Thursday, September 19, 2013
Review: The Magnificent Joop van Ooms
It must he hard being a diehard LotFP fan. You're jazzed about this game, but its publisher has painted himself into a corner by leaning way too hard on the "I'm EDGY and EXTREME!" angle in his endless hype machine. The problem with that angle is that to keep interest up, you have to top yourself with each new SHOCKING product or public statement. To wit, Ragu Extra Meaty IV recently said this staggeringly idiotic thing after it came to light that a child porn collector had plans to abduct a kid and eat them: “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if some serial killer got caught while wearing an LotFP shirt like the Night Stalker got caught wearing an AC/DC shirt?”
Actually, no, that wouldn't be cool at all. See, in the real world, murder isn't a cool thing; it's not even a cool thing if it helps you sell a couple more elfgame books or XL shirts to fatbeards. A friend of mine lost a family member in the recent Naval Yard shootings--tell her how cool murder is.
Whether LotoFAP HQ is just plying his usual shtick or actually disappointed that people haven't died to give him a little publicity is immaterial--that kind of statement veers from "upping the ante in the shock Olympics" to plain ol' "that was an ugly and dumb thing to say, and you should be embarrassed by your own tastelessness." And so, if you're a LotFP fan, this is the horse you've backed. Probably literally, if you've got money tied up in one of the many crowdfunding projects from the imprint. (Anyone heard from that GWAR guy lately?)
(Also, the guys who are always pimping the latest LotFP bandwagon were mysteriously silent regarding the above statement. I figure if you're into it enough to do his promotion for him, you must have some nuanced defense of these kinds of statements, right? Anybody? Certainly not the craven proponents on G+ who usually White Knight for the guy and his books.)
But my purpose here isn't to praise or bury LotFP fans; they've got enough problems as it is. Instead, I want to direct the eyes of the non-Faithful (because if you're already a fan of the line I'm probably already judging you) to what I think is one of the better offerings in the LotFP line: The Magnificent Joop van Ooms.
Joop van Ooms blessedly begins without a rambling forward from its author; instead, it gets right down to an overview of the setting, giving a brief historical sketch of the United Provinces and the city of Amsterdam up into the 17th century. This section is a mere two pages, but does a fine job of explaining Amsterdam's importance in 1615 to an audience that probably isn't that familiar with the global regimes of the 17th century.
The next bit is a random table of encounters in Amsterdam. These range from the boring to the typical "fuck you, player" stuff. Entry 8 reads: "Everybody dies. Seriously. Roll up new characters, start them somewhere else. Amsterdam is wiped from the face of the Earth." Useless. Characters can also be struck by a lightning bolt. Truly amazing stuff here, folks. (Basically, the 8th entry on anything in the book is something bad. It's not much of an Easter egg.)
The section on buying and selling items on the black market in Amsterdam is only mildly better. The system it presents is a 2d6 roll modified by Charisma that seems to determine how much the thing costs and/or if the characters are assaulted as part of the transaction. This strikes me as both unimaginative and shockingly unaware of how black markets actually function.
At last, we get to meet the titular Joop van Ooms. Ooms is an interesting exaggeration of the Renaissance man: he's an accomplished artist, scientist, author, etc., and holds views that are heretically progressive even in the permissive atmosphere of Amsterdam. As an NPC, Ooms has real potential to be a noteworthy encounter, patron, or rival for the characters.
We are also introduced to Ooms's sidekicks, Gilles de Rais (a former slave with a mockery of a name that serves as Ooms's bodyguard) and Henry VIII (Oom's assistant who also bears a mockery of a name). Both are also well-wrought NPCs that would make for memorable encounters.
Two further pages map and detail Ooms's (quite strange) studio. But more exciting are the details of the various otherworldly effects Ooms can achieve through his artistic and scientific acumen. Ooms can draft plans for building with supernatural abilities, write plays that change the audience, invent devices (such as super-guns, helicopters, and submarines), and change the world through his paintings. While the immediately gameable value of these powers isn't always obvious, there are enough ideas here to work with.
The final page of The Magnificent Joop van Ooms doles out adventure hooks based around his presence in Amsterdam. Frankly, these adventure hooks (little more than sketched ideas, really) are far better than most of LotFP's published adventures. Their brevity means that don't have enough leash to turn into the groan-worthy pap or save-or-die factories I've come to expect. I could see several of these making for fine multi-part adventures, in fact.
Of course, Raggi can't quite kick the habit entirely; one suggested adventure hook is that Ooms dies and comets rain down, destroying everything. Literally: rocks fall, everyone dies. You can almost palpitate how clever a boy he thinks he was while writing that.
I want to talk about the art in The Magnificent Joop van Ooms. It's brilliant. The interior art is high-contrast black-and-white illustrations by Jez Gordon that both captures a 17th century feel but presents the era in a fresh, stylish way. Dear gaming companies: Please hire Jez Gordon to illustrate your books; his work is top-notch and you want your books to look top-notch don't you?
I mean, look at this, will you?
This is an illustration of Ooms's helicopter that doesn't appear in the book and I'm actually pretty angry about that fact because it's so excellent:
The cover painting by Jason Rainville, depicting Ooms mutilating the ubiquitous Flame Princess (which is something of a weird fetish attached to the LotFP line), is also quality stuff.
It's not a stretch to say that I've been critical of LotFP's releases, but I think as far as the line goes this is among the best so far. There is still a bit of cruft here, but there is also potential here that could be mined productively. I could see using bits and pieces from this with a variety of games such as The Savage World of Solomon Kane, Witch Hunter, Clockwork & Chivalry, or a historically-based D&D game. If that's an era of adventure you're interested in, The Magnificent Joop van Ooms might just be worth your $4.61.
But then again, given the antics discussed above, maybe you'll just end-up asking the Internet where you can find it for free. Your call, really. I vote with my money and also vote my conscience. Maybe you do too.
I'm semi-astounded by the number of LotFP reviews that conclude with some variation of "this is a terribly-done 'fuck you, players' adventure, but I LOVE IT." That will never make sense to me. Well, I do think I get it, but I don't really want to think about what they're really saying because that will just make me sad. This is not one of those.