Monday, 28 January 2019

Echoes and Reverberations 4: Lamentations of the Flame Princess

If Shadow of the Demon Lord positions itself halfway between WFRP 2 and D&D 3rd edition, then Lamentations of the Flame Princess stands between WFRP 1 and B/X D&D. Its kinship with WFRP is obvious from its seventeenth-century Northern European setting, its fantasy-horror themes, and its focus on PCs as doomed, crazy low-lives rather than epic heroes of legend. WFRP and Lamentations share a common language of evil cults, body horror, and black humour, and many Lamentations adventures could easily be repurposed as WFRP scenarios, or vice versa.

There are, however, important tonal differences between the two games, as Lamentations is much more nihilistic than WFRP ever was. The Warhammer chaos gods are sometimes described as a form of 'cosmic horror', but a comparison with Lamentations shows just how humanistic they really are: they're all rooted in richly human feelings of lust and rage and disgust and ambition, whereas Lamentations mostly deals with completely impersonal cosmic forces that inflict death and suffering either by accident or just because. Chaos is all about the dark side of humanity, and confronting it is about confronting our own willingness to see other people as things to be sacrificed in the service of our own bloodlust (Khorne), pleasure (Slaanesh), survival (Nurgle), or lust for power (Tzeench). The antagonists in Lamentations, by contrast, tend to see people as just so much interchangeable meat. The chaos gods love us: Khorne loves killing us, Tzeench loves fucking with us, Slaanesh loves actually fucking us, and so on. But the beings in Lamentations just really don't care. (Do U?)

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This tonal difference has some important knock-on consequences. The default Lamentations adventure pitch is 'get rich or die trying' rather than 'save the innocent from evil'. WFRP characters are plugged into the society around them by their careers: Lamentations characters are mostly assumed to be rootless wandering killers, with few if any connections to other people. WFRP scenarios tend to be human-scale, all about protecting individuals or communities, whereas Lamentations scenarios often include situations that can casually destroy the world, or at least depopulate large parts of it, in order to emphasise just how small and insignificant human lives are compared to the forces they depict. WFRP adventures are often very social affairs, all about understanding the relationships at work within settlements and organisations, whereas Lamentations adventures are usually much lonelier, set in desolated spaces where virtually everyone is already dead or worse. WFRP cultists tend to be driven by warped ambition, whereas Lamentations cultists usually just hate everyone and want us all to die, which makes their scenarios much more chilly and alienated than most WFRP adventures. Whether you view this tonal shift as an improvement or a weakness is going to come down to personal preference, but it means that several Lamentations adventures which seem on the surface as though they would be ideal WFRP fodder - No Salvation for Witches, for example, with its seventeenth-century setting and its demon-summoning coven - actually turn out, on closer examination, to be driven by very different themes.

Lamentations has been around for a decade, now, which is a long time in RPG terms, and its most WFRP-esque material was mostly released during its earlier years. Since 2016 it has increasingly focused on more experimental material, rather than on the early modern fantasy-horror that characterised its earlier output - and much as I love books like Veins of the Earth or Broodmother Skyfortress, I think you'd struggle to find a place for them in most WFRP campaigns. So what follows is a few notes on some LOTFP adventures that could be easily adapted for use as WFRP adventures, instead, insofar as they are fantasy-horror scenarios that should still work if the PCs are WFRP-style vagabonds rather than D&D-style 'adventurers'.

(I should note before I begin that I'm a year behind with LOTFP, and have yet to read any of their 2018 books, which are thus not included in this survey.)

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Death Frost Doom (2009, revised 2014): This is one of the all-time great 'evil temple' adventures, and perfectly suited to games about bands of adventurous misfits getting in way over their heads. The antagonists here exemplify my point about the tonal differences between Lamentations and WFRP: they revere death and pain in an abstract, almost clinical fashion, far removed from the red-blooded messiness of the chaos gods. It could still probably be used in a WFRP game with some minor rewrites: you could swap the ice for bloodstains and use it as a Khornate temple, or else rewrite it as the base of a necromantic cult who revere Nagash as a god. Probably best to leave out the mountain-sized giant underneath it, though.

No Dignity in Death (2009): This odd little adventure from the early days of Lamentations is a pretty minor work. It is, however, very WFRP-esque in tone, being set in an isolated little town full of self-righteous nobodies, brutal authority figures, weird customs, and dark secrets. Could be used almost as written as a refreshingly non-chaos-based interlude in an ongoing WFRP campaign.

