AC 16 evil capitalist (OF COURSE) fat lesbian-womyn-of-colour-that-don’t-need-no-man with two wheellocks and a rapier. And this:
“Lucia is susceptible to flattery and enjoys having her ego stroked.
She will be more inclined to listen to the player characters if they ingratiate themselves to her. Her tastes mean she is more likely to be seduced by another woman than by a man. She takes the lead in any relationship, so she might seduce a man if he is suitably
submissive and effeminate.”
That sounds like terrific fun for a very special definition of fun.
Blood in the Chocolate is the first Lotfp product that I found genuinely off-putting. You get the feeling Kiel Chener wrote the adventure with one hand if you get my drift. Instead of wonder and whimsey interspersed with wacky horror you get so many boring rooms, sexual deviancy and social justice garbage. Is this really the best you can do?
I’ll give you a last fuck you. At some point you find two kids in a cell. Starving, tortured, used for experimentation. They are infected and were given tincture. When you try to get them out, the disease manifests itself 1d4 rooms later. If you touch them you get automatically infected. Hahaha no one gets a prize!
There is a nice cartoon in the back by Jason Bradley Thomson who I believe did a bunch of walkthrough maps for both classic AD&D adventures and Crawling God. Overal the production value is decent, the cover is a pretty good indication of the general art quality and style.
Pros: Uh…I…Well…That is to say…Perhaps…The map is okay and the Pygmy/Disease tracker is useful. Could theoretically be played. Some decent work on the perimeter defences. Good production value.
Cons: Depressingly mundane execution of a silly premise. Padded with pages and pages of useless backstory. Off-putting and gross.
Final Verdict: http://gunshowcomic.com/471
3 out of 10.
Can someone who has actually played this or liked it explain the appeal? I am very biased but also curious.
EDIT/Postscriptum: Another example of Cheniers irritating and backwards design philosophy is the use of a piano-key lock. Lucia’s rooms is locked with a musical lock, and only a certain song will unlock it. That’s clever. The execution is not.
Anyone playing a willy wonka song gets a dose of poison. Okay, so how do you learn the song? Is it by means of a riddle? A series of subtle clues? NO BITCH. LUCIA AND A RANDOM PRISONER WHO OVERHEARD THE SONG FROM HER KNOW THE SONG. FUCK YOU.
*As an irrelevant side note, the primary listed language of Friesland is listed as Dutch, with English and German as secondary languages, which is almost certainly incorrect. The primary language of Friesland should be Frisian, with Dutch as a secondary and English/German as a tertiary language.