[Review] Midvinter (Lotfp); When is an adventure not an adventure?

[Adventure]
Midvinter (2019)
Kelvin Green (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)
All Levels (But seriously, low levels is probably best)

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor midvinter kelvin green

In the throes of mild fever, Prince shall cover the christmas miracle of Kelvin Green, author of mostly run-of-the-mill adventures. Middle-of-the-Road-MeGreen they call him in the saunas, museums and boutiques of Finland. Today proves a day of tribulations, for while I think Midvinter is probably the best thing Kelvin Green has ever done, I am not sure it’s a good adventure.

“The basic idea of Midvinter is that a secret pagan doomsday cult is trying to lure the characters into a ritual, just like The Wicker Man. The twist is that what the cult wants, what it really, really wants, is to die.
The cult believes that every eighty-seven years on the winter solstice a sacrifice must
be made to Odin and the Æsir so that winter will end, and spring will come, and for complex theological bullshit reasons, the sacrifice must be the cult itself.
To this end the cult has arranged for a group of adventurers to visit the cult’s village just before the solstice, in the hope that the adventurers will go full on ‘murderhobo’ on the cult and its members, and so complete the sacrifice.”

Midvinter is an absolute farce but unlike Fuck For Satan, it does not seek to screw over the players. The page count is 52, an abysmal measure of efficiency for a one-shot that is no more then par for the course for an Lotfp adventure, but nowhere is it longwinded or flowery.  The adventure is explained in conversational, low-brow english, laced with puns and lolligagging and using accessible pop-culture references, giving the whole an infectious holiday feeling. And it’s about killing children! Again!

The reason I say this is probably the best thing Kelvin Green has ever done is that none of his usual Achilles Heels, which are bad follow through/insufficiently working out the implications of his high concept ideas, are present in Midvinter. It is an eminently well edited, playtested and worked out scenario. Ample motivations for going on the adventure? Check! Multiple options for handling the scenario in case the PCs do something unexpected? Check! Follow-up and aftermath for both the success and the failure condition? A variant where the cult’s beliefs ARE real? Check!

As the PCs make their way to the village in the mountains of Sweden, following some rumors of nastiness depending on their motivation, there are the obligatory random encounter tables, included reflexively more then anything, but this is not a complicated dungeon adventure or a wilderness hexcrawl.

This is a social adventure. The characters meet the bombastic Björn, swedish Brian Blessed turned hunter, and accompany him to a pleasant village, confronted with a circle of ominous runestones carved on rock and trees as they do so. In a manner that is reminiscent of Hot Fuzz, the characters are then invited to stay over for Midvinter and meet the Cultists and their families, who are all terribly, almost insufferably nice, yet it is made abundantly, terribly clear that something nasty is going on. All the characters are given at least one memorable way in which they interact with the PCs and one memorable thing they do upon dying, which is going to be tricky to remember, since there are exactly 41 cultists. This is one thing where I feel Kelvin Green erred, a cheat sheet with these interactions and telltales would have helped the GM run the adventure more easily, a consideration especially for holiday gaming when the GM might have a few Glühweins at the table. In fact pacing the adventure so that all the NPCs can be introduced so the moment of their deaths has the desired impact on the PCs is probably the largest challenge and Green does not provide you with much in the way of tools of managing that.

So the interesting thing here is that besides Björn taking the PCs out on a Bear Hunt, a complete red herring, the PCs can actually snoop around the village and discover signs of evil-doing by the cult long before the fated Midvinter, when everyone gathers together for a dinner, exchanges gifts, goes into the halls, and then pretends to sacrifice a maiden to Odin in the hopes of provoking the PCs into action. A fight is then started, which the cultists throw gleefully (only hitting on a nat 20 and only being missed on a nat 1). After the required number of cultists (21) are killed, the cultists break out into cheer and attempt to give everyone a hug and shake hands, secure in the knowledge that Rägnarok has been averted once again!