Tower of the Stargazer (2010): This adventure is very D&D-ish in its assumption that 'the wizard's tower might have treasure in it, let's go and loot it' will be a sufficient hook to set the PCs into motion. It's a good wizard's tower, though: it could easily serve as the home of some batshit insane Celestial wizard in the depths of the Empire, and the emphasis on exploration and investigation rather than monster-hacking means that it would be much easier to translate into WFRP than most traditional D&D dungeons. Just put something the PCs need inside it and point them at the door...

The God That Crawls (2012): An anonymous commentator suggested this one in the comments thread. I felt that all the ultra-weird and world-destroying artifacts in the catacombs weren't a very good fit for WFRP, and that if you took them out then all you'd be left with was a blob in a labyrinth, but Anonymous points out that the basic set-up of a Sigmarite cult guarding a maze full of relics they'd rather keep hidden would be a perfectly viable basis for a WFRP adventure, even if none of those relics actually have the power to destroy the world. And I have to admit that getting chased around a maze by a giant slime-monster is a very WFRP-y concept for an adventure!

Death Love Doom (2012): Fair warning: the body horror in this adventure is more extreme than in any other Lamentations book, which is really saying something. It's much, much more horrible than anything that's ever appeared in a published WFRP adventure, and not at all recommended if you or your group are likely to be disturbed by scenes of appalling physical suffering inflicted upon innocent victims, including children. That said, the structure of this adventure is pure WFRP, with the house of a wealthy merchant declining into horror under the influence of a cursed artifact. Most of it could easily be adapted for use by any WFRP group with sufficiently strong stomachs.

Better Than Any Man (2013): This adventure is very WFRP-esque insofar as it's about cults and witches in the middle of the Thirty Years War, but as with Death Frost Doom the specifics are actually quite different: the anti-human omnivorousness of the insect cultists here is quite unlike that of any WFRP chaos god, and one important part of the storyline revolves around an ancient empire of evil halflings, who have no obvious WFRP equivalent. Still, a bit of work could probably turn this into an adventure about a witch re-establishing an ancient cult devoted to the worship of a bound demon prince of Nurgle who happens to be really, really fond of flies and maggots, against the backdrop of a civil war between two Imperial provinces. I'd probably remove the time travel elements if I was running it in WFRP - I'm fine with my level 1 magic-users getting bounced into the last ice age, but I prefer my artisan's apprentices to stay a bit more grounded in reality - but YMMV.

Scenic Dunnsmouth (2014): This isn't a traditional adventure: instead, it's a mechanism for using a deck of playing cards to randomly generate an awful little village in the swamps, complete with a lurking monster and an evil cult. The tone of wretched rural deprivation is very WFRP-esque, and whether you actually follow the instructions in the book or just go through picking out all the bits you like best you're pretty much guaranteed to end up with the kind of blighted, squalid little community that would fit perfectly into any backwater region of the Empire. Once again the cultists are death-worshippers rather than chaos-worshippers, but this would be an easy change to make.

Forgive Us (2014): I suspect this actually was a WFRP adventure, or at least an adventure by someone who had played an awful lot of WFRP. Thieves in an early modern city accidentally steal the wrong treasure, which ends up unleashing a magical disease that causes horrible mutations. Just add the word 'Nurgle' in a couple of places and you should be good to go.

The Idea From Space (2014): This adventure deals with an aristocrat whose ship is stranded on a remote island, where the passengers and crew swiftly fall under the sway of the feuding supernatural forces that reside there. I think this could be run in WFRP as easily as in D&D, and would resist the temptation to replace one or both of the supernatural beings on the island with chaos gods: they can just be weird things in a weird place. The New World is an under-utilised region in WFRP, and this adventure is the sort of thing that could easily fit into it.

A Single, Small Cut (2014): Theo suggested this one in the comments thread - I somehow hadn't read it before. A crazy wizard and his hired bandits murder a priest and his congregation in order to steal a demon-summoning artifact from the crypt, only to discover that they have no way of controlling the resulting beast. The PCs arrive just as the carnage starts. It's more of an encounter than an adventure, but would be very easy indeed to translate to WFRP.

England Upturn'd (2016): Stephen and Jon suggested this one in the comments thread. It's set in a seventeenth-century marshland region, complete with witch-hunters and swamp-monsters, which could very easily be used as the backdrop to a WFRP adventure. I initially left it off the list because the main story is a bit big - flipping a whole chunk of the world upside down, creating a massive tidal wave in the process, in order to unleash the evil elves of the Hollow Earth just isn't the sort of thing that happens in WFRP. But a scaled-down version, built around (say) flipping over a single hill in order to release some medium-sized threat from the underworld, could probably work pretty well.

