[Review] Going through Forbidden Otherworlds (Lotfp); Kowolski in shape

[Adventure]
Going Through Forbidden Otherworlds (2018)
Zzarchov Kowolski (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)
Levels 1 – 3 (estimated)
Summary: Doom + Event Horizon + Solomon Kane

After a long exile I return to the place that spawned me. Oh Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I cannot quit you! Your domain rules are shit, your firearm rules are shit, its been years since Raggi wrote anything decent and even Zak is starting to stink up the GM screen, provided you buy into the hypothesis that he was good in the first place but Kowolski is more of the real deal. I liked nearly all of his stuff, it tends to be cryptic rather then overwritten or too long, it’s creative and more importantly, you could conceivably fucking run it at the table.

The rather obviously titled Going Trough Forbidden Otherworlds is an adventure meant to function as a sort of transition from the Lotfp default early modern setting to one of the many bizarre fantasy realms also described in its catalog of adventures and campaign settings, let alone some of the third party supplements. What a useful and neat idea for an adventure!

A third of the adventure is about the backstory, hooks, mood and whatnot. To be fair, that’s only 6 pages and it’s all pretty damn cool. Luigi Marino, Jesuit Priest turned vile Magick User after reading of other planes, decided to seek them out in order to convert them to the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ. There, immediately interesting premise. He discovers a network of interdimensional gateways constructed by a long-vanished civilization and it turns out all of them pass through a dimension that comes damn close to hell. While inimical to mankind, it is possible to survive in this dimension for a short while, and thus, with the aid of slave labour, copious amounts of holy water, plague doctor masks and muskets, Marino constructs a hermetically sealed fortress around the gateway. He has not been seen or heard from in 2 weeks. Enter the PCs!

The hooks are what sells it properly. If the PCs run into the Inquistion, and since it is the 1600s there is NO reason they SHOULD NOT, they get a chance to escape the pyre at the last moment if they agree to figure out what the fuck happened. With this and many other hooks you accompany the early modern version of Doom Guy; some highly trained but ultimately clueless shmucks sent to find out what the fuck happened. There is other good shit too; you get the scroll for travelling to these other worlds from a Drunk in exchange for a bottle of wine. Nice.

Now might be the best time to comment on some of the supporting cast who made this adventure possible. It feels like a sort of OSR Legion of doom; Dyson does good work on the small but interesting map, James Malesewski does the editing from within his bunker 20 miles below sea level [1] and Scrap Princess does a characteristically terrible job on the art. I don’t get anyone who defends the prominence of Scrap Princess as anything but a circus grotesquerie when talented artists like Jez Gordon or Chris Huth or halfway decent artists like Peter Mullen or fucking hell, ANYONE else is readily available. Look at this;

Scrap princess.png

For comparison, here is a doodle I made in paint in 10 minutes.

Alternative Scrapprincess
Garbage.

Fortunately this in no way detracts from the rest of the adventure, which is pretty sweet. A semi plausible brick complex of about 13 rooms, filled with classic tropes like THE LAST SURVIVOR, reanimating Maggot men, hidden research laboratories, extradimensional entities taking the shape of Hieronymous Bosch Demons if you do not control your fears, extradimensional artifacts and hideous amalgamations of former human flesh.

For such a little place, it packs quite a punch, even seeing fit to throw in a secret door or two to keep people guessing. The decision to design the dungeon as a an actual place first, dungeon second is ideal for a horror scenario like this. I like it kowolski included Marino’s diary among the treasure to be found but dislike it that he didn’t take the time to write out a few last entries, the ONE TIME it would have been in service to and not in opposition of, the game.

