[Review] Death Frost Doom Revised; A Revision Revisited

[Adventure]
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

Deathfrost Doom

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  [1]? 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.

Death Frost Doom takes clear inspiration from Lichway [2] 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 aggressive acknowledgement is textbook Raggi. UPDATE: Here I was terribly uncharitable. Raggi has since explained that the cause is parallel evolution from the Sussurus in the Fiend Folio, which seems as good an explanation as any.

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 [3], virtually impossible to learn of the effects of its death before it appears [4] 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 but this is par for the course in a horror adventure.

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 [5] 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, maybe great. 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[6]. 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. ***

UPDATE (3-7-2021): Raggi’s position as of 2021 is that the resemblance is essentially a coincidence, the result of parallel evolution using the Sussurus, and I have decided to take him at his word.

[1] 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?
[2] 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).
[3] 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
[4] 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.
[5] 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.
[6] 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.


20 thoughts on “[Review] Death Frost Doom Revised; A Revision Revisited

  1. [Postmodern intro]

    I know you’re being sarcastic, but your blurb works pretty well. I don’t mind a little bit of impressionistic exposition – does that really make it “postmodern,” though?

    [Speak With Dead]

    I think some of the problems with this adventure that you mention could be alleviated with, as you allude, access to Speak With Dead. Since they are low level, either a couple scrolls or an amulet with a limited number of castings would be perfect.

    After all, there are so many corpses they could choose to speak with, and only certain ones will be able to tell the party what they want/need to know. And the PCs are unlikely to think of the right questions. I think the doom mechanic would be a lot more effective if it’s plain to the party afterwards that they COULD have figured it out if they had just been a little sharper…

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    1. I know jack shit about any literature past the 19th century so mea culpa for any miscategorizations I may have commited, I was trying to allude tot the mode where one is meant to read sentences not as a carefully constructed whole but as a collection of separate elements. I was under the impression this style was post WW2 but perhaps I am in error.

      [SWD]

      There are many such totems in the 2nd room in the form of skeletal hands, which may be grafted unto a suitable corpse so they may write out the answers of the long dead. I don’t think those would work on the priest skulls though.

      [Doom]

      I think the Doom mechanic is another example of over-writing. Its a ticking clock but it doesn’t really add much as a mere 120 minutes is barely enough time to get to the parasite in the first place. I suspect most of the runs have the dead wake nigh instantaneously once the Parasite is killed. Seriously. If you take about a turn per room they will have elapsed. Or are these meant to be real-time minutes.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m not sure about the categories, either. I just see “pomo” tossed around a lot as a pejorative for pretentious stuff and I am always looking for low-hanging opportunities for pedantry.

        I have a theory that most of what’s called post-modernism is really just a phase of modernism. It’s just a sort of ingrown and metastasized modernism that’s started to eat itself and go foul. I don’t think that all postmodernism is unsalvagable, but the core ideas just take everything to an unacceptable extreme of relativism until it obliterates its own morality. But that kind of relativism is a natural and understandable outgrowth of the modern world, which upends tradition etc.

        The only thing I would call truly “post-modern” would be the development of true weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear bombs and certain biological weapons. Those change the whole equation of human politics so that the excesses of history are no longer acceptable. The old tribalisms no longer work when we can so easily annihilate all the tribes at once.

        And ironically, the invention of these weapons should be most immediately lethal to relativism. The survival of the species seems like it would be a pretty hard line in the sand.

        In the same vein, I’d argue that this so-called “Information Age” is just the most recent phase of the same old Industrial Age. Industry, as a way of life and an ideology, has always been about replacing labor costs with capital costs i.e. productivity. What better describes that than the shift in power away from content creators and “gig economy” laborers?

        We never really left the 19th century, except for the nukes.

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      2. Whew, give me a second to shift gear.

