[Review] The Seclusium of Orphone (Lotfp); A blunted tool of excessive verbosity but sparse utility

[Toolkit]
The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions (2013)
D. Vincent Baker (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)

“If you want these to have any magical qualities, create them yourself”
-Vincent Baker, The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions

It’s back to the trenches boys! After the soothing words of Lisa Smedman restored to us a measure of sanity and dignity it is back to that most quixotic of OSR publishers: Lamentations of the Flame Princess! And boy oh boy do we have a treat today!

Vincent Baker is a well known figure in the RPG scene and responsible for the creation of pretentious story games like Dogs in the Vineyard and Poison’d but also the ludicrously successful freeform postapocalyptic rpg Apocalypse World, of which the spin-off Dungeon World is about as close as the Indie Gaming camp has come to oldschool gaming (just a lot friendlier so your pink-haired, piercing-nosed gender-confused players don’t end up crying after they fuck up and die to goblins in the first dungeon). Anyway, for whatever nebulous reason, at around 2013, Baker teamed up with Raggi to make the Seclusium of Orphone, a heavily Jack Vance inspired toolkit meant to teach you how to make a wizard lair (ahem, Seclusium) using random fucking tables. Unfortunately for everyone who actually got it, it sucks.

This is a very frustrating product to review. It is not entirely without merit but whatever small hints of genuine inspiration we can find is buried under a torrential deluge of superfluous detail, excessive verbiage, pretentious terminology, flowery prose, redundant sentences and endless meaningless tables. The entire work feels lacklustre, a passionless paint-by-the-numbers chore tediously ground out to extract from the gullible multitudes some small measure of sheckles to finance another passion project. I never got the impression Baker got any use out of his own product and techniques nor that he has the qualifications to advise us on how to generate wizard lairs for oldschool DnD. As anything but a very diffuse, splayed out and sparse source for the generation of adventure ideas this book is ill-suited.

The premise of SoO is that wizards, after surpassing the 20th level, will construct their own unassailable retreat filled with magical shit where they may perform incomprehensible experiments, explore other planes (or sub-realms as SoA calls them) and do other Vance-type magical shit. As previously mentioned, the work draws massive inspiration from Vance’s the Dying Earth, and its concept of Plasmids is almost directly analogous to the Sandestins of Vance’s Rhialto the Marvelous.

The introduction is immediately infuriating because it does a terrible job of conveying just what the fuck is going on within an appreciable amount of time. Baker rambles on and on how Scholars identify Seven Distinct Phases of A Wizard’s Seclusium and we are concerned with the Fifth or ‘vulnerable’ phase and the precise attributes of a Seclusium in this phase are conveyed through a series of annoying bullet points that will be repeated approximately nine thousand times throughout the work. Anyway, the idea is that the Wizard in the Seclusium in question is either dead or indiposed and there is a gap in the defences of the Seclusium, leaving it ripe for pilfering.

There is a bizarre section on “Expectations” that sounds like it should be oldschool information because it goes on about how its not the GM’s job whether the players figure out the mystery behind a lot of the magical shit in a Seclusium and how even ‘setting the pace’ is not his job, which rings resoundingly false to anyone who has ever actually GMed. The whole section seems like it was written as a sort of primer on oldschool gaming by someone who has never actually done it.

“It’s also not your job to keep things from them. Answer all their questions about
what their characters see, hear, feel, whatever, and it’s cool to let them know up
front that you will. They should feel free to ask you about anything they think
their characters might be able to notice or realize. “What’s out of place here?”
“If I wanted to hide something here, what would be a good place?” “Where do
I think he might be vulnerable?” Sometimes you’ll have them make an ability
score check to figure it out, sometimes you’ll tell them that there’s no way for
them to know, but often you’ll just tell them and it’s always good for them to ask.”
– Vincent Baker, The Seclusium of Orphone and the Three Visions

Like what the fuck is actually being conveyed here and why? Why is this so relevant it is one of only 3 points that are crucial before even STARTING a Seclusium adventure?

