Death Frost Doom revised (2014)
James Edward Raggi IV & Zak S (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)
Levels 1 – 3
Summary: Evil Dead II + Army of Darkness + Lichway
When I was but a sprightly young lad and my blog was but a tiny waxinelichtje amidst radiant roaring bonfires of the OSR, I saw fit to give Death Frost Doom a review because reviewing rpgs is what I do. Now they are long gone, and mine is the fire. Unfortunately for me my review kind of sucks, and given DFD’s relative importance that bothered me enough to revisit it. With my quest for excellent adventure in frozen climes in full swing, now I finally have an excuse to revisit it.
Death Frost Doom revised is the augmented, expanded edition of Lamentations of the Flame Princess’s flagship module. Stripped of its second assholish adventure, decorated with gorgeous Jez Gordon black and white art, given a spiffy new layout with vastly improved readability and dubiously recast in the ironic hipster Zak bafflegarble, the module is brimming with atmosphere and fascinating ideas but suffers from multiple defects carried over from the original or introduced in this new edition. Let us begin.
There is a mountain that no-one climbs. It dominates the landscape like fear and the memories of what once lived there. But memory recedes and rumor breeds—and the rumor is a rumor of gold.
Someone will be the first to scale the white mountain: it will be someone who is greedy, stupid or fanatical— but also, perhaps, lucky
Trademark akward Zak baffle-prose (one shudders to think what a Zak novel would look like), where sentences are cobbled together out of words having similar emotional connotations but might as well be placed in random order. The mountain dominates the landscape like fear ey ? Compare with James’s original:
There stands a mountain upon which nobody climbs. Legend holds that a great evil once lived upon the mountain and forever cursed the land. But fear fades with time, and the blood of those supposedly lost long ago lay claim to the fortunes that they say were stolen from their kin. As yet, none dare attempt to retrieve these riches.
A little verbose but at least we know what is going on and the tone is consistent. The mountain is meant to be placed somewhere in the campaign world, with the option of placing a much needed quest item inside as possible hook for the PCs. A specific hook and item probably would have been more useful but its inoffensive. Short instructions to enable the scenario to be run as a one shot by omitting the introductory sections are welcome, and minor tips on maintaining atmosphere would continue on throughout the adventure, which is much appreciated in a horror adventure where mood and theme are paramount.
Now might as well be the time to cover the Foreword, always a treat for would-be assassins of character and gleeful pillorers of all kinds when it comes to Lotfp. This is James Raggi giving credit where it is due in response to the manifold observations of this module’s obvious and unacknowledged debt to Lichway:
LotFP’s standards of writing, presentation, and “borrowing” classic bits (accidentally,
incidentally, coincidentally, or on purpose) are much different now. I didn’t want to release a throwback, and I didn’t want this new edition to be a celebration of past glories, I wanted something fresh. Something as striking for 2014 as the first printing had been in 2009.
A trademark of the insecure narcissist is the inability to acknowledge a debt to some other intellectual source, no matter how sleight. Death Frost Doom takes clear inspiration from Lichway  but has been recast as a horror adventure and has plenty of other features, thus there is no shame in admitting the inspiration. The half-hearted passive agressive acknowledgement is textbook Raggi. Zak further compounds the offense, by suggesting that DFD is somehow a radically new innovation in the RPG genre.
When a freakishly original thing is made, it inevitably contains both inherited and mutant genes. When the original Death Frost Doom was found on the doorstep of the
old school gaming scene, its horror-shortstory tone and structure came thinly wrapped
in familiar adventure-game trappings. James and I agreed that this new edition should
maintain that tone and structure, but replace as many of the handed-down bits as possible with more creepy magic
I get it, everyone needs to do their marketing and authors can’t be expected to be aware of everything that came out in 30 years but presumably people have heard of Call of Cthulhu or Ravenloft or countless other attempts at rpg horror yes? I mean fucking Raggi certainly heard of them.
The PCs must venture up the mountain in order to reach the stronghold of the ancient cult. Sadly this is where any treatment of wilderness rules ends, technically disqualifying Death Frost Doom from my Polar adventure delve, but who cares? The cold in DFD is meant for atmospheric purposes. Effective use of foreshadowing is made by having the party encounter a mad old hermit, warning the PCs away and trying in some small way to put the countless thousands of souls that perished to the evil cult to rest. The mood is set.