        [Modernism v postmodernism]

        I agree with your classification but not with your conclusion. I would postulate modernist philosophy is philosophically incoherent or otherwise deficient and lacks the anchor points to prevent itself from collapsing into postmodernism. The crutch of scientific materialism helps prop it up on one side only to have the edifice teeter over on the other since as postmodernism gleefully assails the very concepts and buildings blocks we use to express ourselves. Modernism will be forced to distill from the Olde Ways the parameters of a functional operating system for society or it will be replaced with something that will.

        It should also be pointed out that postmodernism or gnosticism or whatever label you put on it is more of a recurring bug in the philosophical ecosystem then anything truly new. I think the driving force for its inception is inevitably the same; decline, overcomplexity, weariness and a lack of trust or antipathy towards the society, civilisation or very reality one inhabits. Circumstances might be different, but the fundamental motivation of human beings (the motions of their soul, if I can use a Bakkerism) remains the same.

        [PM]

        You would not count our vastly increased computational ability and speed of information transfer that is currently dismantling our ability to maintain a common cultural frame of reference until we become a million tiny motes, held together by force and disparate pop culture references, signifying nothing?

        [Nukes vs relativism]

        Ah, but what is a ‘species’ if not a few base pairs arbitrarily different by mutation and random chance? Nature is a continuous spectrum, these categories of ‘species’ and ‘extinction’ have simply been imposed by imperialist fascist patriarchs and are the basis of all inequality in the world and for this reason it is imperative that I be given your tax dollars, despite my contribution to society being vastly inferior to yours. Give them us.

        Nukes are absolute? In what way? We are constantly bombarded by the radiation from a vast fusion explosion that has been going on for billions of years. Fusion explosions are far more prevalent, far more permanent and far more ‘natural’ then the virus that is mankind. The universe is filled with the Light Empyreal, not with monkey people. I can think of no greater tribute, no more fitting end, no surer means of apotheosis from this false realm of crude matter and ugliness and unfairness then to bathe our cities and bodies in the Light Empyreal, to watch a thousand radiant pillars being born to wash away the sins of mankind in one glorious, atomic crescendo.

        [IdAg vs II]

        Viewed through that lens your observation is correct but you could probably make that observation from the Stone Age onward.

        [19th Century]

        Information Age.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. [Modernism v postmodernism]

        I guess you’re pretty skeptical of modernism. I shouldn’t be surprised!

        Personally I’m skeptical across the board. I go with modernism because I think it’s the best bet to address the world we live in, but I guess that’s a whole other discussion. I will say this: I don’t think any philosophical system that people live by is going to be “coherent.” Eventually it all just detaches from reality e.g. religion. Seriously, find me the coherent lived-in philosophy. I’ll wait. Coherency is overrated, anyway.

        Every school of thought that governs a culture is going to be constantly under siege; I agree with that. But I’m unfamiliar with any predecessor to “pomo” that takes everything to such a relativistic extreme. Maybe you just think that’s the precise form of this particular decay. I’ll assume that’s what you meant.

        I think pomo is definitely a challenge from within. Modernism definitely has its excesses, and one of those excesses was its triumphalism. It also has its deficiencies with addressing the inner life of humanity. But that’s not so much an antagonism as a deficiency that can be addressed.

        Also, I’d say there’s more than scientific materialism keeping it afloat. There’s also capitalism. And the need to not become a bunch of quarreling nuke-happy tribes certainly motivates some of us.

        [PM]

        I’ll quote the whole thing:

        “You would not count our vastly increased computational ability and speed of information transfer that is currently dismantling our ability to maintain a common cultural frame of reference until we become a million tiny motes, held together by force and disparate pop culture references, signifying nothing?”

        That’s just a new metaphor, like “cogs in the machine.” All the things you are mentioning are parts of a trend that has been occurring since the proliferation of mass media and state-managed education. The global brain has been becoming more interconnected for some time, now.

