Lamentations of the Flame Princess is…well. LotFP is “weird fantasy” and by weird, we’re talking old school pulp weird, Conan and Lovecraft, so horror. The idea is that the weirdness should be unique and stand out jarringly against normal reality and players should have no idea what they’re facing when they first encounter it. I find this kind of thing fascinating and was also intrigued by its promise to have easy character generation to make PC death a more pleasant experience for the one actually running things.
Now, when LotFP is mentioned on 4chan and its sister sites, at least one there will say it’s a misogynistic product by some guy who gets off on watching women die messy deaths, which should give you a good idea of the art. Now, it is absolutely true that there’s one where a woman is getting disemboweled by undead and there’s a zombie reaching for her guts through her vagina. This is literally a picture, in the core book no less. (There’s an artless free version, and thank god for that.) But there actually is lots of horrible stuff happening to men too, and the nudity is surprisingly equal opportunity as well. It also contains some of the only decent RPG art of women just doing stuff I’ve seen. But LotFP is a setting where horrible stuff happens to women. It’s got historically accurate style misogyny and not “historically accurate” misogyny, but the creator absolutely does respond to anyone asking, “Okay but so why so very much X?” with “BECAUSE IT’S SO FUCKING EDGY TROLOLOLOLO!” I can’t fully argue because curiosity about the slapfight was a reason I looked into it.
So let’s talk about the kinds of horror we get from the modules! What sort of Halloween goodness can you get from “weird fantasy”?
A Single Small Cut:
This is designed as a quick OMG WTF single encounter, but it’s got a pile of lovely backstory. In a wild area that’s barely under the church’s control, you have militant groups trying to kill all witches/heathens they can find. Facing so very few Christians and such a very large area to “protect”, they, like any good player, decided they should loot the corpses and use whatever objects they found for their own mission, no matter how blatantly Satanic and evil it is.
The company’s high commander and his cronies claimed the Red Bells (as they came to be known) for themselves. After some experimentation it was learned that the Bells summon forth potent spiritual entities from betwixt the planes. Taking mortal form from fresh humanoid corpses in close proximity to the Bell’s ringer…
The church is using demons who use fused corpses as a body and we’re still only in the backstory section!
As this is obviously just going to get worse, it turns out that once the person who owns the bell dies, the bell still summons but no longer controls the demon. The PCs end up there when some idiot attempts graverobbery offscreen.
This is pretty much a jump scare in TRPG form. You enter the church, there’s extremely subtle clues something might be off, then GIANT AMALGAM CORPSE WITH BITING INTESTINE TENTACLES WHY DOES IT EXIST AND WHY WON’T IT DIE?!
Red & Pleasant Land:
This is a whole setting, actually. It adds a new class, the Alice, then says guys can absolutely be one and without any nonsense about getting different more fighty abilities because this is not the dark ages, that works really well at keeping the game moving and from TPK while still keeping the horror sense of being out of control because it’s all about getting a random stroke of luck or something working differently than anyone, the Alice included, thought it did.
Also it’s all vampire themed which works surprisingly well at making a dark Wonderland that’s something other than what if Wonderland was grimdark. You really wouldn’t think combining two hideously overused tropes would make something so lovely, but the vampires are really great.
The horror here is the intrinsic hostility of the world. It’s following all sorts of nonsense rules and even the bits that make sense often require information that the players won’t start off with. And it makes me think that having more luck-based characters might be a really good fit for horror in general, because it keeps you off balance.
Better Than Any Man:
This is a giant adventure full of powerful female NPCs driving the plot. There’s only one major male NPC and he’s got a stupid, stupid outfit while everyone else, including the sexy sex sex woman (as in, there’s just the one), gets to wear actual people clothes.
The opening setting is generally pretty solid – the random encounters on the way in are just people at varying levels of madness and desperation as refugees flee from the war without anywhere to actually go and others prey on them. I also really like that there’s a sidequest of bandits who stole a kid and are asking an impossible ransom for him back, but when the kid is actually attacked partway through the player’s battle by something far worse, the bandits will abandon the offensive to run toward the screams. If everything is just unendingly terrible people forever, it’s hard to care about how bad things are. But it ends up more on the side of overwhelming and depressing than horrible – there aren’t really any clear good solutions and even the bad ones are difficult, but if you don’t manage one within a set timeframe, it all gets wiped out. I think that’s actually less horrible than the terror and starvation you start off in, because at least it’s done and the suffering isn’t still hanging over the PC’s heads.
