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Blood in the Chocolate
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/29/2021 12:12:29

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module covers 54 pages, already not including front/back cover, etc.

This review was requested by my supporters to be covered as a priority review alongside “The Idea from Space” (SPOILER: Idea is better); usually, I go for a chronological sequence, but this time around, the module will cease being available at the start of December, and for all the completionists, I wanted to have this review ready before the module vanishes.

Triggerwarning: The module is obsessed with rape, getting the party to participate in rape, or the adventurers being raped. Plus: Good chance of witnessing children (regular ones, not alien things masquerading as them) dying when running this.

My review is based on both the hardcover and the pdf-versions. “Blood in the Chocolate” is billed as a low-level (as in level 1–4) psycho-sexual romp in the vein of a messed up version of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, and as you probably are aware of, it won some awards. Now, on the plus-side of things, the module does several things right when it comes to presentation: The interior of the front cover/first page spread contain quick reference information and a b/w-overview map (not to scale) of the environments, making quick reference simple. Base stats for creatures encountered and random chocolate effects are in the back cover/last-page spread; additionally, these last pages have a visual representation of the number of adversaries, so you can just cross them off if you can bear actually writing in your gaming books. I can’t. But I can see this being helpful. The full-color maps are decent, if not spectacular, and feature 10-ft. squares. Like in Kelvin Green’s neat “Forgive Us”, each room’s write-up contains an extract of the map, showing the respective room.

Alas, not all is well in the formal department: For one, there is no player-friendly version of the maps included; secondly, the pdf features no bookmarks, making that version next to useless when running it. Do you remember when LotFP used to have layered pdfs, where you could turn off annoying numbers and secret doors, etc.? Yeah, don’t expect that here. The artwork you can see on the cover is also the style you can expect to find inside. Personally, I’m not fond of it, but art is a matter of taste and is not something I’ll penalize the module for.

Okay, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

Okay, only referees around? Great.

So, this time around, I’ll start with my thesis: I can’t fathom how this managed to win any prize, and I’m pretty positive that the people who awarded the prize or voted for the module never bothered actually playing it.

Because there is a lot to be criticized about this adventure.

Don’t get me wrong: The elevator pitch of “What if Charlie with eldritch horror” is pure awesome and had me super stoked to run this module, but this excitement went down the tubes, and like a waterfall of chocolate sludge, it never ceased going downhill.

Let’s start with the premise: It’s 1617, Friesland in the Netherlands, and rich widow Lucia de Castillo’s chocolates are taking Europe by storm; they are positively addictive and threaten to destabilize an already extremely unstable Europe further. Lucia is the villain; daughter of an Incan lady and a Spanish conquistador, who married a Spanish Comde and, surprise, surprise, the entire family of the Comde died, leaving Lucia everything. Now, on the plus-side, Lucia is NOT a victim; she’s not traumatized or anything; she’s just a ridiculously evil businesswoman; she’s pretty “thicc”, I guess, and that all would be neat, but the book focuses its ostensible “psychosexual” angle primarily on her, coaching the referee regarding her sexual preferences (prefers women and effeminate men), etc. – which would be fine if that sort of thing was in any way actually relevant to the module, which it’s not. Lucia is essentially a powerful brawler/boss encounter, and the chances to even encounter her in a non-hostile manner are pretty much zero. This generates the weird impression of there being some sort of kinkiness/fetish going on, but I’m only mentioning this because some people are bothered by that sort of thing. I won’t kinkshame anyone.

Anyhow, my issue with Lucia boils down to another factor: She makes no sense and has no real plan. She just goes about her being evil and considering that the module spends several pages driving home how important she is, she remains, ironically, paler than most evil tower-dwelling cliché-mages. Considering that “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” has plenty of interesting and horrifying angles, that is a gigantic lost chance. It’s the least of the module’s issues, though.

On the plus-side, the module has proper rules for the magical chocolate (mostly cosmetic d12 table) and comes with 8 diseases/poisons based on sweets and the Charlie source material. The good thing about them would be that they are genuinely interesting and tend to feature more than one stage: From vocal cords encased in nut brittle to vomiting chocolate to getting taffy skin, these do evoke body horror (GOOD!), though the rules aren’t always sensible: Taffy Skin Disease can be slowed by “freezing your body and keeping it cold”; okay, doesn’t that kill you? What constitutes freezing? No clue. The star here is the noxious berry curse, which requires juicing to prevent being fatal. Okay, you’ll be blue like a smurf anyway afterwards, but…yeah. As a whole, this section could have been improved with more nonmagical ways of treating the diseases (some do have that!), because frankly, these effects and the adventurers trying to deal with them are the single most (to me, the only) fun component of this adventure. And they will have to deal with them, because pretty much anything is infectious. Also: There are two children to be “rescued”, but of course they are super-infectious (no save) carriers of the diseases that penalize showing compassion/being decent people. Yep, misery/nihilism quote fulfilled in the cheapest way possible.

So, how do these effects manage to remain contained? The chocolates contain effects like mania, gas, and addiction, so how is there not a lynch mob at the factory gates? I’m getting ahead of myself.

So, how does Lucia create her chocolate? Well, her Wonka-inspired factory includes essentially an eldritch coca tree, including mutated mosquitoes, and a tribe of pygmies she enslaved; these were, according to the lore of the module, Inca precursors, tainted by a cocoa tree (said eldritch tree), which itself resulted from a massacre committed by some Maya magic-users. Today, they are essentially super-degenerate, and they primarily engage in blood orgies and berry orgies when not doing their oompa loompa chores. That obsession with rape is the only other part of the module that could be considered to be “psychosexual.” I’m leaving this information without a further comment here.