Fuck me Kowolski knows his shit. There are rooms that provide tactical options or obstacles like a lab that can be sealed from the outside, the dungeon is given some bizarre environmental effects that manage to convey the fundamentally inimical nature of the dimension without being too intrusive via the magic of random encounter tables and damn me if the treasure isn’t both novel and broadly consistent with the setting. I actually think the odd irreverent little wink or oddball artifact (a chainmail bikini say) is to the detriment of the atmosphere, but one cannot expect Kowolski to cast off his postmodern trappings in service of narrative consistency. The rest consists mostly of high tech artifacts, an alien polearms and a cursed Chain Mail Bikini. A chance for some Satan-fuelled sorcery sorely missed.

There is a subtlety to Kowolski’s writing that makes him my favorite of the contemporary postmodernist OSR writers. Kowolski’s adventures tend to be (with the exception of the awesome Thulian Echoes) locations utterly bereft of plot but with a sort of internal consistency and enough elements to create interesting emergent scenarios. His scenarios are neither overdesigned nor boringly conventional. They are creative without feeling like a disconnected mess. Unlike Stuart, who is relentlessly creative but undisciplined to the point of incoherence, Kowolski exercises restraint in his little nonsensical sandbox scenarios that gives them a odd appeal.

The gateway that forms the raison d’etre of this adventure is set up somewhat unclearly. From the rules I gathered that while a 5th level spell is necessary to enter the “hell’ dimension initially, one needs only a 1st level spell to establish a connection between hell and any plane for which the appropirate sigil (or symbol) is available. Voila, you now have a handy little adventure set-up to transition between Early Modern Earth and whatever benighted hell-realm you want to throw at the players (Maybe introducing Carcosa in this fashion would not be a bad idea, nor would Qelong or Meatlandia, just stay the fuck away from On the Shoulders of Giants).

The only points of criticism I can really level is that one of the otherworldly artifacts has  a drawback that is both A) a Slow burner whose effects are unnoticeable until much later and B) utterly lethal. I guess having a characer die during his off-time would be on the list of shitty ways to go but I can’t get too worked up about it since it only happens once. A second flaw is the lack of statts for small cannons, which are an important element in the adventure but which are let entirely undescribed.

This one is pretty cool; Classic fantasy/horror/sci fi premise, lots of body horror, a small but complex map with some tactical options, weird horrific monsters and insane mutilated survivors and a big ole’ pentagram smack dab in the middle. EXACTLY what I want in my Lotfp. 7.5 out of 10.

[1] Apparently he has experience editing Kowolski’s work, having done the Pale Lady among others.

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14 thoughts on “[Review] Going through Forbidden Otherworlds (Lotfp); Kowolski in shape

  1. Personally, I like a lot of Scrap Princess stuff. Not all of it…some of it feels lazy and doesn’t speak to me. I know I’m not going to convince you, but some of her work strikes me as powerfully expressionist. It has a similar appeal to punk rock – it’s dirty and energetic and strongly conveys a feeling. I don’t expect to convince you, but I’m trying to convey why someone might appreciation her work.

    Speaking of lazy, I thought this adventure could have been a bit more. I know that Lamentations prides itself on its demon summoning table, but I would have appreciated if Zzarchov could have pre-generated a few in case of encounters. It would have been nice to suggest some other things that could be done with the location; not only can it be a nexus of worlds, but the strange properties of the place would be ideal for vivimancy and other horrific magical experiments.

    Still, it’s a lot like a lot of other Kowolski joints in that respect. This was no 1000 Babies or Gnomes for me, but about in line with his average output.

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    1. [Scrapprincess]

      That is the gist of what I have read on the internet regarding Scrapprincess’s work so far. I can sort of tell what you are getting at with some of his work but so many of it registers to me as lazy scribbling that anyone could probably duplicate in paint. Perhaps I process information differently from you guys, but to me it seems that Scrap’s work has trouble meshing with the subject matter it want’s to convey. It sort of maybe worked in Fire over Velvet Horizon, which ironically contains some of the worst Scrap art, but here it just clashes with the description, the map, the cover art, the setting, the tone…everything. The art registers like an intruder, like vandalism.