“When I was young, evil lived on this mountain. It was destroyed, but not before it had taken thousands of innocents—piled in mass graves, no proper rites or markers. Lost to
the gods and human memory alike. No one cared— the evil was gone, and that was all that mattered to anyone. But I remembered—the faces—they were real men, real women. And they killed children too. They did things and had names! And I’ll put every
name I can find on a stone. I use to make cairns, statues, but there were too many dead. And there are still. The bad men had a list of names in their old meeting place. I copy one hundred at a time… I’ll never finish. I am too old, and probably the only one left who remembers. So many….So many…”
The dungeon proper is underneath an evil cabin in the centre of a graveyard, raised by Old Man Zeke. In the new edition, Zeke carves the monuments out of wood and there is a complicated process on the site of the dungeon involving the transformation of water into liquid time, causing the wooden monuments to turn to stone. This process and its meany features are somewhat overexplained throughout the module proper, which functions on an atmospherical level, rather then a rational one. There’s a death cult, they have been at it for seven millenia, they can turn water into liquid time, they turned a man into a parasite eater of souls and also there is a giant under the mountain that they have been feeding, also here is a bottomless well which is enchanted so you don’t need food so if you fall you will age to death before you hit the bottom!
The Cabin provides foreshadowing for what is to come, and is reminiscent of Evil Dead II (I mean the goddamn moose head is there). Expect cursed books, cursed mirrors, a clock that fucks with time, and other bits of foreshadowing that make it ABUNDANTLY CLEAR that shit is fucked in the dungeon.
The dungeon does have a second entrance, which is good, but it lacks the genius topology of its predecessor. It retains the spiral-like structure of Lichway but most of the interconnection between areas is missing. There is a hidden exit in area 7 of the dungeon, but the geography of the place and the origin of the undead virtually ensures that PCs will never use it, as escaping through the main entrance is much more effective. Sadly the horrific flourishes of DFD come at the expense of player agency. It is effectively impossible to bypass killing the Sacred Parasite , virtually impossible to learn of the effects of its death before it appears  and a cautious party can simply plunder all the commoner’s tombs and leave the mountain, with none the worse for wear. There is a bit of meta required for the PCs to keep on venturing forth in such an obviously accursed place.
What DFD does and does well, arguably better in the Zak rewrite, is build up atmosphere. Zak has a penchant for memorable fantasy names and his write up of the cryptic and sinister prayers and incantations of the Duvan’Ku death cult is more effective then Raggi’s at times on the nose descriptions. Clear expressions of horror are intermixed with esoteric references or naming schemes with no sensible origin, highlighting the alienness and evil of the death cult. “I commandeth the nine million, I commandeth the seventy blasphemies, I speak through the worms in the heart of the Grey-Black Star.” Good is clear and simple truth, evil is atrocity wrapped in murky esotericism. Unfortunate naming schemes giving birth to such uncreations as Magen Eisenthrast, Gorgulos Nexx, Nazir An-Azat or Aetheldredd Aleph should be employed only if the game suffers from a deficit of sneering, contemptuous laughter. Perhaps Venger and Zak could be convinced to team up. The D’ungeon-Moon of Xeath’rix X’an’at.
The atmosphere of constant danger is enforced not by frequent combat, which should be dialed down in most dungeons and rare in horror games, but by myriad accursed objects, omnipresent evil that prevents restful slumber, and hints of sorcery that have no immediate impact, like a painting with the characters on it. There is a potential problem that some of the peril is bullshit, like poisonous Save or Die spores in the church organ, provoking players into being too cautious, which is a shame since much of the depth and information in this adventure is communicated through tomes and other writing. Tried some water from the cursed fount? Save or die or you will grow extra teeth until your face explodes! It’s on the nose but its kind of awesome.
The manifold tomes in the adventure, a Raggian conceit, add a nice Call of Cthulhu vibe to the whole and reward exploration. The true names of The Greater Repugnances, powerful undead creatures that can be discerned deep in the tomb can be discerned, tomes with blasphemous secrets and sorceries are manifold  and stray incantations carved upon various surfaces are delivered to the player on a note and trigger only when read aloud, another homage to what I am starting to suspect is the Evil Dead Series. Songs can be discovered and played on the harpsichord, the water clock can be manipulated to pass time, there are a few of these mechanisms scattered about the complex that reward exploration and add some hidden depth, though for example the Harpsichord gets carried away, devolving into a page of memes as the effects of playing various songs on it gets discussed.