If you expected the chocolate factory that the party is supposed to infiltrate to feature genuine wonders, creative environments, etc., I am afraid I have to disappoint you; the aforementioned diseases/hazards are as weird as the module gets. If you expected some creative uses of the themes, unique combats on boats, perhaps a take on the insane sequence of the first movie…you won’t get that here.

Furthermore, there are two factors that we really need to talk about. As in the bad “We need to talk” kind of way.

The first is the implicit setting. I’m totally on board with the general assumption of Lamentations of the Flame Princess’ default assumption of a weird 17th century setting; the huge benefit is that you have sheer endless lore to fall back on and using the weird in subtle and less subtle ways in that context makes it more plausible and effective.

In this module, that premise falls apart ridiculously fast. It makes zero sense that the chocolates even make their way across Europe without melting and spoiling, considering the lack of modern refrigeration options and preservatives. Granted, logistics were better than most people are aware of, but not that good. Secondly, the Netherlands were not a lawless murderhobo-wasteland.

No, when the adventurers kill off Lucia, they can’t just run her factory (using the property rules, and don’t really contribute anything substantial to the module); it’s not how things worked. This lack of care and consideration also shows in the details: One artwork, for example, features the equivalent of “Help yourself!”-signs for chocolate, and the art direction couldn’t be bothered to check that the non-English languages were correct. For example, the German “Bedienen Sie Dich” is incorrect in that it mixes formal and informal, and the incorrect reflexive pronoun; that should be “sich”; also: lower case. Okay, that admittedly was a nitpick.

Killing Lucia would be illegal; selling addictive substances would be illegal. The whole premise of the module DOES NOT WORK. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Either you have an intricate multipage backstory contextualized in history, or you can have a nonsense funhouse dungeon. Not both. And don’t get me wrong, this module takes itself, its villain, and its encounters 100% SERIOUS. This is NOT supposed to be funny. This is supposed to be serious business. Oh, and kidnapped children. Yeah…

It gets worse. The factory is steam-powered and FAR, FAR beyond ANYTHING that existed at the time; the tech there? Would have sufficed to revolutionized European warfare, industry, etc. – and Lucia makes dumb magic chocolate?? It makes no frickin’ sense. Even if you use the “she just wants to earn money”-angle, the premise makes no sense, as her tech would seriously make her the richest woman in Europe. The module, the villain, nothing makes sense whatsoever. Oh, and to completely dispel the entire “but this is supposed to be funny”-argument: If Lucia betas (no, not a typo) the party, she’s likely to turn some of them into sex slaves. Yep, that’d be rape.

Think this is funny yet?

Okay, so perhaps you don’t care about the glaring historic and cultural analphabetism breaking any form of suspension of disbelief. Perhaps you don’t care about the villain making no sense. Does the module still have something to offer to you?

Well, if you’re one of the people who purchase modules for the writing and/or to reminisce, let me come out and say that the prose is not exactly good. Now, I do like the bullet-point-y presentation, and I’m aware that, particularly in OSR-circles, there are plenty of people who do not want any purple prose. I get that. But there’s a difference between bullet points that inspire, and ones that don’t. At least in readaloud text (provided for ONE of the social interactions the module has planned, but not for any of the others), some flavor would have been nice. To give you an impression, here are two texts from the same NPC, when asked about guards or Lucia:

“Most of ‘em are friendly enough, but some are right queer. Jittery, shaky, always licking their lips. They don’t blink either. Whatever you do, don’t cross them. They’ll shoot you dead!”

“She’s an incredible woman. Bit frightening, to be honest. I’ve never met a more driven person. She’s a tad eccentric though. Armed to the teeth, too. No one dares cross her. Don’t tell anyone I told you this, but I’ve heard rumour that she prefers the company of women. How un-Catholic of her, but it’s not my place to judge.” (Blood in the Chocolate, pg. 26)

…yeah, the remainder isn’t too great either. I rest my case. It’s also inconsistent, as none of the other NPCs get that sort of treatment.

Now, ALL of that, the misery, the logic bugs, the shortcomings in the prose—all of that could still be remedied by the module actually playing well.

It doesn’t.

At all.

The module is a badly-crafted slogfest that absolutely astonished me. Let’s start with the human guards: They are 2nd level, and Lucia is a 28 hp, AC 16 boss; I’m cool with a tough boss, but I do not recommend this for first level.

Oh, and there are a few pygmies.

150 of them.

Now, granted, the adventurers can theoretically befriend the pygmies. To do so, you must fulfill two of the following prerequisites: Giving them food from outside is one; instantly learning their language with the skill is another…kinda logic buggy, but okay. Third would be eating cocoa (bad idea); fourth would be participating in a berry orgy. To the climax. Yes, the module specifies this, of all things. Sacrifice blood orgy participation does not suffice.

But even if you do befriend a pygmy, as soon as one of the mutated mosquitoes attacks and is killed, or once the adventurers try to deal with the tainted tree, the pygmies become hostile. Yeah, there is a good chance that this devolves into an atrocious hackfest that the party is very likely to lose in a slow, slooow, s-l-o-o-o-o-w and drawn out and bland way.

Beyond that, the most likely goal/hook for the party is to steal the recipe of Lucia’s chocolate for her competitors. There also is the issue of a musical door leading to Lucia’s room. If you thought that playing any Charlie-theme would work…WRONG. You have to play Greensleeves. Now, how do the adventurers find out about that? One half-mad, raped, berry-cursed female burglar is trapped in one room. Only…her section/write-up does NOT mention that she knows the melody. So, what if she died? If the party doesn’t find her? Tough luck. There are no clues, there is no note of Lucia singing the tune anymore. And even if the prisoner mentions it, the leap of logic is worthy of old Sierra games. This is not a well-designed module, and it does not play well if run as written. Can you try to salvage it? Yes. But why bother?

