So, my first real RPG project has been published as of a few weeks ago, and it out in the wild!
It’s bananas seeing pictures being posted and seeing the first few reactions to it out there. I haven’t posted about it here because, let’s face it, the blog has lain mostly dormant for years. (Long story, for another time.)
But man, look at this book:
The adventure is set in a brewing monastery, because, you know, write what you know? Okay, I’m not a monk, but I know a fair bit about beer and historical brewing, and was reading up on monasteries and beer production, and… well, yeah, I used to spend my time in Sunday school (and regular school) mostly thinking about adventurers and how first contact with ancient aliens could go horribly wrong. So, yeah, write what you know.
What’s the title mean? “The Black Yeast of the Buried God.” I can’t say more without spoiling it, except… yeah, it’s a beery monastery-crawl adventure.
The art, by Gonzalo Æneas, is incredible. Check out this frontispiece:
Likewise, the layout/design (by Jacob Hurst of Hot Springs Island fame) is incredible, and the result of painstaking hours of work. I am likewise indebted to Joshua Blackketter for the editing work he did, and to Alex Mayo for the lucid and excellent maps he somehow created using my terrible graph paper scrawls.
Er… I don’t have a copy yet, and don’t want to post screengrabs from the PDF, so I’ll check out these images Jacob posted for now, while I wait for my copies to arrive:
Oh man this is so fucking beautiful in person. The spot colors in the interior are 💋👌
I was terrified I’d done it wrong the entire time.
I also no longer regret the time I spent moving textures around on every single page to ensure no words were obscured. pic.twitter.com/0Vx4kwVyWn
— Jacob Hurst (@vyderac) August 11, 2020
Gorgeous. Thank you, Jacob!
Here’s the text from the cigar band:
IN NOMINE FERMENTI,
ET PETRAE NIGRAE.
Miracles, wonders, manifestations of heavenly favor: to the ales of the Abbey of St. Christopher have been attributed all these and more divine miracles. The abbey’s ales are celebrated far and wide, gossiped about from Ghent to Köln, and guzzled as much for pleasure as for their supposed curative powers.
You know well the modest inn that stands outside the abbey wall: you’ve guzzled those blessed beers in its taproom, counted ill-gotten coins in its rooms, tossed and turned through nightmares aplenty in its beds. But nothing can prepare you for the horrors that await when, late one night, you wake to find the church engulfed in flames, its bloodied brothers slaughtering one another, its steeple-bell above tolling for the dead, the dying, and for mercy from heaven above…
Ego sum fermentum vivus, qui de cælo descendi.
A strange stone, tumbling through the void of endless space and into the secret history of the world… the cursed legacy of a doomed witch’s family… a terrified abbot whose desperate plea has gone ignored by Rome… a vile conspiracy of whispers, visions, and delusions among drunken, stumbling brothers… and a black secret, black as the bubbling foam that gushes forth from the ale-barrels and the corpses of the fallen alike…
Si quis biberit ex hoc cerevisia, vivet in æternum…
There’s a complimentary review up, too, over at Save vs. Play Agency, which concludes:
Fermentum is an inspiring and substantial addition to the Lamentations of the Flame Princess product line-up, at over double the size of the largest of 2019’s offerings. It is at once something new and impressive from a new (to our hobby bookshelves anyway) and impressive author, and entirely at home thematically and aesthetically with the existing Lamentations of the Flame Princess range. I highly recommend it!
If that kind of thing interests you, copies are available at the following places:
What’s that? You want some, like, liner notes? Okay, sure, here’s some background notes, in no particular order:
One of the big design questions I wanted to try tackle is that in modern OSR games, and particularly in the historical weird setting for LotFP, magic often seems to involve the risk of player characters being mentally or psychologically warped or transformed: it can, in the Lovecraftian tradition, drive you crazy. But much as players hate when their characters fall prey to these effects and are turned into NPCs, it can be hard for players to roleplay “I’m now insane” without some guidance… and of course, if the only effect of magical mind-manipulation is the crazy part, then it’s not really integrated into OSR systems.
My solution was cards that ultimately included:
- A short summary of the character’s private, internal experience of the effect
- Some kind of mechanical effect for the card
- Some actionable roleplaying prompts for the player
The original version of the adventure had all the cards that exist. At some point, a few cards got cut—we were considering including printed actual playing cards to be included with the book—but then plans changed and there was space for the lost cards, so I added back in.
