[Review] Crypts of Indormancy (OSR); Get thee Arthaus Homos out of mine hobby

[Adventure]
Crypts of Indormancy (2016)
Ezra Claverie (Melsonian Arts Council)
Lvl ???

Does Patrick Stuart ever feel guilty about the abhorrent movement he midwifed? Does he ever, in his Ivory Tower, pause as he swims through limitless piles of kickstarter-electrum and look outside, through the sickly sweet musk of vanilla-vape, to behold with shame the unwashed pink-mohawk wearing micro-brewery arthaus nightmare the hobby has become? Did he know when he accidentally mailed the excised pages of his psychiatric evaluation report to Scrapprincess and mistakenly scribbled “I WANT YOU TO MAKE THE WORST POSSIBLE ART FOR THIS” on the envelop what atrocity his visionary publication would wreak? This hobby used to be about something. I mean sure, you could not physically enter a hobbyshop without being assailed by the eye-watering stench of catpiss clinging to every dorito-stained inch of the shop, earmuffs donned to drown out the cacophony of autistic screeching and every purchase of a TSR module came with a 100 metre restraining order against all the local schools but at least we had goddamn passion and focus goddamnit. We had Dreams! Admittedly some of those dreams were nightmares of watching Gary Gygax break through the back door of the shop, berserk on cocktails of amphetamines and peyote, pelting us with faeces-covered polyhedrals and screaming about Cyborg commandos, but time heals old wounds and turns all the silver memories to gold. In today’s decadent age the parlours and boutiques of drivethru are clogged with excrable arthaus drivel, inexpertly written for vaguely DnDish rulesystems and packed with ironic non-functionality and the flicking of greasy mohawks ALL OF THEM INEXPERTLY AND INEXPLICABLY ILLUSTRATED BY SCRAPPRINCESS. WHERE DOES SHE FIND THE GODDAMN TIME? WHO IN THE DIY SCENE DOES SHE HAVE DIRT ON? Well I have officially had enough. The chickens have come home to roost. The Tick-tock man is here to tell Harlequin to repent! YOU ARTHAUS HOMOS HAVE GONE TOO FAR THIS TIME!

Picture a man; James Gordon. Small, timid, enervated by the spiritual poverty of modern existence, his one sustaining passion; DnD. Unable to afford even the rudimentary necessities of a home campaign, he makes do with scrabbled together second-hand house rules and a badly-thumbed copy of B1 that he runs every night with his fellow drifters until they know each room by heart. All in all a piteous, irrelevant bit of flotsam carried along on the currents of the ocean called Real Life. But his life is about to take a turn for the sinister and the bizarre. He is about to come into possession…of Crypts of Indormancy. 

Whatever drew him to purchase such an odd and disturbing piece of memetic anti-matter cunningly disguised as a module or how he obtained the means to afford said purchase is no longer known. What is known is that one night James Gordon came home to the hovel his body inhabits while his mind is off on fantastic adventure carrying a module 70 pages in length, yet only 6 rooms in size. His Wife asks him “whats got you so riled up dear?” and he responds simply “for once in your goddamn life be quiet Woman! My luck is finally going to change. A new module Helen! A new module! Invite the Boys! Tonight we travel to a fareaway land!” and he kisses her and slaps her and sits down to read his trophy, his salvation, his new god.

When his companions and relatives gathered together to play the new module he is already visibly sweating and uneasy. He did not fully comprehend the module and his contents despite its relatively simple premise and 6 room layout. Gritting his teeth, he decides to make do, but what awaits him is far worse then he can conceive, and this time his innocent flights of fancy will carry him far further then he can imagine, into the nightmare haunted realm of perpetual twilight, known as…The Crypts of Indormancy.

I will be damned if I do the entire module in this style. There is too much to scream about and too little time.

