The Saint of Bruckstadt (2021)
Markus Schauta (Gazer Press)
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There is still power in Lotfp. It’s star, once bright and fierce, has dimmed in this evil age. But there is still a lingering heat in its embers, and with time perhaps it can be rekindled into a blazing star once again. The Saint of Bruckstadt, another delicious Euro entry in the catalog of Lotfp 3PP, is a fan product that any line should count itself lucky to have. If the quality of third party support can be taken as an indication of the health of a line, then perhaps the future is not so grim. It is also interesting to view a custom game through the lens of 3rd party products because it illustrates how well the developer has communicated his vision, what parts resonate and what parts do not.
Lotfp as a line has mostly been quixotic, it shies away from ‘classic’ fantasy with a hiss and a soaring bound, its roster of antagonists nearly always had one foot, and at times two feet in the pool of the weird, the outre, the eldritch. Extradimensional visitors, alien mmo players, cosmic entities, its later entries seemed to take great pains to distinguish themselves from the mere ‘gothic’ horror of spooky skeletons, ghosts, sinister cults and deranged madmen. Saint of Bruckstadt is an exploration of a more ‘classic’ Lotfp, the Lotfp of the original Death Frost Doom, an Lotfp that seeks to put Solomon Kane first instead of H.P. Lovecraft. The results speak for themselves.
Saint of Bruckstadt is a massive, ambitious and extended adventure, encompassing 100 pages, of rain-soaked, cob-webbed, vomit-splattered and plague-infested adventure across a wilderness region, the town of Bruckstadt, five fucking catacomb levels and a tonne of magic items, hirelings, curses and general bedlam. It is comparable to Better Then Any Man and functions as an ersatz B2 for the whole line; a mini-campaign that exemplifies the grit, horror, fickle sorcery, feeling of murky history and grimdark aesthetic that attracts people to Lotfp in the first place. And finally, a proper fucking dungeoncrawl.
The setting is peak Lotfp; the old town Bruckstadt, the Holy Roman Empire, the Height of the 30 years War. Everything is fucked everybody sucks. An exploded powder keg has screwed up Bruckstadt’s decennial ritual to place a new holy shroud atop the grave of St. James. The militiamen sent to replace the shroud via another entrance has not returned. Ominous rumors start to abound. The Ghost of the Inquisitor once again haunts the ancient catacombs. An ancient curse is beginning to reawaken. Bruckstadt will perish in madness and fire and our heroes have 12 days to set it right. Enter the PCs.
The first thing St. of Bruckstadt gets right is the atmosphere. You can HEAR the rain, SEE the festering corpses dangle on the gallows, SMELL the leprous beggar sit in the mud of the gate and offer cryptic blessings in exchange for silver. The NPCs, a plentiful cast, are well fleshed out, nasty, mean and rugged. The frog-like sorcerer Quinn who fashions amulets in exchange for a terrible price, the fanatical preacher urging all to put heretics to the torch, the charming pimp who runs the brothel, the creole bandit chief with voodoo magic; there is not a hint of 2021 coastal town sensibilities in this mud-splattered, hard-bitten lot.
So too the magic, dangerous, fickle and mysterious. All but the most minor devices are gruesome, dangerous, have severe drawbacks and are wholly unique. A goblet in which you can dissolve human teeth to create a healing drought. A mask of driftwood that allows you to become invisible but you are struck with a great hunger after a few rounds. Swamp elves are pale things that drain experience from those they touch. Most magic is temporary, finite, dangerous. It’s good stuff.
There’s a few minor problems with organization. Ideally you would have the town presented first, complete with rumor table, then the surrounding area, culminating with the catacombs and possible fallout if the PCs do not resolve the crisis in time. Instead we are first presented with a decrepit fortress that the PCs might not visit at all, or until the very end, the rumor table or the effect of the manifold curses IN THE TOMB are included on a table in the appendix, instead of in the Catacomb section, the rumors are in the back, Bruckstadt is in the middle etc. etc. Nothing dealbreaking but a minor irritant, as an appendix is meant for information that is either optional or information that pertains to the entire work. Random encounters for a specific area should always be included in that area for example.
Individual encounters make effective use of bullet points to delineate the main elements, then write out the interactive permutations of each element in proper sentences that are fairly easy to reference. There are the aforementioned shenanigans with some of the magic items unneccesarily being placed in the appendix but there you go.
There’s a lot of random variation in this thing, bordering on the fetishistic. Often times this is used for good; Bandit guards in the ruined castle that is part of your reward get a roll to determine what they are doing when the PCs arrive, giving the idea of a living, breathing world. It never quite reaches the level when unpredictability is not warranted or superfluous, and having say, the undead king of the barrows inflict some sort of random effect (broken bones, mauling, permanent statt loss etc. etc.) when he deals maximum damage adds an unexpected tang to the whole. The PCs are never quite safe nor sure of what they are up against.