For the treasure? There is not a single piece of cool magical treasure. For the locales? You can probably improvise a cooler factory after watching the movies. For the aftermath/consequences? The adventurers can turn smurf-blue, become incredibly fat due to the diseases, etc., and get some mundane treasure. But not magic, not even one of LotFP’s usual high-risk/cursed ones. There is a surprising dearth of stuff do and interact with throughout the module, from rooms to NPCs to everything, and engaging with the dungeon actually is pretty consistently penalized, because pretty much everything is infectious.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are per se okay on a formal and rules-language level, but the text would have been sent back for revision from me. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard; artworks are full-color and a matter of taste. I disliked the full-color cartography and was disappointed by the lack of player-friendly maps. The pdf has no bookmarks, which renders using that version inconvenient and grating. The hardcover is formally well-made, as usual for LotFP.

I wanted to like this module so much. It could have gone in several cool ways:

Funhouse whimsy punctuated by grotesque horror. Genuinely realistic and gritty horror; a grounded what-if scenario. A political intrigue, set against the dynamics of competing patricians… Religious conflict (much more relevant than color of skin back then…) ...and so on.

Kiel Chenier’s module fails, no matter what measure I apply to it; as a historic module, it is a total mess and makes no sense; as a funhouse dungeon, it’s dreary, depressing, and not just grimdark fantasy/horror (which I like), but ventures into misery-porn (which I despise). As a psychosexual romp, it fails to do anything except the lazy cheapshots of rape and dead kids.

This module is pure misery, and it doesn’t even do that right.

For contrast: “Death Love Doom” does abject, nihilist misery right, and I respect it for that.

“Fuck for Satan” is a meta-troll and does the super-lethal dungeon in a rewarding way, and one of its angles is more psychosexual than anything herein.

“The Doom-Cave of Crystal-Headed Children” can be grim and is essentially a troll…but at least it is funny in a very bleak and dark way in its outrageous ideas.

I managed to get something out of all of the aforementioned books. I’m neither a prude, nor a reactionary, nor am I offended by “Blood in the Chocolate”’s blunt-force fetishism and edgelordism.

I am offended by it being the most egregious waste of a genuinely cool elevator pitch that I have seen in my entire reviewer career; I am offended that, thanks to this module, we won’t be getting any actually GOOD (or even mediocre) “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” horror module in the foreseeable future.

Final verdict? This gets +0.5 stars for the basic idea behind the multistage disease/poison effects, resulting in a final verdict of 1.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

For non-collectors who are intrigued by weird premises and otherwise enjoy LotFP offerings: Get literally anything else in their catalogue; I’m pretty positive that you’ll have a better time with anything else you choose to get.

If you are a completionist collector and don’t have the book yet but want it for completion’s sake then act now, for its license runs out in December, which’ll make this book vanish.

As far as I’m concerned, I genuinely don’t know what to do with my hardcover. It’s the first LotFP-book I don’t want on my bookshelf. Any takers? My final note to this one going away would be “…and nothing of value was lost.”

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Blood in the Chocolate
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LotFP Rules & Magic Free Version
by Ben N. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/26/2021 17:35:23

I liked it enough to buy the full version. Its an easy system to learn and use, the setting is interesting and later than the usual fantasy settings. The line is well supported, it runs a gritty game well. It's worth a session at least and if you like it I think it will really ike it.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
LotFP Rules & Magic Free Version
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Vornheim: The Complete City Kit
by jim m. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/25/2021 10:41:17

One of the best fantasy rpg products ever written.



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Vornheim: The Complete City Kit
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LotFP Referee Book (old Grindhouse Edition)
by A customer [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/01/2021 21:51:09

Its good but it is an OSR, there are a lot of clones and it has all the needed support where it fell down is it didnt do anything other stuff i have doesnt the small form factor of the hard copy is really nice.



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[4 of 5 Stars!]
LotFP Referee Book (old Grindhouse Edition)
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LotFP Rules & Magic Free Version
by A customer [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/01/2021 21:48:03

For a free item its great and if you want a slightly higher tech dark fantasy it might be what you want give it a shot, its got great support. For myself I found it just didnt fit my group at the time.



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[3 of 5 Stars!]
LotFP Rules & Magic Free Version
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LotFP Referee Book (old Grindhouse Edition)
by Edward A. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/15/2021 15:00:38

Recently downloaded the referee book here. I got the Rules and Magic book. I have seen some great settings books on Amazon. Is there any plans on releasing a new Referee book?



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
LotFP Referee Book (old Grindhouse Edition)
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Scenic Dunnsmouth
by Ivan B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/16/2021 17:06:41

Solid and evocative material, but can be a bit low on interactivity. If you're in need of a backwater village with hidden secrets, or a place to incorporate as part of a larger hexcrawl or sandbox, it's useful material. A little high on the sexual assault/forced pregency themes for me personally, but it's easy enough to cut out. Definitely on the gruesome side of things even without that.



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[4 of 5 Stars!]
Scenic Dunnsmouth
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Scenic Dunnsmouth
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/05/2021 05:26:37

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure-toolkit clocks in at 114 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 3 pages of editorial/front matter, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 108 pages, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’/A5, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreon supporters. My review is based on the pdf, the LotFP-released softcover, and also the version included in the limited edition Zzarchov’s Adventure Omnibus Vol.2. For the purpose of this review, only the softcover and the pdf are taken into account for the verdict, though, as the omnibus cannot currently be purchased by the public.

Okay, so what is this? Remember those Ravenloft adventures where you’d use cards to randomize key aspects of the adventure? Yeah? Well, now picture that the randomized nature was amped up to not 11, but 12, and beyond. Scenic Dunnsmouth is intended for a well-rounded party of adventurers levels 2-5, but it is not a classic adventure. Instead, this is an incredibly potent randomized “assemble-it-yourself” toolkit. The replay value is VAST, and the depth of the content provided is also impressive. It should be noted, though, that this toolkit is not one you quickly assemble. While the creation-process is pretty quick, the intricate combinations and variables do mean that you should take some time, though you won’t need more than for most module-preparations. With one exception: I hope you like drawing maps. None are included. I hate that.