So anyway. Besides not having a wizard, every Seclusium has some remaining servants, guests, some monsters, some magical treasures, lingering enchantments, gateways to other places, times or sub-realms, sorcerous objects and generally some sort of guardian monster. In theory these are good components, and if you tally all the content in Seclusium I think you should be able to cobble together a halfway decent adventure, but the problem is that the information is conveyed in the most inefficient, drawn out manner possible. The GIANT amount of white space on each page only serves to pad out to 160 pages a concept that could have easily been delivered in less then half that.

There are a few nuggets of good ideas here and there. Baker remarks that sometimes items can inadvertently funcition at traps, and mentions a set of golden earrings that allow their wearers to forego the need for sleep, whilst a single linked set conveys all the sleep deprivation accumulated by the bearers upon the person wearing it. Or he extends the concept of wizards to include such concepts as the Plasmic host body that the Necromancer Bostu fashioned in order to transcend his perceived weaknesses. There are some good nuggets of High Vancian Super-Sorcery here and there, but boy do you need to dig to find them.

On treasure placement we have the same problem of excessive flowery prose. Consider the following:

“Wizards’ seclusia are rich in magical items. This text contains quite a bit about creating
and placing more substantial magical items, but very little about more “standard”
magical items like potions, scrolls, and wands. I usually include a generous number of
these, as many as 2 or sometimes 3 per character, especially in the wizard’s libraries and
workspaces, but I never take any remote care that they’ll be useful to the adventurers.
I usually generate them randomly. They’re in the wizard’s collection because he found
them interesting, not for the sake of the people who would one day come to rob him.”
– Vincent Baker, The Seclusium of Orphone and the Three Visions

The total information content here is Magical treasure: 2-3 randomly generated items (potions/scrolls/wands) per character. So much extra space is taken up to convey the utterly trivial. Parsing through Seclusium is a chore for even the most ardent fan of rpgs and Dying Earth.

In bizarre counter-intuitive reverse order most appropriate for a profligate author of Storygames, since these are in many ways antithetical to Rpgs, Seclusium proceeds to give you 3 examples of Seclusia decreasing complexity FIRST, then moves on to give you the tables that were used to generate them. I call it bizarre because in virtually EVERY use of a toolkit I have ever seen, the mechanics are provided first and are subsequently illustrated by examples. Here, the examples are provided first, but these too exist in a sort of Schroëdinger’s Box of multiple configurations that the GM is supposed to select, in effect functioning as a subset of the overal random tables that are provided later in the book. Thus, even the examples cannot be used in play without excessive tinkering, having a map but lacking the structures that should be on it. The insistence on the GM doing so much of the legwork comes across as lazy and self-indulgent on the part of the author.

Also, fuck these tables. Tables are meant to generate ideas, not bog down the creative process with a deluge of meaningless detail. Like so.

Before she abandoned her seclusium, Orphone of the Three Visions appeared as (circle all that apply):
1. A woman.
2. Androgynous.

And:
1. Tall.
2. Stocky.
3. Curvaceous.
4. Lean.
5. Paunchy.

With:
1. Black skin.
2. Copper skin.
3. Creamy skin.
4. Olive skin.

There are PPAAAAGGGEEEEES of these sorts of useless tables that do NOTHING, to generate ideas. The author could have saved everyone immense time by simply describing Orphone in a terse sentence or two. The Seclusium Sections (meaning the physical layout of the places) are by far the worst, containing endless lists of trivial and mundane details that do not generate adventures AT ALL.

“Write up Aushe Loran as you would any NPC.”
– Vincent Baker, The Seclusium of Orphone and the Three Visions

For what it is worth, if you collapse the first Seclusium from its quantum-wave form state into a single definite dungeon, it describes the Seclusium of the wizard Orphone of the Three Visions, who sought entry into the erotic Sub-realm of Paume as a means of realizing her dream to create unflawed organic life. She succeeded, and now she lies suspended in a coma of orgiastic pleasure while her Seclusium lies untended. What I like is that the adventure leaves it up to the GM whether or not Orphone is pleased to be released from eternal, orgiastic ecstasy.

