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

Friday, 19 May 2017

Dinosaurs! Robots! Tigers! Oh my...!

World of the Lost is a sandbox/hexcrawl set in West Africa—roughly Nigeria—during the seventeenth century which involves a heist, a great kingdom, dinosaurs, robots, quicksand, the undead, and more. Originally a three thousand word lost world adventure intended as a stretch goal for the LotFP Free RPG Day 2014 IndieGoGo campaign that produced The Doom Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children, it has since been expanded and published as a one-hundred-and-seventy-six-page digest-sized hardback. Published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay and other Retroclones, it is designed to be played by characters of between First and Fourth Level.

The hook for is that each year, the great city of Khirima pays a tribute of silver to the demons that dwell within the Temple of Ages That Are Not and so prevents the monsters of the high plateau above the city being unleashed on the peoples and lands below. The huge amount of silver paid is enough of a lure to draw the player characters to Khirima, find their way to the Temple of Ages That Are Not, steal the tribute, and damn the consequences! All that stands in their way are the kingdom of the Khirima and its ‘exotic’ sense of justice and cultural practices; a rebellion fomenting against the king; a zombie uprising; and more… This is just the start before the player characters gets to the shielded plateau on which the Temple of Ages That Are Not stands. Here they will discover a war between three groups—Exiles, Plasmics, and Pterians. The first are the barbarian descendants of those previously trapped on the plateau; the second are intelligent, telepathic blobs and slimes; and the third, pterosaur-human hybrids capable of flight. This is in addition to the plateau being home to an array of megafauna—or dinosaurs!—and being guarded by robots!

World of the Lost is divided into four chapters—City, Plateau, Dungeon, and Bestiary. Chapter 1: City details the city of Khirima, or rather it details facts about the city. For apart from its grid pattern and its eight districts around a central royal district, the layout and order of Khirima is determined by the Referee rolling dice—not unlike the publisher’s earlier Scenic Dunnsmouth—and do this all but on the go. So if the player characters want to hear rumours, buy arms and armour, obtain healing, wander about, find work, and so on, the Referee is directed to a set of tables and again, with a roll of the dice, bring the right elements into his game. There tables for all sorts of things, including taverns, NPCs and their motivations, new clerical spells, missions, even the layout of the royal palace! Doing this as the game proceeds allows the Referee to run the game as directed by the player characters and their players, all whilst still retaining the exoticism and flavour of an African city in its full splendour. Khirima is not a city for the unwary to visit. There are taboos and social mores that should the player characters break, will find themselves facing the wrath of the local authorities.

Many of the quests and missions suggested by Chapter 1: City point out of the city and onto Chapter 2: Plateau, with the adventurers being hired to go to a particular location and undertake a task once there. Some two hundred of these locations and hexes are described in some detail, encompassing almost half of the book. Many of these are built around the one location, for example, the eight hundred foot tall red obelisk known as the Spire which towers over the jungle surrounding it, but others are linked into clusters and links built around stories, for example, encountering a scout for a merchant caravan that is in a nearby hex or refugees fleeing the rise of the undead, the latter a potentially apocalyptic event that might overwhelm the region. Beyond the two hundred locations described in detail, random tables enable the Referee to create encounters. There is plenty going in these hexes, including trading, exploring, patrolling, fighting, fleeing, and more.

The closer that the player characters get to the heart of the adventure and the tone of the adventure changes from the exoticism of the Dark Continent to the weird of high plateau. This revels in its ‘Lost World’ tropes with dinosaurs aplenty, but then throws a three-way war between humans, flying dinosaur men, and goops, many of whom are eager for the intervention of outsiders and the help they can offer. There are also crashed spaceships, robot guards, and a force field! This completely surrounds the plateau above the city, keeping it safe from weirdness being unleashed and going on a rampage. That is, of course, unless the player characters intervene…

If the inclusion of crashed spaceships and laser weaponry suggests a nod towards S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, the Science Fiction meets Fantasy scenario for use with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition, then that nod is all but confirmed by Chapter 3: Dungeon. This details the Temple of Ages That Are Not, a small, just nine-room dungeon, with each room being described in two or three pages. These rooms are gigantic, stark, and filled with strange platonic solids. These are alien spaces and objects whose function are not readily apparent and will only become so through experimentation. This is not without its dangers, in the short term for the adventurers, in the long term for the surrounding lands…

Chapter 4: Bestiary presents the numerous types of creatures that the player characters might encounter on and around the plateau. This includes the Exiles, the Plasmics, and the Pterians, as well as the megafauna and prehistoric horrors. There are some excellent illustrations in this chapter, the megafauna and the Plasmics in particular. One oddity included is the tiger, which seems out of place in Africa, but that is by the by given the other fantastic elements in World of the Lost.

Physically, World of the Lost is handsomely presented. The endpapers are used to good effect as reference points, the pen and ink artwork is good throughout, and it comes with a pretty foldout map done in full colour. Unfortunately, the map is not really marked with some of the locations included in the hex write-ups of the second chapter and that does hamper both the use of the map and the book as a whole.

Although World of the Lost is set in Africa in the seventeenth century in a version of our history—numerous NPCs from Europe, the Middle East, and even China appear—there is one issue that the supplement does not address, one which figured heavily in our history. This is the matter of slavery, in particular, transatlantic slavery. Now slavery does figure in the sandbox, but it is solely an indigenous institution and not the terrible trade to the Americas that it would become in our history, though that would have begun by the time in which World of the Lost is set.  In effect it accepts indigenous slavery and ignores the budding slave trade, whilst also failing to address the subject of either. It does not help that the relationships between the fictional Nigeria of World of the Lost and the European powers are ignored—in fact, the whole issue of how they interact is ignored—the effect being to leave the supplement in an odd kind of limbo with regard to the matter of slavery. Had World of the Lost been wholly a fantasy, rather than a fantasy set in our history, this might not have been an issue, but by simply ignoring the issue, that limbo is an unsettling one.

Other issues with World of the Lost point towards a slight lack of development of the book as whole. Thus, the write-ups of the three factions feel underwritten and the overview could have been presented in more depth and more closely tied to the hex numbers so that the locations of the plots could be better tracked. Some locations deserved more detail and being given maps, for example, the aerie where the Pterians have their lair. Also, some help could have been included as to what to do if a player character is killed and needs replacing, perhaps with some advice on creating indigenous player characters. There is some information about creating indigenous NPCs, but not player characters. One penultimate issue is the number of items that are left up to the Referee to decide how they work, mostly spells and magic items. It would have been nice to have seen these fully developed as the author’s version of them. A last issue is that World of the Lost stands in isolation and some notes as to how the player characters get there would also have been useful.

There are issues and there are issues with World of the Lost. Ultimately, none of them will hamper the Referee in his running what is a fantastically different and accessible campaign. World of the Lost offers months and months of game play—and that is even before the player characters venture into the alien region behind the forcefield. This game play and campaign itself is ably supported by the tables and details for Khirima that pleasingly underpin and enforce the culture to be found in and around the city. This is where World of the Lost really shines and brings a sense of the different to the campaign.

—oOo—

Lamentations of the Flame Princess will have a stand at UK Games Expo, which will take place between June 2nd and June 4th, 2017 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.