There’s also the sense there’s just too much going on – the secret world-destroying insect cult has only a passing connection to the starting story, so the two seem like two separate modules glued together, and also there’s the totally optional infinite tower, and all this when, as mentioned, there’s a strict timeline before it all goes boom. Secret world-destroying insect cult is a pretty great dungeon all by itself, though, and it’s not like it’s hard to split the two.
Jesus christ no. No. I wanted to like this and then I wanted to at least pull out the interesting bits but somewhere around the third page of spells that require you to [rape/murder/torture/all of the above] [1/2/10/60] [man/woman/girl/boy/infant] of skin color [r/b/y/g/b/p/x] in order to summon a [insert minor variations of Lovecraft ripoffs here] my eyes glazed over and so I cannot actually say there’s nothing useful in here but I don’t think it’s humanly possible to read it long enough to find out.
The opening description of the setting idea is decent. Carcosa is a world where regular magic doesn’t work and only evil human sacrifice does, and all it does is summon more monsters the summoner might manage to control into murdering more people and then you can murder still more people to get rid of it. It’s sort of like Lovecraftian Ravenloft, and the idea of being a character dumped into this world trying to survive in a world biased towards evil is really intriguing. And having there be no regular humans in the setting but people with red or purple or transparent skin as the different races is a nice touch. There, that’s all the useful ideas anyone could mine from this.
I just don’t understand the spells. They’re pretty much useless from a PC standpoint, but if they’re meant for the NPCs it could’ve been covered by one page max of a random table to generate the components. The only reason for writing out which spell requires burning sixty people alive and which one demands you rape and murder a little girl is if there’s some attempt to balance it for PC use, but even if you’re evil you just don’t get anything that useful for the effort, so they really only make sense if someone wants to rape people to death and figured they might as well try summoning Cthulhu while they’re at it.
Actually wait, someone linked to the writer giving a bit of fiction based on actual play and apparently they are for PCs and he had to be told to tone down whatever he originally wrote about raping and murdering an eleven year old girl and thinks the horror should be on how oh no the monster ate the PCs at the end despite the fact he was willing to handle THAT with a tasteful fade to black.
This is like really nicely polished FATAL, which was possibly the entire idea, I’m not sure. I can’t even be horrified by it. The people actually playing it appear to just go “okay and then we do the bad thing you said we had to do, did it work?” so functionally you could replace baby hearts with particular rocks or rare snails since no one playing is grappling with any moral issues involved. And it’s just so transparently designed to be about rape and torture. People repeatedly complained that if these are actually snakemen spells it doesn’t make sense the snakemen would have to rape their livestock to get the spells to work, and the official answer is that the snakemen would use their other human livestock to do that part, but if the exact torture victim is so important, it makes no sense that the rapist can be of any race. The spells ought to read as (number) (race) (age) (horrible thing to be done) by (number) (race) (age) if this is just about snakemen realism, but that’d mean the PCs couldn’t do it all themselves.
The one possible trail to go down would be that each of the races would only do rituals that involved people of the other races rather than everyone just being evil murderers and then looking at the spell list to see if that creates any interesting gaps, but there’s way too many races for there to be much any individual one is banned from plus it’d involve having to trudge through all the spells just in case there’s something interesting there by accident.
There’s no horror here because I doubt anyone willing to play at all will respond much differently than the guy’s own players in just shrugging and treating kids as just another item component.
Death Frost Doom:
This is the LotFP answer to Tomb of Horrors, and it’s a pretty good answer.
You’re told poking is dangerous. There’s a whole bunch of stuff (so much stuff!) to poke, all of which is super weird. Also, treasure. You’re told more that poking is dangerous. Eventually, you poke the apocalyptic thing. You have no one but yourself to blame.
You can also personally outrun the apocalypse for a bit, so it’s not just straight up TPK. It’s even totally possible to grab some loot and book it, but you’re PCs and come on, like you weren’t going to poke all the things.
The horror here is actually a lot less woven in than other modules, because it looks like something you can engage with directly but is just dangerous and whatever, you can roll up a new character. Then you trigger the apocalypse. I think what it does best is set up for other horror games, because after this, players will take ominous warnings and freaky surroundings a lot more seriously. A lot of LotFP stuff is built with an eye on the metagame, and in this case it’s taking the fact players often get away with exploring a place despite old guys raving about how deadly it is and giving it bite.
There’s two versions. I liked the original version better, though the new version is apparently “fairer” and definitely more coherent. Original also comes with the bonus princess in the tower adventure where again there’s lots of clues about what’s actually going on and anyone who gets to the top still thinking everything is normal deserves what they get. Also, they’re my favorite sort of clues, the signs of people who’ve been there before.