There are hints of inspiration here. There is a weird tree in Orphone’s garden that either wants to bring about death or end morality altogether by inserting its telepathic thoughts directly into anyone nearby. It is not immediately harmful but incredibly resilient and Orphone has tried unsuccesfully to destroy it many times. I like that, its a cool bit of fluff that reminds me of the Ctaeh (the best evil Tree ever made) from Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles.

Here is a list of good stuff I found: There are old places that still have some lingering power in them, strange ephemeral plasmic creatures that feed on memory and time, a stairway that brings into being the pc’s worst fears/transports them into a realm of illusion where their fears are real, a gateway that supresses the erotic impulse of all those passing through it still used by the lingering slaves, vat-grown abominations with glass/stone eyes in comely faces that seek to perpetuate murder, an UNSTATTED Bestial plasmid that can only be harmed by weapons made of horn, wood or bone and the Guardian creature Anguilla, which exists as an extraplanar node that generates tentacles into this plane to do its bidding.

The adventure is incredibly stingy on stats and will cheerfully ask that you generate the stats of the many NPCs yourself. In addition, many of the NPCs are simple servants that really could have been described in a few sentences, instead the fucking table format takes up PAGES AND PAGES of space and covers EACH motherfucking servant with the same identical horseshit. And why the fuck didn’t Baker give us a means of generating character stats AS WELL as these fucking non-motivations.

The second Seclusium is more sparsely detailed but nevertheless has some good ideas. Bostu the Necromancer was doing research into the contents of a human mind and sought to restore his childhood love Iola into a new body, but her long stay in some hellish afterlife has rendered her cruel and savage. Bostu’s habitual thefts of souls from some Hellenic afterlife, unbeknowst by its Gods, may have doomed everyone if they find out. Stripped of volition and imbued with docile spirits, his servants are little more then automatons. He has been murdered either by a guest seeking to keep this fact from her mistress or by a spirit of some ancient hero imbued in the body of a child. All of these are great things but instead of a coherent format the good stuff is splayed out like a carcass and you have to pick through the entrails to find them.

There is a third seclusium of Ibrakkire the Far Seeing but it is barely described and not really useful or memorable in any way. The remaining 60% is just endless tables to randomly generate your own Seclusium in the most pedantic, tedious and drawn-out fashion humanly imaginable. It just goes ON and ON. It’s hard to describe just why it sucks but so much is said yet so little truly EVOKES ideas.

Let me give you another example. This is from the Wizard table, Known facts about the wizard:

7. The wizard visited towns and marketplaces, and purchased
unusual items.
8. The wizard held the surrounding peoples in bondage, in thrall, or in terror.
9. The wizard was a great traveler, and could be seen coming and going.
10. The wizard possessed an enslaved monster, who would flawlessly obey his signals.
11. The wizard had kept his seclusium here for an improbable span, perhaps hundreds of years.

It is all too motherfucking generic to really leap out and do anything for you, rendering the whole effort very lacklustre and tepid. Fuck it, I can give you a far worse example, here are the magic item ability generation tables:

Magical powers:
1. Mimic the effect of a particular spell (an “object of power”).
2. Change the way a particular adventuring rule applies (a “magical tool”).
3. Change the way a particular encounter rule applies (a “magical weapon”).
4. Change the way you perform magic (a “magical adjunct”).
5. Change the way a particular human experience applies (a “magical toy”).
6. Serve as a portal for transport or communication (a “magical portal”).
7. Embody a particular detail of the wizard’s efforts or the magic rules (a “magical accessory”).
8. Give the item its own intention and impulse (an “animating genius”).
Or another of your own creation.
– Vincent Baker, The Seclusium of Orphone

What kind of meta-bullshit are we playing here? I’d be goddamned embarrassed if I were to publish anything like that. I mean each entry has a seperate sub-table but each sub-table is as fucking bland as the first one.