And again, this could have been much less dynamic then it is, with Green placing a secret room where the cult stores its captives under the village (which can be discovered), creepy ceremonial garments (which can absolutely be discovered), there’s a dissenter within their ranks who will attempt to spoil the ritual and so on. As it is the PCs have a method of figuring out what the fuck is going on before the ritual begins…and Green tries to take that into account too, although he freely admits that certain patterns, such as the PCs starting the killing early, will cause the ritual to fail.

There’s excessive mapping of each building that I doubt is entirely necessary for the completion of the adventure, but it does prevent the PCs from getting clued in that this is a farce and for what its worth its all well done, reminiscent of early Warhammer Fantasy floorplans. The art, for once, is appropriately cutesy.

There’s multiple pages of follow up involving the Cult’s secret help (or antagonism if the PCs didn’t go through with it) as well as a reaction from the authorities, which almost clashes with the farcical style of the adventure for being played so completely straight, but I rather appreciate the fact that in Kelvin Green’s world, the PCs can’t brazenly march up to a village, kill all its inhabitants and then march off into the sun-set, whistling heartily.

I think the major thing that doesn’t sit right with me in this adventure is the graphic violence directed against young children. While theoretically amusing in a sort of shock-jock fashion that we have come to suspect from Lotfp, some of the Dying commentary errs more on the heartbreaking then the comedic. “Did I do well?” asks 7-year old Lena as she crumbles to the ground with a spear through her heart. His lip wobbles and he cries, but Frans tries to stay brave. These scenes are heartwrenching to imagine, and I think ultimately Midvinter would have benefited from their exclusion more then their inclusion. Somehow these things are more fucked up then any Carcosan or Tekumélian description of similar or worse violence, perhaps because of the alienness of both settings, or that in the end, the deaths of the children in Midvinter signify nothing. It’s not over the top either, it tugs right at the heatstrings. As a PC you are free to not attack them of course, but why did you put that in the adventure then? It would be like finding a description of children in the Village of Hommlet, followed by a paragraph of If The Characters Molest The Children…   We’d probably tell Gary Gygax to go fuck himself. Gloomy ruminations. Would it be funny if the GM were wearing a beard and festive hat, as the game recommends he does, whilst Swedish Jule songs are playing in the background? Ah the questions Lotfp makes one ask.

I am curious. Kelvin has added an option for the ritual to be genuine, and Jeff, the main priest, to have genuine spellcasting power. Was this prompted by existential questioning, or merely a consideration that appealed to some but not to others?

The reason I am not sure this is an adventure is that its more of a vignette, it’s not designed to test player skill and any game elements serve mostly as a backdrop for the emotional punchline at the end. It’s not a particularly difficult scenario as written, even if the Cultists outnumber the characters ten to one, because of their tendency to throw the fight. It’s meant to make you experience a combination of emotions. Is your goal a fun time at the table? Then this would probably qualify if you are the right audience.

This one comes with a caveat. Are you teenage boys or Raggi fans, nihilists or do you just like the odd sick joke [1]? You will probably think this is pretty funny, and I think this would serve you well.

But at the same time, a 52 page one shot, virtually no challenge, the kid stuff… For me, I say give it a pass.

There is to be leveled no scorn at Kelvin Green, who has clearly done his utmost and spared no effort at conveying a proper festive atmosphere and his weirdo child-murder holiday adventure idea, which I think would work if people are in the market for such a thing.

Brobdignagian One-shots, 34 page side-treks, boring Kowolski modules, insane holiday modules I don’t even know you Lotfp guys anymore man. **

[1] If some of your players are women, you had best check to see if their hair is blue and greasy, ask for a recent history of sexual partners and keep careful track of the number of tattoos and piercings before deciding whether or not to serve an adventure about the murder of children on them. I know what you are thinking, Prince they play DnD voluntarily, the question is moot, but they might be someone’s girlfriend or a homeless woman just looking for a friend and some kindness. Be gentlemanly about it goddammit.


