Inside Pulse 12

Tabletop Review: Thulian Echoes (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)

Thulian Echoes (Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Cost: $7.50
Page Count: 31
Release Date: 7/17/2014
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com

Generally, I really enjoy LoTFP adventures. This year alone I’ve heaped praise upon Forgive Us, A Single, Small Cut, Scenic Dunnsmouth and The Doom Cave of the Crystal Headed Children. Unfortunately, all streaks comes to the end, and for the first time in a long time, I found myself not caring for a LotFP adventure. In fact, I was bored by this one to no end. Alas, it came down to Thulian Echoes having a great premise but terrible flow, narrative and editorial direction. There’s definitely potential in this piece, but honestly, it just didn’t gel with me at all. That’s okay, because every adventure is someone’s favorite, and that same adventure will also have detractors. There are people who hate Masks of Nyarlathotep or some old school AD&D 2e Ravenloft adventures that thrilled me as a pre-pubescent. It is what it is. Hopefully this review will show why I didn’t care for Thulian Echoes, but also show you why others might find it worth the $7.50 price tag attached to it.

The core concept of Thulian Echoes is that it is a “twofer,” meaning that you’ll play through the adventure twice. First you play as a set of pre-generated characters, during which the DM makes note of the decisions that you make, which will have ramifications 1,000 years or so in the future when the actual PCs go through the adventure themselves. It’s a great concept and one I’ve seen done a few times before for settings like Call of Cthulhu and Dungeons & Dragons. Still, it’s an uncommon enough idea that it really makes the piece stand out. Unfortunately, there are a lot of problems with the piece.

First up are the pre-generated characters, which aren’t actually pregens at all. You get class, level and equipment and that’s it. This of course means you have to generate the pregenerated characters, which is one of the strangest oxymorons I’ve encountered in gaming. Now in theory, this make sense, because LoTFP tries to be open system enough to work with other games like say, DCC, Swords & Wizardry or any other retroclone out there. However, this is one of those places where either a full character statblock should have been provided or the adventure should have had the players whip up some one shot characters themselves to make them care more about the fate of these poor doomed souls. Instead, the GM will have to take a little extra time and flesh out the pregens so that they can actually be played. That’s definitely not a good start to a piece.

Another problem with the piece is the story hook. The adventure is about the actual PCs finding a journal of the pregens and their attempts to navigate a deathtrap dungeon for a dumptruck load of cash. The PCs play the pregen’s through the adventure, and once that side of the piece is done, the PCs can go and play through the dungeon themselves, hopefully learning from the mistakes of the previous team. However, once again we have problems with the narrative and writing style of the author. There is no attempt to make more of a story hook than, “You have this journal. Here is what Team A did, now try it yourself.” Which, unfortunately, is very flimsy. This is followed up by the following text, “It is like a pirate treasure map, if you can’t find a way for the characters to find a book, and they aren’t interested in even reading about getting treasure, they probably aren’t adventurer and you should play something else.” This is a terrible bit of narrative text, and also shows the author is incapable of seeing the many different reasons people play RPGs or even dungeon crawls in general. Most gamers and their characters aren’t motivated solely by greed. A lot of gamers want to play heroes, not tomb robbers, and a writer for any adventure has to keep that in mind and provide some other potential hook for characters. After all, most gamers I have encountered would go, “Wait, these guys all died trying to get this treasure. Why should we?” or would want more substance behind their motivations. The fact that the author and the very text of the adventure actively show disdain for these types of gamers was a real turn-off to me. Unfortunately, the author’s narrative style is pretty condescending to the reader throughout the whole text, which really gives the piece a (no doubt unintentional) feel of, “If you game differently from me, you are stupid and wrong.” This is not something an adventure should ever do. It’s one thing to have an honest and even blunt conversation between the author/publisher and their audience before the adventure. You see great examples of this in the past two Free RPG Day releases from LotFP, but once the adventure starts, you need to keep in mind that everyone games differently, unless your goal is to not sell the piece with commentary on how you know what fun is and the potential purchaser doesn’t – then mission accomplished. I really think editorial should have sat down with this piece and reined in the constant “director’s commentary,” as the attempts to be funny and witty actually come across as snide and pompous. Others might find this style entertaining, but it just didn’t work for me.

Then there is the adventure flow. Each section of the adventure is laid out like a normal adventure. You get a description of the room along with what’s in it, possible threats and the usual stuff. You will also get “tags” in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS to showcase how the location will change when the actual PCs go through the dungeon. This is a good way of reminding the GM that the pregen’s decisions will have consequences on the future. However, these sections could have been written better or in a more helpful manner. You have tags that have exceptions when other tags come into play, tags who are mentioned in passing before they actually come up in the adventure, and so on. What’s here works, but a DM is going to have read through this several times and really work out what tags coincide, cancel each other out or just plain contradict each other. What would have made this adventure both work and flow better would have been a little chart or cheat sheet including at the beginning or end of this PDF which the DM could use for reference instead of having to flip constantly back and forth through the piece to check on how the tags all interact with one another. Even clumping all the definitions and consequences of the tags into one easy to find/read section would have made things flow better in terms of both reading and playing Thulian Echoes. I get why the adventure is laid out the way it is, but like many aspects of this piece, what works in one’s head or in theory, doesn’t actually work too well on paper.

Then there’s the adventure itself. Perhaps I’m just spoiled by all the dungeon crawls I’ve reviewed this year put out by LotFP, along with other companies like Goodman Games, Troll Lord Games and even WotC (Hoard of the Dragon Queen was surprisingly great), but Thulian Echoes just felt really dull and uninspired to me. The traps and monsters aren’t very interesting, and really, the only thing the adventure has for it is the gimmick of going through the dungeon twice. Even then, there is a 50% chance the actual PCs won’t encounter the dungeon a second time, thus defeating the whole purpose of the gimmick. It could be bricked up by a new settlement, completely wiped out by other adventurers that came between the time of the pre-gens and the present, or it never actually existed at all and was a LotFP trolling by an evil murder coven to lure the PCs into a trap. There are just so many rewrites and changes I’d have to do to this piece to make it something I’d even come close to wanting to present to people, but again, that’s just me. I’m sure there are people that love this thing, but Thulian Echoes really pales in comparison to not just other LotFP releases this year, but most dungeon crawls I’ve had to sit down with and review here in 2014.

All of the above just left me really unimpressed with the overall piece. There were definitely some interesting and even good ideas, but the execution just had too many holes, issues and personal dislikes for me to enjoy or even be able to recommend to whoever is reading this. Again, a review is just one person’s opinion and I’m sure people that snatch up everything LotFP publishes will find something rewarding about this piece to make the cover price worthwhile, even if it’s just supporting Raggi’s company. I’m just really disappointed in the quality of this one all around. LotFP usually puts out far better pieces than this. At least it has a really nice cover and a swell map.

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