[Review] The Ruinous Palace of the Metegorgos (Lotfp 3pp); The mirthless laughter of the damned

[Adventure]
The Ruinous Palace of the Metegorgos (2017)
Evey Lockhart (In Search of Games)
Levels 1 – 3

One thing I noticed about retroclones is that for all the pretensions of freshness and originality and new life brought to an old hobby, the plethora of retroclones has actually caused the libraries of these mostly setting-neutral retroclones to differentiate organically, based on what creators are drawn to them. DCC is mostly oldschool S&S, Castles & Crusades is greyhawk ripoffs with almost no 3rd party content (probably because of the affiliation with Gary Gygax), OSRIC is AD&D 1e Greyhawk ripoffs, Labyrinth Lord is so prevalent as to be undefinable and Lamentations of the Flame Princess is the go too place for gross, weird, off-putting or bizarro adventures.

This can be a good thing (see the review section for examples) but in writing far too often a lack of talent, discipline and creativity is covered up with shock-value, non-sequitor and other such tossfiddle and sadly the OSR is no exception.  Case in point, Ruined Palace of the Metegorgos is a 21-page adventure based on the legend of the medusa just with more dick-jokes and sadness. There are some nice encounters and snatches of good writing IN it but the whole ends up being a simplistic, tonally dissonant mess that fails to live up to the epic myth that inspired it. How one can make an adventure with both a Dragon and a Medusa shitty is anyone’s guess.

The presentation of the piece is artistic which means it is a confusing mess of different layouts, incoherent authorial writing that attempts poetry when it should be technical, or is wry and sarcastic to showcase the Ironic Detachment (TM) that I have come to expect from modernist authors who are afraid their work is to be taken at face-value. The colour-palette of Pink, Black and White is garish in the manner of 40 year old prostitute. If the adventure is meant to inspire solely disgust, it succeeds, but without the grace or the accompanying tension that was present in Sleeping Place of the Feathered Swine.

The confusing premise is that the gods cursed the noble-woman Metegorgos for daring to voice that she should have been born a goddess. Somehow she gave her husband (who is not elaborated upon) 100 children, but it is unclear whether this was before or after the gods cursed her (or even if they did so at all). The point is, somehow she is immortal and has been giving birth to everything from Pottery to a goddamn Dragon (!) and she is also a sort of Medusa. This introduction is a confusing fucking mess and whomever wrote it should be embarrassed, but not as embarrassed as the editor who greenlit this thing. Look at this shit:

Long ago… no, longer than that… long, long ago, there was a woman tied to a good
house. She believed she should have been born a goddess.
She dared to speak such things aloud, even under the jealous light of the yellow
eye.
Her boldness grew and grew with her fecundity. She gave her husband -with
some little help- 100 sons.
The terrible gods took notice, and waited with bated breath for the first hint of
unforgivable blasphemy.
Now, she has outlived more children than you will ever see.

The attempt is to emulate the sort of mythical prose of old fairy-tales and legends like Beowfulf or the fucking Epic of Gilgamesh but the author is not a writer of that calibre and the whole first page is stylistically fucked. Notice the clumsiness and the stylistic mishmash that runs through this block. The informal opening as though one were reciting oral tradition clashes dismally with attempted gravitas of the following sentences. The last three sentences rhyme, but the first do not. It is unclear whether or not the gods have actually cursed her at this point, and far more importantly, how, when or why she gave her husband 100 sons. It’s a mess. Also great job on that third sentence moron, the word you were looking for was glare, meaning both unpleasantly strong light and a fierce angry look. And how can light be jealous? Terrible.

The trek to the Ruined Palace is through a pine forest filled with the walking dead. Whenever Metegorgos petrifies someone that costs her “warmth” which she needs for her children since the gods have banned ‘fire’ from her house (these are all good and classic ideas and they could work), so she smashes the statues afterward, presumably retrieving her warmth in flagrant violation of the laws of thermodynamics and giving birth to an undead version of the thing she petrified because the gods are MASSIVE dicks. These children she casts out, forcing them to wander the forest in misery as their unrequited love sours and festers. This section I sort of liked, though I find the statue explanation fucking stupid. Wailing, moaning zombies, accursed and genuinely tormented, are what I like in my undead, so that section is good.