25 thoughts on “[Review] Midvinter (Lotfp); When is an adventure not an adventure?

  1. [Not an adventure]

    Not to mention that I don’t see how you can get any XP playing this thing.

    It’s weird, you’re being a lot gentler on the Lamentations folk recently. Is it because you have a soft spot for poor Raggi and all the self-inflicted wounds he’s suffering?

    These new Lamentations adventures lack something that was present in many (but not all) of the earlier entries: fun. I mean, this adventure sounds competently written but I’m wondering who would be psyched to run this, and who would get a kick out of playing it? Who is going to walk away from the table with fond memories of the time that a bunch of villagers tricked the party into killing them?

    It might be more interesting to me if there were some, I dunno, consequences for whatever the players choose. If they slaughter suicidal villagers in a pagan ritual, perhaps they should be pursued by the law. It would be amusing if there was a paranoid witchhunter, constantly warning the PCs that Something Is Wrong…only for him to turn on them when they get suckered into mass murder. What if the ritual doesn’t do what the people think it does, and actually summons a demon? All the fun was left on the floor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. Remember the days of “This dungeon has HOW MANY zombies in it??” or perhaps even “Fuck yeah, witches!!”

      This does not get me stoked to play the game. I am kind of baffled that Raggi put this out. What is he seeing that we’re not?

      Liked by 2 people

    2. You can find some treasure for xp, and the 0 HD cultists would be about 5 each if I recall correctly.

      Maybe my tone has lessened somewhat since he is no longer the big alpha dog in the big alpha dog house, but in this case I kind of hate having to pan it since it obviously took effort and work and he did his darnedest.

      I think it would work as a joke if it wasn’t for the kids honestly. I mean, you’d still feel like an idiot but it would be…an experience?!?

      There are consequences aplenty for what the PCs choose. The enmity of the cult has both drawbacks and advantages and the response of Law enforcement is given due diligence. That’s what I meant. I really get the feeling Green did his darnedest but its just not landing.

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  2. Thanks for reviewing this. Regarding Kelvin Green’s works, I think Forgive Us is better.
    The point about the slaughter of innocent children is well made: it does leave a bad taste, much better if the killing is restricted to adult cultists. There is a discussion of what happens in the aftermath (p40): if the slaughter has taken place, the PCs will receive unexpected aid from cultists in the future; on the downside, the law is on their trail.
    Have people seen the Wicker Man film? (I would rate this one of the best British horror films ever made, and it has a superb special edition on DVD, with multiple versions: the longer the cut of the film, the better it is in my opinion. You want the Edward Woodward/Christopher Lee film, not the Nic Cage atrocity.) Essentially a trail of breadcrumb clues has been left for the police sergeant, to make him think an innocent child is going to be sacrificed to appease for a failed harvest. However the whimsical locals have in fact trapped the sergeant, and he is sacrificed. It is a battle of wits, who is tricking who? As noted in the summary, this is an inverse Wicker Man, as the PCs are duped into slaughtering the cultists. I would like to see more detail about the locals’ deception (if you like, follow the plot of the film), until the surprise ending. I could see this working as a WFRP adventure. There is another Lamentations adventure, Sirenswail, on Lulu, which is a straight reworking of the Wicker Man. It has several favourable reviews, but seems to lack usable detail for the referee in my judgement.
    I would agree with Edgewise and HDA that there is a limit to the number of these sort of modules most people would actually want to play. Hobbies are supposed to be fun.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That was the first thing I noticed about this …
        In Midsommar a group of american students travel to some backwater swedish town to observe the midsommar rituals. The locals of course are a cult and begin to sacrifice the students, brainwashing/turning the last one to their side in the process (she is the women on the cover). All the while the cultists are nothing but friendly, cordial and in general … much better people than the students 🙂
        So the Midvinter adventure is also a bit of a inversed midsommar

        Liked by 1 person

    1. If it was just the first adventure in Forgive Us, I’d agree with you, but the second and third adventure in that collection are pretty bad, so I’d say Midvinter is his most polished effort so far.