      Thank you for giving me your honest opinion.

      [Laziness]

      I actually agree that it feels…not rushed but basic. To be fair, most of Kowolski’s short form stuff falls under that umbrella. I thought the use of the monster summoning tables from Lotfp was probably justified, given that the thing is ultimately free, but I see how a list of pregens would have been helpful. Perhaps one is assumed to be so familiar with the summoning tables by now that their quick use is considered standard?

      [output]

      I think it’s a little better because its background is more developed and the concept has more potential. Gingerbread and to a greater degree Pale Lady were interesting but too disconnected from everything else to have much staying power. It felt like you could just throw it into any game and it would leave exactly ZERO traces of its existence after the adventure had concluded (apart from any PC deaths that is). This one seems like it has a bit more staying power, and the existence of said gate is sure to prompt a variety of plane-hopping adventures (I’d have used Joop van Ooms as a narrative vehicle for plane-travelling prior to this).

      Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You know what? I have to concede part of your point. I still like Scrap Princess, but when you said that this was not the right project for her, I took another look and realized that you’re dead right. I thought her work added a lot to Deep Carbon and Veins, but this needs something more gothic. Or better yet, Bosche-esque.

        I also agree with what you say about the premise. It’s terrific in the sense that it sends my mind spiraling off into all the complications and opportunities that can arise. I just feel like it would have taken a couple more drops of that sort of thing to really set it off. Maybe a little information about the surrounding territory than just “hellscape.” It’s a bit of a cock tease, like the back cover cited by Tamás Illés.

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      2. [Scrap]

        In turn, I shall concede that there probably exists a medium where ScrapPrincess’s style is appropriate, it is just that that medium is one of delirium, madness, predation, disassociation, unreality, alienness and agony…uh shit on paper the choice of scrap makes sense here. Perhaps the underlying 16th century earth fundament causes the surreality to misfire?

        [Bosch]

        They go so far as to mention the guy in the description of the demons. Bosche demons are best demons. A casual glance at the artwork of Berserk proves it beyond a doubt.

        [Back cover]

        It’s relatively simple and there is definitely room for expansion. I’ll agree with you and Tamas that the back cover virtually screams Conquistadoring in Forgotten Elder Worlds that would sadly never see the light of day.

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    1. Man, I wish. I used to draw a lot when I was a kid but there is no way in hell I’d consider my doodles up to professional standards. That being said, in the event we were to co-operate on some sort of upcoming adventure project (wink wink nudge nudge) I would know an artist in my immediate vicinity that would be willing to do some pieces.

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  2. It’s a sweet adventure, but I’m feeling cheated. The back of the book says:

    “The eternal empire of Velzeal consisted of thirteen
    cities sheltered from their world’s twin suns by the tall
    shadows of the surrounding Titanfang mountains. This
    civilization of a reptilian race was ruled by Emperor
    N’taka the wise.

    The gentle Kingdom of the moon of Nibu was in the
    15th year of peace with the neighbouring tribes of ice
    barbarians, its aerial hawk-knights flew only as
    messengers.

    Within a month of each other both polities had been
    sacked by an army of Portuguese conquistadors.
    How they did that is the even more terrifying secret
    contained within…”

    It’s fucking evocative and made me drool. I expected something akin to Portals of Torsh. Unfortunately the module is only about the portuguese outpost – no eternal empire of Velzeal, no gentle Kingdom of the moon of Nibu, no aerial hawk-knights.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are right that creating expectations and then not following up on them is technically a dick move but the whole point of this thing was “GATEWAY ADVENTURE” (get it?). Kowolski does deserve a flogging for luring us in with the promise of sweet sweet planar crusades that would sadly never manifest. Incidentally I know Warhammer is a thing but has anyone ever done multi-planar crusading as a setting?

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    2. I just got the new one, Barbarians of Orange Boiling Seas. Its the conquistadors on Nibu. I think this might be a series.

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