[Review] Zak Has Nothing To Do With This Book (Lotfp); A Joyful Thing, To Have One’s Cake and Eat Also

[Adventure]
Zak Has Nothing To Do With This Book (2019)
Uncredited (but obviously James Raggi IV) (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)
Levels 1-3

zaknothing

Color me surprised, I am interested again.

This is not express my interest in the moth-eaten and dust-clogged drama around Lotfp and the predations of Zak S, alleged or otherwise, which continues to unfold with all the grace and momentum of a decomposing whale carcass, but rather, I am interested in what James Raggi is going to write after this.

Who could but imagine the anguish, when I, in search of easy pickings to cleanse my palette for a second round of triumphant and self-congratulatory Cha’alt reviewing was struck by the cruel arrow of Morpheus, and forced to recall those dim and innocent ages of the OSR when all was well and Raggi yet heeded the urgings of his Muse.

For years James Raggi has written nothing but limp, cowardly excuses for poor performance, half-heartedly disguised as ‘Je Suis Seulement Pêcher à La Traîne’, and who could fathom the irony, when his latest attempt at marvelously tone-deaf Pêcher à La Traîne failed miserably and instead became a halfway decent adventure?

In a stunning reversal of prophecy and prediction, Zak Has Nothing To Do With This Book can almost be taken at face value, the satire being so utterly divorced from reality and taking second fiddle to a plethora of interesting design choices, NPCs and new spells with GAME CONSIDERATIONS, reminding us once again that while he might be overweight, repulsive, shifty, dishonest, craven, insincere, self-absorbed and stricken with leprosy of the soul, James Raggi IV is neither stupid nor without talent.

But Prince, you must exclaim, have you gone mad? ZHNTDWTB is clearly an unsubtle attempt to have dozens of groups around the world participate in the allegorical exhoneration of Zak S from his thinly veiled accusers, thus seeking to bring about his actual return through a combination of Bezmenov-style ideological subversion and sympathtic magic.

The situation began with our cast of eight miscreants peacefully, if annoyedly, passing time in the remote Name Drop Inn, when a forbidden book was discovered: An Analysis into the Nature of Man and the Satanic Power He Contains. A priest present at the inn made it clear that this tome was blasphemous and whoever owned the book must die. Everyone agreed, wanting to be quick to deflect blame away from themselves. They all settled on blaming a circus performer named Zachary Canterbury, who goes by the nickname, Zak, because he said unwise things making it rather easy to be made the scapegoat.

To which I say The Devil, kind reader, Is in the Details.

Let us first address the obvious fact that James Raggi, and no author but James Raggi, wrote this book and could have written this book. As evidence I would point to the following:

A) The choice of words and sentence structure, notice the combination of pseudo-gygaxian interspersed with juvenile vulgarity indicative of the slovenly intellectual, a spicy hint of pseudointellectualism and veiled contempt

Yet as much as the eight want the Player Characters to act on their behalf, they are also scared shitless of them, for they look like they can handle themselves and therefore are no fools. Just the very sort of people capable of ferreting out the secrets that each of the eight is so very desperate to keep.

To which one might reasonably reply that Zak S himself could have certainly written it, that he too is known for trademark ironic detachment coupled with unbearably pretentious prose in Frostbitten and Mutilated, and that he has a precedent for allegorical attacks on perceived assailants in roleplaying games. Which I considered, had it not been for

B) Comic book level Science fiction elements accompanied by a confused sophmoric philosophizing

There are eight great guardians of peace and prosperity in the universe, each a being of pure energy powered by what is effectively a nebulous mystic battery at the center of the universe. Formed moments after the Big Bang, they were splinters of the original Consciousness Force that realized that the coming formation of life would create a never-ending cycle of death as in order to continue to live, every living creature would need
to consume other living creatures. Too late to prevent this from being life’s lot in existence, the guardians sought to save as much life as they could, hoping that evolution and innovation would result in a future where such consumption would become obsolete

Both science fiction elements and silly high concept sf fluff nonsense is a trade mark Raggian flair, present from Tower of the Stargazer onward. Who can but remember the Star in Fuck for Satan, the entirety of Doom-Cave, the entirety of Vagina’s are Magic, Eldritch Cock and the multidimensional mushroom Lord in the excreable Sounds of the Mushroom Kingdom (FUCK YOU NO LINK). Convoluted, sometimes ridiculous systems of the world.