The system of Crypts of Indormancy is undefined, shadowy, a vague compatibility with both OSR and more modern games ensures that the vision behind it can never be firmly gripped, only inferred, as though the author conceived it subconsciously…or was made to conceive it.

Picture a setting. An island nation of vaguely polynesian theming, still reeling from the colonial occupation of Elves 1400 years ago (i.e. so far beyond the memory of tribes that it would have sunk into legend if it was remembered at all) that are, for some reason, like early modern Europeans. This begs the question: Why are they elves at all? The answer is that they aren’t I guess? Maybe longevity is the point. With the aid of turtle men that are not in this adventure, the natives defeated the elves and the Elf Queen sued for piece. One general was really pissed and wanted to murder the natives but they couldn’t and he was killed by his own men, but then his daughter used a secret plot involving necromancy to possibly provoke the natives into looting his tomb which could finally cause the Elven Assembly to approve of a diplomatic plot to get rid of the Islanders…I guess?

The plot is nonsense, an incoherent collection of tropes assembled for no discernible reason as if by an Artificial Intelligence. This is by far the most intelligible part of the adventure since I was able to describe it. The map is far far worse. I was unable to make sense of how to navigate the 4 different maps that are included FOR THIS 6 ROOM TOMB. YOU ARE DOING THIS ON PURPOSE. THIS IS SOME SORT OF DADA-ESQUE ANTI-MODULE DESIGNED TO UNDERMINE OUR FUNDAMENTAL ASSUMPTIONS OF WHAT DND IS OR IS NOT ABOUT.

Flavor text is a constant belligerent throughout your miserable, confusing misadventure into Crypts of Indormancy, the module equivalent of the ending of Aguirre, and infests every unoccupied corner of this wretched module like verminous rats. Optional rules pertaining to foreknowledge of the either Elven or Islander PCs (those are the only playable characters permitted) pop up regularly in between indigestible slivers of flavor text until the whole becomes a muddled, oblique, incoherent mess without rhyme or reason. Text that should take a sentence to communicate is sprawled across half a page. The trap on the main door takes 2 pages to describe. Why? Why this elaborate mechanism. Was it just to be weird?

There is a sensible rule for falling damage causing ability loss in the form of serious injuries that can take a varying time to heal that I thought was nice, though I have seen similar rules for DCC, but I want it pointed out before I went off the deep end.

Rooms are bloated messes of alien objects having no recognizable purpose and thus the adventure sees fit to explain its purpose to you. That’s called Telling, not Showing, and it happens over and over again. The Islanders are not analogous to any real culture so the PCs are unlikely to be able to infer the meaning of much of this arcane nonsense inside the tomb proper unless you tell them.

The south fresco depicts warriors of the Twelve Clans in various states of
internecine warfare as well as surrender to Elven soldiers, whom the muralist has
depicted setting fire to shrines of the Twelve Clans.
[This fresco shows infamous traitor Celestial Agate (“The Fratricide”) garroting his
elder brother in return for Islander slaves from Thuuz. A corner depicts the famous
story of band of Islander warriors trapped in a cave and resorting to cannibalism
of the dead, but the artist has depicted them murdering each other for food. The
Twelve Clans’ cosmology associates this wall’s direction, the south, with taboos
governing eating and war

Endless lists of inane drivel having NOTHING to do with the adventure. References to works that DON’T EXIST. SPRAWLING lists of banal furniture and bricabrac to be found in the General’s parlor. THIS IS ONE ENTRY OF CORPSES. NOT THE ROOM. CORPSES.

