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Friday 7 June 2019

Friday Fantasy: Obscene Serpent Religion 2

Having reviewed Going Through Forbidden Other Worlds, we move on to Obscene Serpent Religion 2. This is one of four short scenarios for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay released by Lamentations of the Flame Princess at Gen Con 2018. Written by Jeff Rients, the author of the highly regarded Broodmother Skyfortress. The scenario is very different in terms of its set-up, but it delivers a sharp twist to both society and reality that is the signature of so many a scenario for Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay.

Obscene Serpent Religion 2 takes place some near the borders of the Low Countries and the Rhineland in the early modern period, that is roughly the seventeenth century prior or about the time of the Thirty Years War. In a time of religious strife, it focuses on the sleepy village of Nonsbeck, a popular stop on several trade routes. Its inn, The Laughing Ox, is welcoming, the food and ale hearty, and the staff always pleased to see you—especially if you enjoy the gossip from far and wide. The other features of the town include a smithy whose blacksmith was once a sailor; the Church of St. Margaret dedicated to a saint with an odd monkey fixation; a stables, and lastly a well from which a woeful wail is known to emanate. Each of these locations are described in some detail as are their owners, workers, and employees. These are accompanied by one or more adventures per location as well as a table providing further customers at The Laugh Ox and thus potential encounters for the player characters.

All of this description takes up half of the scenario’s thirty-two pages and is utterly mundane and ordinary. There are hints of some strangeness beneath the bucolic façade, but for the most part, this is not a place where the player characters are intended to dig too deep or indeed discover very much. Instead, what the player characters are supposed to do is stop off and spend the night in Nonsbeck, perhaps two, and then move on to their destination. Obscene Serpent Religion 2 suggests Blood in the Chocolate as being one possible destination, but similarly, Better Than Any Man would also be suitable. Then do it again on the way back or the way to somewhere else. And then…

...At some future visit to the village, the player characters find Nonsbeck changed beyond all recognition. In a nod to Obscene Serpent Religion—a supplement for Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay dedicated to the creation of snake cults—the idyll described in the first half of Obscene Serpent Religion 2 has been shattered by the presence of a demonic Snake Creature and a snake cult that has coalesced around her. They have infiltrated nearly all of the establishments in Nonsbeck and turned its decent inhabitants into cultists, if not monsters. How this came about is up to the Referee to decide, but the effects and the current situation in Nonsbeck are gone into the same amount of detail as the scenario’s first half. They will be discovered slowly and then quicker and quicker as the player characters first realise that something is amiss and then uncover more and more of the terrible situation now in the village. Worse—at least for the player characters—the Snake Creature represents a chronological threat to their very existence and once she encounters them, they will find themselves changed in ways they could never imagine… A dozen or so options are given, from simple gender swaps and negating a character’s Class to cult conversion and swapping nationalities. These are likely to have a radically upsetting effect upon the characters, but also explain what has gone on in Nonsbeck whilst they have been away and really, how little the characters could have done about it. If they survive, the player characters are likely to have left Nonsbeck a scene of carnage and themselves changed beyond all recognition…

Now all of this takes some setting up upon the part of the Referee. Nonsbeck has to be added to her campaign and then gently used again and again, essentially making both village and villagers familiar and friendly—and this without arousing suspicion. Obscene Serpent Religion 2 is a scenario for Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay after all! This is a challenge in itself, especially given how bloody and radically transformative Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay can be. Now Nonsbeck can serve as a refuge away from all of that, but ultimately, the doom will befall the village and… Ultimately, the outcome of the scenario is in the hands of the player characters, indeed, the scenario does not even address any possible outcomes. It really does lie in the hand of the players and their characters.

Physically, behind its creepy cover, Obscene Serpent Religion 2 is cleanly laid out and written. The illustrations are decent, as is the map of the village. The scenario could have done with a map of some of the locations also, but it should not be too challenging for the Referee to come up with versions of her own.

What is interesting about Obscene Serpent Religion 2 is that the author has taken its cue not just from Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay, but also from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay in terms of its tone and play style, quoting in particular, James Wallis, its publisher during the nineteen nineties. Although there is definitely a calm before the storm, when the storm strikes, it is unstoppably grim and perilous, and whilst the player characters can stop it, it is unlikely to be without consequences to themselves given the chronological powers of the Snake Demon or to the changed nature of Nonsbeck and its inhabitants. It should be pointed out that the ordinary nature of both Nonsbeck and its inhabitants do make Obscene Serpent Religion 2 is easy to adapt to other settings or scenarios, especially if they lean towards the grim and perilous.

Obscene Serpent Religion 2 takes time to set up, but if done properly, delivers a brutal battering to a campaign and probably to the player characters. Whether inflicting body horror or character changing circumstances or mental outlooks, Obscene Serpent Religion 2 is a radically transformative experience from which the player characters are unlikely to walk away from unchanged, the village of Nonsbeck left barren in their wake.

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