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

Friday 25 November 2022

Friday Fantasy: Strict Time Records Must Be Kept

There are several things that you need to know about Kelvin Green. First, he is entirely wrong about which version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the superior. Second, he hates your Player Characters, and consequently, the owners of those Player Characters will hate their Referees. Third, he is very likely to be wrong about which version of D.O.A. is the superior. The latter is relevant because the plot of that film begins exactly like that of Kelvin Green’s latest scenario. Or vice versa. This is because the protagonist of D.O.A. begins film not only poisoned, but dying. This is exactly how your Player Character—and every other Player Character—begins play in Strict Time Records Must Be Kept. Poisoned. Dying. No saving throw. Kelvin Green is a bastard and he made your Referee a bastard for doing this to your Player Character. So now what are you going to do? Go find the antidote, that’s what. Find the antidote, then beat up the person responsible. No, not your Referee. Certainly not Kelvin Green. You could, and that would be understandable, but best not to. After all, who else is going write cruel, evil stuff that you can hate? No, have your Player Character go beat up the NPC responsible. Kill him if you want. Take his money. Do that to all the people watching you go through the dying agony of your Player Character (did I forget to tell you that your dying Player Character will have an audience as he thrashes about in desperation?) and the dying agonies of the Player Characters belong to your fellow players. So, poisoned. No saving throw. Dying. Find the antidote, kill the NPC responsible, and take his treasure. What more of a revenge plan do you want?

Strict Time Records Must Be Kept is a scenario for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay. Like other scenarios published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess it is set in the game’s default early Modern Period. However, it is not more specific than that. It defaults to an isolated forested mountain, which could be anywhere in Europe. In fact, the time period is not necessarily set in stone either, and with some slight adjustments it could very easily be set earlier or later, without really having an effect upon the situation. The situation is this… Over the course of the campaign, whenever they got hurt, the Player Characters have consulted a highly skilled, if slightly eccentric doctor. They have consulted him so many times that they formed a friendship of sorts, and so happily accept his invitation to stay at his mountainside retreat. It is at dinner at this retreat that their host makes a confession. He has dosed their meal with a slow-acting poison. Fortunately, he has the antidote. Unfortunately, he has hidden it around somewhere in the house and he is not going to tell them where it is. Also, the poison will kill them in twelve hours. Fortunately, the other guests are safe. Unfortunately, the other guests have paid for the privilege of being entertained by the increasingly desperate antics of the Player Characters as they search the house from top to bottom—and beyond. Cue countdown…

Hence Strict Time Records Must Be Kept.

Strict Time Records Must Be Kept is a player-driven, against the clock scenario with consequences. Not just death, but also tremors, hair loss, upset stomachs (this is being polite), bones losing density, and worse. Then death. What the Player Characters must do is find the antidote. Now given that this whole set-up has been done without the Player Characters receiving the benefit of a Saving Throw versus Poison, this all sounds very cruel. It is. It is also fits the Old School Renaissance, because as the author points out, if it was good enough for A4 Dungeon of The Slave Lords (which although did not start with the Player Characters being poisoned, but with their waking up naked, in a cave, with none of their equipment, they did not get a Saving Throw either), it good enough for him.

To help the Referee there is a countdown along with the effects of the poison and a checklist of the various NPCs and creature to be found in the Doctor’s mansion. There is advice too, for the Referee, on handling time in the scenario, the various NPCs they are likely to encounter, the various options that the Player Characters might take to extricate themselves from the situation (such as making a race down the mountain for the nearest helpful doctor or hospital), and so on. There are other options covered too, the least worst of which is running the scenario as a one-shot.

Just over half of Strict Time Records Must Be Kept is devoted to describing the grounds of the Doctor’s estate and the many rooms of the mansion. The various rooms and locations are described in some detail, although the floorplans themselves are not detailed with any furniture or other fittings. Nevertheless, the floorplans are handy to use and several of the scenario’s puzzles are included as handouts. The layout of the house itself is fairly normal, but the nature of oddities and weirdness and the trap and puzzles that can be found within its four walls means that the scenario lends itself towards the funhouse style of design. That said, given the time constraints of their predicament, the Player Characters are unlikely to explore all of the mansion and its surrounds before they either find the antidote to the poison or the poison kills them. What they will need amongst their number is a Specialist, as that Class’ skills will get a lot of use throughout the scenario.

Although the scenario includes a list of its NPCs at the back, what would have been useful is a list of the possible hiding places where the Doctor could have put the antidote. Otherwise, the Referee will have to through and mark them as possible locations as part of her preparation to run the scenario.

Physically, the scenario is decently presented. The artwork is decent, it is well written, and barring the issue with the antidote location, all easy to set up and run.

The set-up to Strict Time Records Must Be Kept is all contrivance, one part The Crystal Maze, one-part psychological torture (porn) of the Player Characters, let alone their players. The question is, would you as the Referee really run this as a scenario for your players and their characters? How cruel and evil do you want to be to them? That is the question for the Referee. Yet for all that cruelty, there is no doubting the roleplaying possibilities that the situation would lead to—the desperate fights for survival, the rage at the injustice of the situation, the rush to find the antidote. If Strict Time Records Must Be Kept is cruel—and it is, ultimately, the players need to think of it not as their Referee being the bastard who imposed its situation on them, but switch it around and see it as a chance to roleplay out something they might find in fiction rather than gaming. If their Player Characters survive, what a tale they and their players will have to tell.

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