Just beyond the bench lie the remains of a male Islander dressed in heavy
mountaineer’s clothing. Two pairs of child-sized handprints show where the statues
caught him by the neck. Cold and altitude have mummified his flesh; his tattoos and
the patterns of his clothing appear antiquated to Islanders, but Elves may remember
the styles as current two centuries ago.
He carried forty meters of rope coiled around his waist. Beside him lie a spear, broken
in two, a burnt-out torch, and an ordinary steel machete. Nearby lies a bag from which
someone appears to have dumped ordinary goods, now scattered on the floor.
• a pair of woolen stockings
• five candles
• four torches, wrapped in oilskin
• a small, tin oil lamp (empty), wrapped in oilcloth
• a whetstone
• three days of rations
• four iron spikes
• chalk
• twenty meters of twine
Beside these items lies a broken spear-shaft, headless.
Four steps lead up to the wooden door at the far end of the room. On the steps lies
the frozen, headless body of an Islander woman in heavy alpine clothing (over leather
armor). Her blood, frozen in a cascade, has cemented her to the stairs beneath a
fan-shaped spatter up the wall. She has lain dead for only a year, so that the cold and
altitude have not yet mummified her flesh.
Her neck appears to have been severed by many cuts, not by a single stroke.
Surrounding her body and up the stairs beyond, dozens of bare human footprints, in
blood, have smeared the dust.
Against a wall lies an altitude-mummified head of an Islander man. This belonged to
the Stertorous Recapitator (q.v.) who took the woman’s head.
The woman wears a fat gold ring (worth 600 Coins). At her waist hangs a quiver of
24 crossbow bolts. A shoulder bag, tangled around her arm, contains the following:
• a silver ear-disc (worth 200 Coins) and a dagger of
the finest Elven steel, with scabbard, worth ten times
normal value (both looted from the dead man)
• 147 Coins
• dried rations (six days)
• a gourd of water that has frozen and burst
• an oilskin cloak
• flint and steel
• eight torches, wrapped in oilcloth
• a pouch containing a fine obsidian mirror (worth 350 Coins)
• a pair of bone dice
• a pouch containing plugs of chewing tobacco of the highest quality
Near her body lie a dual-headed Islander war club (d8, ebony, in the style and
iconography of the Nautilus Clan) and two Islander blankets bundled around other
goods. The first blanket surrounds two fine Metropolitan side-swords with scabbards
(each 2d4 times normal value). The second blanket surrounds the Left Leg of the
Brass Man (q.v.), seemingly cut from a life-sized, hollow brass statue (an uninspired
piece of Metropolitan Post-Heroic sculpture). Corrosion suggests that someone
cold-chiseled the leg from the statue more than fourteen centuries ago. Yet despite
its apparent age, the statue appears to have depicted an Islander man whose ritual
tattoos match the style now current among the Clan of the living Islander nearest to
the Leg at the moment of its uncovering. (In the absence of Islanders, roll for Clan.)
The Leg will fetch 3d100 coins from a collector of oddities.4
On the closed wooden door, mother-of-pearl inlays render a gisant figure: a gowned
corpse lying in state on a bier surrounded by flowers. This door opens toward the next
room; it has a latch, but no lock.

Please note that the module proudly states that the Brass Man is not in the adventure.

The monsters and traps are all bizarre nonsense monsters with nonsense abilities. TOROIDAL METAL MAGNET THINGS. WEIRD GHOST SHIT. I AM MELTING. I STILL don’t know what the fuck is going on with the final room where the General is supposed to be resurrected by some sort of contraption and I WILL BE DAMNED if I go back to try to puzzle out what the fuck is going on with the nonsense ghosts and the thaumaturgic circuitry in the floors carrying a necromantic charge and something about pentaquarks in the bizarro machine giving the ressurected General some sort of imperishable energy body. WHO CARES?!? WHAT IS ALL THIS SHIT FOR?

Much of the module is in reference to events that are not in the adventure, content that does not exist yet but is supposedly described in future supplements AND EVEN THEN WOULD NOT BE RELEVANT. THERE IS A PASSWORD ON THE DOOR BUT YOU CANNOT POSSIBLY HAVE IT AND CAN ONLY DISCOVER IT LATER ON. WELL WHOOP DE DOO, WHAT BRILLIANT DESIGNS HAVE YOU WOVEN.

