Thursday, January 27, 2011

Realms of Crawling Chaos: Review Part I

Realms of Crawling Chaos by Daniel Proctor and Michael Curtis. Goblinoid Games, 66 pages, PDF $4.95, Print $17.95 

No use mincing about trying to think of a clever lede, the new Labyrinth Lord supplement, Realms of Crawling Chaos, is simply quite good.

Perhaps I don't pay enough attention to the industry/product side of our side of the hobby—I will admit to a general glazing of the eyes when it comes to product announcements and other OSR boosteria—but this one seemed to rocket out of left field. With little fanfare less than a month ago, Dan Proctor of Goblinoid Games, announced what sounded like a trifecta for me: a dark Lovecraftian fantasy supplement for LL co-written by one of the better (if not best) current workhorses of classic-play D&D, Michael Curtis.

With a release date scheduled for a hazy late winter I filed away my enthusiasm to the back-end of my brain. But lo and behold last Saturday, Goblinoid announces that Chaos was not only imminent but had arrived.

Why so good?

The booklet certainly had the real potential for being a dog (and a rushed out to boot). For sure, it's not untrodden ground; the last two years have seen a tremendous amount of interest and working of Lovecraftian themes into old school campaigns—and a virtual one-man cottage industry has been marked out for horror-inflected fantasy by Lamentations of the Flame Princess last year.

Fortunately though Chaos starts off quite strong and holds the course throughout. The first section of the booklet presents a good thorough understanding of Lovecraft's writings—not the usual warmed-over Cthulhu mythos version courtesy of August Derleth and the many other imitators and revisers in his wake.

(I'm glad that the design theory here explicitly reflects more of the supplemental “pick-and-choose” attitude of many DIYers than the constant repackaging of whole systems: “This book is a book of ideas. It does not present a detailed and specific dark fantasy world. Instead, elements are presented that suggest a kind of world that the referee can create himself.”)

The laying out of the essential points of H.P. Lovecraft's writings is a valuable kick-off in helping GMs try to weave in the difficult-to-do-well color and tone. Devoting several pages to detailing the significance of each of these core themes—The Insignificance of Man, The Vastness of the Universe , An Uncaring Natural World, The Reality of Man as an Animal, Superior Otherworldly Beings, Science as a Double Edged Sword—is an excellent introduction to the cosmic horror of Lovecraft unfiltered.

Especially helpful is a further two pages discussing how to blend these themes in at varying comfort levels with the usual fantasy rpg tropes we all know and love (even if we pretend to be bored by them).

While the cover and interior art by Sean Aaberg and Mark Allen is a little uneven at points—on the whole it's more well-done, dark, and evocative than not. Layout is the crisp, two-column standard we have come to expect from Goblinoid—as is the usual competent, no-frills editing.

Turning into the supplemental rules proper, Chaos gets even more interesting. A variety of new PC races is presented in both the racial-class form of Classic D&D (err...LL core) and the uncoupled race and class way of first edition AD&D (LL/AEC). Racial class seems particularly appropriate here IMO given the peculiar tainted-blood, eugenics-lining--and at times, sadly, racist--perspective of HPL.

Curiously all the new races are “monster” ones—creatures typically more likely on the receiving end of a PCs sword rather than swinging one alongside them.

If you ever wanted to play a creepy neck-waddled, slack-jawed character with the “Innsmouth look” here's your chance: Fish Blood, half-human/half-Deep One, headline the list. The racial class is an appropriate fighter-cleric mix (Esoteric Order of Dagon, yes please). Best of all is the write-up of the creeping taint of the Deep Ones as you progress in levels:
“At 4th level (or middle age, whichever comes first), sea bloods begin to dream about the cities under the sea, and horrid rituals performed in the name of Cthulhu and Dagon. A compulsion is seeded to go to the sea, and to bask in the cool water among the great cities under the waves. When sea bloods reach the maximum level attainable in their race/class (or become elderly, whichever comes first), the referee will roll 1d6; the result is the number of months before the character’s transformation is sufficiently complete and the compulsion is too strong to resist the call to go and live in the sea as an immortal deep one.”

Next you have the option of playing a Subhuman--not the UK hardcore band--but a mix of the human and Voormis, the furry ape-like critters that once peopled frigid Hyperborea. This one comes off just a bit duller than it sounds, especially for the racial class which is essentially just another demi-human fighter in drag. 

Same goes for the White Ape that comes next (though bonus points for being a straight-up man-eating beastie sans the human blood). The White Ape-Hybrid, however, who combines the abilities of both fighter and thief swings back into the fun-class-to-try category.

At any rate, limitations aside they are a welcome fresh addition to the bog standard races of yore.

Part two of our review will duly appear tomorrow. 


  1. Another nice and colorful review, CK. I will DEFINITELY have to get this one.

  2. Yes, thanks, sounds like a must-have!

  3. I just found your review. Thanks! I was considering purchasing this and now I am convinced.