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Reviews - Death, Frost, Doom
 
by Gerald Cameron


Death, Frost, Doom coverDeath, Frost, Doom
Published by LotFP Publishing
Written by James Edward Raggi IV
Art by James Edward Raggi IV, Laura Jalo and Aino Purhonen
28 page b&w saddle-stitched softcover with unbound cover, 5.5" x 8.5"
£8.00 / $5 (PDF)

Death, Frost, Doom is an unusual module. Designed for low-level characters in older editions of Dungeons & Dragons (and published under the aegis of retroclone OGL games like Labyrinth Lord and OSRIC), it is not a latter-day B1: Keep on the Borderlands or even S1: Tomb of Horrors. It is a moody, atmospheric, weird piece that builds tension over a long period of time before reaching a slightly manic, very dangerous climax. It can serve to kick off a campaign or to end one, depending on the choices the players make. It also features plenty for DMs of other fantasy (and even non-fantasy) RPGs to chew on.

As much as it will cause the author to tear his hair out, I also have to point out that it is a snap to adapt to other game systems and could serve as a great con scenario for any number of games. It is also very hard to discuss at any depth without giving up huge, unforgiveable spoilers, so bear with the vagueness of large parts of this review.

Frost
The adventure begins (after a short preface by the author) with:

There stands a mountain upon which nobody climbs. Legend holds that a great evil once lived upon the mountain and forever cursed the land. But fear fades with time, and the blood of those supposedly lost long ago lay claim to the fortunes that they say were stolen from their kin. As yet, none dare attempt to retrieve those riches.
That's a classic beginning, setting the scene for the adventure concisely and evocatively. It lets the players know that they will be messing with things it might be better not to touch, yet the siren song of wealth is what drives them to ignore that fact. Obviously, this will not suit every group, but it seems an especially good way to set up a group of pre-generated characters for running this module as a convention session.

The PCs then climb the mountain in pursuit of those legendary riches. Before they reach their destination, they will cross the tree line, entering a frozen, haunted region. They will also encounter the legacy of the evil before they achieve their objective.

Doom
Contrary to standard adventure practice, established in the early days of the hobby, most of Death, Frost, Doom avoids combat encounters. Instead, Raggi cranks up the tension and the atmosphere by providing weird experience followed by weird experience, with a couple of traps thrown in for seasoning. It is hard to discuss specifics without distasteful spoilers, but I will say that the most mundane - and the first - of them is with a backwoodsman that passes the time by hunting, tanning leather and providing headstones for the long dead. As the tension mounts, the PCs learn more about where they are and what happened there. They will also find some treasure, so they will gain some XP, at least in O/B/AD&D. This creates a package where what would normally be filler - empty rooms and small details - act as content.

Although I have not been able to play Death, Frost, Doom yet, I do think that most, maybe all, of this will work, as long as the players are prepared for an unconventional D&D experience. This is not kick in the door, kill the baddies and take their treasure. Nor is it old school creeping around the baddies as much as possible so you can get the treasure without getting killed in a hurry. It is a mood piece, and it does not release the mounting tension until the climax.

Death
When first read, the climax of the adventure seems like a guaranteed PC slaughter. There are several ways the party's lives can be snuffed out, each more horrific and deadly than the last. Only near the very end of the module does it become apparent that there are ways for the PCs to escape. Even these come at horrible costs that will have repercussions for the wider campaign world.

You don't see these kinds of repercussions often in published modules. They tend to focus more on being modules - little bits a DM can drop in without creating waves elsewhere - or parts of a plotline the writers and/or publishers plan to flesh out as an adventure path. In Death, Frost, Doom, the PCs will kick an ant's nest, and it is left in the DM and players' hands to decide how it changes things. Many DMs will be uncomfortable with this, but I think it is refreshing. I am more appreciative of this kind of spur to the imagination as time goes by.

Conclusions
Death, Frost, Doom may be the best published adventure I have seen in recent years. As much as I enjoy the better examples of old style modules, it is a pleasant surprise to see something so different coming from this corner of the hobby. Death, Frost, Doom is an intriguing mood piece as inspirational for the horror GM as it is for the D&D Dungeon Master. Reading, let alone playing, Death, Frost, Doom is instructive, showing one very useful way of developing a thriller or survival horror scenario. It also contains several bits and pieces that are worth stealing or using as inspiration.

I would recommend Death, Frost, Doom to any Dungeons & Dragons player, regardless of edition. Further, it could be used with other fantasy role-playing games like Burning Wheel, Tunnels & Trolls, Fantasy Hero or The Shadow of Yesterday. It could even serve as the skeleton for a modern or science fiction horror scenario. It is so easily adapted because of its limited combat elements, strong themes, and powerful atmospheric elements. The biggest hurdle is making it worth your player's while with reward systems that are not built around gathering treasure. Even if you are already a master of thriller and horror adventures, you may find a new trick or two.

 
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