ONE ITEM OF QUASI-MUNDANE NATURE WITH POWERS UP TO THE GM HAVING NO SIGNIFICANCE TO THE ADVENTURE AT LARGE.

On the coffee table sits an apparatus that looks like a bulbous water pipe of glass,
empty of both water and tobacco, small enough to hold in one hand. The unusually
thick walls of its vase give the pipe heft.
Close inspection shows that its glass walls contain, sandwiched between them, a layer
of fluid (a tincture of zinc bromide and the ground carapace of a cymothoid isopod).
The neck between bowl and vase bears etchings in a swirling pattern suggestive of
smoke and ocean waves, with an inscription in Dwarvish characters distorted to
match: “demon lung.”
Any spell caster who rolls half of his or her Intelligence or less on d20 knows the
purpose of a demon lung: to contain, in the vase where an ordinary pipe would
contain water, an enslaved Adiabatic Hob (q.v. In Thanatoptic Catacombs, Melsonian
Arts Council, forthcoming). One can thereby use the Hob to filter smoke from
various familiar and arcane preparations, while the shielding liquid sandwiched in
the walls of the vase protects the user from the captive’s radiations. The Hob imbues
the smoke with properties beyond the ordinary (including risks of habit), to be
determined in consultation with the Referee.
Although not a Dwarven original, this Elven reproduction will still fetch (2d4 x
1,000) Coins from a knowledgeable buyer

Monsters are all unique and bizarre but you will just throw up your hands and stop giving a shit at this point. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. Entries are bloated over two pages and are completely incomprehensible in both nature and ability. Toroidal liquid metal magnet monsters. Weird head stealing zombie things. Even entries that would be good in and of themselves, like a magical gladius with a risk reward mechanic provoke nausea and fatigue, embedded in the formless shoggoth-like lump of protoplasm that is the adventure’s main body.

Overcomplexity and author hubris. That’s this fucking module’s problem. This is not a useful product. This is someone jerking off in your face, without editorial supervision, with no consideration for the poor, suffering, consumer, James Gordon, who just wants to run a module that by all FUCKING INTENTS AND PURPOSES SHOULD BE COMPLETED IN A SINGLE NIGHT. IT IS GODDAMN 6 ROOMS.

Somewhere in this nightmarish mess of victorian furniture catalogues as re-envisioned by Salvador Dali enthusiastically throat-fucking all the cartoon sections from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life is buried a functional tomb adventure, with creepy statues, traps, animating dead and an evil villain plotting to come back to life…and therein lies yet another problem. If the weirdness somehow underlay a brilliant deconstruction of the tomb adventure in itself and a brilliant re-envisioning of existing tropes there would MAYBE be a justification for this hideous crime against the hobby. WHOWEE we would exclaim. EZRA SURE DID FUCK US IN THE ASS WITH THIS MODULE. I FEEL SO DUMB I LIKED THIS THING THAT HE MADE FUN OFF. Instead here I am, spreading my asscheecks, biting the pillow, ready for your throbbing dada-istic subversion of the simplistic tomb adventure AND YOU CAN’T EVEN GET IT UP?!?

To finish off this incoherent non-review, every bit as stream of consciousness and useless as the product in question, I present to you a list of bullet points citing all of the modules deadly flaws in easily digestible format.

* Excessive verbosity
* Convolution (Pervasive)
* Pathological Creativity (i.e. an inability to be normal)
* Wretched useability optimization
* Illegible maps taking up criminal page count
* Inability to distinguish important goals
* Lack of thematic coherence
* Lack of editorial oversight
* Lack of Focus (pervasive)
* Lack of riddles, NPC interaction, interaction between rooms

In the future, I expect the OSR will punish transgressors by having them commit to years long campaigns with detailed play reports set in worlds consisting entirely of the misbegotten children of the Arpunk movement, so that future generations may witness the price of laxity and lack of vigilance. Don’t inflict this one on yourself *

 


17 thoughts on “[Review] Crypts of Indormancy (OSR); Get thee Arthaus Homos out of mine hobby

  1. I will make one remark in favour of this style of thing:

    A module referring to things outside itself provides spurs for the creative host to say “well, we had fun with that, let’s make a whole campaign of it” and, well, *make* something of Brass Men and Twelve Clans and other vagaries. A fill-in-the-blanks sketch of world-building is preferable to Greenberg shite.