As far as I’m concerned, creative Referees absolutely should not hesitate to create new cards of their own horrible devising for Stages 1-3. I mean, why not? But the existing cards suggest a pattern:
- Stage 1 effects are either neutral or useful, and often funny to roleplay. This encourages players to jump onto that infection spiral like little kids on a playground slide.
- Stage 2 effects start to be bad news, with bad stuff and good stuff more liberally mixed.
- Stage 3 effects are sort of the four-alarm, emergency signal that things are going terribly, terribly wrong. Useful or not, they scream, “Dangerous, powerful forces are working upon you. Get the hell out!”
Oh, and of course when you can, you should include some way of propagating infection among the player characters (or at least the affected character). The best examples of this are Tiny Bubbles, Drowning Your Sorrows, Simply Fabulous! and Unholy Spew.
It shouldn’t be hard to think of ways that the infection could use player character reactions to propagate itself further… not these days, especially!
This book has been an in-progress project since basically the week my son was born. Maybe a few weeks before the momentous day, my friend Ahimsa Kerp told me that LotFP was soliciting adventure pitches from new authors, and convinced me to give it a try. I submitted a few, and James liked the one that became this. I think he contacted me only a few days before our son was born to give me the go-ahead. I actually started working on it while my wife and son were sleeping, in the post-partum recovery center. (Our son is now a few months short of turning five years old, so… it’s been a while!)
I think the first draft was mostly nailed down within a year, though if I’m honest I was finding little things that coudl be improved or better worded even years later. Even as late as earlier this year we changed our minds on what the best content for the endpapers would be, and I produced some new material for them (as well as revising some older material). Jacob Hurst was incredibly patient with me about this, and understanding about the fact that in many ways I was learning as I went.
(RPG writing is incredibly different from fiction writing. RPG publishing is also very different. I learned a lot.)
Our brilliant artist, Gonzalo, was hired somewhat late in the process, when the original artist backed out of the project. I’m so glad we got him, as his illustrations make the book look amazing and he was great to work with.
What else? Oh, the scrawlings in the lower margin were added pretty late in the process—I think they were the last major addition to the book, once we abandoned the really crazy plans we had for simulating fake mold-growth inside the book. (Great idea, but hard to pull off.) The margin-scrawlings were suggested by James Raggi.
If you’ve noticed they don’t line up with the sections discussing the people who seem to have written them, well, yes, that’s on purpose. It’s not intended as a player handout, but it is supposed to sort of feel for the Referee (reading the book) like running across scattered, burnt-edged papers and sometimes incoherent or mystifying scribblings in discarded, scattered hymnals as an adventuring party makes their way through the abbey. If I had to sum up the intended effect, I’d say something vague about how it subtly helps set up for the Referee’s subjective experience, to help set the mood of the adventure, I guess. (In the back of my mind, I had the Paranoia XP rulebooks with the totally-characteristic quotes from Friend Computer in the lower margins, and made an effort to include a few interesting and weird riffs, if not full-on easter eggs, among them.)
About those margin-scrawlings I mentioned earlier… they’re in four languages: English, French, German, and Latin. My French was good enough to do the French bit (after a little googling and checking), but I don’t speak German and had never studied Latin, so I had to get help with them from two of the people in the acknowledgements: Soyeon helped with the Latin title of the book, and Sven helped with the German. I am very grateful for their help.
Soyeon also encouraged me to take up Latin study, since—after many hours of forcing Latin grammar in my head and poring over the title pages of Renaissance Latin tomes (to get the title page right in Fermentum Nigrum Dei Sepulti), I started to feel like I was starting to get it. Ha, how little I knew then, I realize now. (Wheelock’s Latin is great, but… seriously, Latin grammar makes Korean grammar look surprisingly easy!)
Most of the Latin scrawlings, though, were me grabbing bits of the Latin Vulgate and then swapping in nouns and adjectives related to beer. Taking the cigar band text as an example:
|In nomine fermenti,|
et petrae nigrae.
|In the name of [the] yeast, |
and of [the] beer,
and of [the] black rock.
|Ego sum fermentum vivus, qui de cælo descendi.||I am the living yeast, which hath descended from heaven.|
|Si quis biberit ex hoc cerevisia, vivet in æternum…||Whosoever drink of this beer, shall live forever…|
What’s that? Catholic upbringing? Perverse glee? Maybe a little. But also, you know, a decades-long fascination with the idea of forbidden tomes that provide a completely alternate, occult version of familiar stories.