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Friday 2 September 2022

Friday Fantasy: The Obsidian Anti-Pharos

In the year of our lord, 1631, a strange island came to be on the coast of the city of Plymouth, in the fair county of Devon, where none had stood before. From all around it could be seen, far and wide, for a great light shone from atop a lighthouse that stood at very centre of the strangely circular isle. When sailors saw the light, their only thought was to sail their ships until they beach them upon the shores of that very island, and soon there was not one ship at sea for many miles to see. The merchants of the city did rain much in the way of complaints, for the light was clearly a danger to their livelihoods and did raise fair sum with which to reward brave adventurers who would venture to the shores of the aberrant isle and seek out the reason for the beguiling light. This is the set-up for 
The Obsidian Anti-Pharos, a scenario designed for low Level Player Characters for use with Lamentations ofthe Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay. Published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess, the scenario is primarily a short mini-dungeon that slots easily into the default historical period for Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay—that is, the early modern period of the seventeenth century—and equally, is as easy to adapt to the retroclone of the Game Master’s choice. The dungeon though is tough and unforgiving and if the Player Characters are to survive, they are going to need to have a lot of luck on their side.

The Obsidian Ant-Pharos provides the Player Characters with two options for their getting involved. However, whether offered a reward of a thousand silver or being shipwrecked on the shore of the island itself, what the Player Characters discover is a perfectly round island at the centre of which stands the strange tower, fifty foot tall and apparently cut from one piece of black stone. The thickly wooded island itself is divided into two hemispheres by a barricade, each occupied by a different, but antagonistic tribe. In addition to each tribe hating the other, primarily because of the way it worships the occupant of the tower, Khepegoris, each tribe practises cannibalism and will happily eat any sailor washed up on the shore. Which is just the second problem that the Player Characters has to deal with getting onto the island—the first being withstanding the effects of the hypnotic light beams cast by the type of the tower. (Of course, the aim is the scenario to get to and investigate the tower, but players do object to their characters being pulled about so obviously…) Neither tribe, both descended from the Khepegoris’ servants, can agree on what colour the doors to the tower should be either—one side believes it should blue, the other it should be yellow, and wear wooden masks painted accordingly.

The third big problem that the Player Characters will face is getting into the tower. The doors on the outside—the ones which one tribe wants to paint yellow, the other tribe blue—are false and if anyone touches them, they vanish. This is the fourth big problem. The actual entrance is a hatch in the ground that appears at random, so initially, the players are going think that there are multiple hatches across the island. The key to the hatch is also missing (sort of). The Game Master will definitely need to drop some hints as to how the Player Characters might find the clues to getting into the tower. That fourth big problem remains in the meantime, because when a Player Character touches either of the false doors, not only does he vanish, but reappears on a platform in a room, surrounded by water (but which is actually potent acid) with a door by the wall, some forty feet away. This is the tower prison. It is left up to the player’s ingenuity to work out exactly how his character is going to get out of the situation, but the fourth big problem is not the true nature of the problem. Instead, it is the fact that it separates the Player Characters from each other and splits the party. Touching the false doors on the outside of the tower is not the only method the scenario has of splitting the party by dumping one or more in this prison.

As the Player Characters proceed up the tower, they will encounter a maze, a grotto with a bejewelled alligator-shaped automaton, a bed chamber, and more. There is a clue to be found to how to proceed through the maze, but beyond that? The tower has very much been built to dissuade visitors and intruders and so any attempt to move forward upon the part of the Player Characters will be down to guess work as there are no clues whatsoever. For example, the bejewelled alligator-shaped automaton contains two keys, one of which will open the door to the next room. Pull that one out and the Player Character will be fine, but pull the other out and the Player Character loses a limb. There is no way of knowing which is the right key. In effect, 
The Obsidian Anti-Pharos shares elements of the death-trap dungeon a la S1 The Tomb of Horrors, but with less of a reliance on puzzles. Plus, Khepegoris returns and is really not very happy about anyone having been meddling in his home. How exactly he returns is unlikely to turn out well for at least one Player Character…

Which leaves the fifth and final big problem for the Player Characters—what do they do about Khepegoris if he does return? He need not return, that being down to Player Character invention, but if he does, Khepegoris is very much of a higher Level than they are and they unlikely to pose a real threat to him. He may even reward them for bringing him back to life. If he stays, his research will remain a regular threat to local shipping, so the Player Characters may be back again, this time to kill him—if they can. Ultimately, the best outcome for the Player Characters is not to summon him at all—inadvertently or otherwise, as his presence will radically alter the campaign.

The Obsidian Anti-Pharos is laid out white on black and has solid artwork and cartography. Unfortunately, the editing is slipshod, and the result is the scenario feels rushed in places.

The Obsidian Anti-Pharos does have its moments—the interaction and roleplaying with either of the two tribes should prove entertaining and watching the players come up means to escape the acid pool prison should prove either inventive or frustrating. Yet the end result is underwhelming, a dissatisfying death-trap dungeon that does not seem to reward the players and their characters for their guesswork and is likely to end in an exercise in frustration for both.

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