For some reason this adventure sees fit to offer customization options that aren’t really that meaningful, possibly as a sort of version control. There’s 3 different old man Zeke options, different undead options, 4 different options for the buried giant in the mountain. “Vorn had been kept asleep by those responsible for the shrine, who use the Sacred Parasite to harvest energy from the sleeping god (in order to grow a new one). In this case, dropping things in the pit merely caused tremors (save vs Breath Weapon or be knocked around for d4 damage) and there was actually a whole other dungeon down there, built half into the mountain, half into the body of the god.” Uh huh sure there was. Boy that would have been a great replacement for the Tower of the Du’vanku as an addition, it’s a shame Zak never got around to including that totally real dungeon that he made that existed. Just give us the hook. It’s fine.
After the parasite has been destroyed and things are already turning into a shitshow, the Tombs of the Greater Repugnances become accessible and myriad bizarre horrors with interesting abilities may be encountered. Oathkeepers, interrogators, executioners and undead baby vomiting inquisitors show themselves in their obscene glory. The strongest part here is the element of factions, there’s antipathy and the possibility to co-operate with a powerful undead lord as one of the means to escape, though once you encounter him you are essentially forced to make an alliance or risk fighting a 10 HD vampire. The reasons for this creature to remain inside the tomb for untold centuries err on the side of convolution.
That being said, DFD is interesting for the ramifications on the GM’s unsuspecting campaign, and the text, though verbose, does help you utilize the possibilities. Vampire Lords and hordes of hungry, accursed dead are released into the countryside. That should give your campaign a nice little boost.
Death Frost Doom is a horror adventure and as such, not fair. The players will most likely trigger an undead apocalypse without being given ample warning, or be forced to deal with creatures of absolute evil or die. In a normal adventure those are drawbacks. In a horror adventure that’s allowed.
It’s Raggi and Zak so the writing is convoluted and in desperate need of pruning:
The Sacred Parasite—created by the cult from an innocent victim via long-forgotten blasphemies in an attempt to slowly grow a new god—feeds on the blood and vital fluid
from the entombed creature beneath the mountain and from the mass of compacted
dead human flesh integrated into the mountain’s substrate. Because its metabolism (like so much else here) is infected with the liquid time that condenses when pure rain water hits the peak of the sacred mountain, it spontaneously absorbs and suspends most of the souls slain here inside the glasslike spheres of liquid time throughout its body.
When its body collapses, the souls of the innocent (agonized by the creature’s bizarre
song for hundreds or thousands of years) and the wicked (to whom the song is a lullaby)
return to their bodies.
This adventure is good. There’s annoyances of overwriting, agency, its easy to just take the treasure and GTFO, the parasite is 6 HD which is on the brutal side if you have a lvl 1 party, a bit too heavy on the save or die bullshit and barring the more readable layout, I am not even sure the Revised addition is strictly better. There’s an artificiality to a lot of Zaks writing that makes it hard to get invested in his imaginary worlds. But the cult is suitably horrific, I like the exposition via tomes and references, there’s effective use of foreshadowing and buildup of tension, interactive elements of hidden depth, faction play, OH SHIT THE UNDEAD and plenty of fucked up shit to mess around with. Probably the most quintessentially Lotfp adventure, and an acid test for you to see if the line is anything you’d be into. ***
 If I might suggest a full postmodernist reworking; A terrible mountain of fear exists in silent hunger. Long memories of evil lure promise of riches untold. Ancient horror dreams of the fanatic, the greedy and the fool, but perhaps, also, luck awaits the bold?
 Both adventures contain as a central feature countless undead, held in repose by the song of a creature (a literal Sussurus in the original edition).
 For some reason DFD revised offers an inordinate amount of ways for characters to temporarily stun the creature, but climbing past it to explore the rooms beyond is so fraught with peril that it will have to be destroyed anyway. Since the quest item is placed beyond it, with the creature blocking the way, it is technically possible a party will stun it, quickly climb past it, retrieve the quest item and then fuck off
 There is a sort of astrolable cum torture device that can generate an augury, and theoretically Speak With Dead should enable PCs to learn of the nature of the Sacred Parasite from parallel adventuring parties in the High Priests room but Speak with Dead is beyond the ability of the players.
 And included mostly as flavor text I imagine, I think PCs have been punished for delving too deep too often so they become naturally conservative.
 Its difficult to analyze why. Ideas are interesting but there’s a lack of continuity, a flatness. I am never convinced anything has an existence outside of their appearance in the encounter.