What I don’t like is the party actually having to traipse through the forest until ALL the zombies show up and have been defeated. What the hell man. Just make it an encounter where reinforcements arrive over time, don’t fuck everyone by calling for encounter rolls every 5 minutes of real time. Clumsy. Anyway, different zombies have different trappings, which is cool, they can’t be turned since they are the work of the gods themselves and the zombies even have a weakness that the PCs are unlikely to figure out but what the hell, A for effort. This section is not bad.

The adventure location proper is just four burnt out buildings, with Metegorgos in a random location. We are informed that, besides having no light, the curse also means that “only memories can be born in this place” whatever the fuck that means. Do you assholes even think before you hit the bong? This is exactly the problem with some of this Lotfp 3pp artsy fartsy shit. It’s essentially Patrick Stewart minus 20 verbal IQ points, and the facade becomes obvious. It’s just a series of random words and thoughts stringed together with only the faintest of thematic umbrellas to render the whole comprehensible to the neurotypical.

The first thing that I LIKE about this shit show is its obvious guardian, a sleeping fucking Obsidian Worm (a legless dragon) with scales that are impenetrable to wood and their chipping and shattering causes damage to anyone who attacks it in melee. Its 10 HD, most of the time it is asleep or off hunting. Now THAT generates gameplay. Excellent. After that the module starts sucking cocks as all its 4 linearly connected rooms just have stupid monsters in it and the game deviates from its (up to this point excellently built up) mythological theme and gives us a glowing light man, giant poop bacteria and partially petrified smurfs and hippo-centaurs? The Fuck? Each room is just monster + treasure also disgusting description of what Metegorgos is giving birth too or doing if she is in the room (i.e squeezing buttery milk in a shithole or something). No notes on illumination or anything within the rooms, which I’d think would be pretty crucial since the adventure explicitly states you can’t bring any light and the monsters all see in the dark. Also note that despite being only six rooms long, the dungeon manages to forget mapping the last room, almost like the designers just couldn’t be bothered actually trying.

The Sun Demon light man is fairly interesting on its own because he is hard to hurt and the players have to use their wits and he can be circumvented. After that the game takes a nosedive. Giant poop baceteria that make your players shit themselves to death being the low point. The treasure is alright, golden women’s apparel, amphorae with wine all that sort of stuff. The fucking format with its weird questions in italics is grating.

Metegorgos herself is a decent, if off-putting and disgusting boss with bizarre attacks like birthing a swarm of needlefish, an orb of dryness (?) and the stupidest take on petrification I have ever seen. Metegorgos’s gaze attack petrifies your dick first (yes), so even if you make one of your saves there is a chance your dick will turn to stone (what happens if you are a lady?) and you will still die of some sort of sepsis later on. Or something. Read the description yourself and try to make some sense out of it.

This action takes 2 rounds/12 seconds, during which both the Metegorgos and the Victim are held in place. The petrification always begins with the genitals, so stony castration is
likely even with a successful save! 1d6 damage with a save on either round results in the action being slowed, requiring Metegorgos and the Victim to remain in place while she continues her attempt. Successful saves on both rolls result
in the hold being broken, while taking 3+ damage means you have stone genitalia and will likely die anyway the next time you need to urinate. Septicemia kills more murderhobos a year than any other disease.

Uh huh. So what does it mean if Metegorgos “continues her attempt?” Does it mean she just repeats the action? The lethality is not unfair compared to a normal medusa but why the bizarre focus on a fat perpetually pregnant woman castrating dudes? I get the same feeling I got with Chenier’s Blood in the Chocolate, like someone is getting off on this and it sure as hell is not me. Are Lockhart and Chenier gaymarried/related/both or something?

Credit where it is due, if you confront Metegorgos in her bedchamber there is a sort of “save her” option that only works there because “it is so dishevveled the curse has been lifted here” and Metegorgos can now remember the tragic “pain of her loss” but there is really no reason the vindictive and spiteful gods would lift the curse just because someone “loves her again” and she can now give birth to human children. There is nothing in this adventure to suggest it is even a creature worth loving, merely a tortured wretch that needs to be put out of her misery for the good of both her and mankind. The only mercy is the crossbow bolt. Die monster. You do not belong in this world. Why the adventure thinks that genuine love is something you one would give to things that are poisoned by hate, have not repented and seek only to bring misery is beyond me.

The aftermath is curiously well done. A band of fucked up druids were totally down with the Dragon’s attacks on the surrounding lands  and apparently the Metegorgos and its loathsome offspring have been acting as a very delicate eco-system. What? Anyway, these druids are awesome. Only one speaks the common tongue, the Leader knows only 10 words and the rest will not sully themselves by speaking LANGUAGE, deeming it too civilized and therefore corrupt. This is like Druid ISIS, I love them. They turn into huge wild dogs and will fuck people up. Awesome. That’s a good encounter.