Theme-wise, the toolkit is firmly entrenched in the dark fantasy/horror genre, so if you’re easily offended and want your fantasy fluffy and clean, steer clear of this. This is grimy, gritty, and contains taboo subjects. At least to my German sensibilities, it is never gratuitous, though: This is frightening and mature without devolving into a grimy schlock-fest. Dunnsmouth is, as implied by the name, cursory related to the Innsmouth theme popularized by Lovecraft, but only in the theme of a remote and xenophobic community; there are thankfully no Deep ones or other tired mythos critters in this book. Dunnsmouth is supposed to be an isolated, perpetually mist-shrouded community, and the most likely adventure hook provided would be that of the tax collectors, which did make me smile.

So, how does the generator work? You need a deck of playing cards, a d4, 10 d6s, a d8 and two differently colored d12s. Then you take a sheet of paper and roll all dice on the sheet, taking note where they fall; the d4 denotes the location of an important artifact, and its value denotes the infection level; each d6 is a home in Dunnsmouth. If the value of the d6 is equal to or less than the infection level, then the home is infected. For each home, you also draw a playing card, and each playing card corresponds to a specific inhabitant of Dunnsmouth. The suits of the cards are aligned with one of the 4 “great” families of Dunnsmouth. The value of the respective d6 also determines certain properties of the inhabitant. The d8 is the local church, and its value determines the state of mind of the priest, and if the d8 is less than infection level (only if it’s less!), the priest is infected.

The two d12s are special: On a 1-6, they are another home; on a 7+, they are a special location; each of the two dice has different special locations. The die that lands farthest from the d4 is the home of Uncle Ivanovik (more on that later), with the die result denoting the fellow’s level. The total tally of dice is used for determining treasure. 1 inch is considered to be 10 minutes of travelling by foot, 2 minutes by boat. The “step-by-step building Dunnsmouth”-explanation is provided twice; once at the start of the pdf, and once in the back, where the generation process is illustrated with various diagrams. 9 pages are devoted to the step-by-step sample process in this appendix. The toolkit also includes a handy quick reference appendix of 3 pages of statblocks; 3 sample spells properly balanced within the frame of the rules-set (which is LotFP, i.e., Lamentations of the Flame Princess – no surprise there) and 6 magic items are included, not including the aforementioned artifact. This back of the book matter also provides some sample suggestions to clarify beforehand: One of the great families is partially defined by an ancient shame, and two sample ideas are presented. Both are interesting.

While we’re on the playing card angle: It is HILARIOUS to me that particularly kooky characters and somewhat intrusive NPCs are assigned to the cards you were supposed to take out of the deck. So yes, if you left the jokers inside, the poker rules card or an advertisement card…you actually have an associated NPC for those as well. There are a ton of b/w/red-artworks for the inhabitants of Dunnsmouth: Jez Gordon uses an interesting combination of b/w-art and red shaders that gleam almost in a metallic manner in the softcover for a rather neat aesthetic identity, and the sheer amount of mugshots included (alongside other artworks) is neat to see and helps establish the theme. Usually, each set of inhabitants, say, the 4 of clubs, gets their own page that lists the card, the NPC/home description and the mugshot-artworks for (almost all) inhabitants, with presentation switching to a one-column standard, making organization pretty easy on the referee. The downside of this is that there is quite a bit of blank space on most pages; the majority of NPC-write-ups come with approximately half a page of blank space.

It should also be noted that each NPC clarifies what’s different when they are infected, and in a pleasant surprise, I often found the non-infected write-up sections more interesting than the infected scenario; the depth and potential interconnectedness is VAST. I created a whole slew of Dunnsmouths, and how differently they turned out was impressive; the sheer replay-value for the referee is GINORMOUS, and indeed, this is one of the very, very few adventures that you could run once per year with the same group and still have radically different experiences without becoming redundant. Of course, it’s very tempting to make Dunnsmouth LARGER. Frankly, one can get an incredibly deep and complex web of relationships by increasing the d6s and NPCs included, but adding in stuff you didn’t roll, even though that’s not the intention of the toolkit.

Okay, in order to discuss this in more detail, I will need to go deep into SPOILER territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. Seriously. Don’t SPOIL yourself. (Even if your version of Dunnsmouth will be different from all I have made.)

… .. .

Okay, only referees around? Great! So, let us talk about the 4 families and other players, shall we? The Duncasters (Heart) struck me as southern upper middle class, with impeccable joviality and friendliness, but also strong familial bonds; they are probably the closest to a traditional allied family the party may have. The Dunlops (Diamond) are moderately-wealthy, and in contrast to the Duncasters, are somewhat elitist. The Samsons (Club), allied with the Duncasters, curiously are perhaps the most unpleasant of the families – they are angry, xenophobic, inbred and consistently aggressive, and they manage to fill that role superbly and without treading into the classic Lovecraft themes. Finally, the Van Kaus (Spade) are quasi-Dutch/Germanic and have a kind of austere, almost Amish style and a hidden secret that the referee needs to specify. We have 13 cards per family, and the aforementioned 4 wildcard cards. These families are an example of fantastic writing; they feel organic, nasty, plausible and captivating; some of the best webs of NPCs I’ve read in all my years of roleplaying. I’m not doing them justice with these short breakdowns.

