No Salvation for Witches (2014)
Raphael Chandler (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)
Level 1 – 4
Proper Horror is hard to do in elfgames. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve genuinely managed to get under the player’s skin. Horror is a delicate thing and requires finesse, a combination of foreshadowing, relentless pacing, vivid description and tension. Genuine horror is hard to do, especially in a fantasy game.
No Salvation for Witches by Raphael Chandler is a damn fine attempt at an event based horror adventure with a historical basis. With this adventure Chandler easily supplants Raggi as the best horror adventure guy for Lamentations of the Flame Princess, in terms of disturbing imagery, fucked up characters and a general feeling of wrongness. NSFW (yeah I see what you did there), for all its glibdark slasher movie aspirations, is filled with genuinely fucked up stuff.
It is the 1620s, England. The Price Revolution is in full swing, and the influx of silver from the New World has crashed the economy, causing widespread famine and poverty. There is hope! A witch by the name of Orelia Woolcott and her coterie of Tuff Gurls plan to rid the world of the evils of the Patriarchy by enacting an occult ritual in Caversdale Priory. The ritual will be completed in 24 hours. Enter the PCs.
The set-up is similar to Better then Any Man albeit it more focused and less apocalyptic. The PCs arrive in a location (by passing through the one-way spherical area around the ritual) and are stuck there until the ritual is completed (which is bad news bears for the PCs and the rest of the human race) or they disrupt the ritual somehow. And it involves yet another cabal of deranged pagan gender-commies trying to fix the evils of the world by a 20 hour dance ritual that calls upon the powers of an ultra-tellurian entity they think is the Greek Muse Terpsichore. Great premise!
One of the strong points in this module is the NPCs. I get the idea Chandler wrote the characters first and stats were given later. Woolcott works not as a cackling monster but as that most dangerous of people, the Idealist, willing to commit any atrocity because she believes it will create a better world. Her inner circle, the Synod, comes across less like a 90s era super babes team but a hard-bitten group of fanatics, complete with the odd scar, missing eye or group of teeth. Other NPCs like the fanatical rabble rouser Kyrkwode, the Inverted Jackyl/Hyde-serial killer Jocelyn and her oblivious (and pathetic) lover Bartleigh, the murderous Sir Hadrian Latimer, the cursed bishop Richard Grey and his grotesque harem and the siamese husband/wife pair of Gwendolyn and Charles never cease to suprise and tintillate.
That being said, the first part of the adventure is fairly simple, since it takes place in a circular area within the sphere. In the center of the area is yet another sphere, and trying to pass it will inflict damage on the PCs (and a far more gruesome consequence if the PCs persist). The decidedly video-gamey solution that contrasts with the over-the-top body-horror of the entire piece is that you must locate up to 3 magical orbs and use them to dissipate the inner sphere around the priory. If you have less then 2 there is a chance the interplay of magical forces will disenchant some of your items and 3 will offer a temporary boost, but since this is an Lotfp game most characters are likely to be without magic items in the first place.
The second segment involves the priory itself, and is essentially a fairly simple location with a lot NPCs with agenda’s. What sets this adventure apart from many others is that once you enter the priory the sphere is dissipated which means that any roaming NPCs and monsters will make their way to the priory aswell, creating even more havoc. What is interesting that none of these NPCs will necessarily attack on sight, though there certainly a potential for hideous violence present in each one. In short, there does appear to be some sort of opportunity for faction play and the climactic final showdown has plenty of room for GM intervention to create a merry chaos of murder, terror and death.
What adventure would be complete without treasure? The priory, easily flammable because of the thaumaturgical alchemy that has changed its structure, holds a secret treasure. Interacting with NPCs enables you to find out where it is located! The treasure itself is a collection of medieval pornography, jewelry and a golden dildo held by the horrifically mutilated bishop Richard’s concubines. There is some interesting magical stuff too. A wand that calcifies an opponent’s kidneys or lungs, an ornate egyptian crown that randomly provides one great boon and one terrible bane (i.e your skin grows red over a period of 1 month after which the ground opens and the hosts of Mictlan welcome their new plaything terrible bane), a magical ring that allows you use suggestion on 0th level characters by touch etc).
NSFW makes a big thing about one item, the Tract of Teratology, which may be placed anywhere by the GM. It is essentially a one-use random demon summoning generator as previously witnessed in such works as Dark Albion and A Red and Pleasant Land. As far as complex magic items go, it’s pretty good. Each summoning ritual needs a specific sort of human sacrifice, has randomly generated components, body type, abilities, compulsions (these are very interesting and appropriately gruesome), penalties, a duration and an aftermath. To go over the entire 10+ page tract and its 10 ^ 19+ combinations would be excessive, instead I shall simply provide you with 3 possible combinations and leave you to figure out whether it’s your cup of tea. Names are made up by the GM. Particularly good writing can be found in the compulsions, lazy or standard fare in the special abilities. The compulsions make them interesting but their abilities make them bog-standard. I have abbreviated the ritual types for brevity’s sake.
