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Friday, 3 August 2018

Free RPG Day 2018: James Raggi IV’s Eldritch Cock

Now in its eleventh year, Saturday, June 16th was Free RPG Day and with it came an array of new and interesting little releases. Invariably they are tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Then there is the release from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, the Finnish-based publisher best known for Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay and its scenarios like Death Frost Doom, A Red and Pleasant Land, and Bloodmother Skyfortress. Famously—or infamously—the publisher releases titles mature, if not strong, of content, designed to be used with the Old School Renaissance. In 2016, the Free RPG Day released was Slügs!, which asked the question, ‘Do you need a cornucopia of Slügs!?’, which was followed for Free RPG Day 2017 by Vaginas Are Magic!, a book devoted to magic that can only be cast by mothers. At the time, the publisher joked that his release for Free RPG Day 2018 would be a book called ‘Eldritch Cock’, which would be the masculine counterpart to Vaginas Are Magic! Despite it being a joke, it was what everyone wanted… So for Free RPG Day 2018, we got James Raggi IV’s Eldritch Cock. Make of the title what you want, but as my partner said, “I can’t believe they did a whole book about a knob joke.”

Well, here is the thing. The ‘knob joke’ comprises the back cover blurb, which consists not so much of double entendres, but single entendres, one after another. That out of the way, what the author makes clear is that he got bored with what he originally intended to write and that he wanted to write mature and interesting content accessible to anyone that he would enjoy writing. This is all explained in the forward, along with a commentary about society’s attitudes to such content. Given the nature and content of some of the books which Lamentations of the Flame Princess releases, the attitude which the author takes should be no real surprise and there can be no doubt that he backs up his slightly rambling polemic with content which is designed for use by adults. So instead of publishing a masculine magic system and a selection of masculine-based spells in the vein of Vaginas Are Magic!, what does Eldritch Cock deliver?

First, if not foremost, it presents the same magic system as first presented Vaginas are Magic! This is a stripped down magic system for Magic-users, one that does away with spell levels and the need for the Read Magic spell. Instead, a Magic-user has potentially access to any spells and can cast any spell that she knows at whatever Level she wants. So, a Fifth Level Magic-user could cast Magic Missile as a First, Second, Third, Fourth, or Fifth Level Magic-user. A Magic-user has a number of spell slots equal to her Level, but this limit is only for casting memorised spells safely. Once these slots have been exhausted, she can cast as many slots again, but with the chance that she might miscast them and thus have to roll on the Miscast Table each time she casts again. After that, a Magic-user must rest and memorise her spells again. A Magic-user at First Level knows three randomly determined spells and since spells have no Level limit, there is is no limit to how many can be learned. This then presents a very quick and easy magic system that expands a Magic-user’s choice of spells and has the potential to make him very powerful even at First Level. A First Level Magic-user with Cloudkill or Fireball or Teleport, anyone? Of course, there is little to stop a Games Master from adapting these rules to the other spellcasting Classes. All this is contained on the two pages inside the front cover, just as in Vaginas Are Magic!

The remainder of Eldritch Cock is devoted to some twenty or so spells, from Anywhere Out of This World and Arguments Against Design to The Voyagers Beneath the Mare Imbrium and You’re Just a Dream. Each is named after a song by a heavy metal band and each provided with a full page, full colour illustration and a full description. Roughly a third to half of each spell’s description is given over to its very own miscast table. Not surprisingly, the spells are weird. For example, Anywhere Out of This World transforms the caster’s torso into negative space where things and people can be stored for the duration of the spell and drawn out by the caster with a bit of fumbling around in the void so created. The duration ends when either when the caster loses consciousness or decides to end it. At which point everything is regurgitated back into the real world after having been in a timeless void. There is a chance of objects or persons being lost in the process. If miscast, the caster might connect to the anti-matter universe, be possessed by one of the people inside him, and so on, but a player can be quite inventive with this spell, whether that is having his Magic-user use his torso void to capture enemies, hide friends, store items, and so forth. ‘Saturn and Sacrifice’ is a more traditional defensive and offensive spell, surrounding the target with the same rings which encircle celestial  bodies like Saturn. The target gains a bonus to his Armour and Saving Throws, the rings will strike back at anyone who makes a mêlée attack against the target, can extend the rings to attack someone else, and if all of these benefits are given up, then the rings can be used to entrap another target. If miscast, the rings might not be stable, they might attract enemies, or even protect an attacker rather than the target of the spell.

Given the title of the supplement, it should be no surprise that the some of the spells are of an adult tone and have artwork to match. So Curses Scribed in Gore allows the caster to pull his own intestines out with a loss of most of his Hit Points and in return, the caster is harder to hit, takes minimum damage, and always makes Saving Throws. If miscast, the spell might have the opposite effect, might cause all of the caster’s guts out of his abdomen, to have the cut made to the abdomen never heal heal, and so on. The accompanying illustration is suitably gory. Similarly, there is some ‘eldritch cock’ in Eldritch Cock with The Thrash of Naked Limbs, which causes any male member within the vicinity of the caster to extend several feet with all of the downsides and none of the positives, to somewhat flaccid, demoralising effect. If miscast, the spell might have a positive effect rather than a negative effect, the members separate and become dangerous, they permanently gain a mouth and report on the owner’s emotional state, and so on.

Rounding out the hardback book is a set of playtest notes. Slipped inside the back cover, these are rules being considered for the next edition of Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay. They are very different to those typically used in Old School Renaissance roleplaying games, but are designed to be backwards compatible with the current versions of the rules.

Physically, James Raggi IV’s Eldritch Cock is well written, well presented, and well illustrated. Some of the artwork may be in questionable taste, let alone the design of the spells, but they are good illustrations nonetheless.

So the question is, have the joke of Vaginas Are Magic! and Eldritch Cock! worn thin? Probably, but the provocation has not. The content in both books is strong and mature, such that it is likely to find its way into only a few campaigns, but it at least is available to peruse and for a gaming group to decide whether or not to use it in their games. Of course, the author and publisher pushes the tone of spells and pushes the magnitude of the spells and their effects, but that is to be expected. Yet peruse these pages and there are spells which are useful, let alone weird. They may not be quite at home in your campaign, but James Raggi IV’s Eldritch Cock may be worth look nevertheless. Just like almost any other spell book.