MAGICAL WEAPON
A “magical weapon” changes the way the encounter rules apply to you. Which rules?
1. Surprise.
2. Reactions.
3. Attack.
4. Move.
5. Parry.
6. Attacking from behind.
7. Cover.
8. Firing into melee.
9. Helpless opponents.
10. Morale.
11. Pursuit.
12. Unarmed combat.
Or another of your own selection.

What’s the change? Read the rules first, then choose:
1. It makes you impervious to those rules.
2. It gives you an advantage or bonus when applying those rules.
3. It gives you a penalty when applying those rules.
4. It transfers the effects of those rules from you to another.
5. It transfers the effects of those rules from others to you.
6. It triggers the rules when they wouldn’t normally apply.
7. It gives you an exception to those rules.
8. It gives you a choice to make about how those rules should apply.
Or another of your own creation
– Vincent Baker, The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions

That’s the whole problem with Seclusium. It feels like a scam. Something that emulates OSR design principles and sensibilities without having any real understanding thereof or capacity to carry it out. It is surface mimicry. Camouflage. Fake OSR if you will. To actually generate a wizard’s layer using the 80 pages of tables within the book would probably take you as much, if not MORE time then just coming up with an adventure to begin with. Baker should have done what Raggi originally suggested he would do, which is to write an adventure ah la Tower of the Stargazer, based on the stuff he outlines. Incidentally, does anyone remember The promised Rob Conley Sandbox and was it ever actually delivered?
“PENS, STABLES, CELLS, OR CAGES FOR THE WIZARD’S SUBJECTS
If you want these to have any magical qualities, create them yourself.
See Chapter 8, p.115.”
– Vincent Baker, The Seclusium of Orphone and the Three Visions

The book ends with some new perception rules that amount to a sort of ability check in order to get certain information. It is a bit more meta- then would be usual in an OSR game but I see no inherent problem with a rule that codifies how much information you can get about a person. I don’t know how they would actually work in play but I did like the Inner Vision rule for the Wizard, that allows you to sense, albeit vaguely, the presence of various magical plasms and how they relate or respond to disruption. The limited number of questions keeps the detail at a

I took pains to mention the good stuff in SoO-TTV because I don’t want to appear uncharitable but let me make it very clear that this is NOT A GOOD PRODUCT. It largely FAILS to accomplish what it sets out to do, no matter how noble. In fact I would argue that even IF it would accomplish what it set out to do it would STILL not be very useful. How many wizard lairs are you going to generate? The formulaic nature of the tables virtually ensures that many of the Seclusia are going to feel rather similar, their different magical shit nonwithstanding, and you can only throw the servants/grotesques/plasmic hive predators/strange music box that uses spells/final guardian monster at your PCs so many times before it all gets dreadfully formulaic.

Pros; Some good ideas here and there, especially if you like Vance.

Cons; Endless fucking random tables that fail to inspire or generate something creative. As a tool for making layers it is cubersome and useless. Flowery prose renders most of the work tedious and hard to assimilate. I’ll be damned if I am going to slog through 30 pages worth of trivial garbage to find a few good ideas here and there.

There is the odd hint of a good idea and I don’t even think Vincent Baker is necessarily talentless or a bad writer, I just think he is woefully unqualified to make anything like this and the concept was flawed to begin with. As it stands, I recommend you just plonk down some bucks for a copy of Tales of the Dying Earth instead of subjecting yourself to this terribly designed slog of a dungeon generator. I think everyone should follow the spirit of Baker’s teachings and just make a dungeon yourself. 2 out of 10.


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2 thoughts on “[Review] The Seclusium of Orphone (Lotfp); A blunted tool of excessive verbosity but sparse utility

  1. Conley didn’t end up doing the sandbox. To make things right, Raggi put out “England Upturn’d” by Barry Blatt, with a similar premise but very different execution.

    Like

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