In a Deadly Fashion (2021)
Courtney Campbell (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)
Lvl ??? (1-3 oughta do it, put it in your adventure next time)
Trigger Warning: This review, although positive and wholly bereft of scorn, still has the potential to cause immense emotional distress. If you are a 5-year old girl or Lotfp author, please ensure a licenced therapist, social worker or other adult is present at all times during your readthrough to render emergency emotional support if it should be required. All criticism rendered by the author of this review, no matter how self-evident and obviously true, should be taken as the author’s personal opinion only, not as a prescription. You are unique and beautiful, a goddess, a lily gently unfolding in a golden pool, and everything you create is a gift to the world.
In a Deadly Fashion is part of the new Lamentations of the Flame Princess releases and manages to actually be decent. Not exemplary, but good work, maybe the baseline for acceptable quality. Why? Let us count the ways.
First. Good format choice. A murder mystery set in Early Modern Spain. Investigations are the bread and butter of both Call of Cthulhu and Warhammer Fantasy adventures, making it a perfect format for Lotfp adventures, especially CITY adventures. An eccentric and wealthy tailor by the name of Miucci Carnivo hires the players to investigate the dissapearance of some of his wares and the deaths of some of his clientele. You begin with a seemingly mundane premise with darker supernatural threats lurking underneath its surface.
What makes a mystery work? I would posit the clues have to be intelligible, there need to be ways to prevent the adventure from grinding to a dead stop if the characters get stuck, you expect a few red herrings and all this while providing some nice atmosphere and preventing it from turning into a railroad. In Deadly Fashion succeeds at most of this.
Presentation is pretty good. Essentials are covered first and it never feels like clues have to be untangled from the rest of the text. Mundane details about the missing persons and the victims are sprinkled with ineffable hints of the supernatural, a strange powder surrounding the area of the clothes that turns out to be scales etc. etc. The deadly beginner’s mistake pioneered in Dungeon Magazine, treating each location as a dungeon and keying each room, is narrowly avoided. The text is light but the focus is good. You don’t have to dig through six pages of historical background but every once in a while, a historical tidbit is dug up and incorporated into the adventure. Macaroni fashion, catholic thieving guilds, foppish nobles, extravagant weddings. Each location has a series of clues (bullet pointed), and witnesses. What the witnesses know is again, summed up in a manner that is easy to grasp, and each witness is injected with enough personality to make the whole come alive.
In an dungeoncrawl, senseless waste! In a murder mystery, yeah! Inject a little personality into these things, give the GM something to work with. Depending on the reaction roll, the characters can learn additional information. Here I would have liked to see something more interactive. Maybe by pursuing some line of questioning, or trying some strategy, like flattery or threats, these extra clues could still be unlocked. I’m looking for something that rewards the characters for being particularly observant or clever.
The clues and red herrings have been ordered in such a fashion that eventually, with possibly a small detour to talk to the Catholic maffia (an element that rocks, complete with a Bishop that talks in allusions, and good on you for outlining the way that that can escalate into violence), or the mysterious death of yet another lord, lead to the mansion of the tailor that hired you. The plot is that for inexplicable reasons, Carnivo appears to be creating clothing that is alive and can possess and eventually subsume its hosts. This deadly secret is again buried beneath the more mundane secret of Carnivo being part of a freaky sex cult, the Carpocratians , who believe that in order to break free of an eternal cycle of rebirth and death, the soul must experience every sensation in the universe, with predictable real world application.
The conclusion is probably the weakest part. There is a map of the mansion which is pretty but it is not keyed in a manner that allows for proper breaking and entering and difficult to use in play, which is as likely a course the characters will follow as attempting to gain an invitation to one of his parties. I would have enjoyed some sort of guard or even cultist schedule (I assume that in 1500s spain, a taylor who is comissioned for a dress worth 18000 GOLD would be able and wise to afford retainers and guard dogs, particularly when his house is stocked with valuables). Also some sort of alert procedure for when the characters are discovered (is the Guard summoned and when does it arrive?). There’s the weird addition of a solid gold suit of armor in the shape of a naked teenage boy which is at least interesting material. Again, possibly concealing some treasure or placing some additional barriers, like keys for locks carried by guards, could have made the infiltration part a bit stronger, and a clue on the site could have led the characters to the basement.
The confrontation with the dress monsters proper should serve as a decent conclusion. The possessing clothing is difficult to harm without also killing the host, they are numerous and the situation makes the use of fire risky (indeed, it is possible to blow up the house by setting fire to the many flammable dyes and ethers within). Should turn into quite the shitshow. The subsequent manhunt for the infected clothing requires a lot of cleansing and burning and serves as a postscript, though this could easily have been turned into follow up adventure seeds.
It’s not going to make history as the be all and end all of New Lotfp, but as a diverting investigation adventure, In Deadly Fashion is inoffensive and sort of alright. The central mystery and the clues more or less work, which is the most important thing, and there are some charming touches and atmospheric bits. The characters and the setting is alive. The conclusion could have been stronger, but as is the GM can probably cobble something together to keep it going long enough for the final showdown. I’d call it a light ***, it can probably be finished within 1-3 sessions, and should serve as the lower limit for acceptable module quality. I’m not jumping with joy, but I am also not screaming with rage while five orderlies (nubile, blond and with huge tits but also virginal and with good relationships with their father) have to restrain me. I’d rate it above the more ambitious Big Puppet for being overal better crafted. An acceptable job by Courtney Campbell.
 I remember them from Jorge Luis Borges’s tale.
19 thoughts on “[Review] In a Deadly Fashion (Lotfp); A glimmer of hope”
I only read the trigger warning.