        [Relativism and nuclear war]

        Ah, you’re being cute. I don’t think even the pomos would say that stuff. Sure, if you want to play it that way, anything can be subjective. It’s like, all just INFORMATION, mannnnn. Sure. That’s why I called nuclear war “a hard line IN THE SAND.”

        But if we’re talking about how people live their lives and what they care about, there’s nothing subjective or relative about nuclear war. If anything is not just a matter of quantity over quality, then it’s the extinction of our species. The only people who feel differently are ineffectual theorists and the insane.

        [IdAg vs II]

        I have to admit that I don’t know what this abbreviates.

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      4. [Doom]
        I’d always read the timer as in-game time, but when I first saw someone suggest taking it as real world time, I kind of loved the idea of hooking it onto something foreign to the game. I had been planning on testing it this month, but my prospective guinea pig is behind a government lockdown now.

        [Original vs. Revision]
        I think the biggest (good) change was adding the connection from the kitchen (7) to the greater tombs (28). It’s hidden, but at least that gives the PCs a chance of getting to the greater tombs without facing the sacred parasite.
        (This being obscured on the actual map by an undead face and requiring noticing the text buried in overwritten fluff is either horrible information layout or brilliant reward for pixelbitching). The snow globe room is also a nice bit of flavor. Otherwise, I tend to prefer the original. At least Raggi’s wordiness tried to be comprehensible instead of TrUe ArT, and unexplained weird works better for me than half-explained weird.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Here’s my candidate for worst prose in DFD:

    “If you fear the wolves, it is only because you know their hunger is akin to yours. They do not menace you — they merely contest you — as any man does. Only honestly.”

    If/when I run this thing, Mr. Carnithrax will NOT be saying that to the PCs. Overall, the death metal theme works though. This is one of the few modules that feels scary, a few corny missteps like crawling undead fetuses and silly comments about wolves notwithstanding.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OEF. I think I read that one but it was so horrible the neurons that are responsible for detecting bad prose were schorched shut and I am only now starting to experience its full hideousness. Perhaps I should not have reread the Michael Moorcock’s the Stealer of Souls.

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  3. I’m either an idiot (which there is ample evidence for) or I never truly comprehended the prose works of Raggi and Zack.
    Here’s my shit*y parody work of it:
    “Truly men’s sins are like birds for their voracious appetites are not bond by the gravity of morality.”

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    1. “Truly men’s sins are like birds for their voracious appetites are not bond by the gravity of morality.”

      A Masterpiece … I even cried a little when I read it. Though I can’t tell you if it was from being moved by the prose or trying to keep the laughter in ;-P

      I’m somewhat reminded of the Sphinx from the movie “Mystery Men”

      “You must lash out with every limb, like the octopus who plays the drums.”
      “Learn to hide your strikes from your opponent and you’ll more easily strike his hide.”
      “You must be like the wolf pack… not like the six-pack.”

      Though at least this character was intended as a parody of the wise, mysterious teacher trope.

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    2. Superb. I shall offer “The pig that is your gluttonous rage devours reason from within.”

      That original quote was a wonderful find. Harrison Ford’s “You can type this s**t, but you sure can’t say it”
      seems in order.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. These are starting to remind me of the Bulwer-Lytton contest for each year’s best worst sentence to begin a terrible non-existent novel.

        Here’s the winner from last year:

        “Space Fleet Commander Brad Brad sat in silence, surrounded by a slowly dissipating cloud of smoke, maintaining the same forlorn frown that had been fixed upon his face since he’d accidentally destroyed the phenomenon known as time, thirteen inches ago.”

        This one from the fantasy category was pretty good if a bit on the nose:

        “The High Gondonderil gazed on with horror as the Elgaborian legions marched at a single, pitiless pace into the once peaceful streets of Sar-Andrada, the capital city of the kingdom of Xanthil, located in a fantasy universe which might seem extremely confusing at present but which will doubtless make perfect sense to you, dear reader, once you realize that, like most fantasy universes, it’s basically just Tolkien’s Middle-earth with different names for things.”

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