Review originally posted on RPG.net. UPDATE: This PDF fixes none of the errors of the original release.
As this is a product for GMs, players should not read this review. SPOILERS abound.
I backed this on Kickstarter, and received the hardcover version [Update, I also recently received a PDF copy]. As of writing (July 14, 2017) The second book in the series will be coming to Kickstarter soon, so it's a good time to review. [Edit. It's May 19, 2018. The second (and final?) kickstarter has come and gone. I hope Sirois gets someone to edit the book this time. I didn't put money down to find out.]
The Inverted Church is the first book in a planned series by Justin Sirois, designed for OSR/D20 systems. It warns of adult themes, and rightly so. The premise is that local townspeople have been lured away by a hedonistic cult. However, for the most part the adventure is fairly tame. There aren't any sex demons or rape dungeons. The material isn't very tastefully handled.
So after some set up and offers from stricken townspeople, the players will start exploring the UnDungeon, as it's called for some reason, and they will quickly find there is another realm called the Invert that's full of danger and naked people. Cleverly enough, the Invert (at least what the PCs can access for now) is found by flipping the book upside down and reading from the back. The challenge for the PCs is that the only equipment that will pass into the Invert are items made from stained salt. Not even clothing will pass through. So exploring the UnDungeon is necessary to effectively equip for a raid on the Invert.
It's important to stress that there is a moderate amount of sex and perversion that your players will encounter. This isn't Towers Two where rapists lurk in every corner. It's the kind of thing that will not work at a lot of tables. The players don't have to partake in the sex (kind of). The thing is there are MirrorDoors. These doors need to be seduced open.
You need to seduce doors to open them. I want to emphasize that.
Except you don't. The author explicitly writes the players don't have to seduce them if they are uncomfortable. Good, you can assure your players they don't have to describe their characters coming up with new ways to touch themselves suggestively, because of course you can never seduce the same way twice.
Alternatively, in a horrible compromise, the PCs will encounter a serial rapist murderer, kill him, and take his book of illustrations of his victims. This allows the players to show pictures to the doors to open them, as well as extort money from the relatives of the dead women depicted in the book.
The players will encounter sexuality by looking in mirrors more than most sources. Even then, it isn't all sexual. Sample results:
"A short man, and a man missing a foot, being penetrated from behind, a face of pure ecstasy."
"A noble young woman, and an old king with gray eyes, reaching out to a weeping family, trying to pull one of them in."
"Three young, attractive women, an old man, crippled, feeding a human hand to a very large goat with green eyes."
More than half of the results aren't sexual. The point, I think, is to give hints about the cult.
The adventure is highly structured with a fairly linear series of events. Some things are supposed to happen. It's not exactly railroading, but your hand is being held pretty tightly. A major plot point relies on the players caring about an NPC and her missing brother, but I don't think players get enough time with her for that to be the case. Much is left unresolved. Conceivably, future books will continue the story. The dungeon is also highly linear, with limited choices for exploration. Really, the designs of the maps suggests they were made for simple tactical RPGs. I hope you like mostly empty rectangular rooms.
Enemies are stated with HD/HP, AC by armour equivalent (leather, chain, etc.) and attack damage using standard polyhedral dice.
A major mechanic in the game is Stress, which builds up as the PCs are in the UnDungeon. It's interesting, if a little cumbersome. It becomes especially difficult to manage if the GM wants to keep the system a mystery to the players. There are a few other minor systems like a system for solving combination locks that is incredibly tedious. For some reason there are practically no calls for saving throws. Many enemy weapons poison, but they don't indicate the effects of the poison.
OK, if all that didn't convince you not to buy the book...
The book is riddled with bad design choices, errors, and isn't very functional. It's sloppy, and in dire need of a competent editor. A helpful [+] marks important plot points to communicate to the PCs, but otherwise there is no useful formatting. Snippets of text might be read aloud, but there is no indication they should be.
