GMing advice, horror, OSR, Review, roleplaying, RPGs

Review: Obscene Serpent Religion 2

After last week’s slight detour to take a look at Rafael Chandler’s Obscene Serpent Religionwe are back into the tasty morsels that Lamentations of the Flame Princess threw our way at GenCon this year. This week I am taking a look at the third of the four GenCon exclusives, and spiritual successor to the focus of the last week, Obscene Serpent Religion 2 by Jeff Rients. Before we get our teeth into it, I am going to be straight up and say that this is my favourite of this year’s exclusives. Let’s find out why…

250059What you get: Like its predecessor, the booklet has 32 pages, plus cover. The first page is given over to front matter, and there are two full-page pieces of art, so that leaves a meaty 29 pages of gameable content. It is available over on DriveThruRPG for $7.99 (about £6.10).

Summary: “Two or three years ago it was just another snake cult, now… they’re everywhere.”

The bucolic hamlet of Nonsbeck sits at a crossroads regularly used by traders, raiders, and adventurers. The innkeeper is friendly, the beds are soft, and the ale is good. Whenever you pass through the region, you and your friends always make a point to stop in Nonsbeck for a little rest. But what will you do when the hamlet suddenly changes?

Obscene Serpent Religion 2 is a giant leap away from the original. Instead of random tables to help you create a snake-worshipping cult, Jeff Reints provides you with a delightfully fleshed out, flavourful and evocative locale to slip into your fantasy game, and the means and ends to bring in crashing down around your players’ knees, leaving them to deal with the aftermath and try to piece what is left back together again if they can. Chock full of goodies, including characters, random tables, adventure seeds and a delightfully evil “snake creature”, Obscene Serpent Religion 2 is a book of two halves. The opener, taking up the first 17 pages of content, presents the village of Nonsbeck, which is exceptionally well fleshed out in a short space of time. This is then followed by the doom that will befall the village and its inhabitants, which comprises the rest of the book.

The Good: Oh, Lordy, you are in for a treat with this supplement. After the front matter, and leaving aside a couple of pieces of full-page art, this supplement is simply crammed to bursting with gameable content. Ostensibly created for Lamentations‘ default 16th-century setting, OSR2’s village of Nonsbeck and its population could easily be transferred to any fantasy setting with little to no work. The first half, which details Nonsbeck, presents no less than five locations, nine NPCs, and eight adventure hooks all delivered across 17 pages. These are all well developed, providing not only skeletons for the GM to flesh out but convincing locales, characters and quests that could be plucked from the book and inserted practically anywhere. On top of this, the description of Nonsbeck’s Inn provides a bill of fare suitable for any tavern in any game world, an excellent random table to decide who exactly is visiting alongside all those peasant farmers and stats for them to boot. The whole shebang is topped off with a random generator that works off a d20, provides both male and female villager names, as well as bynames for when duplicates come up. While these names originate from Germany and the Low Countries, where Nonsbeck is designed to be set, they could easily be used in other settings. The table may be especially useful for something like Warhammer Fantasy, and Nonsbeck itself would feel very at home in such a setting. It is not surprising then that Jeff has featured a quote from James Wallis, one designed of adventures for WFRP, in his book. Overall, these first 17 pages pack a heady punch of setting material usable in most games.

If that wasn’t enough, the second half of the book essentially provides a scenario using Nonsbeck as its focal point. The aim for the GM is to use the material in the first half of the book to set up Nonsbeck (or their village of choice) as a locale in which the PCs are welcome, have made friends, and perhaps carried out a few helpful quests on behalf of the residents. Once the PCs consider the place to be a home from home, Jeff Rients gives you all the tools you need to not just shred your PCs dreams of a happy little village in the country that they might be able to call a home, but leave enough tattered remains behind to ensure they will have nightmares about the place for decades to come. Each of Nonsbeck’s core locations is revisited again to detail how they have changed, what horrors the PCs might encounter within them, and how each of the NPCs there has been turned over to snake-worshipping cultist or is now living in terror. The thing that has caused all this is the “snake creature”, a serpentine demon that can travel through time along genetic code, allowing it to rewrite its attacker’s history. Jeff has provided a total of twelve well thought out and extremely cruel ways that it can do this, ranging from distracting the PC during their education (resulting in a significant loss of XP), messing with their conception (resulting in possible gender swaps, rerolling of ability scores, and even them winking out of existence altogether), to having snakes implanted in them that suddenly burst out from within and begin attacking them. To add insult to injury, the creature is allowed to make such changes to a character’s past when it is attacked, making fighting it a tricky prospect. Not only do such changes take effect immediately, due to the time travel aspect these have always been the case once they occur. Again, Jeff has provided plenty of hooks from which the GM can build their own version of “The Doom That Came To Nonsbeck”, skillfully providing enough for someone to run the scenario from the book if they wanted to, but with plenty of inspirational material there for it to be built upon further.

The Bad: Now, I think OSR2 is a great little book. Fantastic even. The writing is stylish, bringing everything about Nonsbeck, and later the snake cult, to life. The art is evocative and fits nicely alongside the text. I mean, they even managed to cram a map in there too! However, if I had to put forward criticism about it, it would be that the scenario in the second half of the book requires a great deal of setup in order for it to achieve the effect it sets out to, namely to turn a well-loved locale on its head and ruin it outright for the PCs. Nonsbeck’s set up as a relatively unremarkable, quaint little town can make this somewhat difficult—the GM has to spend some time making the place matter to the PCs. There is nothing really significant happening in the village and it is set up as more of a stopping off point, perhaps between larger towns, that the characters might visit. You don’t want to force the players into caring about it, so you are going to have to put some work into making sure that they do if you want the arrival of the snake cult and all the evil it brings with it to have the right effect. So be prepared for that. The only other bone of contention is that the scenario doesn’t really have a resolution. It is more the case that something dear to the characters has been ripped away from them, more of a reminder that the world is a grim place, dark things are out there, and they don’t give two shits about who they fuck over, whether that’s the characters themselves, of the farmers in the village they occasionally wander through now and then. The creature, while fun on paper, is likely going to have some major campaign changing effects should the players decide that hunting it down is the noble thing to do, and some might be unhappy about having their characters messed with in this way. This very much fits in with Lamentations‘ aesthetic, it does deserve a bit of a warning. Still, if you’re buying Lamentations products, what were you expecting? Cuddly bears and unicorns?

The Verdict: Overall, I think that Obscene Serpent Religion 2 is an excellent little book. Yes, it has a few flaws, but these can easily be polished out. The book has a wealth of material within it that has been masterfully put together in such a way that it can be used as is, or approached as a smorgasbord of delectable morsels that can be picked over for insertion into your campaign world.

Style: 5

Substance: 5

Overall: 10

 

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