Contrast this with Zak S, who has not only never even hinted at science fantasy, but whose creations are always things-in-themselves, creatures of aesthethics first with explanations for their origins arising only as afterthoughts if at all. The Apex of Zak Ssity is not an overly lengthy and unnecessary explanation regarding the nature of some convoluted ability but rather no explanation at all, like the Cryptic Trinity or King Ogg in the fortress in Frostbitten, a thing of form and function devoid of nature. AT BEST a Zak S creation is something with original connotations now changed so it no longer possesses those connotations, making it feel alien and disconcerting, like the Alice in Wonderland vampires.

C) Blackie Richmore

One of the characters in ZHNTDWTB is a musician named Blackie Ritchmore. I was able to trace this name to the bassist of an obscure hard rock cover Band called Twyce Shy. James Raggi is a well known afficianado of obscure metal and rock bands, having self-published a metal magazine under the name of Lamentations of the Flame Princess before he ever got into gaming. A garish lack of tastelessness that brings neither status as a connoisseur of the genre, nor an idiosyncratic sort of acclaim is the HALLMARK of sincerity and in his love for metal James Raggi is too indiscriminate to be anything but a sincere fan.

D) Baroque or overly complex rules, systems or otherwise

I would point to this as yet another trademark of Raggi-an design, a peculiar refusal to take the beaten path even if it would be more direct, a trademark of deep-seated immaturity, noticeable as early on as the convoluted Telescope Death Trap in Tower of the Stargazer. Signature indicators are the Chariot of the Gods in GTC, The Star in Fuck For Satan, Monolith movement in Monolith From Beyond Space and Time, The Hircine Eruditeness in Doom-Cave and arguably all of his new magic system.

Contrast again with Zak S homebrew, which tends to the concise and clear, sometimes to the point of being underdeveloped, like the Mirror world in Red & Pleasant Land, or the Time Travel mechanics in Frostbitten, which are more afterthought then anything else.

In summary, the author can only be James Raggi.

The Actual Review shall commence here.

ZHNTDWTB is nothing else but a spectacular execution of a seldom seen or relatively novel format of OSR and oldschool adventure model, which I shall propose here, the ‘Powder Keg’ or ‘Cluster Fuck’ model.

The Powder Keg is generally a short scenario or side-trek, good for a single session, involving multiple antagonistic factions in a geographically limited area. Whereas some scenario’s might require the PCs to walk a delicate tightrope between several conflicting interests in the hopes of forging a fragile armistice, the Powder Keg is set up to be so volatile that at some point something will give and the whole shall descend into delicious chaos.

I know of only two examples of this model, one bad, one quite good. The first is No Rest For the Wicked, a decent scenario buried under an avalanche of asinine, wretched detail, and THOT Audit, a more mature and colorful if sloppy execution containing a suitably volatile mixture of vast amounts of fortune, grudges, murderousness and hidden agenda’s to go off no matter what course of action the PCs decide to take, though sure to play out differently across different groups. Therein lies the delight for the GM of course!

For such a blathery introduction, ZHNTDWTB actually has very little trouble getting to the point and conveying the information the GM needs to run it. There are 8 guests in the Inn, they discover therein a satanic tome, someone is to be blamed, each has a curse and a unique magical tattoo that they can transfer (some of these tattoos also give drawbacks), each having to do with violence. They decide to blame Zachary Canterbury

Young (still a teenager) Zachary is a 0 Level circus contortionist, acrobat, and clown, always willing to debase himself for the entertainment of others.  He is annoyingly earnest, wanting to others to like him, so he is constantly underfoot and trying to please anyone who gives him even the slightest bit of positive attention

A comically innocent buffoon, having in common with the real accused only a name and a soulless dead gaze. Enter the PCs!

What makes it work is that each of these 8 NPCs is possessed of a complex motivation, flavor, a unique ability and a unique curse. And this ability can be transferred! There’s well documented rules. It’s an inadvertent mexican standoff that the PCs blunder into, where they will immediately be involved. If they are allegorical they are buried under such layers as to make the joke unrecognizable to a semi-casual reader.

A hitman. A circus strongman. A minstrel. A priest. A knight of science. A cannibalistic scholar. Some want to destroy the tome. Some want to possess the tome.