Beyond these NPCs, we also have e.g. Uncle Ivanovik, who delivers your crazy trapper/hermit-angle, and his lair is modular as well; there also would be Magda, an ageing Romani magic-user, who is very likely to be a solid ally for the party. (And she is, unlike most LotFP magic-users, not some ridiculous psychopath.) There also would be Father Iwanopolous, the priest…and yes, Magda and Ivanovik can theoretically be here. There are a lot of changes that might happen depending on infection level, and individual Dunnsmouth creation. The special locations that you can roll with the d12s include elven spies, an inn, a foundry, a sawmill, a fort, etc. To give you an example for the modularity: let’s say, you rolled the sawmill: There are special considerations if Aces were drawn, if Uncle Ivanovik is in the sawmill, if Magda is here…or if the original spider is here.

Original spider? Yeah, there are two sources of malign weirdness here, the first being the spider. You see, there is one type of spider whose bite charms those bitten, making them consider the spider akin to a child. And with the strong family-theme…well, you get the idea. Those thus inducted and bitten tend to have a rather good chance of producing spider-human hybrid creatures as offspring; these are not cursed, but naturally born that way…and there is a chance that, when infected parents procreate, a whole swarm of these spiders may be born. The genetic corruption of humanoids is simply a part of the lifecycle of this spider. (The power of the spider is pretty much randomized as well, just fyi) This and the NPC set-up means that the party will need to make a ton of hard decisions.

Now, while it is very likely that this spider-cult is a driving force of the hostility in Dunnsmouth, it is not guaranteed. There actually is a chance that there won’t be a cult at all, and that the original spider has already died! I love this!

The second angle of weirdness is actually a subtle cultural reference: The artifact that influences the mist-shrouded and rather nasty atmosphere of Dunnsmouth would be the Time Cube. In-game, the artifact is sufficiently alien and dangerous, volatile and odd, and manages to be that without being yet another “Lol, all die 11!!!! So grim, so mature”-bullshit. It’s high impact in a good way and may manage to pit you against Old Man Time, who may well be an allusion. Anyhow, for the purpose of this toolkit, I’m pretty sure that the author actually read the batshit-crazy Time Cube theories and used them to, at least partially, influence the subtle numerology mirrored in the spider-theme, in the corruption of family ties, and in how these insane notions affect the choice of the actual NPCs. To give you some context: Picture one absolutely harebrained, but incredibly complex theory of everything and its random rules and dictates, and then picture using that as a structuring and incredibly subtle principle to build a dark fantasy structure atop it. From a design-perspective, this is so subtle and elegant it made me smile. If you are not familiar with the tragic story of the crazy pseudo-Weltanschauung of Time Cubism and want to learn more about it, I recommend watching the “Down the Rabbit Hole: Time Cube” documentary on youtube.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a rules-language and formal level. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard with red/purple-ish shades used for accentuating the artwork; as noted above, the NPC-write-ups adhere to a 1-column standard. There are a ton of artworks, primarily mugshots, included...which is actually my main point of criticism; see below. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks. The softcover is perfect bound and has the name on the spine (good), but it also didn’t survive the rigors of constant use too well; the glue of my copy is coming apart.

Zzarchov Kowolski’s “Scenic Dunnsmouth” is a frickin’ masterpiece of adventure design; this toolkit spits out modular and compelling swamp backwater sandboxes like nobody’s business, providing compelling adventuring time and again; it is testament to how incredibly good this is, that I consider its results to be more compelling and interesting than almost all fixed adventures with such themes. If you’re doing Innsmouth-like horror, get this, roll up a sample Dunnsmouth, and if your module isn’t better, then learn from this. The writing for all those NPCs is brilliant. The HUGE replay-value this offers is pretty much unparalleled, particularly considering how WELL this runs. And if you disregard the die-limitations in creation, you can create a super-Dunnsmouth of sheer unrivaled depth. And yes, it can be funny in the author’s darkly-hilarious way. Particularly if you don’t remove those cards that you were supposed to remove from the deck, so if humor in your dark fantasy isn’t your thing, you do retain full control over that aspect.

Now, I do consider this to be a true masterpiece, yes. But not one I love sans reservations. Why? Well, creating Dunnsmouth is, by necessity of its modularity, a pretty involved process. That’s all fine and dandy. But for me, the process of settlement creation got much more involved, and to the point where I do not want to do this too often. You see, I suck at drawing maps. I HATE drawing maps. It takes me forever, and I derive no joy whatsoever from it. Know what’s conspicuously absent from this toolkit? MAPS.

And the thing is, each location/house/shack can have quite a few rooms/areas in theory; cellars, hatches. The map-drawing for Dunnsmouth can occupy you literally for months. Which brings me to the artwork. You know, I like artwork as much as the next fellow, particularly if it’s nice. But the art-budget for this book? In my opinion, it was wasted on a wealth of pretty but functionally nigh-useless NPC-mugshots, when getting actual maps (or modular map-components that we can assemble, like in e.g. “Do Not Let Us Die In The Dark Night Of This Cold Winter”) would have taken a huge boatload of work off the back of the referee. Considering that Dunnsmouth has paranoia and xenophobia as leitmotifs, and considering that details are the spice of an investigation, I do think that the lack of maps genuinely and truly hurts this product. I like theater of the mind playstyles as well, but here? Here so many instances basically scream for maps. This holds particularly true for the special locations, but frankly also extends to the regular homes.

In many ways, this is what derives this book of my “best of”- and “EZG Essentials”-tags, and if there ever is a revised version, I certainly hope for an inclusion of proper maps, because right now, that is what prevents me from using this again. The thought of drawing so many maps.

As it stands, this is still a truly phenomenal piece of dark fantasy/horror-writing that I consider to be a great investment even if you’re playing in a completely different system. For most referees, this will be a masterpiece, perhaps even become the annual Halloween-module. If you’re like me and loathe the map-drawing aspect of the game, then consider this a limited caveat emptor: This is still worth getting and investing the time and effort in, but you probably won’t do it more than once.