    However: that module is not this one. Such elegant sketchmanship is absent from the turgid prose that details corpse, steps, corpse, the minutiae thereof ad nauseam. At table such niceties are not observed; a typical player wants to know what is there and how much can be crammed in the knapsack. They might want to know about *a* detail, germane to what they perceive as the plot. The amount given here is a waste. “Too Long, Didn’t Listen.”

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    1. [Argument]

      In general I will agree that endowing elements within a module with a substance beyond the scope of the immediate adventure is a sign of class and depth and gives it a certain reality, I will also say this quickly becomes tiresome if the ratio of immediately useful information vs campaign fluff goes over 70/30. The adventure is the root element, fluff should be a tiny sub-folder enriching present content. This is reversed, the adventure is here as an outgrowth of something that is simultaneously very dense yet utterly unfocused or irrelevant.

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      1. For sure. This one seems to slide too far into “interesting words that might mean something” territory and lack substance in its own right.

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      2. Entertaining review, and it’s a relief to see someone else irritated by the new trend for Gaming As Found Art Object and all the achingly ‘intellectual’ pseudoscience that goes with it. PS can write beautifully at times but most of the imitators can’t, and even with PS it doesn’t often create useable gaming material. Scrap Princess just reminds me of the artists in the Tony Hancock film The Rebel. Pretentious scribbling shite. I hate her stuff. It’s factory like substandard imitation of Goya.

        There is good in lots of the OSR and other modern gaming trends. Things like Island of the Lost have plenty of useful, directly useable stuff you can actually play with. But there is also a trend towards extended undergraduate sermon gaming (Lovecraftesque) and ‘wait , there’s only three words on this funky art house page and I paid a shitload for this’ (Mork Borg). I like a pretty book but I want some fucking content too that isn’t a righteous or ‘rebellious’ whine.

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  2. A PS/SP module, which is a crapshoot as always.

    I’m seriously wondering why they(generally the OSR crew) can’t hire different artists for these modules;has their network became an ouroboros? Does Scrap Princess not get paid by cash and instead by the exposure she gets?

    [Miscellaneous thoughts]
    What are the incentives for ‘Native’ PC’s to explore the dungeon? I’m confused on that part wouldn’t they know not to touch the genocidal elf dude’s tomb? And why does one need 4 maps to use said dungeon? Are the monsters of this dungeon elven experiments or are these random things like always in a PS/SP module?

    It also seems that Pat took a page outta of White Wolf’s book and decided to hold the DLC book. Still waiting for Exalted 3rd Edition news.And what’s with the descriptions in this thing? Patrick might as well have had a three page description of the mold slowly growing on the walls and the sound dripping water in the caves.

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    1. Two corrections:

      1. This module is very much not written by Patrick Stuart, nor illustrated by Scrapprincess.
      2. I don’t think Scrapprincess and Stuart working together are shit, in fact If I have anything to go by their collaboration is a reliable indicator of anti-shit. I would say Stuart is one of the few people that can pull artpunk with the results landing somewhere near engaging. I was railing against the legions of terrible imitators and coat-hangers, this one module being a particularly egregious example.

      [Motivation]

      Err…It’s been 1400 years and its only a week or two up the mountain? Let’s loot Whitey’s shit?

      [monsters]

      The monsters in this tomb are Arcane experiments.

      [maps]

      One for each room, one for outside, one for an imaginary sub-dungeon that the GM may sort of work out I guess?