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I like the reviews of smaller modules. This one in particular is something I could actually see using at the table, unlike the minotaur one.
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I liked this one. And I have to praise really great art isnide this book.
Yes, do more LotFP please! I always like to cross my opinion with your reviews.
Thanks for this one!
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I have to say, it’s pretty annoying that there are so many D&D/OSR adventures without a level recommendation. What is the idea behind that? If you want to create an adventure where character experience is not a big factor, then D&D is not the system to use. Especially Lamentations, which is (IIRC) an XP-for-GP system.
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I assume it’s to do with wanting to create an adventure that multiple people will buy and one or two may actually play.
I don’t understand why you’d say that. Plenty of adventures that are explicit about their level ranges sell well, as far as I can tell. Who wants to buy and play an adventure only to find out that it’s entirely inappropriate for your players? That wouldn’t make for a very satisfied customer.
That wasn’t as substantial as it needed to be, sorry. The TL;DR is that I agree, I also feel this doesn’t need to be a D&D adventure, but let me try again:
I think a lot of game ideas probably end up as Dungeons and Dragons and derivations-thereof adventures because the person writing them thinks they should be, whether that’s the best way to explore and express the ideas or not. I think it often happens when the writer is mostly into D&D&D and sees that as the de facto framework for anything to do with roleplaying, or when the writer is aware that a D&D&D product is going to be bought and played more than anything explicitly *not* derived from D&D, because that’s how the marketplace is these days. Or maybe James just asked Courtney to write something for LOTFP and that meant paying lip service to its rules framework. In any case, you end up with these products which are good ideas for roleplaying, pushed into D&D&D but not really engaging with the bits of it that matter.
Take this one: a murder mystery where, if I understand correctly, a good chunk of the effort is in going about the town asking questions and putting clues together, and then getting into the mansion. Character level doesn’t really matter for that, unless you’re going very hard on “roll your social interaction skill” as the means of getting at those clues. Which, to be fair, Prince does claim this module does. I can’t remember how reaction rolls in LOTFP work but I don’t remember them as contingent on character level, which is the sticking point. Again assuming I understand the claims in the review and that they’re accurate, I’d hazard it’s possible to play this one and not really interact with most of the D&D-derived mechanics at all – and if you do, it’ll probably be by breaking into the mansion, which is an underdeveloped option.
All of which makes me think it’s one of the cases I described up top. LOTFP is a bit of an odd duck in that it draws on a lot of not-D&D influences but still runs on a D&D core, and from the review I suspect Campbell was working more to the influences than the core.
Ah, I totally get you now. I thought you were being sarcastic towards me, but that was more of a knock on adventure authors just choosing D&D for the system as an afterthought, or possibly because it’s the most popular RPG brand in the anglosphere. Yup, that definitely happens. Sort of like how there are a lot of odd systems out there that adapt D&D rules to completely inappropriate genres, like superheroes.
Side note: As always, Kevin Crawford gets a pass. If he wants to try publishing a superhero game with his house D&D system, I’ll be on the Kickstarter. But anyone else…
But back to this adventure, I suppose that a mystery adventure SHOULD be pretty independent of mechanics, or at least the ones that tend to box D&D into dungeon crawls. I believe that the Lamentations reaction roll is completely unmodified, so Charisma doesn’t even play a role. IIRC, in traditional D&D, Charisma only affects things like your ability to recruit retainers and hirelings. A bit weird, that.
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The D&D-as-multitool problem is I think down to Wizards’ marketing after the takeover – the d20 boom. Jonathan Tweet said once his job was to make D&D synonymous with roleplaying to the man in the street, or words to that effect, and d20 “portability” was part of that.
Charisma is an odd stat. Does it mean sheer force of personality, does it mean attractiveness inspiring devotion, does it mean a divinely conferred power or talent (i.e. the reason characters needed such a high Charisma to qualify as Paladins), is it anything to do with fuckability?
You know what Kent said about magic hacks being the bare minimum of creativity in making D&D your own? I think “what Charisma is and does” is another must-address, especially in versions where it’s otherwise a “dump stat.”
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To be fair, character level doesn’t matter, until there’s something to fight, which the ending does include.
Levels definitely make a difference when it comes to fighting, but also with regard to mysteries and infiltrations, as spells (whether from casters or items) can make a huge difference e.g. charm, suggestion for influencing people, divinations to gain information, knock, invisibility, silence, transmutation (to bypass physical defences), flying, teleporting to enter and leave. Also your thief is a much better climber and lockpicker, more stealthy, better at finding and removing traps. When D+D characters hit a certain level, mundane physical defences aren’t much of an obstacle.
I won’t say that D+D mysteries don’t work, but the likes of Call of Cthulhu or WFRP seem a better fit.
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That’s a fair point. I’m used to the thespian wankathon approach where “just Charm a guy” is a copout, but that’s no excuse for forgetting that D&D wizards are basically “hack X encounters per day” on legs.
Agreed on the better fit systems. CoC is basically built to do this kind of play after all.
…What happened to the original post?
Never mind, I figured it out.
Moar LOTFP. You’ve already nailed your colours to the mast as Raggiographer in chief; you may as well continue to fly them. Surely nobody else is as qualified to to quantify the exact degree of his living death? Whether he rise once more, a revenant in the Finnish snow, wracked but enduring, or lie where he stumbled, fifty machines beeping time for one straining black heart, you should see this one through.
Yes, please, moar! Let’s the butthurt consumes itself. I laughed so hard on this disclaimer that I almost passed out. Thanks for that one.