Ritual Type: Cautious Slicing (1-2 hours), Components: Two scrupules of Ambergris and the Victims feet,
Rotting Corpse w. Rubbery strands of Tissue draped around middle. Smells of Vinegar. Neutral towards Caster.
HD: 3d8 AC 17 Attacks: 1 Dam: 1d3, MV 30′ Morale 11 Spec: Immunity to paralysis, +2 to all saving throws.
Compulsion: to solve the problems of ordinary people. Caster must perform this act and tell the creature of it afterwards. Penalties for failure are Amnesia and a new personality. Stays for 1d2 days. Creature liquefies into the ground afterwards.
Ritual type: Stabbing (near instantaneous), Components: Handful of Sand and Lock of the Victims hair.
Amalgam of human, Canine and Equine parts. Twin heads screaming obscenities at eachother. Smells of the Ocean. Helpful towards the caster.
HD 1d4 AC 18 #At 2 Dam 1d3 Mv 60′ Morale 9. Special: Cast random second level spell at will.
Compulsion: Force someone to listen to the monster’s tale of woe. The Caster must commit the act while the monster watches. Penalty Fatigue. Duration 1d2 days. Monster vanishes instantly afterward.
Ritual type: Boiled Alive (1 hour, noisy). Components: Three longspoons of white crystalline acid and the victims esoephagus
Lair upon layer of skin wrapped around a single bone. From its protrudes a thick, glinstening ovipositor. Smells of vinegar. Will attack caster on sight.
HD 1d8 AC 13 #At: 1 Dam: 1 Mv: 30′ Morale 9
Special: Random Second lvl spell at will and Random 8th level spell at will.
Compulsion; To force others to worship those who have lost children, and to treat
these people as gods. A new name (akin to orphan or widow) must be
invented for these persons. Caster must perform the act and describe it to the monster afterwards. Penalty: Every animal in the region becomes intelligent and becomes hostile to the caster. Duration 1 day. Entity liquefies and seeps into the ground.
It’s alright and its useful but the physical shape and the compulsion mechanic are what make it stand out, the rest is kind of basic.
Monsters in this adventure are a mixed bag. There is delightful bodyhorror with long, hideously illustrated monstrosities jumping out of little girls and animated skins dressed like monks but also strange video game goofiness with colored oozes with special abilities and absurdities like cats whose fleas paralyze you from the waist down after which they will attack and undead fish. There is not a single standard monster in this adventure, for which I salute Chandler if nothing else. The idea of the Primogenitor, this super-powerful cosmic entity that is simply TOO VAST to be able to focus its attention on Woolcott properly is very interesting, as are its almost impotent attempts to interfere in any fighting.
This adventure also seems to follow by now habitual format of Lotfp by introducing not 1 but fucking 3, potentially cataclysmic world-shattering events! If Woolcott completes the ritual there will be fucking hell to pay and the entire order of the world is overthrown. One of the oozes if meddled with will start draining heat from the surrounding area, which will eventually cover the world in ice if it is not stopped. The last two events are the most bizarre of all. Two holes in the wall provide a vista beyond time and space. One simply chronicles your millennia long sojourn and countless deaths on the dark sea, which ends on strange shores, where you may choose to alternatively stay or go. The other means you attract the attention of the embodiment of the collective guilt of a race of phosphorescent genocidal extradimensionals (you can delay its arrival by 1d100 years by stopping the ritual).
In the final analysis No Salvation For Witches is probably a pretty good candidate for Lotfp if taken as a whole. It is brimming with interesting design choices and flavorful description but everything is thrown together in a sort of thematic dissonance that prevents it from being taken all too seriously. Bizarre situational comedy and silliness is alternated with genuinely horrific imagery. The final showdown is not a clockwork mechanism running down but a rickety cargo truck filled with nitroglycerine. This adventure is loud, disruptive, atonal and it gives zero fucks. I respect that.
As a last remark, the adventure mentions that it is high prep but this is not entirely true. One needs to understand the three NPCs outside the Priory and keep track of their actions, as well as know the goals of some of the NPCs but for all that NSFW can probably be run after 2 readthroughs.
Pros; Unique if bizarre monster entries. Good event-based adventure. Decent treasure. When it deigns to hold itself to a theme it actually does so quite swimmingly. Opportunities for gruesome interactions galore. Unique and bizarre NPCs.
Cons: Light-hearted brutality might throw some people off. Messy. Strange video-game esque designs interspersed with horror elements make it all seem vaguely unreal. Teratology tract could be a bit better.
This one is tricky. It’s well designed from an adventure standpoint and some of the monster set pieces will shock and titillate but the biggest obstacle I can see is that I just don’t really know what to do with it. Entertainment veteran Chandler has talent and is brimming with ideas comes across as undisciplined. Run it for a bunch of mates (I recommend 2nd level characters unless you have 8 of them) and see them gasp, moan or cackle with glee. I’d give it about a 7 out of 10.
Incidentally, if you are looking for an adventure that is also brimming with ideas from someone who is also learning discipline why not check out The Red Prophet Rises from yours truly, and experience yourself some oldskool Sword & Sorcery as you fight blood-thirsty cultists, fanatical demagogues, ancient terrors buried beneath the rock and much much more!