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Paul Baldowski
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Cheshire
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Firstly, I have no particular love of the Old School wave of games. I have certainly played a spot of D&D in past, but never so much as to get attached to it in any way. I understand the draw to a certain extent, with a whole pile of classic games in my own collection, but when I have read Old School they've failed to grab me. This doesn't mean I can't appreciate a good adventure. I have recently purchased the very Old School "Lost City" and loved it enough to break out the self-service dice and crayon. I'm quite open to the possibilities.

Second, I've never really been one for gore. Visceral cinematic ventures that push the limits of taste don't really do anything for me. You can keep your Saws and Hostels, and be quite welcome to them. I don't find entertainment in that sort of detached pain and suffering. I can see more than enough senseless violence in the world without wanting to fabricate more with grisly CGI and special effects.

Finally, while I don't see the entertainment value in seeing the pain of others, I'm touch-typing this review on my first day of using a Dvorak keyboard. It's probably taken me hours. Have pity on me.

In choosing to buy, read and consider Death Love Doom, I have picked up one of James Edward Raggi's standard journeys into poor taste gaming under an Old School banner, which seems to cut across all my grains… but, it isn't bad, just not my cup of tea.

What is it?
Death Love Doom is a supplement (of about 24 pages) in an A5 format and including 2 pages of maps. The PDF is linked, layered and bookmarked for ease of use. The site that sold this clearly states graphic content and suitability for adults only.

The book includes about four pages of illustrations and two pages of maps. Kelvin Green has an unusual artistic style somewhat cartoonish in approach, with sort of anime eyes and chunky limbs. Almost all of illustrations feature vivisectional torture, the victims alive and in pain. However, Green's style reins in the impact a little, dulling the impact in comparison with what might have been served up with a style more lifelike.

The Breakdown
We kick off with a table of contents and then an Author's Notes page. Raggi discusses the breakup of his first marriage and the impact of that experience. He goes on to explain how make believe horror channels the pain of that kind of experience, turning the anguish into something to entertain others. Raggi seems to grasp and understand the medium, and does this horror thing very well.

Raggi nominally sets the adventure in early 17th century England, but it would equally suite a fantasy environment. From the outset the adventure's premise seems very simple. The characters hear rumours about a wealthy merchant with a family home just outside of the city. He returned from his latest venture, but none have sighted him in days. Thieves see this as an opportunity for some easy pickings, so the characters need to act with some sense of urgency. Act too slow and they way find the place stripped of valuables. Of course they might go out of some sense of community spirit, rather than greed, in which case an early visit would still work out for the best, warning the family of the pending interest of undesirables.

After the Author's Notes, you have a page on Running the Adventure. It recommends you run the game straight and emotionless. Describe the horror in stark detail to maximise the player's discomfort. Don't ever let up until the character's escape or expire.

The Setup and Starting the Adventure fill the next two pages, giving a brief potted background, explaining the nature and movement of the adventure's few wandering monsters, and then explains how to get the players involved with a dozen random rumours. The mutterings of the tavern crowd make the situation clear about the perceived vulnerabilities of the household. With good or selfish intentions, the characters have a reason to get involved.

The next 6 pages outline the thirty locations characters can visit on The Bloodworth Estate, describing each in basic detail with passing reference to the people (or at least the carcasses and dismembered viscera) found there. The "surviving" members of the family appear in a later section, but Green's art begins to give some idea.

The Necklace of the Sleepless Queen covers the item and entities, at the heart of the household's woes, over 2 pages. Essentially, like Star Trek's Kobayashi Maru, this is a No Win scenario. Even if the characters somehow find a way to defeat the entity, it'll simply recover after a fixed period of time. If the characters destroy the cursed necklace, the entity goes off and finds a different piece of jewellery to inhabit. If you think your players can stomach this kind of hollow victory, great. If not, maybe you'll need to engineer some greater sense of victory. You might construct an arc around finding a way to put an end to this entity. Some players may not settle for anything less.

Essentially, the entity behind this massacre seeks to bring chaos and despair by punishing those in love, which in this case revealed an unsuspected secret. The entity reminded me of some of the foul creatures from the Book of Unremitting Horror and the recent Teratic Tome. The creature responds to specific acts ams feelings in a quite horrific way.

The next 7 pages deals with The Foxlowe Family and their hideous fate. Most of the family has a vague chance of survival, but I wouldn't put up much hope. None of the victims here, possibly including the characters (and indeed the players), will come out of this unscathed; some simply beg to die from the outset. the section details the state of each victim, additional back story, special rules for tackling them (like the impact on characters of battling some of the more harrowing adversaries), and brief statistics.

The final Ending Notes outline what might happen next, depending very much on whether anyone even got out alive. The adventure considers the interesting prospect of the cursed artefact falling into the possession of the currently lovelorn king.

My Thoughts in Summary

As an adventure, this is simple and well-crafted. It would work best with a GM who can assimilate the information and location and then riff on it. The setup provides a location, much colour (mostly gore red), and some key characters to provide a doubtlessly memorable adventure, fit for a single intense session.

You have to be quite certain you know your audience and can handle running the adventure the way it needs to be run. If you don't care for horror and gore, this one isn't for you. It isn't for the young or impressionable, nor would it suit playing out in public.

I appreciate Raggi has a niche and he creates some quite disturbing imagery here. Graham Walmsley's advice in Play Unsafe might suggest you run this specifically because it takes you out of your comfort zone.

I'm not certain this is a great adventure, but it certainly is a challenging one.
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DMSamuel
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Excellent review!

Is is gore and horror, or just gore?

Like you, I am not a fan of the Saw and Hostel genre of 'entertainment' but I do like a challenging story to run. However, it sounds to me that if you strip away the gore, there isn't much left - is that a suitable assessment of this product or am I giving it the short end?
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Paul Baldowski
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In the strictest definition of the genre the adventure fits best into Body Horror, with a touch of Splatter. I think the quantity of dangling intestine means it belongs, at least fractionally, in the latter genre.

If you strip away the horror and the powers of the entity that generate the horror, you have a bit of burglary. Nothing else. Crack a trap free safe and you have all the (easily traceable) treasure. You'd have to completely retool the adventure. You would have a 6-page location to work with, but no plot or challenges.
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