Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Augury - Realms of Crawling Chaos

Until now my reviews have all been about Pathfinder but, as a fan of both the OSR and Lovecraft, I couldn’t let this opportunity pass: Realms of Crawling Chaos is a 65-pages B&W sourcebook for Labyrinth Lord, written by Daniel Proctor and Michael Curtis. Entitling itself as a “Lovecraftian Dark Fantasy” game, RoCC brings to OD&D all the cosmic and primordial menaces of the Cthulhu Mythos.

Lovecraft’s work is well known among RPG gamers. In fact many believe it’s already been done to death. The Mythos are responsible not only for their own brand of games – like Call of Cthulhu, Trails of Cthulhu and Cthulhutech –, but also show up in games like Pathfinder (Golarion is flooding with creatures, places and deities taken from the Lovecraft’s horror tales). This approach has led some to argue that the Mythos have been banalized – today little more than “horror with tentacles”. Because of criticisms like that I find refreshing the author’s proposition for RoCC: to limit it only to Lovecraft’s original works, removing all external influences and expansions done to the Mythos.

RoCC opens with a primer on how to capture the mood and major themes of H.P.L., from the classical subject “The Insignificance of Man”, to “An Uncaring Natural World” and “Science as a Double Edged Sword”. Famous cults and potential locations for a “Lovecraftian Dark Fantasy” game are briefly mentioned.

The next part is character races: sea blood (yup, those fishy fellas), subhumans (blend of human and voormis), white apes and white ape hybrid. Each race also gets full mechanics to be used also as class. I was hoping for a ghoul class, but maybe that’s too much Dreamlands-style for a Dark Fantasy game.

RoCC has a chapter devoted to new spells – with the classic “summon Mythos entities” spells – and a new category: formulae. These rituals are more elaborated and usually require rare or expensive alchemical components; a famous example would be Condense Essential Saltes.

Next is the bestiary – my favorite part! They’re all here: ghouls, deep ones, colours out of space, nightgaunts, Yuggoth fungi, polypous horrors etc. We also have stats for the Old Ones, like Cthulhu (obviously), Dagon, Nyarlathotep and even “His Idiocy”, the Daemon Sultan himself. RoCC also has a number of new artifacts, from the Silver Key and the Shining Trapezohedron to alien and technological items (like the Mi-go’s Brain Cylinders).

RoCC closes with a chapter devoted to psionic powers. This was my great disappointment with an otherwise perfect sourcebook – the authors present an entire psionic system devoted but only for NPCs and monsters. Their purpose was to highlight the alien aspect of the Mythos powers, which I find unnecessary in a rules-light game like Labyrinth Lord. While there is a short appendix with guidelines for using these psionics powers together with Mutant Future, I’d have greatly appreciated a full psionic system for Labyrinth Lord – maybe the authors’ interpretation of the original system in the LBBs.

Among the appendices we also have rules for eldritch tomes (can’t live without them), random artifacts and a list with literary sources.

Despite the small criticism regarding the psionics system, Realms of Crawling Chaos is an excellent sourcebook and a fine addition to Labyrinth Lord and other retro-clone (or OD&D) games. The amount of material, the simple but evocative art and the PDF’s price are all great incentives to purchase this blasphemous and wonderful tome.