Wednesday, June 1, 2016

An Appraisal of England Upturn'd

"England Upturn'd is a 128 page adventure by Barry Blatt that takes place during the English Civil War. Intrigue, insanity, and all the classic LotFP insanity is included in this one, as are alternate alignment rules (politics!) and a bunch of Cleric subclasses to fit right in to mid 1600s England."

It's available right now from the LotFP store, as well as RPGnow. This is Barry Blatt's blog.

If for some reason you inherently trust my opinion and just want to know if I think you should buy this: yes, you should buy this. If you buy the book itself you'll get the .pdf too, so there you go. If shipping from Finland gives you second thoughts, Noble Knight will probably be stocking it, as well as other quality retailers, so ask around.

I'm awaiting my softcover copy in the mail, but I've read the .pdf so my appraisal is based solely on that. 

Anyways, I'm assuming you know what this module is generally "about" (and what those things basically are), what a tabletop role-playing game is, what Lamentations of the Flame Princess is and what sort of things it has in it, so here we go:

This is an excellent module to build a campaign on, and if I didn't have one going already this is what I'd be running instead.

It has 10 Chapters, and 4 Appendices. The adventure is a map-crawl, with a "main event" happening at a key location. 

The first two chapters give an introduction and overview of the English Civil War, and describe the contours of the political powder-keg that this whole thing will be taking place in. Once you internalize all this you'll have no trouble portraying the various factions that'll be encountered throughout, and there's no spoilers for the adventure if you want to give it out to the players as well. 

The author also suggests you watch the film A Field In England, and I do too. It'll provide a useful visual and auditory reference point for you or your players, and there's a scene or two that will change the way you think about the corn beetle forever. You'll also want to practice a harsh and venomous Michael Smiley voice every night until you've got it just right after you've seen it too, for use at the table.
Chapter 3 is the Referees Introduction, laying out all the major players of the module and guidance on how to run things. The NPC's are magnificent: one of them has a particular snuff habit and crocodile boots, while another has taken mythological cosplay to the furthest possible extremes. As a Referee I love having characters this vivid, interesting, and thoroughly insane. You'll love them too.
The core "situation" has an 18 day time limit leading to a 
very significant event or two that will be very exciting for the players to be in, and a total crack-up to run as the Referee. If you don't like time limits it seems like an easy one to hand-wave or delay if you wanted to, and the text describes a number of ways everything can play out based on probability and player action as well. I liked that detail quite a bit, there's no temptation to railroad due to the players not doing this thing or that, they can go chop wood if they want to and the world will just keep moving. You've even got daily schedule tables for certain NPC's, which also keeps things interesting if the Adventurers spy on them.

Chapter 4 is a top-notch description of the set and setting. It lays out the region to be explored, with plenty of elements to interact with beyond those involved in the main event. It also describes how law and order are kept in the area, and many smaller towns and villages. I love the details put into these places, and all the charged situations they have built into them. You've got simple highwaymen, and also means to immolate the party while simultaneously covering them in manure. There's a good ratio of supernatural strangeness to simple weirdness of humanity, and the Adventurers could even be fined for not attending church. I could imagine a superb session from them all.

All the major locations are mapped and keyed nicely throughout the text, and while there are a few little towns that are not mapped at all there are few things easier to improvise, so this is not a problem whatsoever.  The regional map could easily be printed on A4 paper and given to your players, and there's a special map for the Referee as well. There's a great set of tables in case you need to describe a small settlement or NPC, and a rumor table that is dripping with wonderful tidbits of real information and falsehoods. 
I'm very impressed by the weather system, and the encounter table is quite interesting; it becomes more dangerous as time goes on due to the spreading war. You'll have to change this last table quite a bit if certain things happen, but it's a certain something that isn't guaranteed to happen and can't really happen in session one anyway. 

There's plenty of content in this section for it to stand on its' own, and lots of room for you to insert your own materials. It has connections to Better than Any Man and Forgive Us if you're going for a "Lamentations World" sort of campaign, and you could easily drop The God That Crawls or Something Stinks in Stilton into this as well if you modified a few details. 

Chapters 5, 6, and 7 describe in detail Fosdyke Village, All Saint's Church, and the Excavation, three locations of significance to the main events, with a great many things for the Adventurers to mess with and get involved in. There are no dungeons, but there are various dangers and magical treasures, and plenty of ill-advised burglary is available.

Chapters 8, 9, and 10 describe the actions of three significant NPC's once events play out in various ways, and the effects they have upon the world at large. 
The details in these chapters will give you plenty of leads and inspiration to improvise and plan material for sessions beyond the scope of the book. Events in these chapters can well and truly beshit the world, and will make for a truly unforgettable campaign experience. Chapter 10 also describes a marvelous little system that could easily be house-ruled into an Alchemist or Qabbalist class all its own.

If I had to describe the overall levels of chaos, and weirdness in this I'd give say it was a gradually rising slope with occasional bumps and then a sudden, ridiculous spike. There's a bit of observation and investigation at the start, with some good potential for high strangeness along the way, but eventually something very big and very unusual happens. It's excellent.

The 4 Appendices describe, respectively: Arms & Armour of the era, a Reaction and Persuasion System, Political Alignments, and Religion.

The arms and armor descriptions are straightforward, and well-written, and useful; the Firearms misfire table is hilarious. The Reaction and Persuasion system is very elegant, and I'm likely going to start using it in all my games.

Appendix 3 and 4 are one of my favorite parts of this module, and what has me most excited to run it. They're after the main text, but they really ought to be up front because a great deal of this module will play out very differently depending on the Religious and Political makeup of the party, and I think you'll be missing out on something very entertaining if you don't make use of them. 

In terms of character customization for the sake of flavor instead of optimization, and as a means of creating a strong group template and interesting sources of conflict these alignment and religion rules are some of the best character mechanics I've seen in a long time, and they do something far more interesting than anything the usual law/chaos, good/evil axes ever seems to manage. They also provide excellent cues for role playing through a list of likes and dislikes for each sect, as well as some unique spells and bonuses that give it all a "point" on top of everything else. The political and religious friction these rules will create in-game will only improve the adventure, and make your sessions even more interesting. It won't be bad without them, but it'll be like an ice cream float without the root beer.

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