My final verdict, though, will still remain at 5 stars, because this is a masterpiece by any metric I can apply to it. Except for the lack of maps. Did I mention that the lack of maps really annoyed me? Did I mention that this should have maps? …that was actually the sole point of contention for me. I really wanted to strip this of my seal of approval because of the lack of maps…but as a reviewer, that would be a disservice to the design and narrative depth of this supplement in favor of a pet-peeve of mine. So, there you go. With gritted teeth and grumbling, this does get the seal of approval, even though, for me as a person, the lack of maps would derive it of that.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/27/2020 06:59:26

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 155 pages, already minus editorial, covers, etc. My review is based on the print hardcover, and I do not own the pdf-version, so I can’t comment on its electronic features. It should be noted that there is a lot of blank spaces, some blank pages, and many pages that are half-empty. I counted 19 pages that are either blank or represent the same sigil, not counting the numerous half-pages. There also are a ton of pages that only have two very thin lists of one-word-lines. This book has less content than it looks like from the page-count.

This review was requested by one of my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience.

First of all, let us talk mechanics: Even though this supplement is released by Lamentations of the Flame Princess, I am somewhat loathe to call it “compatible” with the rules, or indeed the aesthetics assumed by many OSR games; for the most part, the reasons for this stem from subtle components, but the 2 pages of house rules in the back do a rather good job at illustrating this, so that’s where we’ll start.

The rules presented are for “Perception Tests”, and propose the following, among other things:

“When you size up a situation, roll 2d6 and add your Wisdom modifier. On a 10+, ask me three questions. On a 7-9, ask two. On a 3-6, ask one. If you have a positive Wisdom modifier, you get one free answer.”

The questions presented are:

“Who’s in control here?”

“What’s my best approach?”

“What’s my best exit?”

“How could I assert my own dominance?”

“How could I disarm the situation?”

“If the situation proceeds unaltered, what will happen?”

…I really dislike this. It’s metagamey and doesn’t fit my aesthetics. And yes, I’m aware that there are plenty of games solely based on such mechanics, but these aren’t games I enjoy playing. In fact, even for storygames, that sort of precognition-like insight and knowledge seems utterly in contrast to what I consider fun in them, so…yeah. Weird. A better illustration of the contention of non-compatibility would be another of those tests, one available exclusively for magic-users. I quote directly from the book:

“When you unveil your inner vision and feel yourself outward from yourself…” – then we have the rules text (same mechanics as before, save that it uses Intelligence modifier). The questions posed here are:

“Which of these auras or plasms represent a threat to us here?”

“When I put forward a subtle provocation, how do these auras or plasms react?”

“When I subject them to stern rigor, are any of these auras or plasms misrepresenting themselves?”

“When I set aside my initial impressions and carefully reassess, are there any auras or plasms present that are more subtle, more faint, or hidden from me?”

“When I dissect these plasms or auras for the fingerprints of their creators’ psyches. Whose are they?”

“Which of these plasms or auras are truly beyond my personal comprehension?”

…WTF. This is the sloppiest, most wishy-wishy piece of anti-rules-language I have ever read. First: How does a magic-user “unveil their inner vision and feel outward”? What is “stern rigor” supposed to be in this context? Why do “initial impressions” matter? This book operates under some assumption of unspoken, undefined premises, but they are not the premises shared by the LotFP-game, or most OSR-games, for that matter.

But those rules are not exactly required to use this, so let’s ignore them for now.

Let us dial back the clock a bit and let me give you an impression of when I first opened this book after drawing it from my colossal to-read pile. This book is billed as a generator/toolkit for devising seclusiae, which are a cool concept: A wizard’s (that’s the term the book consistently uses, no an error on my part! This book takes a hint from Vance and assumes the term “wizard” to be more encompassing and applying primarily to apex-power entities) seclusium is essentially their tower/home-base or dungeon, and they undergo phases, during one of which, when the master isn’t home or indisposed, they can be assailed. This book is entirely about that phase of a seclusium and starts off in a manner that had me intrigued. The prose of the introduction mimics a treatise in some aspects, and establishes this as more than just a lair, as almost a kind of nigh-impregnable demiplane-ish sanctuary. Okay, cool, looks like we’ll get heist-tools! Are the other phases of the seclusium defined? No. Okay, so what are those plasms? They are undefined magical processes akin to photosynthesis. Creatures that feed on those are called plasmids, while powerful entities are called “plasmic entities”; beyond that, the book rewrites how magic’s supposed to work in the lore of your game: Turns out that you can only cast spells due to having a so-called “plasmic psyche”, and preparing a spell is inviting a plasmid into your brain as a sort of guest.

…this may be me, but it really bothers me when a supplement makes grand, sweeping claims of how something that is bound to have existed previously, like, well, magic, suddenly gets a new background and how it’s supposed to work, particularly if the like comes without precise explanations in the details.  Spells have an aura that doesn’t need to match the effect, got it. Are these consistent between spells? Contingent on the caster? Do magic items have auras that can be seen? If so, are their auras consistent? How do you see them? Does it require a spell? Are you born with it? Range? Consequences? Can this pierce illusions? No clue. Why does this spend so many words to talk about something that is actually properly codified in consistent rules-language in such esoteric and little-known spells as…I don’t know…detect frickin’ magic? I wouldn’t object to the lore-insertion here to this degree, but it makes the whole premise and system more wishy-washy and ill-defined, muddies the waters.

Okay, but all of that’s pretty irrelevant if the generator for the actual seclusiae is cool. And frankly, the idea behind the eponymous Orphone’s sanctuary is cool: The lady has started exploring plasmic realms (yep this also bleeds into cosmology…) and found a realm called Paume, which she planned on exploring in essentially a kind of suspended-animation tank. She did not expect that she’d be essentially locked in a perpetual orgasm by Paume, and now is stuck, and probably won’t be too happy, even if saved. The thing on the cover is her plasmic entity guardian Anguilla. Okay, cool premise! I am stoked!

