A Review of Obscene Serpent Religion

Cover: Obscene Serpent ReligionThe first thing that I noticed about this book was that the author’s name (Rafael Chandler) was written in that typically awesome yet hilariously illegible Black Metal font. I chuckled at this because it was pitch-perfect. From the product’s description on DriveThruRPG:

Inspired by the sound of black metal

So I knew that I was in for a treat.

Obscene Serpent Religion is a 32-page “mini-supplement” for the Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP) role playing game. It has many black and white illustrations. My review is of the PDF.

Like many of its kind, this supplement is deeply seeped in the weird, the grotesque and the sinister. It is definitely not a product for everyone, just like how Hellraiser and the Holy Mountain aren’t for everyone (in that they’re well made and well written but they’re very disturbing and challenging).

There’s a lot of whimsy in this product, despite the somewhat sinister subject matter. Lots of little jokes for the reader. The artwork is nice, although a few pieces were clearly better than others – while they all used appropriate subjects, some felt a bit amateurish. But that’s also kind of appropriate for OSR games, if you know what I mean.

The main function of this product is to create a Snake Cult. This is particularly useful for many different settings—and it helps that most of the tables are more about cool descriptors rather than mechanics—so I could see using this for fantasy, Lovecraftian Horror or even for stuff like Dark Heresy or any other darker Sci-fi, modern or fantasy offerings.

This book helps you determine such things as:

  • the Cult’s “Way“, which is sort of their core ideologies. Even though this can be determined randomly, I’d personally apply all of them.
  • the Cult’s Goddess, which draws from various worldly mythologies and superstitions. Very cool stuff here.
  • Tenets, which are the main goals of the Cult (eg.: kill all Ophiophages – look it up)

There’s a ton of flavor in these sections. Even though everything is Snake-centered, you could use this book for inspiration for any kind of cult activities. There’s just so much useful stuff here that can generate mysteries or conspiracies. The one section on “Quests” that enable members to rise in rank could be used alone to create conflicts for characters to investigate. Warning: some of these are very grim and disturbing.

The rest has very interesting subjects like Sacred Sites and Powers to make the cult more menacing. The last part has useful rules for quickly generating NPC cult members and story hooks to get things going.

Summary

I found this to be a very useful supplement that will go into my folder of inspirational generators and tables. There’s a lot of good, if sometimes disturbing, material in this product that can be re-used many, many times. The writing is easy to read (once again, very conversational) and it hits all the right notes for this kind of horror.

I recommend it for GMs who like to run games that involve sinister cults, whether they be modern Call of Cthulhu games or Sword and Sorcery. Frankly, you could use this product with any game system you wanted!

You can purchase the PDF of Obscene Serpent Religion on DriveThruRPG.

A Review of No Salvation for Witches

No Salvation for Witches (or ‘NSfW’, which is appropriate) is a new adventure for the Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP) role playing game, written by Rafael Chandler. It is a full color, hardcover book of 68 pages. My review is of the PDF version.

LotFP prides itself on being “Weird Fantasy” and that is very true of all of the adventures that I’ve read so far. I’d actually also add “Horror” into that description, because they are full of uncomfortable, troubling and often grotesque concepts and imagery.

Overall Impression

This is a nice looking product. The text is well formatted and conversational in tone, the illustrations are beautiful (even if they are often disturbing) and the layout is easy to read. The only exception to this rule is that occasionally, for no discernable reason, the book switches from a 2-column layout to a single one. In a printed form, this isn’t a big deal, but on a tablet or smartphone, it interrupts the flow a little. That’s just a minor quibble, though.

I like this kind of adventure: it is more of a sandbox / event, with plenty of detailed locations, events and NPCs which are all moving and advancing despite the player characters’ involvement.

One warning, though: there are plenty of old-school “GOTCHA!” moments that can completely change, maim, deform or destroy the player characters. If I ever get a chance to run this, and I hope that I will, I’ll probably change those events a little bit, or make some of them reversible at least.

Sections

The Table of Contents is well laid-out, and each chapter is a clickable shortcut (surprisingly, I’ve encountered many PDFs that don’t include this very basic functionality). Like the rest of the book, it is very easy to scan and read.

There’s a Preface, which outlines the author’s goals and the adventure’s style. He states quite clearly that this isn’t “grimdark” it’s “glibdark”. I found that amusing.  There definitely is a crazy, death-metal feel to this one. I also like how the author explains the core idea behind this campaign and the importance of an established time-limit.

The Setting explains things quite well and succinctly. There’s some history, but not too much, as well as a brief description of the main location and its surroundings. Like many of the LofFP adventures, this one also takes place in 17th century Europe, which I like a lot! This section is only a single page and so it isn’t overwhelming: it’s easy for the Game Master to grasp and absorb.