The biggest hurdles for the GM are the maps of the UnDungeon. It is broken into 13 separate maps for each encounter area. They have limited keys, and most room contents are not noted. Some rooms are labelled, some are not. The accompanying text may refer to a room by its name or not. It is often unclear where things are. A huge pile of rotting heads that can topple on the PCs isn't indicated on the map, while an Urn with no description is. They are empty rooms for basic tactical play on a dry erase board or using generic dungeon tiles. Often the room descriptions come before or after the full page map, and require flipping back and forth. Generally the maps could be made smaller, leaving more room for text. Then there are the errors.
Take Map 6 as an example. Every exit is mislabeled. [Update, yes, even in the PDF released almost a year later.] The passage to 3 is actually to 5. The passage to 5 actually leads to 7, and the passage to 6 leads to 8. This IS map 6! While there are 3 labelled rooms, there are no headings or even bolded text to help the GM find the room descriptions.
The maps appear to be made from a limited tileset, and the walls don't always line up. There is no excuse for such simple maps being this bad. They function (mostly), and that's the nicest thing I can write about them.
The errors start getting comical. Take this example: "She mostly resembles a young woman with no arms and a long serpent like tail. She wears a long open Stained Salt Robe. On her wrists are jewel encrusted bracelets..." Fortunately there is a picture of her that confirms she has no arms, let alone wrists. Pages are referenced incorrectly, having you turn to 104 for a table that isn't there. Equipment descriptions are contradictory. The exploding magic dagger's text turns into a description of rapiers a few lines in.
Scott Buouncristiano's art throughout the book is excellent. Seriously, check out the Kickstarter page for some of it. Most of the major enemies have a full page dedicated to them. Otherwise he illustrates a few of the stained salt weapons you are likely to find. It's only 10 pieces in total, leaving the book a bit barren. Oddly enough, none of the art is sexual, but that actually follows from the descriptions. The cover artwork by Eve Ventrue is also excellent. There is a map of the town and a map of the surrounding region that are both well done and clear.
A very new GM may appreciate the scripted scenes with dialogue between NPCs.
There are a few tables included for generating new monsters, and for adding new sections between the provided map sections. They look OK, with map graphics from Sirois' Dungeon Dealer Decks (which are much better products).
The Invert section is more functional, with still a few errors. When the PCs enter the Invert they arrive in one of 20 self contained rooms. Each of the 20 rooms, map and all, fit on a single page. Each one presents the players with a challenging encounter, generally with a single powerful monster. As the PCs can only bring stained salt items inside they are handicapped. However, they gain HP every time they hit an enemy. Besides making my editor alarm go off, one minor gripe is a monster with an AC of 1. Up until this monster, every single monster has had AC referenced by armour type: as chain, or as plate, etc. Immediately I assumed this monster was really easy to hit, as my OSR system of choice uses ascending AC. However, I now suspect the monster is supposed to be really hard to hit. It's hard to tell when dealing with a massive immobile blob monster.
I can't dismiss this entirely as a failure. It's mostly a failure. I also can't give much of a recommendation to a product that is so riddled with mistakes, especially one that bills itself as functional. I give small press a break on typos, but this is too much.
There are a few good ideas here presented poorly. I like the idea of the Invert. It presents an interesting challenge for the PCs, but right now it's nothing but a boss arena. You fight monsters for more stained salt stuff to fight more monsters. The big bad is the Inverted Cupid. He/she wants to create a perfect gender neutral race from all species of the world. That seems like something some players could get behind instead of being cut and dried evil (it is actually evil, in the long run). I think the stress track is an interesting mechanic that adds another layer to dungeon crawling. It needs work, but it can be brought to the table. It has a few sessions worth of material in it, with a promise of a second book sometime in the latter half of 2017.
The softcover is $20 including shipping in the USA. You can also get the hardcover for more $. You can buy it from his Etsy store or Amazon. [Update, obviously now the PDF is available.]