Death Love Doom:
This is very much horror that’s really niche because it’s got a lot of gore and suffering as well as a heavy sexual component, and it’s not even a lolfuckmurderfun thing because if the players don’t care about the people it loses most of its teeth. You have to get people who are willing to play but aren’t going to just decide to treat bloody naked murder grandma as a joke to distance themselves.
There’s a more intellectual frame behind the gore, but it’s like when people tell you a splatterfest movie isn’t just gore and has some intellectual theme behind it, it’s pretty hard to see with the pile of blood and severed cocks in the way. And the severed cocks actually serve to detract from the more quality body horror it has.
The crux of everything is also a magic item that is pretty much the evil mary sue of objects. The mechanism is cleverly sadistic, the part where every possible way of dealing with it is explicitly ruled out is just meh. And meh is the worst possible response to horror. Once you see the strings, you’re not going to care about the puppet people in the cardboard world, and the DM explaining that in addition to being indestructible it’ll telepathically call people to come get it forever is an awful lot of strings.
Honestly, less special uniqueness would’ve been better. Just make it possible for another one to form by whatever mechanism this one did and there’s still the part where the players can’t ensure it never, ever happens again without the contrivance pileup to keep this exact one in play. As it is, this sort of reminds me of one of the mistakes you see in creepypasta, where they’re trying to hammer in that the terrible thing is scary by saying it’s impossible to defeat, but it’s like Brook’s zombiesues, it’s got the emotional impact of a kid on a playground shouting that nuh-uh, doesn’t count, his character’s invulnerable!!!
On the other hand, I appreciate that you’re allowed to try to save the mutilated kids with only the caveat that they’ll be horribly crippled as a result, rather than just no they die instantly fuck you for attempting that. It means there’s an actual choice there.
Fuck for Satan:
This is so, so much less terrible than it seems. It’s actually just really juvenile (the dungeon includes a monster that is sentient waste and attacks by transferring itself into the PC’s bowels and making them shit themselves) and the stated goal appears to be to annoy the players, but you can just change the dungeon to not be a total waste of everyone’s time. The layered aspect is actually pretty clever, it just needs less of a gotcha tone to it.
Done more maturely, the fact that the obvious plot hook doesn’t actually lead to a solution is good for ramping up tension. Players who are actually engaged with solving the mystery of disappearing kids should find it increasingly worrying that first then obvious solution isn’t it and then the secret hidden solution still doesn’t have any answers for them. Needs for the secret secret reason to be actually good, or else perhaps just never answer it and leave everyone disturbed, rather than SUDDENLY BEAR. Unless I guess the players totally massacre lots of people thinking they’re the killers, in which case SUDDENLY BEAR is an okay conclusion for rubbing their noses in how they’re the real monsters. Only works with dim players rather than amoral ones, though.
God that Crawls:
This is a pretty much Resident Evil the Tabletop Game. You’ve got your abomination of
science magic boss monster with set attack patterns, your limited resources, and your being trapped in underground environment full of weird stuff that can help or harm you. Because it’s LotFP, it also contains a semi-secret area with treasure where you can accidentally destroy the world, but again, it’s not a single button push and it’s possible to reverse and hey, at least it’s in a super weird way.
Hammers of God:
This is a surprisingly easy-going adventure. It’s a mystery dungeon where as you go deeper in you find out more and more of what happened. The horror never passes beyond creepy into anywhere even near FUCKGORE unusability, and I also quite like its secret history.
It’s horror as atmosphere and past crimes and that is always great.
Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess:
What if everything was terrible, what if best wishes only made things a million times worse, what if there was no good solution ever?
I can’t help but think that most people who’d be willing to play this adventure would just murder their way back out with a shrug, which wrecks the impact it has. It’s a module that seems like it’s set up to have more punch when read than actually played out more slowly. I found it quite effective as horror, though – the very fact there’s grand powers that exist only to fuck people over in the most horrible manner they can and they do it over and over again elevates this from an isolated moment of horror to something more cosmic.
I suppose this is something to inflict on anyone who’s gotten cocky with Call of Cthulhu style things. Traditional Lovecraft is the horror of an uncaring universe, and I believe the modern successor to that is the horror of an actively hostile one. Humanity is helpless in both, but the results will be even worse in the second.
Alternatively, you could chop off the end about there being no solution and just let people actually fix things. Don’t think that’d actually hurt the horror much at all, since the very existence of the situation proves God or whatever’s currently in charge hates us.