The Backstory is similarly short and sweet, confined to a single page. It explains why things are the way that they are without overdoing it. If I ever finish any of my own written adventures, I’ll take a lesson from Rafael Chandler and use this method.

The next chapter focuses on the leading characters: the main “antagonist”, the alien thing that is behind everything and the main cronies. I probably liked this chapter the most: just enough information about each character (history, description and motivations), short stat-blocks and some illustrations. My only complaint is that there isn’t an image of the main villain (yes, she’s on the cover, and I suppose that’s enough…) Her cronies, while they get a gorgeous full page group portrait, do not get individual images next to their descriptions. Again, not really necessary, but a few of them were not easy to spot in the group “photo” (others were easy, like the one with facial scars and the one in full armor).

There’s just enough information about these characters (her 5 assistants) to make them interesting without going too far. My main gripe is that nothing is done with them at all in the adventure itself. We know where they are, but not what they’re up to. All this effort went into making each of them have unique and rich backgrounds and I doubt that any of that will ever come up. So, my assumption is that all of the background detail or fluff in this chapter is just for the GM’s amusement. I was amused and entertained, I admit.

The next chapter is about the mysterious Spheres that appear in the land. They’re pretty interesting, I must admit (and WEIRD). Their presence is a bit of a puzzle and there are some key clues for the heroes to find that will help them figure them out (and what they do).

Again, they are another element of GM “Gotcha!”. Without any clues, some of them will really mess around with the player characters. Brutally, even.

Locations is the next section of the book. There are a handful of interesting places to encounter and explore. What I like about them is that they all have events that are drawn towards the climax. There’s a good dose of horror and strangeness at each.

Reading the PDF, it was a bit clumsy to flip back and forth to the map to find out where everything was in relation to each other. I’m a bit of a simpleton in this: I need to constantly check a map to grasp everything. I think that I would have like to have a small visual or map in each location chapter for reference.

Next is the big chapter on the main location of this adventure: The Priory. This is where everything happens of great importance. Lots of weird and horrific stuff to discover and interact with. Great stuff! Even if I never get a chance to run this adventure, I’d want to use this location in some other campaign.

Lastly is the creepy Tract of Teratology, a demon summoning tool kit (a collection of tables that you can roll on or just choose from). The most horrific part of this section are the Ritual types, each involving gruesome human sacrifice. Really grotesque: I was actually relieved to get to the parts that generate the summoned monster. Tentacled horrors with human faces and a crab’s body I can handle: sawing people in half while they’re alive is much harder for me, I admit.

There’s a lot here to work with: you can create literally THOUSANDS of different kinds of creatures: their appearance, powers, their scent, their personalities and their compulsions. Really cool stuff. I’m adding this to my library of random tables, for sure.

The last two pages are maps and floorplans of the various locations. Very nice illustrations. Everything in this book has top-notch production values.

Conclusion

This is a well produced and well written module. Even if you don’t run the adventure as-is, you’ll get a lot of great material (locations, monsters, events etc…) that you can transplant into your other campaigns. The Demon Ritual Summoning section (Tract of Teratology) is also a really cool and useful tool.

A warning, though: there’s a lot of gruesome material in here. This book, like most of the LofFP library, is not for the faint of heart or easily upset by occult and body horror. For all its strangeness, this is horror first, pure and simple. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing: it’s just something to consider.

You can purchase No Salvation for Witches on DrivethruRPG.

Philomelia, Apprentice Warlock

This is just a first attempt to create an old-school RPG character for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I did everything by the book (meaning that I rolled the stats in order and swapped one stat for another after I was done).

Level 1 Chaotic Magic-UserWitch

  • Charisma 14 (+1)
  • Constitution 11 (0)
  • Dexterity 11 (0)
  • Intelligence 18 (+3)
  • Strength 10 (0)
  • Wisdom 9 (0)

Hit Points: 4

Saving Throws

  • Paralyze: 13
  • Poison: 13
  • Breath Weapon: 16
  • Magical Device: 13
  • Magic: 14

Equipment

  • 53 sp
  • Spellbook (Read Magic, Identify, Spider Climb, Unseen Servant)
  • Staff
  • Leather Armor
  • Dagger
  • Backback
  • 2 days of rations
  • Tinderbox
  • Waterskin

Notes: Can cast 1 spell/day, can create scrolls.

Philomelia is a arcanist-in-training. Her tutor was a stale and strict old man who obsessed more over working in a laboratory rather than practical magick. In order to access his forbidden library, she discovered a spell that allowed her to climb the sheer walls of the tower. It was risky and she had to stay several hours before she could use the spell again to climb down: but that gave her plenty of time to read the dusty old tomes. She had managed to learn how to summon an unseen servant to help her do menial tasks (of which she had many) as well as to provide distractions for quick escapes.

Unfortunately her mentor discovered her treachery and kicked her out of his sanctum. She is now alone in an uncaring world, seeking to improve her skills while struggling to survive.