      I’ll add Wicker Man to my saturday evening movie-night cue, alongside The Lighthouse, Throne of Evil, Robot (the indian version) and Bahubaali 2: The Conclusion.

      Good job on the Midsomer stuff galls. Prayers to Nergal that he might move his shadow from my fucking house much appreciated. Sniffles are fucking gay.

      Like

  3. Oh an adventure involving cultists that voluntarily want to die to avoid the unmaking of the world and it also preys on “sword and wand-ho” type players? I do love myself some Arctic Cultists,The Ritual is a favorite of mine because of that. Man, this sounds pretty nifty, what’s the problem with i-

    And there is the catch: dead kids This is why I can’t play Death Loves Doom, even with my macabre tastes, I can’t stomach it. What happened to all the family made feel utter disgust. But hey,like you said, those weirdo child murderers may get a kick out of this….I hope those players don’t exist.

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    1. I think DLD or something like Carcosa (which I did run most heartily, though no kids were diddled) is a matter of taste, your degree of immersion, etc. etc. You are supposed to feel disgust and horror at DLD, that’s the whole point. If that’s not what you are cruising for then it’s fine to not want to run it. The problem in Midvinter, is that the violence is presented as comedic, which is fine, but some of the subjects are kids and their responses are piteous and provoke sympathy, not hilarity.

      I think maybe if you grew up on a diet of Toxic Avenger and Hobo With A Shotgun you’d probably be able to place all this stuff in the right context but for me, the disconnect would probably take me out of it. I don’t get it either, all the adults have punchlines to say when they die, or do something funny, you could probably do the same for the kids. It would still be fucked up, but it would be more cartoony so your brain is less likely to take it seriously.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This sounds like absolute dogshit. After nearly a decade of bitch-slapping chaotic stupid PCs back into line this guy thinks I will run a game were they are expected to be murdehobos? Oo how novel and subversive! Fuck you game.

    I do like that it let’s you hurt children though.

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    1. I think you should switch beers. The hangovers of too much Amstel aren’t doing your mood any favors.

      Like

  5. Re The Lighthouse
    Over-pretentious self-indulgent tripe. You won’t get back the the hours you will spend watching it.

    Re sniffles
    Consider yourself reported to the RIVM!

    Re Midvinter
    What I don’t understand is why this was published in luxury format (ie hardcover).
    It could have been published in flappertje format without any loss. Raggi needs the extra cash from HC format?

    Cheers,

    PS: I approve of your spreading of the Gospel Of The Bleakwarrior 🙂

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    1. [Lighthouse]
      Damn it looked good.

      [Sniffles]
      There’s a flu epedemic currently going on and my symptoms started wednesday. I don’t think its fucking Corona, but if I get worse I’ll report in.

      [Midvinter]
      Maybe a sort of Lotfp Holiday Special? I guess if your fans are going to pay the dough you might as well at this point. Any fans that are still on the brand are the real fucking Whales at this point. I am very interested in the Drivethru Hottest Titles section, which contains Veins and then all of Zak’s stuff on top. Does Hottest Titles refer to total number of sales or does it measure it per interval?

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  6. I think you may have just given Raggi a marketing blurb for this. “PrinceofNothing says, ‘more fucked up then any Carcosan or Tekumélian … or worse violence!'”

    I’ve actually been thinking about child-murder in adventures recently. I’m going to be running Gary’s own B2 as part of a fundraiser for my kids’ school in a few months and I have been thinking about how I should handle the Lizard Men, Orc, and Kobold young (all of whom don’t attack). Realizing that being monsters gives them a distance, there is still a moral conundrum that is presented to the PCs, usually after they have the blood of the parents on their hands. I’m usually not too squeamish about children dying in my games when I’m running for adults, but I don’t know if I’m comfortable exposing other people’s 10-year-olds to infanticide through role-playing.

