Wednesday, 28 December 2016
A Review of Blood in the Chocolate by Kiel Chenier
The writing, design and cartography are all by Kiel Chenier. That's right, he's a threefer! Get him while he's hot kids. This also means there is no-one to shuck blame onto.
The art is by Jason Bradley Thompson.
If you're reading this you've probably already read the blurb so I won't bother repeating much of what its about. There's a woman making mysterious Chocolate in the Netherlands: investigate.
General Info Design
Like Broodmother SkyFortress this has endpaper cheat sheets at front and back, The front has a factory map and basic key with page number references. The back has ALL the monster and NPC stats along with tables for the numerous wierd drug and chemical effects plus a PYGMY TRACKER.
So at any point in the adventure, if you need surrounding geography, flip forward, if you are in a combat situation & need stats or pigmy numbers, flip back.
The book sections are all colour-coded by page-tincture, which is a really nice idea. it would probably be more useful in a thicker book where the page colours would show up more clearly in the spine but its still a pleasant thought.
(It's possible that this hovers close to the ideal of a 'natural size' for a particular kind of adventure and format. Just like human groups tend to hover around certain sizes, around 5-7 for a squad or team, 25-35 for a platoon or tribe, 200 for a small company etc, so it might be that, depending on the format of the book, this amount of adventure might be roughly the right size of you want to fit a lot of encompassing knowledge in the end-papers.
If it was much bigger you would need to make much sharper choices about what to include and you would simple need more architecture to deal with it. The adventure (stripped of everything else) in BSf is about the same size as this.)
The fake-history leading up the events of the adventure is pretty good.
It's specific and imaginative enough to tie the whole thing into the LotFP aesthetic and its preferred 17thC history. Chocolate = Colonialism = South America = Strange Tribe = Ancient Mayan Sorcery + Colonial Exploitation + Proto Capitalism = Adventure. Ok, I can buy that.
The PCs will probably never find out all of this unless they exhaustively interrogate one of the NPC's and probably not even then, but it gives the DM enough info for them to improv with if the PCs investigations ever turn to the history of the factory or of the main villain, enough that they will feel there *is* a history, even if they can't make it all out, and enough that spending some time in Madrid or dropping a few coins with a well-travelled galleon captain, to find out about Lucia De Castillo is a useful and interesting process.
It also gives us our villain, primary NPC and animating spirit of the adventure (almost literally the "genius loci", though possibly that's the magic tree).
Is simple and sharp, essentially an armed recon plus theft if you think you can handle it, plus assassination if you think you can handle that.
Its an actual job with individual payments for objects, information, *mapping* (which is interesting, there's our formal support for exploration as a playstyle as in BSf, rather than just tacit encouragement) and one part in which you are not explicitly told to assassinate the main NPC but are informed that if she happens to permanently dissappear, leaving you in control of her stuff, this is how much money that is worth.
So this is a neat chunk of information for a pickup, one-shot or con game, but also useful for a campaign game. It gives you a lot of ways to fit it in. Almost anyone powerful could hire you to do this.
Doing proto industrial espionage makes quite a bit more sense than an 'adventurers guild' and depending on the context would be a handy idea to import to other adventures.
The 'genius loci', Villian or Primary Bitch. A torturing, murdering, kinda sex-offendy fat lesbian. Juliet D'Aubney plus Wilson Fisk plus Willy Wonka plus Cortez.
(I actually just made a G+ post about the Noetic value of 'heavy' characters, and she is that in spades.)
She is not a combat monster, which gives you the excuse you need to run her clever. She comes with some classic villain advice combined with some more specifically LotFP advice about the nature of materialistic evil.
Almost all of the lengthy RP interactions you (the DM) have with the PC's will be as Lucia (the Pygmies can barely speak your language), Kiel gives you a lot to play with. Re-watch Skyfall and try to get Mr Silva's voice down.
The talisman she wears is interesting - a specific 'kill button' and powerful magic item with a built-in trap effect. This gives doomed or screwed parties a last chance to win and survive and clever parties a potential sniper shot.
As Tactical elements they are a stealth swarm with darkvision (which means a lot more in LotFP than other systems). Slow, weak and easy to kill. A mid-level party is going to end up covered in their blood.
If the giants in BSF create a feeling of powerlessness and necessary scheming, encouraging you almost to play 'as rats', the pygmies in BitC (yes the initials almost spell 'Bitch') are a tide of almost-faceless goons backed by one very large personality, they will create an initial feeling of seeming potency, anarchic, gleeful, murderous, going down like cartoon characters. Killing the pygmies is going to start as a comedy.
- There are 150 of them (exactly 150, no less and no more, not an infinite number, this is where the pygmy tracker in the back is a really sweet idea).
- They can see in the dark.
- They have 5hp with means a 1-shot kill is possible but not entirely likely, they could soldier on through 3 or even 4 hits.
- They have these blowgun poisons.
There will be so many pygmies firing that this is their main threat. Both toxin effects are almost certain to happen to most parties.
Paralysis poison - Stuck for 5 to 20 minutes, this guarantees carrying someone around, separation, hiding or capture.
Berry Poison - This gives you 20 minutes till you are immobile but you remain kinda-useful up until then, first as a fat party member, then a giant beach ball (presumably rolled about to squash pygmies) then as a blue explosive lump (your juicy death could conceivably be used to kill even more pygmies).
