[An opening note about this game. Lamentations of the Flame Princess is not a game for everyone. Most of its products are specifically intended for the 18+ crowd, and there are people who are likely to find some of their material distasteful or problematic. I recognize and respect this opinion. While I have not always agreed with their public stances on certain things, I have been satisfied with their responses to them. They have not crossed any lines that I consider a dealbreaker for me, but I also appreciate that others may not hold that same opinion. -dc]
Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP) is an Old School Revival, or OSR, roleplaying game, which is a sub-genre of roleplaying games that draws heavily on the rules, mechanics, and style of the early Dungeons & Dragons editions thanks to the Open Gaming Licence those rules fall under. You can read our review of the LotFP Player Core Rulebook, but one of the nice things about material for OSR games is that many of them are largely compatible with each other.
The Cursed Chateau is a great example of that interoperability. In fact, it would only take a small amount of work to fit this adventure into just about any setting, for any system, traditional or otherwise.
For this adventure, the “plot” is mostly in the setup. Lord Joudain Ayari was an arrogant and bored aristocrat in the remote province of Averenha, in France. To alleviate his ennui he turned to all kinds of occult dark arts. Unfortunately, even death could overcome it, and he now spends trying to entertain himself for eternity by tormenting any unwitting visitors to The Cursed Chateau.
Once the players enter the hedge maze at the entrance to the chateau grounds, they are trapped on the grounds until they either lift the curse or die (which could actually result in the curse being lifted, just to add some extra irony to things.) To lift the curse players need to pay attention to clues and take various actions that will increase “Joudain’s Fun” (tracked by the referee, as secretly or openly as they like).
Anytime a player enters or returns to an area, something random happens. The entire adventure is designed around a carnival fun house, where you never know what you’ll encounter next. Even if two players take the same action, in the same room, there’s no guarantee the results will be the same. In fact, they are more than likely not to be.
Any adventure is going to be more fun for some players than others. The lack of distinct goals may confuse some, others may be frustrated by the random, fun house, nature of events. At the same time, there are players who delight in this sort of problem-solving. It’s the obvious job of the referee to help enjoy their time at the table. The easiest way I found to help split the difference between player types, is to track Joudain’s Fun openly, but without telling the players what is being tracked or why. It lets players who need a goal see that progress is happening while piquing the curiosity of the players who revel in mysteries.
In theory, the only way players can escape is by lifting the curse, but there is a secondary way to escape. It’s probably not likely to be a way that players will figure out unless the referee subtly pushes them in the right direction, it’s so unlikely that the book basically just tells the referee to figure it out from there. Let me say, in no uncertain terms, that I want that followup adventure. LotFP needs to get on the phone to writer James Maliszewski, and tell him to pull out his notebook on it, (that after 10 years of play, and two previous editions of Chateau, he definitely has).
Their second phone call needs to be to artist Jez Gordon and get him on board. The graphic design and interior art style in this book is one of the most unique and enticing I’ve seen in a game in a long time. Everything is done in black and white, with a single colour accent. The accent colour is gold. Not a vibrant yellow. Not a yellowish brown. Metallic gold. Gorgeous.
Even if you aren’t sure you’re players will appreciate the funhouse style of play, there are so many great ideas that a Referee can integrate into other settings and adventures. It’s like a masterclass on doing things differently.