While the outdoor areas provide plenty of room for negotiation, spec ops DnD, wilderness exploration, dying of some awful curse in a forsaken swamp, barrow-crawling and whathaveyou, it is the catacombs proper that are the bread and butter of this adventure.
Grimdark dungeons are a delicate beast, you want to avoid the more funhouse elements of the traditional dungeoncrawling fare but you don’t want everything to become a brown, disease-ridden mess of dead rats, cave ins and burning oil. St. Bruckstadt mostly succeeds. The inhabitants of the catacombs, which date back to roman times, are about as grimdark as you can get. Cannibals, mad delvers, tomb-robbers, large rats and petrified spiders that thaw when exposed to torchlight (nice) make for an appropriately grimdark and fearsome roster of foes. It’s more classic then weird, an escaped circus bear that is supposed to be behind the death’s on the first level turns out to be a case of mistaken identity, with the true culprit being the leader of a band of grave-robbers infected with lycanthropy. Also a welcome comeback are stuck doors that must be forced open, locks to pick, plaster walls that must be smashed through (though the ruleset labels the necessary skill as Sleight of Hand, which might be an inaccuracy, as Tinker is for opening locks), and all manner of obstacles that drive home the strenuous nature of grave-robbing anno 1630 A.D.
Its important to point out that St. of Bruckstadt doesn’t just pay lip service to the dungeon-crawling format, it lives it, it understands them to a significant degree. It’s a subtle thing; the use of stuck doors, the way traps are properly telegraphed, the way weird objects are cruel but never UNFAIR. There is an implicit consideration of the way characters are likely to interact with the objects that are presented that is taken into account. THIS meant that I actually did not have to start breathing out of a paper bag when the random encounters for each level were all unique and the frequency is left very low, it’s fine, we get it, these are CONSIDERED deviations, not ignorant blunders.
Maybe par for the course in Lotfp, the adventure is filled to the brim with effects that inflict permanent hit point loss, mutilation, statt point loss or debilitating disfigurement. Many of the tombs are inscribed with cursed sigils, and violating them will bring a curse irrevocably down upon the would-be violator. The shrines, glass sarcophagi, riddles, altars and bizarre traps that are sprinkled throughout the catacombs form a counterpart to these more mundane antagonists, and as the characters descend deeper, they are accosted by ever stranger creatures, Maenads, the living dead and the imprisoned spirits of the Inquisitor’s former victims. A weird effect to animate all the dead in the area, an Lotfp tradition at this point is placed near the end to screw players over and make the last section, as well as the retreat, considerably more difficult.  This and a million other tricks of the dungeoncrafting trade are utilized to fashion something that is extensive, grimy, nasty and lethal, but also fun, filled with faction play, riddles, secret doors.
Fuck, I might as well bring it up here, the final confrontation with the ghost of St. James and the accompanying build-up is excellent, straight out of a poltergeist movie. As soon as the characters descend the stairway into the torture chamber one ends up on a chair studded with all manner of implements of agony (jaw-breaker, helmet with a screw, branding irons etc. etc.) and be forced to undergo all manners of tortures while the inquisitor demands impossible questions from one of the other PCs. It is possible to take the pain on oneself by ‘confessing’ which frees the Pc in question but makes the ‘guilty’ one end up in the chair instead. Innocent gameplay mechanic or subtle social commentary? You decide!
There’s a minor strand of Call of Cthulhu DNA in Lotfp that translates as a proclivity for investigative adventure, and in St. its well integrated into the rest of the dungeon crawl. In order to get past the ghost of the inquisitor, the method for his destruction must be uncovered. Ancient tomes in Latin, Germanic or the language of the Swamp Elves must be deciphered to gain a vital understanding of what is going on. Parties simply marching expecting to be able to muscle their way past will meet with certain doom. There are multiple methods of finding out his weakness, but it all comes together as something that is similar to, but not quite like, your grandfather’s average dungeon crawl.
Someone looked at Lotfp and extrapolated that vision onto something that we have not really seen that much outside of the Shrine of the Insect God in BtAM, a proper fucking multi-level dungeon done in shades of brownish red, vomit yellow, decomposing black and stained marble. Proper for a grimdark dungeon, it is disease-infested, cursed, mutilating and packed with forbidden sorcery. For king, country or silver you march down into a buried ancient hell centuries deep, and cross swords with the things in the darkness. Fucking recommended.
 DFD, DLD