The Cursed Chateau (2016): Stuart suggested this one in the comments thread. This adventure depicts a haunted mansion, complete with undead servants and hidden sacrificial chambers in the caves below, all of which could easily be adapted for use in WFRP. The only way out, however, is to sufficiently entertain the ghost of the sadistic aristocrat who once lived there, which seems to me to cut directly against WFRP's themes of class struggle. Add some way for the PCs to turn the tables and send the fucker straight to hell and you should be fine.

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36 comments:

  1. Of the 2018 books, Obscene Serpent Religion 2 by Jeff Rients with art by Journeyman1029 is a self-contained jaunt into a small town that turns out to be ruled by a snake cult, and the UH OH whoopsies and time/magic weirdness that comes with that territory. It could very easily be repurposed for WHFRP and is much more human and muted in tone compared to, as you say, more experimental and artistic works. If you added a warpstone you'd never know it wasn't already a WHFRP book! ;)

    The Punchline also came out this past year, and is by Zzarchov Kowalski with art again by Journeyman1029. I haven't had the chance to read through it entirely, but I do know the artist and watched as all the art was made, and gleaned much of the storyline. It centers around a traveling troup of Satanic clowns who spread plague to towns they visit as entertainers, for obviously nefarious purposes. Again, something that you could likely slot into any 17th century WHFRP game with a little work (such as exchanging Satanism for worship of a certain diseased Chaos God, maybe?)

    Great article, really liked seeing the lines drawn between the two games where the shared elements can be found. Hope these 2018 adventures find their way into your reading queue sometime and you update us with your thoughts on how you feel they stack up in this regard!

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    1. I always seem to end up reading LOTFP stuff eventually, so it's probably only a matter of time and/or discounted pdf bundles. Glad to hear there's some small town horror modules among the more high-concept stuff!

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    2. I was thinking of something like that would work as a Bretonnian adventure though the Carnival of Chaos that spreads plague is done to death in Warhammer.

      It did give me an idea for exploding Bretonnian jongleurs - I don't know why but Ultima VII Part 2 has trio of daemons that summon exploding clowns for no real reason other than to slightly damage and mess with you. For some reason this seems amusing to me.

      So there's some sort of Chaos plant or some such that has eaten a passing clown. Every day it spits out some seeds that form into replicas of the original clown that go off and when their time is up and they explode.

      And I got all that just from seeing the cover for the Punchline at a con.

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  2. I think that Weird New World could be a starting point for Norscan adventures, where you could dial up the Weird a little bit up to represent the Chaos proximity. The cold and dying-from-exposure system sure feels like WFRP miserabilism though.

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    1. The thing is, the point of WNW is that you sail north, you go off the edge of the map, and then OH FUCK EVIL ELVES AND DINOSAURS AND SPACE LIZARDS. But WFRP already *has* evil elves and dinosaurs and space lizards - they're the primary inhabitants of its entire New World region. So I don't think it'd really have the same impact.

      (Besides, the WFRP artic is supposed to be ALL CHAOS ALL THE TIME, isn't it?)

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  3. I'd disagree with you on DFD. I have issues with it that mostly come to little "adventure" there is in the adventure. No random encounters for dungeon crawlers, very few useful NPCs, and so many sign posts to turn back that most adventure parties will only ever complete the story within out of spite. When the old gravemaker tells you "a cult was here, this place is hella cursed, in fact I'm going to attempt to tie you up if you try", most parties will leave. More so once they go there and realize there's nothing there but cursed shit.

    If I were to rewrite it, I'd at least put a few living cultists there. Caretakers for the old guard, maybe.

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    1. That's very much the point of Death Frost Doom, I'm afraid. It's a horror story rather than an adventure, and the "best outcome" is to heed the warnings and turn around. The consequences for pressing forward are real bad, but like you said - it's not like the PCs weren't warned. The lack of wandering monsters is probably meant to make the place feel quiet and build dread, and to make sure that there's nothing stopping you from leaving. It's a sharp contrast from "no monsters" to "too many monsters". You can use it as a one-shot funnel, but probably the best way to do it is as a known danger in a sandbox, with something highly valuable at the bottom. If players really do have the option not to go there because there's other cool stuff for them to do elsewhere, then the punitive nature of the place is less of an issue.