      [DLC book?]

      You’ve lost me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve noticed this pattern in several hobbies*. After a certain mass of adherents and/or the products of the hobby become so efficient/refined/excellent that that it becomes to hard distinguish them on merit. Instead the products become fetishised, art objects, objects of creativity and identity and self-expression. Rather than *only* objects for actual use in hobby. So, in OSR products are made to be read and admired, to be shown off to one’s peers, to be collected. Not to be actually run.

    * Computer esp Gaming Computers, are all glowy LED memory sticks, color coordinated cables viewable through glass sided cases, just so much bling and glitter having nothing to do with performance or efficiency. Shooting sports esp AR-15, every part is cerakote rainbow colored, etched with anime, punisher logos, joke parts, everything not needed to send rounds accurately and reliably down range.

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    1. An insightful comment. The AR-15 bit sounds frighteningly true to life. The problem with every successfull hobby that makes the move from obscure to mainstream is the increase in social status and lowered barrier of entry draws in all sorts of social climbers that are mostly there for the reputation it brings and are much less intrinsically motivated. And so the cycle begins where games are created by people who do not play and reviewed by people who do not play so they can be collected by people who do not play. A frightening degeneration. Hence my yearning for more Actual Play, which should be an art form in the OSR blogging scene, comparable with reviews and allegorical pilloring of OSR bigwigs.

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  4. FUCK me I almost choked on my damn sandwich at the (anti-)climax of this review! Too many folks just seem to follow along with whatever the current trend is and we end up with horrid trash. I raised my eyebrow at some of the high-art modules from time to time, but everyone said they were great so why bother arguing, I thought? Bravo Prince. More rants please.

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    1. It is good to be able to engage with nothing held back, to strike truely and viciously at well deserving targets, to bring mercy to things that should not be.

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  5. I agree that PS/SP have something interesting and cool going on, like PS and ZS had… but the pale imitators are a laughable abomination. However, if that’s their vision, then why the Hell not? I’m just happy to see creativity flow. Where it goes is not my concern.

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    1. And that’s perfectly valid if you are a creator yourself. I am a reviewer. I add by subtraction. I raise up what is great and excise what is defective. In my perfect world you can make as much crap as you want for free, as soon as it enters the arena of the open market it must be compared to what has come before, the rotting branches must be pruned so the healthy branches can flourish.

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      1. Yes. Reviewers must review, that’s what they do. And it was an entertaining and informative review, indeed!

        I should look up what the author had to say after its release. Was he happy with the result? And if so, why?

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  6. “Picture a man; James Gordon.”

    Am I the only one who got a mental image of Ben McKenzie upon reading this? Alas, Gary Oldman, you’ll always have Leon and The 5th Element.

    [Referencing non-existent works]

    This can work if the title tells what you need know about the fake work, like Lovecraft’s fake tomes (or Sandy Petersen’s emulation of that in his field guides). Nothing about this review implies the writer pulled that off successfully.

    [That pipe]

    I don’t think the writer understood what “adiabatic” means. “Catalytic Hob” is what they wanted.

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    1. [Narrator]

      I was aiming for Rod Sterling. Old Twilight Zone is very good, a narrative delight, if somewhat repetitive in the first season.

      [Reference]

      One level of a meta higher. It is referencing fake publications of other adventures in this series that either do not exist or clearly never will exist.

      [That fucking pipe]

      Adiabatic sounds more exotic, otherwise I have no doubt you are correct, the imbuement of qualities having no relationship to the adiabatic process as I could glean it from the wiki article (my thermodynamics is high school level).

      Like

      1. [Narrator]

        The narration was very classic Twilight Zone. I’d meant the name itself brought Batman’s Commissioner Gordon to mind.

        [That fucking pipe]

        Yep. It just stuck out as a likely thesaurus misuse since I’ve studied thermodynamics and heat/mass transfer.

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