…this excitement did not survive contact with the actual section of the book. Instead of providing an actual environment, this book acts as a weirdly specific, yet puzzlingly rudimentary generator that is almost bereft of mechanics. Let’s take a look at the guardian’s entry:

“Anguilla is a plasmic creature of a central node and extending tendrils. The node resides within the walls of Orphone’s ceremonial chamber, and if somehow exposed, appears as (choose 1)”

An echoing turbulence. A screeching pulse. A prismatic melancholy.

“it can extend its tendrils into the reality of the chamber, however, and they have a much more concrete form, serpentine in shape (as its name suggests), eyeless, and (circle all that apply):

Translucent. Swirling. Prismatic.

With:

Toothy maws. Mandibles Mouthless.

With:

1.Hooks and barbs.

Feelers. Sticky skin. Bone carapaces.”

Yep, this book pretty much works like one of those mood-diaries, where you briefly circle preselected stuff as a reductive shorthand for your emotional and mental state. To save time when not enough time is available for proper introspection, this may be a good call, and as a consequence, when time is short, and you need to prep the game? Having a well-written environment with some stuff to select from premade, easy to customize to your whims? Good idea!

It’d make preparation quick and easy, right? Well, in theory. Thing is that this book is not interested in doing ANY of the hard work for you. And I mean NONE of it. To illustrate and stick with the example, Anguilla gets the following “mechanics”:

“Mechanically, create Anguilla in two layers. Anguilla’s central node has hit dice, and each of its hit points appears as an individual tendril. Then, each of its tendrils has its own hit dice as well. When a tendril loses all of its hit points and is killed, the node loses 1 hit point that the tendril represented. Anguilla can extend at most 7 tendrils at a time. Write up Anguilla as you would any monster.”

…No.

You do that.

You designate damage, HD, special abilities. You do the job of an author and game-designer.

Apart from being just another lame tentacle-monster with a body-node, this is symptomatic for the book. It has a format that would at least somewhat validate its presentation as a timesaver, and then omits the stuff that would render it actually, you know, useful.

Did you expect pregenerated spell-lists? Tough luck, none here. A magic item generator? Nope. A hazard generator Nope. Stats for anything? Nope. So, in spite of looking like a quick-to-use “choose x-type” of workbook, this requires a ton of work, even for its most fleshed out seclusium.

Oh, I haven’t mentioned that, have I? Well, there are three seclusiae herein, and Orphone’s is the most fleshed-out; the other two are concept-wise blander and more generic, and progressively less fleshed out. The final section of the book then presents the general seclusium generator, and the “maps” – these are essentially a few obscure blotches that look a bit like the map of a country, and on it, you’re supposed to draw the seclusium. One has a very rudimentary pattern in the middle. No, we do not get geomorphs or handy tools. Draw, peasants!

At this point, I think it’s clearly established that the book is not user-friendly. But is its dressing good? There’s value in that, after all. Let me give you a few examples. For the magical elements of Orphone’s seclusium, we have:

An usual tree. “For its aura, choose 1:

It grasps and draws at your plasmic self, like a beggar for food. Its aura is silent and imperceptible, but conveys an undeniable sense of the predator watching the prey.

For its desire and impulse, we choose 1:

It would dissolve “right” and “wrong”, allowing utmost liberty… It would bring death…

…by inserting wheedling, provocative words directly and unsubtly into someone’s thoughts.

When people come near it, have all make a Magic save [sic! – that’s saving throw versus magic]. Failure means that the voice can speak in their thoughts. The source of the voice, the tree, isn’t obvious and it will likely mislead anyone who intends it harm. As with many creatures who despise their own existence, it will nevertheless act to prolong it.”

…so, telepathically talking tree. No other effects. Got it.

If you think I’m being unfair, choosing a bad example or focusing too much on one seclusium, let’s take a look at a servant of one of the wizards, Bostu the necromancer.

His servant Abmo Om “[…] is a man and is/has (choose 1 distinctive feature):

Unusually tall. Waist-length hair. Kindly eyes. A delicate face.”

OH BOY! Can you see how AWESOME this is? I mean, that’s pure poetry! Genius! Kindly eyes? Man, I’d have never thought of that! Unusually tall? WOW! And the final entry put everything into perspective! A delicate face! I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. The genius. The audacity. The imaginative potential! So magical! This is the be-all, end-all of RPG-writing, an epochal work…

krzkrzkrz Reviewbot-9000 has experienced sarcasm-overload. krzkrzkrz Rebooting. blipblipblip

ding

Where was I? Oh yeah, I was extolling the virtues of this splendorous tome.

The guidance provided for the referee is on a similar level. The book, for example, gives us the super-handy primers for when the player characters arrive:

“Who will meet them (if anyone)?”

“What magical auras will impose themselves upon Magic-User’s [sic!] attention?”

“What dangers and threats will fighters notice?”

“What atmosphere or mood will clerics become aware of?”

Who needs magical effects, traps, items, monsters, maps, NPCs, spells or anything like that when we have prose this compelling, guidance this brilliant and helpful, to aid us? A veil has been lifted off my eyes. I was blind, and now I can see! Hahahahaha. All RPG books in my library did dressing the wrong way! Formatting conventions are mere impositions of authority. Editing is for the unenlightened. Precise language is a crutch! The glory of the blank page! This book is the holy grail of…

krzkrzkrz Critical overheating in sarcasm-processor detected. Review abort. Review abort. krzkrzkrz

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are decent on a formal level; there are plenty of deviations from LotFP’s standard, and indeed, those of all comparable OSR-games I know of.  The rules-language is atrocious where present, making you almost glad of its imminent scarcity. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard with sparse, solid b/w-artworks, and PLENTY of filler. Wide margins, a ton of filler pages, some blank for no reason. The hardcover feels weird. It’s lighter than all other LotFP hardcovers, even those of smaller books, and the paper has a slightly brownish tint. The book feels almost like a non-premium-PoD; I’d say that lulu’s PoD-quality is higher than that of this book, which is utterly baffling to me, considering that LotFP usually has really high-quality print books.

