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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Weekend R&R: Death Frost Doom

Death Frost Doom isn't new but the version I'm looking at is.  While my many of my fellow gamers were eager to delve into Zak's "A Red & Pleasant Land" and offer their two coppers and what they thought of the work despite (or because of) some of the bullshit that hit the 'net earlier this year, I was really eager to put my hands on the new edition of this adventure.  Originally penned by James Edward Raggi IV five years or so ago, a lot has changed for Raggi and Lamentations of the Flame Princess that got its start in 2009.  I've commented on my admiration for LotFP on more than one occasion and how their products are a great example of a premium product put out by a small publisher.

The original edition of Death Frost Doom is nothing fancy in terms of presentation but, like the Millenium Falcon, "she's got it where it counts, kid."  It was a scenario which was just shy of 30 pages and played as a great, atmospheric, dungeon crawl.  It essentially starts off with an encounter with an old man which sets the stage.  Beyond that, a lot is dependent on what the characters end up doing.  The more they do, the more they will get out of the adventure.  The adventure is really more open ended than not and is easy enough to insert in an existing campaign or, given the likely outcome of the adventure, just as useful for a very memorable one-shot.

The new edition is gorgeous and I knew it was going to be.  I had seen some pictures including the 'misprints' which caused a delay in this new title and others that fans had been waiting on to order from the webstore.  In large part, this is why I waited on this particular review -- I wanted to hold the book in my hands.  Sadly, it's on the slow boat and I'm still waiting for a physical copy of the book.  However, since I'm gearing up with a new campaign, this might end up being the perfect scenario to kick things off with.  First off all, regarding the size -- I'm a complete convert.  It's a bit bigger than one would consider 'digest size' and the closest would be the 6x9" format like you see in the Explorer's Edition of Savage Worlds or FATE Core books.  It's a good size and, while Arcana Creations hasn't yet managed to sneak out a print release in some time, 6x9" is the size we will be releasing in when we do.  The reason for this is convenience in a world were people love their electronic devices as well as their books; the smaller format will display great on 7" - 10" tablets.  If my print edition doesn't show up before I start the game, the trusty PDF will get me by and be perfect on my 7" tablet.  Frankly, this is how it should be and while print will never die, making it as easy and friendly as possible to use beyond print is the way to go.  Death Frost Doom and the rest of LotFP product line all look great on my tablet which is ideal for a GM on the go on the odd time they have to travel light.

The cover is fantastic but retains the styling of the original and the art within this new edition is by far some of the best art I've seen in a gaming product in recent memory.  That's not to say there isn't some great art out there but few gaming books, be it a supplement, rulebook, or adventure module use it as well as this book does.  As you flip through the book, the art you see just draws you in further and really sets the stage in the mind of the reader which, as a GM is nothing but a good thing.  If the pictures and text make you uncomfortable, maybe the entire line from LotFP is best avoided.  The reason the art works in here is also the start black and white nature of the images... not grey scale -- black and white.  Those who own the original will also notice the maps in this version have had a serious update and upgrade.  The whole package is slick and professional putting to rest notions that a small press can't make nice things.

As to the contents of the adventure itself, experienced GMs and newcomers alike will find many things to assist them in running the scenario.  The adventure does this in a manner by supplying a lot of 'what if' scenarios and results that follow based on what the players decide to go... What if they party does this... what if it does that instead.  Even the most experienced GM might be momentarily caught off guard by what the crazy players think up next.  Naturally, reading a published scenario before putting the players through its paces is always sound advice.  The same goes here really but it's nice to see that an attempt has been made to 'head the unruly party off at the pass'.  Scattered throughout the text are various random tables to add a bit of 'fun' to the adventure and, by doing so, saves a creative GM a bit of work.  Of course, all of these tables and bits can easily be minded to use elsewhere if (for whatever reason) the scenario itself isn't a good 'fit' for the group.

I suppose, since the original version was released a few years back, that this has been a bit of a complaint though by no fault of the material.  Death Frost Doom relies on pacing, an inquisitive group of players, and atmosphere.  It isn't your standard, 'heroes defeat an evil wizard in order to save the day' kind of trope.  The adventure and results are dark and you'll be quite at home if your usual game is something more like 'Call of Cthulhu'.  I think this is why there is so much in the book to help sort out details to keep the GM relatively on track.

That isn't to say there isn't some laughs to be had here either.  More than a couple pages is devoted to an organ and what happens when you play a variety of songs on it.  My favorite being what happens if someone plays the notes that Peter Venkman plays at Dana's apartment.

Beyond that, there are options that will give a reader a glimpse at how the original adventure was written with some alternatives added to this version giving a greater flexibility as to how the GM would prefer this adventure play out.  As James says it himself, this edition is somewhere between a revision and a complete rewrite and it's interesting to see mention of what Zak did when he originally ran the adventure.  The effort on this new edition really shows as the page count has pretty much doubled from the original.  The only complaint I have is that some of the text is a bit too 'conversational'.  By this I mean that, while insights are certainly nice, they are nice up to a point.  Celtic Frost's song "Dying God Coming into Human Flesh" is certainly a great song but I was surprised to see this mentioned as great thing to play during a certain part of the adventure.  It's just not integral to the adventure.  In my opinion, such insights might be better dealt with at the end of the section or module -- or maybe a sidebar.  Include those insights there as well as other tips from past experiences to better make the adventure, 'your own'.  You don't see that kind of thing too often in a gaming product but, both the D&D 'Rules Compendium' for 3.5 and the d20 sourcebook, 'The Collected Book of Experimental Might' by Monte Cook both do this sort of thing: provide insights but keep them separate from the integral text.

But, as a said, that's my opinion.  Others reading Death From Doom will certainly think the work flows and works very well as-is.  I do think it's nearly perfect and, aside from a couple miniscule hiccups with editing and layout, other works will have difficulties stacking up against it.

If you don't have Death Frost Doom but where thinking about it, take the climb up that frigid mountain, for it is well worth the effort.  If looking for just a PDF version, it is available at RPGNow! (OBS services) over HERE.  Naturally, you can go to the source and get a dead-tree version along with the PDF HERE.


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