      Whether that's something you're into is another question though! I don't think it's for everybody. You could probably put a more adventure-focused twist on it fairly easily with a few wandering monsters, some regular treasure, and maybe slightly higher level PCs.

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    2. I've run DFD all the way through, very nearly as written. My PCs encountered it the first time at level 3, explored the first half of the dungeon, unleashed some (though not all) of the zombies, and ran away. Later they came back at level 7, explored the whole complex, destroyed all the undead, and walked off with all the treasure. On both occasions, a good time was had by all.

      It's a creepy little scenario, but its reputation for lethality is overblown. For a deathtrap, it plays ludicrously fair, and the lack of wandering monsters is a big part of that: there is *no time limit*, and if the PCs proceed slowly and carefully enough, they should be able to loot the place with minimal losses. A more traditional dungeon set-up, with wandering monsters harrying you through the corridors, really would turn it from a puzzle into a straight-up party killer.

      I'd agree with Tom that it's better used as a location that the party can *choose* to visit and leave at will rather than just as 'this is tonight's dungeon', though!

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    3. You might prefer a (much) earlier adventure on the same theme, "The Lichway" (in White Dwarf magazine 9). As well as the beast putting the undead to sleep, there is Dark Odo (and her lackeys) with whom you can interact.
      I refereed the earlier version of Death Frost Doom in WFRP. The PCs believed the dire warnings, and after stripping the hut (they managed to fence the hallucinogenic drugs) they only ventured into the dungeon a little way before doing "A Brave Sir Robin".

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  4. I think BTAM isn't too hard to adapt. As you mentioned, Nurgle is already associated with insects, and the evil halfling empire, from what I remember, could be replaced with basically any evil empire.

    The only 2018 one I've skimmed through is England Upturn'd, which from a brief look felt very dependent on its English Civil War setting (as opposed to Forgive Us, which is easily placed elsewhere than 1625 Norwich). Which is unfortunate, since I like the early modern/pike-and-shot era, and there's not all that much written for settings with that sort of technology level.

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    1. England Upturned was the first thing I thought of when I saw the introduction of this post. Everything in it *is* geared towards its setting, right down to alignments of Roundhead/Cavalier, but it would not be too much work to adapt it to an arbitrary political conflict.

      And the basic setup is very on-tone. You have corrupt aristocrat/hobbyist magicians who aren't above pointing a witchfinder at personal enemies, a sorcerer who thinks he's a god looking to settle a grudge, a vast cast of down-in-the-dirt laborers of various stripes, people wrangling for wealth and political advantage, and a literally underlying threat by way of an advanced empire lurking under the surface.

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    2. I have read 'England Upturned', and I agree that the swamps-and-witchfinders bit of the module is very WFRP-esque, to the point where I almost included it on my list. But flipping a whole chunk of the landscape upside down to unleash the evil elves of the Hollow Earth just isn't the sort of thing that happens in WFRP adventures. A toned down or adapted version - flipping a single hill, say, rather than a whole region - could probably work, though.

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    3. I was thinking of the Hollow World threat as something that could be swapped out for a Skaven threat of an adventure-appropriate size.

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    4. Yeah, that'd work. I'll add it in.

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  5. Hm. I'd never really thought of Lamentations having much Warhammer DNA at all, for those tonal divergences you describe.

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    1. There are only so many ways to write about criminal low-lives fighting body-horror cultists in seventeenth-century Europe. I mean, that's a pretty specific niche. It's inevitable that they'll cross streams from time to time.

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  6. Great review, and very good points about the similarities and tonal differences. I've been considering working variants of Death Frost Doom and/or at least parts of Better Than Any Man into the later stages of my take on The Enemy Within campaign (the latter would fit neatly into the Empire civil war). I'm fine with a little more cosmic horror, but the nihilism of LotFP occasionally tends to slip into a tiresome Norwegian-black-metal-style edgelordiness.

    Another LotFP scenario that might work well adapted to WFRP is the brief "A Single Small Cut", which to me felt a lot like a Solomon Kane short story - the PCs come across a band of thieves looting a church and accidentally summoning a tentacled monstrosity from a cursed artifact buried in the vaults.

    Speaking of which: are you planning to have a look at the Savage World of Solomon Kane game for this series?

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    1. Huh - I'd never actually read 'A Single, Small Cut', even though I got it in a pdf bundle years ago. Yeah, that'd do for a WFRP encounter. I'll add it to the list.