I am fascinated by the complexity of the abilities coupled with their potential to affect the game. One tattoo imposes a burden of protecting the previous owner on anyone its passed on, one forces the previous owner to protect anyone it is bestowed upon. One reduces all damage that is given and received to one point. One will destroy any weapon that is used against the owner. Each tattoo is powerful, sometimes to the point of seriously derailing the campaign but since the owner cannot accumulate XP while the Tattoo is worn it is unlikely the PCs will carry them for long.

Raggi seems to realize the scenario is difficult to run but to his credit exercised a rare restraint in presenting only THE BARE NECCESITIES required to run it. The Inn? Barely described, as god intended. There is a cheatsheet in the back for everyone’s motivation and powers, condensed into 2 pages, as well as a detailed description of the previous day, in case the PCs decide to interrogate people, as they surely must, perhaps mistaking the scenario for an investigative adventure, which it is not, it is a clusterfuck, meant to explode violently. It is still 34 fucking pages but it is SPECTACULARLY more interesting then No Rest For the Wicked.

Each character has urges but is curtailed by their abilities and curses, meaning the tension will only rank up until some obscure condition is met. Mariana Trench [1] is an ultra violent knight of science yearning for violent retribution, but curtailed so she can only harm people if they harm her first, something hampered by her tattoo, which will block all damage to her but merely render her unconscious. The PCs render the scenario more volatile since they are the only ones who do not carry tattoos, and the tattoos can only be passed to anyone not already possessing one, changing the dynamics of the power balance.

Add to this the tome proper, An Analysis Into the Nature of Man and the Satanic Power he Contains, an actually well done cursed spellbook, YET ANOTHER RAGGIAN HALLMARK [2] which is infested with a spell virus that functions as a sort of double-edged curse, dangerous but occasionally beneficial, but which can actually be prevented.

The included 1st level spell, Summon Petohtalrayn the Equalizer of Ignominy and Humiliation, is a fascinating exercise in high stakes poker typical of the best of Lotfp. A summoning spell that will conjure forth a horror from beyond space and time that will destroy an indicated target, horribly, no saving throw. It takes 3 rounds to manifest. The target must be in sight. If the caster can’t indicate a target, he himself dies in gruesome 80s horror movie fashion [3]. Even if the caster survives, a GRUESOME price must be paid afterward. Perfect. Perfect Lotfp spell. Great risk, reward, dangerous, not campaign breaking, weird etc. etc.

The resolution of the adventure is similarly puzzling. If the PCs rescue Zachary he will be eternally grateful, having some stashes of wealth stowed away in a place, but each trove of wealth brings with it misery, hardship and possible woe to the PCs, rendering his gratitude subtly useless.

He stashed one in a very sensible place: In a bank! Unfortunately, it is a very high-class
bank used to working with joint-stock companies, governments, and incredibly wealthy individuals; they were taking advantage of poor Zak when they accepted his deposit. To retrieve his item, the bank will require fees equalling 1d4 × 1000sp to first be paid.

He left a stash with ‘some old buddies’ in a large town. What he neglects to mention (he
has legitimately forgotten) is that they were very organized criminals and he gave it to
them to settle gambling debts. They will not be amused at the idea that they should give it back.

“I hide one under a flagstone in a church!” It was actually in a tomb underneath the church, and the sarcophagus was open because the local archbishop had just died, and he was to be laid to rest there later that day. The tomb has long since been sealed

A subtle indication that perhaps, the allegorical wages of this act of justice are not entirely single-edged, or merely Raggi unable to help himself? Regardless, these should serve as entertaining hooks for any follow ups.

James Raggi wrote the best thing he did in years and its disguised as a quixotic defence of his alleged harasser business partner so no one with any clout will touch it and its mired in ugly slapfighting. The statement is weak, compounded by the fact Raggi didn’t put his name on it, the adventure actually all the stronger for it.

