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Friday, 3 July 2020

Friday Fantasy: The Feast on Titanhead

Somewhere on the far reaches of Europe’s north, high amidst its snow-covered mountains lies the Dorag Passage. Recently, a scientific expedition consisting of botanical cataloguers, geographers, geologists, and even a noted alchemist, led by Hastik Melmark, headed into the region. It has been weeks, even months since the expedition has been heard of, and perhaps there are rumours of nightmares and hysteria plaguing the sparsely settled regions near the Dorag Passage. Does the expedition need rescuing or simply checking upon? Is there any truth to the rumours? Perhaps the Player Characters are employed to conduct that check or need to find Hastik Melmark—or another member of the expedition—for reasons of their own. This is the set-up for The Feast on Titanhead, a weird-fantasy, Lovecraftian-tinged scenario of body horror which echoes Death Frost Doom by way of The Thing From Another World. It is also a heavy-metal, grind-core interpretation of the Manifestus Omnivorous.

Published by Games Omnivorous, The Feast on Titanhead is a system agnostic scenario of fantasy horror which would work with any number of Old School Renaissance retroclones. The most obvious one is Lamentations of the Flame Weird Fantasy Roleplay, another is the publisher’s own 17th Century Minimalist: A Historical Low-Fantasy OSR Rulebook, but with some adjustment it would work with Cthulhu by Gaslight or a darker toned version of Leagues of Gothic Horror for use with Leagues of Adventure: A Rip-Roaring Setting of Exploration  and Derring Do in the Late Victorian Age!. Take it away from its European setting and The Feast on Titanhead would work well with Mörk Borg as they share a similar tone and sensibility. Notably though it adheres to the Manifestus Omnivorous, the ten points of which are:
  1. All books are adventures.
  2. The adventures must be system agnostic.
  3. The adventures must take place on Earth.
  4. The adventures can only have one location.
  5. The adventures can only have one monster.
  6. The adventures must include saprophagy or osteophagy.
  7. The adventures must include a voracious eater.
  8. The adventures must have less than 6,666 words.
  9. The adventures can only be in two colours.
  10. The adventures cannot have good taste. (This is the lost rule.)

So yes, The Feast on Titanhead adheres to all ten rules. It is an adventure, it is system agnostic, it takes place on Earth, it has one location, it has the one monster (the others are extensions of it), it includes Osteophagy—the practice of animals, usually herbivores, consuming bones, it involves a voracious eater, the word count is not high—the scenario only runs to twenty-eight pages, and it is presented in two colours—in this case, black and grey. Lastly, The Feast on Titanhead does lack good taste. Be warned, this scenario is one of gut churning—in some cases, literally—horror, bodily fluids, and madness. To that end, the scenario includes a sense of ‘Contagious Pyschosis’, a fairly brutal countdown and timing mechanism which drives the Player Characters into insanity and the maw of the monster at the heart of the scenario. This is quite a blunt mechanic and if the roleplaying mechanics that the Game Master is running The Feast on Titanhead with has sanity or madness mechanics of its own, she may want to substitute those instead of using the ones given.

The play of The Feast on Titanhead is actually quite straightforward. The Player Characters will ascend to and  enter theDorag Passage, and after a nasty encounter with weirdly behaving beasts of burden, they descend into a series of passages and rooms uncovered by Hastik Melmark’s expedition. Here in a strange, horridly fetid and organically bloody complex they are likely encounter the former members of the expedition, their possessions, signs of madness, odd energy, and vomit-inducing monsters. The encounters get odder the deeper they penetrate into the complex until they get to the centre of the complex and the scenario, where they can confront the inhuman force behind what is going on. That is, if they get there. Although The Feast on Titanhead presents two options in terms of motivation for the Player Characters to get to the adventuring location, but once inside, there is a dearth of clues or hooks for them to find which would drive them onwards and pull deeper into the complex—though there is the possibility that a Player Character could be snapped up and taken there already, hopefully motivating to rescue them. Balanced against this is the scenario’s weirdness and its ‘Contagious Pyschosis’ which may actually drive the Player Characters to flee before they learn anything.

Much of the problem in The Feast on Titanhead is that it only names three NPCs. Two are members of the expedition, one being Hastik Melmark, whilst the third is a treasure hunter. The latter is left up to the Game Master to develop and decide what he is going to do and how he reacts with the Player Characters—the advice being rather slight. Of the expedition, there is relatively little sign, no real clues as to what they discovered, and so the Player Characters never quite have anyone to actually care about or emphasise with. Ultimately, the Player Characters will only actually learn or gain hints as to what is going on if they penetrate into the complex’s furthest reaches and defeat the monster at its core—and that is a difficult prospect.

Physically, The Feast on Titanhead is a black and grey book a separate card cover. The map is on the inside of the card cover and the internal illustrations reflect the heavy-metal, grind-core interpretation of the Manifestus Omnivorous manifesto. It needs a slight edit in places, but is overall quite a sturdy product, being done on heavy paper and card stock.

The Feast on Titanhead is short and brutal, it being possible to play through the scenario—and win or lose (even if they survive)—in a single session. It needs fleshing out somewhat in terms of Player Character motivation and drive to delve deeper, and if played as part of a campaign, any failure upon their part—again, if they survive—may have a profound effect upon the future of that campaign. In need of some development upon the part of the Game Master, The Feast on Titanhead probably works best as a heavy-metal, grind-core, bloody body horror grindhouse style one-shot.

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