Monolith From Beyond Space and Time:
But like the characters in a good Lovecraft tale, the player characters in this adventure will encounter a bit of strangeness and as the oddities become more prominent, there will be a mounting sense of dread as they wait for the hammer to drop. A twist or two will momentarily break the tension until the ramifications set in, and then they hit climax where they realize that they cannot win. They are doomed, and were doomed from the moment they got involved.
This one is wonderful. It’s an ever escalating pile of cool reality breakdown effects, some of which can be escaped by realizing this was a horrible mistake and leaving the valley and others which have no such escape.
Attempts to count the statues always return a result of either eight or seven. Demolishing a statue is quite difficult, though possible after mighty spells (likely three or more spells in tandem or series) or hours of labor. This does not affect the counting of the statues in any way.
So cool! I bet I could make children cry with this one. Reality breakdown is horrible even when nothing is even happening, because you have no idea if nothing is actually happening because nothing makes sense anymore. It belongs on the corner of the map and the only thing you tell anyone is that no one who entered ever came back.
No Salvation for Witches:
I found this intriguing.
Much like Better Than Any Man, this has the world falling apart and a bunch of women trying to fix it with whatever hammer they have while the existing powers that be just go straight to trying to kill them because misogyny while a bunch of random terrible stuff happens because LotFP.
But the horror of this one is a lot less focused. It’s a matter of running into random horror spots where the witch’s magic accidentally fucked something up, but proper investigation can clue you in to what’s going on and then it’s understandable and so less frightening. If it was just some sort of ever-widening tear in the fabric of reality, it’d get into the idea of an intrinsically hostile universe, but this time the unfathomable and incredibly powerful monster is actually trying to help and just making a few mistakes along the way and so there’s potential for it all the work out. It definitely opens with horror and confusion and can stay that way if the players don’t work things out, but assuming competence, it’s more a matter of successfully investigating and then deciding which risk the players want to take, with some gore for flavor.
This is a horror town semirandom generator. Not quite sure what the random aspect adds to it – it seems the idea is replayability, but the key players/secrets remain the same, it’s largely a matter of if they appear or not and where exactly, and what the connections between them are. But it’s a very lovely setting, with so much wrongness packed in. I really like how the whole of the cult is handled – it’s not straight up evil, and it’s a more subtle mind control so people still are mostly normal and themselves, allowing a good mix of ordinary town politics without going into the straight up farce of having to install a new murdered baby hedge to keep up with the Joneses.
Given one of the warping factors is time magic, the best use might be in generating multiple towns and then having characters slip between them without warning. The setting itself is more on the mysterious side of horror, so piling another level of confusion on would be fun.
A nice horror movie setup to plunk down just about anywhere. It’s quick, contained, and bizarre, but meatier than A Single Small Cut so it’ll be a whole little subplot for anyone who stumbles in. No idea how the meta mechanic of the ending works in practice, but it’s designed to get people to screw each other over, so I approve.
Another campaign setting, this one is all about the fallout of war. It’s got a lovely scope – it’s set in the country next to the country actually being fought over, and just one defective, misfired missile from that is enough to contaminate the whole place. One of the side effects of magic poison is getting some horrible power, as usual, but the best idea is that that poisoning can also turn you into a sociopath. You see that and you know exactly why everything is going wrong. If you don’t want your whole village to go crazy, you can also eat lotus flowers and yeah it works as well as lotus flowers ever do in fiction, enjoy watching some of your friends fall asleep and never wake up.
This is really, really meta, and is probably the actual LotFP Tomb of Horrors concept, where someone builds a dungeon specifically to fuck with adventurers. The horror here is entirely in the metagame aspect, as it’s designed to just be extremely difficult for the sake of it and not to make that obvious until the players have gone too far in to escape.
Pretty much the polar opposite, this is all about creepy atmosphere. A terrifying fae runs child plantations with emaciated monster rabbitmen overseers and if you can get in, you can…chat with her about the secret to her power, which is this weird temporal nightmare of paradox and self-murder to access the secret word of God.
This one is so great. It’s not precisely direct horror, but – well. The frame for this one is that you find journals of some other people who went into a dungeon, then pick up those character sheets and begin playing to learn what the dungeons say happened. When the characters inevitably die (it’s a rather meatgrindery dungeon) it’s the end of the journals and you return to your actual characters and set out, now forewarned with all that knowledge. BUT it’s set up so that all sorts of things the players do in the past will have unforeseen consequences, so people get there expecting one thing and get blindsided. People are really attached to the whole object permanence thing, and saying things have changed around is more unsettling than it’d seem and works even when the changes aren’t any big deal. The best part is, the further they got and the more they think they know, the more warped the place they return to will be.