D. Vincent Baker’s tome on seclusiae is the most bloated, vapid, useless book I’ve read in ages. It fails in all ways I could review it:

As a setting supplement, it doesn’t offer interesting dynamics.

As a workbook, it is inconvenient and lacks all the components that would make using it for quick game-preparation work.

As a book of lore you read for the fun of it, it is too obtuse and incomplete to provide even a halfway decent reading experience.

As a dressing book, its entries oscillate between pure boredom and being utterly bereft of any sort of substance.

Indeed, that’s how I’d describe this book: I’d call it vacuous, were this effect not obviously intended. It’s a void of content, concealed by words. This book’s dressing, when it’s not jamming some terminology and assumptions into your game without explaining or defining them properly, is a great book for people who say “my truth” and argue that their subjective opinion should be taken as objective fact. It’s all about wishy-washy emotions, about how things feel, as opposed to how they are in the game world. From a design-perspective, it’s a bit like having the thief detect successfully a trap at a chest’s lock, but still trigger it, because the trap wasn’t there. Or to suddenly recognize that you’re walking straight into a blade. Its wishy-washy imprecision dissolves the consensus of language that is required to actually share a meaningful narrative.

The language herein is like one has taken a huge piece of old lard and smeared it on the language that is the camera lens into the worlds we play in, obscuring everything and turning all into this mushy, indistinct and hazy blob.

And yes, I am one of the people who enjoy surreal and dream-like prose; I love Machen, and I enjoy Vance, to whom this book is dedicated. I like flowery prose and I’m one of the weirdos who actually buys books of poetry. But this isn’t dreamlike – it’s all about the feels, which’d be fine, if the book had any proper substance to back it up.

But it has none.

Neither on a rules-level, nor regarding the actual functionality of the seclusiae, nor regarding their lore.

And if you think that the basic idea of the seclusiae is great, and that the author usually does much better? Well, I concur. But one solid idea does not make a book, and in fact, all value I could derive from this book would fit on half a page of paper. This book is incredibly bloated, repetitive, and yes, infuriatingly obtuse without earning it in any way. There is no substance behind its bloated language deprived of concrete meaning.

Do yourself a favor, and instead buy the superior and actually useful Raging Swan Press’ dressing books.

Or any other LotFP-book. Of all of their books I’ve covered so far, this is the only one I’d consider to be absolutely useless. How this could happen to the publisher, and to the author? I genuinely can’t fathom.

Final verdict? 1 star.

As an aside: I am aware of the irony of a sarcastic review being subjective to a degree; if you do own this book and consider it to be a valuable addition to your library, please do tell me why. I’d genuinely be interested how anyone can consider this book worthwhile owning, and what they see in it. Because I tried hard to see the positive in it, only to have it fail by any of the myriad measures I tried applying to it. This invitation also obviously extends to the person who requested this – if it was a troll, it was masterfully done. ;)

Edit: Yes, this was submitted to troll me. Well played! :)

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions
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Veins of the Earth
by Guy P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/20/2020 04:50:50

One of the best books out there for OSR! Would highly recommend it for some dark and original flavour



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Veins of the Earth
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Menagerie of Exiles
by Aaron G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/14/2020 15:36:20

I'm an enormous fan of the franchise, but I was incredibly disappointed by this adventure. The first 2/3rds of the adventure sets up what seems like will be a fantastic seafaring adventure. You really get sold on the ship, the crew, and their problems. Then, the actual adventure is dropped.. and it's a total dud. You get a map with several locations and zero descriptions, a completely anemic set of potential encounters, and a table for what you find when you take time to search a 10x10 space.. FOR THE WHOLE TEMPLE.

It breaks my heart to say this, but it seems like they phoned it in. You can easily take the first half of the book and write your own adventure based off of it. It'll be much better.



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[2 of 5 Stars!]
Menagerie of Exiles
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Death Love Doom
by Ryan K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/12/2020 18:17:54

A solid fun house with unique interactions but nothing of substance besides the morbid twists for characters who want to help the people involved in all this. Perfect for murder hobo gameplay where the player characters just want to run in, grab something shiny and get out, overly morbid otherwise.



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[3 of 5 Stars!]
Death Love Doom
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Vornheim: The Complete City Kit
by Ryan K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/08/2020 21:00:05

Really disappointing. If you've got Frostbitten and Mutilitated you got the best and final version of what is trying to be done here. This would eventually be given flavor in Red & Pleasant Land but still be unplayable endless lists. This book is made out of pure hype and is only interesting because later books will reference it. Nothing useful here, a huge mess. Pure Henry Darger crap.



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[1 of 5 Stars!]
Vornheim: The Complete City Kit
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More than Meets the Eye
by Ryan K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/08/2020 20:31:31

Not only a hilarious one shot adventure that only ends with world changing events, but a great random table resource too.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
More than Meets the Eye
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Frostbitten & Mutilated
by Ryan K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/08/2020 20:29:18

Can be run while reading and the checkerboard map with location descriptions on it makes the adventure more fun to referee. It has a Groundhog Day plot that is designed for replay. There are plenty of novel ideas on how players should interact with NPCs, the best being the ability to speak with animals as if each species had their own language. It is tainted by having a hideous description of a real life person with an illness, whom was a victim of the author, but it fits right in with the bleak nature of the material. This is the book that succeeds where Vornheim, along with Red & Pleasant Land, failed. It would be perfect without the real world ugliness towards female sexuality, maybe they could replace that with the rules for the Alice class from R&PL. The d100 feature table for class/level progression makes D&D way more fun.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Frostbitten & Mutilated
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