The Unseen Vaults of the Optic Experiment (2018)
Johan Nohr (Stockholm Kartell)
Terse, evocative description. These words are repeated around the OSR until they become a mantra. Terse. Evocative. Description. By their power do we wade through pages of text. By their teachings do we separate what is necessary and what is superfluous.
This is a review of another 3rd party Lamentations of the Flame Princess product, a prospect which is slowly starting to fill me with dread instead of joy. Fortunately, while still reading like it was born in some sort of studio, it reads like it was born in a very dark studio, midwifed by bootleg whiskey to the sound of static and doom metal in the upper north of Norway. As European as it gets, Unseen Vaults is almost an experiment in how much you can strip out of an adventure and still render it comprehensible. It works…pretty well.
The Unseen Vaults proper is a 20 page adventure with enough text for a 7 page adventure. It consists of an 11 room Dungeon with a plethora of hidden-passageways and nonlinear corridors to make exploring the whole worthwhile.
In fact, let’s ignore the backstory (which is so brief as to be easily conveyed with a short, masculine grunt before one resumes ones task of chopping lumber for one’s drakhar so one can raid the kingdoms of the Christ God come spring) and focus on the map proper. It’s very solid for such a short map. The trick is that the boss monster, a cursed, mad beholder, is chained behind bars and thus while it is visible it cannot be reached without finding an alternative route and thus facilitating exploration. Also bonus points for including a quick cheatsheet so the contents of each room can be gleaned with a glance with a page number included for easy reference. I wish larger dungeons would have something similar, this is great!
I forget myself. The backstory. The Vaults are the cellars of a noble family, now invaded by a group of hideous extraplanar beings who have turned it into a laboratory for finding the key to true vision. This involves copious amounts of necromancy, chaining up a live
beholder observer, burning vampires and demon summoning. Thus far it has not worked. Enter the PCs.
Despite being really brief and curt the adventure generously provides us with 3 hooks! The 4 hooks are pretty simple and serviceable though they do tend to assume the players are do-gooders which is something of an OSR faux pas.
Meat and bones; The entire dungeon is affected by the vision experiments of the Freak Freaks  and is murky and dark as a result. This gives the GM a reason to describe things in terms of scent, smell and texture instead of boxed text descriptions that drag on forever. Rooms are described like so:
Cold metal, dust and sound of chains,
stench of a sweaty fat man. Mad howls.
Silence. Skeletal figures. Jagged blades.
With the actual description for the GM going into more detail. This reminds me a little of Tsumoto Nihei’s Texnhnolyze. You are starved off information in the first episode so every detail becomes hyper important. Details only appear when you focus on them. This is actually very interesting.
Encounters are interesting in terms of both type and content. Monsters are never simply monsters, there is always a little extra. The hideous ghost can be persuaded to aid the party, The demonic Worm flees if damaged too much and will return during another encounter (or become a recurring nemesis), the Goblin prisoner is secretely posessed by an ancient Vampiric spirit. Even the classics are given a twist, Psychotic Zombies that can re-animate or Skeletal Assassins that are entirely immune to piercing weapons (the rules are different that is).
All of the treasure is carefully hidden, which is a plus, and though it is VERY sparse, it is pretty interesting; a talking, floating skull (morte reference?) or a golden goblin tooth. This one could have been beefed up a bit more.
The use of an insane, chained up beholder (that can be freed) as a boss, or alternative a collection of nightmarish extraplanar doppleganger creatures is pretty metal and even here opportunities are set up to create a hostage scenario or a negotiation instead of a straight up slog fest, which I appreciate.
As a last courtesy to the GM, Unseen Vaults gives you a list of tips and ideas to add some extra spice to the adventure, like adding a second adventuring party, giving hints of what to do when your PCs free the Vampire Spirit from the mutant goblin prisoner, or other some such malarky.
This is a professionally designed product, makes good use of black and white full page art, is VERY reasonably priced and everything is really well laid out. Because of the plethora of opportunities for interaction and looping passageways there are multiple ways it can resolve, crucial if the GM is to run it with different groups. It’s got a solid, gloomy atmosphere but it’s pretty coherent.
I’d put this one about on par with Swine. 7.5 for mastery of the short form. I was starting to lose faith but the Lotfp community has some talent. Good on you guys.
 Aforementioned Extraplanar travellers