Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday, 10 December 2016

The Witch in the Woods

the Pale Lady: an adventure for characters of levels a  is a scenario for Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay, the dark, mature Old School Renaissance retroclone published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess. It is written by Zzarchov Kowolski, the designer of the well-regarded Scenic Dunnsmouth, and plays upon fears of the unknown in the woods, of witches and abducted children, and of the fey. At just twelve pages long, it presents a short encounter that can be played through in a session or two and is self-contained enough that it can be dropped into most campaigns.

The player characters are employed by an Abbess to launch a raid on the estate of a witch known as the ‘Pale Lady’ who lives deep in the woods and who each spring sends her strange rabbit-men soldiers out to abduct children from nearby villages. Fortunately, this estate remains sealed for the rest of the year, but spring is fast approaching and thanks to a man who previously escaped his white mistress, the Abbess knows the incantation that will open the thick briar thickets that separate our world from the estate. The Abbess is also interested in some of the Pale Lady’s secrets, believing them to be of religious significance. In return for their help, the Abbess promises to give the adventurers a religious relic, a sword used in the Crusades.

What the adventurers find on the other side of the briar patch is more or less a plantation being worked by the abducted children. The Pale Lady’s plantation consists of no more than a few locations—the fields, the reed huts where the abducted children are kept, and her great hall. At this point, the adventurers could do no more than defeat the Rabbit-men, steal away as many of the children as they can, and make a run for it. This though would mean that they miss the weirdness of the scenario and to an extent it highlights an issue with the Pale Lady in that the players and their characters do have to be the active agents in the scenario, as for the most part, the Pale Lady is quite unlikely to stir from her watery throne. Should they investigate great hall and perhaps interact with her, the adventurers will gain hints as to the secrets that the Pale Lady is keeping. The first of these hints is to the existence of a great artefact in her possession, the second is to her source of rabbit-men. Both are nothing to be trifled with…

What the Pale Lady owns is a great source of magic, an artefact akin to the ‘time cube’ that appeared in the author’s Scenic Dunnsmouth. (In fact, were other ‘cubes’ of similar nature to appear in the author’s other works, one might suggest that he was doing something to the ‘Cosmic Cubes’ of the Marvel Universe.) To determine the nature of the artefact may take some puzzling out—though the Pale Lady can be persauded to explain all in return for certain fecund bargains… This being Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay, it should be no surprise that this is the sort of artefact that mortal men should not be playing about with and that there are greater and weirder dangers to be suffered from using it than any great powers that can be gained from it… Certainly, by the end of the Pale Lady, the adventurers will be questioning their sense of self.

If the Pale Lady lacks anything, it is a stronger introduction to help the Referee get the scenario started with greater ease and a better hook to get the adventurers involved. Otherwise, the scenario is well presented with solid artwork. the Pale Lady received only a limited print run, but is available in PDF.

The presence of the strange lady at its heart, of mirrors, and humanoid rabbits point in a slight fashion to the works of Lewis Carroll—Alice’s Adventures in  Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass—such that the Pale Lady would work well with A Red & Pleasant Land. Yet where the mood of A Red & Pleasant Land is Gand Guignol and High Gothic, that of the Pale Lady of quiet oppression and the weird. Only when the player characters poke it hard enough and get too curious do the weird and the oppression make their presence fully known. For the most part, the Pale Lady underplays its weird and its horror, making the players and their characters work for it, and the scenario works all the better for that.