So this is designed to get parties carrying and rolling each other desperately through the factory, separated, running and at least partially captured and interrogated so the DM can have fun putting on their terrible Spanish accent as Lucia.
Even though every individual combat is probably going to be fun, with you throwing them into machinery, shooting them in the face and stamping their brains out, its going to gradually get very desperate.
As cultural artefact:
Well you can dress it up but they are still pygmies straight out of a Tarzan film or one of those adventure serials George Lucas grew up on which sometimes leads him to say questionable things.
They make sense in the imagined world and are well-explained, and they make sense in the adventure a number of ways but you still couldn't describe them on RPG.NET without someone (everyone) talking about them being banned.
We also get the wikipedia article on chocolate making, I can see this being useful somehow, somewhere. This is another thing the PCs (& players) could find out about and conceivably use in some way to gain an advantage.
Kiel really, really wants your character to get fat. Like, magically, intensely, superbly impossibly fat and round. There's the Berry Curse, which makes them fat and blue, the 'Terrible Swells' which make you fat, bouncy and high-voiced and a Chocolate effect which just makes you fat enough to burst your armour.
And then he wants them to be trapped and squeezed by a fat lesbian played by the DM. In a seductive way.
He's also OK if you find exciting new ways of squeeeezing each other and you are actively encouraged to do so.
Well, so far, so LotFP, welcome to whatever is going on in the creators amygdala and I hope you enjoy the multiple, multiple, multiple insanity tables in Veins, if it ever comes out, and the extensive cannibalism rules
We have the front endpaper diagram-map with opposing key. Then in the middle of the book we have the full-spread full colour map, this is done in an almost-Nintendo style, it has that slightly gemlike pixelated quality you get from bright Nintendo primaries. Its gridded if you need to calculate precise movement. The rooms and area's are colour-coded, we have white snow outside, 'civilian' floored areas, green grass for the greenhouse areas and purple for the industrial which makes it easy to work out what kind of place you are, and each individual room has a layout with all the crap you can hide behind, set on fire and throw pygmies into.
The room maps are repeated with the description so you have their internal layout there when you flip. In almost every case everything you need to run a room is contained in a single open spread (except for maaaybe one or two times) but the surrounding rooms and the page number you flip to when you leave any room are not included in those smaller room-diagrams so its a two-flip process, read and run room, exit, flip to main map of front endpaper, get the number for the next area then flip back, that's 4.5 stars out of five.
(I will stank-talk your info-game but its not like I've ever done any better when I was working on my own.)
STUFF IN THE DUNGEON/FACTORY AND HOW THAT RUNS
The adventure starts with a classic 'get inside the castle' problem then breaks into a flow of lots of low-threat encounters that get the players covered with pigmy blood complexified and made much more difficult by the almost certain drugging, poisoning and mutating of the players as they get exposed to various things then complexified again by however the DM decides to play Lucia, presumably stealth pygmy drops, attempted buyouts, a few Hans Gruber monologues (Spanish accent), seductions & druggings, drowning in chocolate and leaving doors open/jamming them shit, to get PC's where she wants them to be.
The paintings are worth a bomb. This is classing double-blind territory, whenever I enter a LotFP dungeon I compulsively steal the cutlery and avoid anything that seems magic and I have done ok out of that. (The fact that it's specific Rubens paintings is a nice touch, and fits well with Kiels and Lucias... proclivities.)
You also get punished at least twice for trying to treat it like Willy Wonka's factory despite the module effectively saying "yeah, its wonka's factory", so, so far so LotFP.
The dungeon has loops and multiple entries & exits from and to almost every room. Most of the loops require access to the main chocolate river room and involve you crossing its very narrow, very slippy bridges, probably while being shot at by pygmies.
Leaping onto the pygmy-powered unstable riverboat is going to start looking very good.
There are two 'end points', one cthonic, down deep where the river takes you, this is the psychological and horrific end point of the dungeon, the one with the torture victims, poisoned kids and pressing machine.
The other end is up, this one is full of treasure, we get some serious bank along with a portal to R&PL, which fits with the theme. I'm always up with portals to other worlds and it works well with LotFP "you find a doorway to another exciting Lamentations Product, which you can buy right now online!
(But no link to 'Tales of the Gingerbread Princess?',maybe its out of print?)
What about the aesthetic unity of the whole thing and THE ART.
I know I said this with the last review, but this is another LotFP product where the art is both very good, directly expressive of the unique mood and feel of the adventure and also useful and expressive of the intended playstyle.
Jason Bradley Thompson's painted 'kawai-horror' style fits the text perfectly, he makes the cannibalism, mutation and slaughter of the thing look gleeful, funny, manic and still horrible, which I think is the main intention
His slightly picture-book figures can both emote and die well. He's given enough space to breath, even in an A5 book. He adds to, expands and sometimes specifies the mood and action of the book. This is what a pygmy combat in the factory should look and feel like. This is whats going on with the chocolate in the salons of Europe. This is what it feels and looks like to be in this place or that place, and his colourful style meshes well with the page tinctures, the relatively bold colours used for the tables, title and maps. It's a bright book, not comic-booky like BSF, more storybooky, like a toxic children's tale.
Toxic Childrens Tale is a good description except don't play it with any actual children as there is some strongly-inferred lesbian rape.