      I've not read any of the Savage Worlds of Solomon Kane stuff, so... maybe? At some point? Current plan is to do Zweihander, Small But Vicious Dog, WFRP fan material, and other suitable OSR stuff. Then I'll decide what else, if anything, I want to try to cover.

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  7. The God that Crawls is another possible for conversion to WFRP, with the Cult of Sigmar taking centre stage. You might want to tone down some of the consequences for delving too deep.
    The main adventure in Forgive Us was enjoyable in play: a couple of PCs had to burn Fate Points, one got turned into a gribbly beast, but the PCs managed to get rich and avoid an outbreak.

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    1. The thing is, if you strip away all the high weirdness and world-ending artifacts from The God that Crawls - and I think you'd have to in order to make it fit with WFRP - then what's left? Just the bare outline of an adventure in which a blob monster chases the PCs around a maze? I guess a scaled-down version could work as a WFRP one-off.

      You ran Forgive Us in WFRP, then? It did look to me like probably being the single easiest conversion of the bunch...

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    2. Regarding Forgive Us, I did indeed run it using WFRP 2e. I made the obvious changes to Nurgle, the disease a rapid Neiglish rot, the gribbly creatures chaos spawn etc, but it hardly needed conversion. And the reference to "Fifty shades of Ulfire, a popular but quite poor work of erotic fiction, worth perhaps 2sp to some desperate simpleton" is convincing proof of your theory, with Ulfire being the Grey Wind of magic.
      For the God that Crawls, the damning items the cult of Sigmar wants hidden can concern Sigmar/Ulric heresies, etc. However I think it is enjoyable just as a rpg version of the old computer game where you are chased by a snake as you try to grab piles of dollars. To what extent will you risk your life for money?

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    3. I have that wrong, Ulgu is the Grey Wind of magic. Same derivation?

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    4. I should have added: parody of something contemporary is a WFRP hallmark.

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    5. Ulfire is one of the three made-up colours in the LOTFP 'Carcosa' supplement, by Geoffrey McKinney. (McKinney got it in turn from the 1920 SF novel 'A Voyage to Arcturus', but I think 'Forgive Us' is referencing the LOTFP setting rather than the original novel.) It's described as being 'wild and painful', which kinda fits in with 50 Shades. Still, as you note, very WFRP-esque.

      I'm going to cave in and add 'The God That Crawls', now.

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  8. Cursed Chateau is another obvious 2018 candidate.

    I do love LotFP - it is some of the most imaginative stuff ever. The Monolith Outside Space and Time is another WFRPy one - if you treat the Monolith as a way to enter the Warp/Chaos dimension/weird places.

    God That Crawls is easily made into a WFRP scenario by making the setting a chapel to Sigmar (or any other good-deity).

    As to the tonal similarities, I think it is just that James Raggi is influenced by metal covers and songs, which was a common influence of Warhammer in the 80s?

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    1. Is it fair to say the best LotFP stuff is imaginative, but the worst of it is puerile?

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    2. Pretty fair, I'd say. And sometimes it's both.

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    3. Trouble is, everyone draws the line in different places. Fortunately, they're usually not that hard to rewrite to fit the tastes of individual groups. You can take the DeathFuck magic out of 'Towers Two' and still have a great low-fantasy sandbox adventure, for example.

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    4. Not sure about Monolith - it's heavy on the nihilistic 'nothing here makes sense and then you die' side of LOTFP. 'Cursed Chateau' could work, though I'm not keen on the only way out being to entertain some narcissistic ghostly fuckwit. Sending Jourdain to hell and burning his house to the ground would be a much more satisfying ending, especially given WFRP's themes of class struggle.

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    5. I'm not quite sure where I draw the line, but Slugs! is on the puerile side of it.

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  9. Since you're on a WFRP kick, maybe you should do a Condensation in Action of The Enemy Within.

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    1. The 3rd edition version? Or the original?

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    2. The original. I have no experience with 3rd edition.

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  10. Seconded! I would very much love to read that (and might get some solid use out of it as well).

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  11. Oh, and I thought of another one. The introductory adventure in the LotFP Referee Manual, "A Stranger Storm", is a creepy little episode pitting the PCs against a group of murderous shapeshifting doppelgängers that I think could work well for WFRP - but preferably tied into a larger plot, perhaps. I'll probably use it later in my own campaign.

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  12. No Dignity in Death is a such a neat little thing. It's one of my favourite LotFP releases.

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