What else is there to say. The adventure cites “a fortune in ancient timber” as a reason to visit the palace of Metegorgos but provides no follow up or describes no method to tap into this resource.

Listen, there is too much bullshit in this module for me to recommend it. Despite some good encounters with atmospheric adversaries, the many non-sequititors make the whole hard to stomach, the inconsistant layout and tonal shifts in the writing make it difficult to absorb, and the whole ends up as a muddled mess. If you are going to go for artsy-farsty you should at least settle on something you want to convey (besides disgust).

If we want to get deeper into matters, adventures and games often exist to fulfill some sort of need or facility. Players want to feel powerful, players want to experience wonder or fulfill some sort of desire and perform dash-daring tales of heroics or whatever.
My fascination with the Grimdark genre comes on the one hand from a deep-seated cynicism and the fact a vision of a corrupt, cruel world somehow resonates with me far more then the portrayal of a just, noble one, which I find comes across as too distant to be immersive. On the other hand, it is WHEN the darkness is deep that the light can shine all the brighter, and moments of heroism, nobility, honesty and courage resound all the clearer for their difficulty. When it comes down to it, the big difference between Grimdark Fantasy and Heroic Fantasy is that in Heroic Fantasy the hero ends up defending defending civilization for personal reasons while in Grimdark fantasy the hero ends up fighting evil despite knowing civilization is riddled with corruption and evil. Whether it is the burning fervour of the true believer, the brash idealist who can find the few points of light worth saving or even the revenge-driven killer who seeks to make the world atone for his suffering, they all fight in the end.

What I don’t like is misery tourism. If the darkness is deep, the light of heroism shines all the brighter. I do not like games that wallow in depravity, filth and ugliness, that seek to humiliate and degrade the players by rendering the virtuous no better then the corrupt. Ruined Palace of the Metegorgos comes damn close to doing just that, attempting a sympathetic portrayal of the monster as if to say we are all monsters, and that is NOT what I want in my DnD. Give me the inhumanely beautiful faces of the bestial Sranc, twisted like silk in rutting murder-lust. Give me the consumptive chanting of Nurgle’s Tallymen as they march upon the unwavering lines of Imperial Pikeman baring corroded blades and leprous talons dripping with toxins. Show me the dread splendour of Vampiric Lords, let them proclaim they were once as I was, and let me cry “No more! Die Monster”

Give us myth, horror, adventure yes! Do not offer up this world of grey morality and endless, blameless victims forever recreating in others the torments of their oppressors. And write competently, with dedication, thoroughness, taste, consistency and meaning. 4 out of 10.

Edit: I realize I mistakenly titled this one as the Ruined palace, while the title of the adventure is the more stupid cumbersome adjective ‘Ruinous’ as in, a palace that either brings ruin, is in ruins or is composed thereof.

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4 thoughts on “[Review] The Ruinous Palace of the Metegorgos (Lotfp 3pp); The mirthless laughter of the damned

  1. Long time reader, first time commenter.
    I have to say, I really enjoy your entire blog, but written hand jobs aside, I think what you said in the last couple paragraphs is probably the most important, and what I have been trying to stress to my own players. Grimdark is good way to go about a setting, but without some way to showcase heroism, it just becomes a sad misery circle jerk that serves no actual purpose. Like how comedy is no good without the straight man, there is little to no point in darkness without showcasing some light. Even heroic fantasy at least has a dynamic going, which leads to good story telling. I haven’t read this adventure, so I really can’t comment on how it is written, whether good or bad, but shades of gray only work when everything is not the same shade of gray.
    But what the fuck do I know?

    Red Prophet Rises was awesome by the way, and hope to see more of your Age of Dusk content. That heavily influenced a lot of material for the Godbound game I’ve been running. Keep up the awesome work

    Like

    1. Good to hear from you and welcome to the Deep end of the pool!

      Somewhere along the line in lotfp’s existence “weird horror” turned into ” degenerate cesspit” where PCs not only suffer hideous fates but playing the game becomes an actively humiliating experience. I blame Raggi himself for starting the trend and everyone else for following it.

      Thank you for your kind words about Red Prophet Rises and Age of Dusk, great to hear you liked it. I still have about half of my setting material untranscribed so in theory more AoD content is definetely within the bounds of probability.

      Like

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