    If I were going to run Midvinter, I would make the villagers conflicted about what they felt they needed to do, give a chance for the PCs to figure it out beforehand, and then have a supernatural consequence if the sacrifice doesn’t take place. That way, the PCs can choose to stop the sacrifice, but then they must save the town from whatever the gods send their way. I would make it much higher level, and a multi-session adventure, though at that point.

    Raggi seems to have been moving away from the supernatural in his adventures the past few years. I remember he put out a cattle-call a couple years ago for sample adventures for the ref book. He explicitly asked for little to no supernatural elements. I think having adventures like this are fine, but it can turn everything into a Scooby Doo adventure where the rumored ghosts turn out to be smugglers in the night or hallucinations due to toxic mushrooms.

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    1. I think the damage of granting such legitimacy would overrule any snazzy marketing catchphrase.

      [B2]
      That’s interesting. I think you could put them in as long as you don’t use the word ‘orc children’ or ‘baby goblins’ or similar language. Hatchlings, infants, whathaveyou. Or maybe keep them out, just have the orcs have a bunch of eggs if you don’t want to have a discussion with the managements about “nits making lice.”

      [Midvinter]
      Turn a joke adventure in a non-joke adventure? You are a brave man.

      [Supernatural]
      I recall vaguely complaining about Lotfp never being about anything but if the recent influx of garbage modules is any indication, a low fantasy Lotfp line is atrociously boring, and B/X is an atrociously bad system for low/no magic.

      Creeping Cold is up next btw. Hope its any good.

      Like

      1. Caveat: I don’t know your exact definition, but I am assuming low as in, parties without a single spellcaster, all magic items are unique, no readily available magic consumble etc. etc.

        My short answer would be the class system. I think low magic DnD is doable for B/X but if you are going to go all Ftrs and Thieves only guys it helps if you can load everyone up with some proficiencies or subclasses or anything to differentiate them from eachother mechanically once magic drops out (almost) entirely. I guess you could do a low magic game where you have magic, that would be pretty good.

        I did Carcosa for a long while which is essentially priestless/wizardless DnD and found that beefing up the PCs a little with the odd disposable item, special ability or by increasing the psychic power choice did wonders for adding some variety, otherwise you are going to see a lot of burning oil fights.

        There’s a double whammy too with monsters in B/X where a lot of special defenses and abilities are predicated upon the way they interact with magic in the game.

        Dungeoncrawling without access to magical healing is a slow and arduous process too. I guess if you allow the PCs to have a lot of magic you should be fine, but its going to be interesting to see how your adventure handles that.

        I mean, you can probably do it and make it work, its not rocket science, but you have to look at other games that are like that like Warhammer Fantasy and see OH WAIT.

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    1. Aren’t you still hallucinating from the beatdown Bryce gave your poor module, I thought you were a tough guy. A real man wouldn’t let someone speak about his masterpiece like that…

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      1. Are you kidding? Bryce’s review was the long awaited RPG fellatio I’d been waiting for all winter. It got me off, good and hard!

        I’m still hallucinating, but these days that’s my natural state. I can taste purple…

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    1. No. While Edgewise was arguably correct in asserting that Zakbook could be reduced signficantly, that is because its primary components were rules. Midvinter is a comedy adventure and comedy relies on fluff, build-up, tension, mood etc. etc. Reducing it to a paragraph of description renders it much weaker.

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      1. But someone said above. It’s a comedy adventure, but is the joke good? Being tricked into killing a bunch of people including children? Someone reading my comment might think I’m a prude, but I have read and seen my share of extreme stuff, but I don’t think it translates well into an RPG module, which will be used by god-knows who in god-knows were.

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  7. That’s a fair review, thank you.

    Regarding your “I’m curious” questions, James was very keen that the ritual be fake and there be no supernatural elements, but I wanted to give GMs the option. Nothing more to it than that, alas.

    Liked by 1 person

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