I’m stumped. It’s a minor category of adventures but he did a fascinating job. Unconventional. Elaborate. Difficult. Volatile. Wrapped in questionable defences of even more questionable individuals yet paradoxically fully playable.  A reverse Castle Greyhawk. Wherever the hell Lotfp is going, at least it wasn’t fucking boring. ***

[1] A bizarre Raggian screed is included, where he explains the problem of names in RPGs and thus concludes that in a scenario where remembering names is a must, ridiculous names are preferable to meaningless fantasy names or commonplace names and the damage to the campaign integrity will surely fail over time.
[2] Both the Tales of the Scarecrow and The God that Crawls contain cursed Tomes with campaign-wide effects
[3] Excessive gore, take a drink


25 thoughts on “[Review] Zak Has Nothing To Do With This Book (Lotfp); A Joyful Thing, To Have One’s Cake and Eat Also

    1. I was as confused as you were but nevertheless I believe a *** is warranted. Granted it takes four times as many pages (a criminal amount) to create what should be a single session of enjoyable gameplay compared to something like Tales of the Scarecrow, but I am not being facetious, I don’t believe this is a piece of shit.

      I suspect this might turn into a spectacularly interesting bar brawl, there is something interesting about each carefully wrought piece of this spring-loaded bear trap. Despite the fact that entries are lengthy, the actual amount of omitable text is slim, the introduction and the explanation behind the tattoos could easily be pared down, relatively little superfluous detail is added. In addition, 11 of those 34 pages are art, 2 of them are cheat sheets, table of contents etc. etc.

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      1. There was some nice art in this adventure and a bit of organizational material, but if we generously cut that down to 20 pages, you really think it can’t be significantly trimmed? I think it could have been cut to five or six. It may be an interesting brawl, but there’s just not enough there in this one for me.

        And all for a bit of silly trolling and a riff on The Hateful Eight.

        Now, if he had given Stands to these NPCs and thrown in a Stand-User class, that could justify the page count. Much more fun and open-ended than the tats.

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      2. I mean probably you could trim it down further, but not without loss of information. I’d argue the length is warranted since the GM has to have a fairly firm grasp of each NPC in order to juggle all those different NPCs with different motivations and different abilities. Its unwieldy but I might be getting into my Storygames phase where I will admire something for an attempt at innovation even if the end result could have been more table friendly.

        Its perfectly acceptable to be of the opinion that it should have more to justify its existence, but as an admirer of the art I can’t help but admire this bizarre take on the side-trek. I have an…intuition, gut feeling? that it would work.

        [Stand User]

        A Jojo reference? What sells the tats is that they can be exchanged, that adds to the volatility of the whole, it makes it unpredictable, I like it.

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      3. I am going to see what it would look like if all the NPCs are condensed into a statt block and a single line of keywords so they can all be displayed on a single page. Stay tuned etc. etc.

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      4. I took Thurston as a sample. I’ve ommitted all statts that can be inferred or derived. For the Tattoos I am using the shorthand.

        Thurston Galloway Hitches (Ftr 3). Equipment: Dagger, Sword, Pistol. (In Room) Rifled Flintlock Rifle, Buffcoat, Breastplate. Special: +5 to Ranged Attacks (excellent shot). Tattoo Power: Cannot take any action that would directly or indirectly harm anyone or thing. Prevents all actions that would harm bearer (including from constructs or mindless undead but not mechanical traps or natural disasters). Curse: Cannot understand anything a woman says.

        Appearance: Assassin. Cock-eyed. Reserved.
        Motivation: To lay low and be unnoticed, but if everything goes to hell or supernatural presence is revealed, unload his tattoo on person most likely to inflict violence. Prefers Book be destroyed. Will support anyone accusing Decadence or Mariana.

        I think I got most of the information on the page, including the clarification. I ommited his normally jovial nature since it is unlikely to come up. What he did when he entered is something you can describe in the 1.5 page What happened Before Summary in the back of the book.

        The question is, can you absorb 8 of these blocks in shorthand on a single page and get the same feel for the characters before you unload it on the players? Also I suspect the main cause of the page bloat is the decision to use a minimum of a single page per entry, leaving an astounding amount of white space.

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      5. Nice rendering. And I suspect you could have mentioned the jovial nature without significantly extending the length.

        I’m not sure why you say this information is somehow easier to absorb when spread over more pages with more words. I suspect you could fit them all on two facing pages, and that would be pretty much perfect for me. Lay em flat and go.

        The swapping of the tattoos doesn’t work as well for me. Just too many moving parts and too much chaos. I feel like it’s the players who would be overwhelmed by all the details, not the GM. My own experience with confusing my players too much is that they just throw up their hands and disengage.

