Saturday, February 12, 2011

Realms of Crawling Chaos: Lovecraftian Dark Fantasy Review

Realms of Crawling Chaos: Lovecraftian Dark Fantasy (hereafter ROCC) is a short supplement produced by Goblinoid Games for Labyrinth Lord.  This is a capsule review of the 66 page pdf version.

The explicit goal of ROCC is to create a framework for dark fantasy games with a Lovecraftian flare.  It relies primarily on Lovecraft's work to do this, but also includes some material from Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith's respective works.  The book begins with a discussion of the themes and elements present in such a campaign.  This is by far the weakest part of the book.  The discussion of Science in this section seems a bit out of place.  While it obviously is a major part of Lovecraft's theme, it is rather alien to Labyrinth Lord and the kind of games it seeks to emulate.  

Still these are minor quibbles.  Despite the errors and some of the strangeness in this section, I still found it very inspiring.  It provides a framework for Lovecraftian campaigns quite different than the one I was expecting.  While many of the insights are not new to me, the way that Proctor and Curtis wed these ideas to Medieval Fantasy creates a new sort of genre.  Well, that might be a bit extreme, but it is certainly unlike previous attempts at Lovecraftian D&D such as Carcosa.  Reading it, I get the image of villagers huddled in their homes, afraid of the terrors that lurk in the darkness outside.  I imagine foolhardy warriors and wizards who brave ancient ruins for terrifying artifacts.  In short, it makes me want to run a game, and that is the best one can expect from a product such as this.

Next the book introduces new character races.  These are rather gonzo, but their inclusion is not unwanted.  My favorite by far is the Sea Blood, which turns the Deep One into a playable race.  Stats are provided for both AD&D style races and race as class builds.  This section ends with a discussion of what classes are appropriate for a ROCC game.  Some of the text is contradictory, such as whether or not Magic-Users may be allowed in certain campaign types.  It is also strange that this should be found in a chapter titled "Character Races," but that is probably a nit pick.

The rules continue with new magical spells.  ROCC introduces the concept of Formulae, which require ingredients to work their magical effects.  I'm a tremendous fan of this idea; however, I found the execution lacking in some places.  There are very few formulae and those that are present are rather bland.  A few stand out as being excellent, but I think the book could have benefited from more and more flavorful formulae.  The list of regular spells has some good entries, but much like formulae most aren't terribly exciting.  

The monster section is excellence.  I was happy to see such obscure entries as Bokrug, the Water Lizard from "The Doom that Came to Sarnath."  I may wonder how useful they are to someone who already has D&D stats for Lovecraft's various entities, but to me they are a welcome addition.  

The section on artifacts is also good.  I especially like the Great Race Ray gun, since I'm generally a fan of Science Fantasy.  Granted I could simply use the technology rules from Mutant Future, but it was nice to see it nonetheless.

The rules for Psionics are a mixed bag.  They're easy to understand, but there are few powers provided.  I especially find the lack of a enthrall or dominate power to be saddening, since I wanted to add it to my Hypnotoad writeup.  I also was frustrated by the lack of rules for Psionic characters, but understand why they were not included.  One could easily make a Psionic class if one has access to Mutant Future.

The four appendices are all excellent.  My personal favorites are the rules for Eldritch Tomes (which will undoubtedly end up in Nightwick Abbey) and Random Artifacts.  I'm not entirely sure why these were appendices, but I'm very happy they are present.  The literary sources entry is very interesting, and breaks down where each item in the rules came from on a story by story basis.

The art in this product is excellent.  I find the pictures to be very evocative of the kind of campaign ROCC can engender, and it also has a consistent feel.  Many RPG products have a very disjointed art presentation, but Goblinoid Games seems especially good at making sure their art has a tone and feel that is consistent throughout.  

On the whole I'd say Realms of Crawling Chaos is a good sourcebook.  I am a bit disappointed with it in some places, but at $5 for the pdf, it's very difficult not to recommend it.

I give Realms of Crawling Chaos: Lovecraftian Dark Fantasy 3 1/2 out of 5 Stars.

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