        The tattoos would play better for me as a feature of the setting. The reason I mention Jojo Stands is because they’re easier to wrap your head around and the players might catch the reference. But there’s a reason why Jojo doesn’t throw eight new Stand Users at the audience in one go.

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      6. I will concede these can probably be spread on different pages and the information content does not change significantly. Does the presentation add anything is the next logical question.

        I think you overstate the complexity. First, the Tattoos can only be transferred to people who do not already have tattoo’s meaning the party. Second, since the abilities can be boiled down to a single sentence and are not necessarily introduced all at once, I think navigating the maze of abilities would actually make the brawl more interesting and should be just about manageable. I will concede some GM finesse is required in handling the presentation so it doesn’t come across as a big fucking mess.

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  1. You/re kidding about Blackie Richmore, right?
    It’s a reference to Richie Blackmore, leader of the definitely-not-obscure-at-all rock group Deep Purple.

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    1. Something something something smoke on the water something something harrumph something something by your bootstraps something something kids these days something something woodstock

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  2. The LotFP brand was built on dungeons (Death Frost Doom, Broodmother Skyfortress, Tower of the Stargazer) and settings (Qelong, Veins of the Earth, Carcosa). It’s strange to me that Raggi has pivoted his efforts to little adventure scenarios and meager supplements like Sounds of the Mushroom Kingdom. None of them have gotten a good reception. People want B/X with gonzo modules, not perverted weird horror fantasy in 16th century Europe. They don’t want to deal with Raggi’s pathetic traumas in the form of RPG materials either. I don’t know what he envisions for the future of his company, but I hope this isn’t it.

    Anyway, I appreciate the forensic writing analysis and I’m glad you gave ZHNTDWTB a fair shake. You’re probably the only person who will ever do so. But I’m skeptical as to the value of a small scenario that requires the DM to mentally juggle 8 unique curses, 8 unique magical tattoos, and 8 unique motivations. Even with the cheat sheets, it seems overstuffed and difficult to run with little payoff.

    And why are all the NPCs in this tavern cursed and magically tattooed anyway? And who does the book actually belong to? I’m not impressed with “It’s a coincidence” and “The answer does not exist.” Giving PCs mysteries they’re not supposed to solve is dumb and hostile to the players. Classic Raggi.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. More or less accurate. I am guessing Raggi is involved more with running the business then writing anything worthwhile and the muse has more or less left him, somewhere around Doom-Cave of the Crystal Children his output got really trash.

      I thank you for your kindness. There’s something about the scenario that I find appealing, though I would rate it below any other *** Raggi scenario, perhaps its the manifold possibilities in a conflict scenario, the freshness of the riff, the colorful NPCs with myriad abilities, its the complexity or convolution of it all that I find appealing, used to the latter era Low IQ Lotfp.

      [Backstory]

      So you are correct the backstory of the Tattoos is total horseshit, a complete waste of time. I would have preferred a more westernish ‘who can say why fate brought together these cursed men yadda yadda’ or alternatively, some sort of memetic cue so the players understand they are in a weird fairy tale and they must take this situation at face value.

      I would say since the work is not a mystery and the volatility of the situation (remember that Hitler the cannibal jew wizard must feed in half an hour) and the immanent execution of Zachary Canterbury makes a careful investigation unlikely, this is not a crippling flaw. I concede the tome having appeared through mysterious means is weak writing.

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  3. Huh, honestly not what I expected. From everything I saw on drivethru, there was the standard pissing and moaning so I really didn’t expect much. I really like just tossing a bunch of NPC’s together for the party and letting them all go at it, so it seems like this might be up my alley, and even more so if it’s actually good. If nothing else, it doesn’t have the cardinal sin of boring.

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      1. Will do warfighter. You haven’t steered me wrong yet. Glad to be back! Work’s kicking my ass, but I’ll try and buckle down to get another SWN adventure out at some point. Looking forward to more reviews!

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  4. I’ll shoehorn in here that Raggi’s Random Inn Generator (GDF4/22) is a pretty fun Powder Keg generator. Mmm, maybe more Cluster Fuck — sigh, a term close to my heart — than Powder Keg, but you get me.

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    1. Probably the most bizarre sub-expertise we are likely to find in the OSR, but all the more welcome for it. Welcome Legion, Purveyor of Tavern Brawls.

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