The Monolith From Beyond Space and Time
|The Monolith From Beyond Space and Time|
|Module published by
|Rule System||Lamentations of the Flame Princess|
|Authors||James Edward Raggi IV
"(The characters will eventually)...realize they cannot win. They are doomed, and were doomed from the moment they got involved."
- – James Edward Raggi IV, showing even more disregard for being fair to your players than usual
"-it’s not how frequent you encounter something that makes you sick of it, it’s the low-quality retread element that creates fatigue."
- – Raggi again, unaware that this describes the vast majority of his work.
The Monolith From Beyond Space and Time is a module for Lamentations of the Flame Princess, written by James Edward Raggi IV. It is designated as being for characters from level 0 through infinity, which should make you immediately suspicious.
Raggi considers this a homage to H.P. Lovecraft, which for reasons that will quickly become apparent is an insult to the other RPGs based on Lovecraft's work.
|This article contains spoilers! You have been warned.|
Somewhere in the world, a freakish alien monolith of unexplained origin appears in an equally freakish valley. The PCs, being the PCs, are encouraged to investigate. And in typical Raggi fashion, even the trip to the monolith is a clusterfuck.
First off is the distance to the monolith itself - it's randomly determined every time you enter the valley, and can be as long as several astronomical units (for reference, one AU is equal to the distance from the center to the Earth to the center of the sun, which means the party won't even make it a fraction of the way before dying of old age).
Then there are the other random effects that happen in the valley, some are at least somewhat interesting (everyone in the party must obey the commands of one random player, cast spells become self-aware) to the WTF (if the characters leave the valley they end up in an entirely different setting chosen at random from the DM's shelf (where they lost one point of a random stat each day), nothing is able to travel anywhere during the daytime so the party ends up running in place like in Through the Looking-Glass).
And then there are the random encounters, which include these gems (keep in mind that the party hasn't even reached the monolith yet):
- Mist that teleports you to a random position, then forces you to leave the valley by traveling in a random direction no matter how far into the valley you are (all that progress is just gone), and when you leave you get fucked over because you have to roll to see what effects leaving the valley has. If the valley is several astronomical units in diameter, Raggi mentions that it might be a tad unfair making the players leave and suggests the DM ignore it, when in reality leaving the valley would almost always make it smaller and be much kinder to the party, and the DM could easily have it teleport them to the edge of the valley.
- A cliff that inflicts falling damage on you if you try to climb down it carefully, thanks to a wind draft at the bottom that makes you take all the damage you would from falling off, but leaves you unscathed if you just jump off.
- Kenneth Hite's contribution (which is all the more baffling given his reputation for writing much less awful material): A clearing full of owl statues surrounding a dead guy wearing the same gear as one of the party members (who has clearly killed himself), which is surrounded by unkillable thorny vines (that hurt you through exhaustion if you try and cut through them) and can't be escaped from "until the players are suitably creeped out". After that, every spellcaster who was there starts having horrible nightmares about the owls - which also begin to start infesting their spell slots, making them practically unusable. When enough spell slots are filled with owls, the caster will be forced to commit suicide. There is no way to make it stop, which the game smugly points out for the GM.
- An amalgamation of every party member, carrying everything the party has and with attributes set to the highest value the party has. If you somehow manage to kill them you are unable to loot their body because you're already carrying identical gear, and apparently Raggi thought nobody would want a copy of their favourite gun. Yes this means that if you're carrying money, then the duplicate has the exact same amount of money, you just can't take it. The only way you can take anything from them, is if you drop whatever it was you were holding first, for some reason.
- A colony of nudist pacifistic lotus-eaters who subsist off of a berry that makes them so fertile that they give birth within half a day and the cooked meat of their own offspring, because it just wouldn't be Raggi without the gratuitous cannibalism, or suggested bestiality (as it makes a point to say they don't care about fucking other species, and that they have children from unnatural pairings). Thankfully they don't defend themselves when the party inevitably kills them.
- A giant anglerfish monster that emerges out of a two-inch deep brook because fuck logic. According to Raggi there's a one-way spatial gate there that the fish uses to travel from one area to another (because Raggi doesn't even know what "ONE-WAY" means). It is extremely strong, can instantly kill the PC's if it grapples them (because that's something this fish can do), or if you touch it. In case you're curious, hitting it with a weapon means you touched it, and as soon as you've done that it can instantly kill you, no saving throws of any kind allowed. Because Raggi made this adventure, hitting it with a bladed weapon causes a lot of guts and worms to spew out, and if you fail your saving throw you'll accidentally swallow them, causing all manner of "fun" to occur. Due to space-time horseshit, any time the PCs encounter the brook again it'll reappear completely healed. On the off chance that they kill it again (despite the colossal amount of DM asshattery suggested to make this impossible, like forcing all finishing blows to automatically miss), the campaign immediately ends as everything dies and the DM is forbidden from running anything ever again. Seeing as how they thought to run this campaign at all, it's probably for the best in this case.
- This is probably the best of the encounters if you somehow survive it, because accidentally eating the worms gives you a chance of surviving the "save or die" tests that Raggi loads nearly every one of his modules with. If you die to something like a dart trap for example, and you have enough hit points then you actually survive, all the worms inside of you die, and you're now immune to poison dart bullshit forever due to bad editing on Raggi's part. This also allows you to survive the many TPK's that are also in his modules, and would grant you invincibility vs odd things like a giant waking up underneath a mountain, or even dying of unnamed offscreen bullshit (see the section below on travelling to the future).
Outside The Monolith
The party's real troubles will begin when they get close enough to see the monolith.
This is because tiny superintelligent alien spaceships will invade the characters' bodies through their eyeballs, which will then possess them whenever they fall asleep. On the plus side, you get to regrow any body parts you lost when you played any of Raggi's other modules and you'll be invincible while the aliens are in control. On the downside, the aliens also force you to kill any living thing within 100 feet that hasn't also been invaded by the alien possessors. The only way to stop the possessions is to close the Monolith (itself an agonizing ordeal, as described below) which makes them "go dormant" for no apparent reason, which means that the party must either follow the DM's railroading or be rendered incapable of functioning outside of completely deserted areas.
Oddly enough the book also mentions that if a character is pregnant (assuming the group you're in is a little different from the normal one) then the baby is possessed by the aliens, and there's no possible way to cure them. Even closing the monolith does nothing.
Then you have The Guardian. It's a thing that is able to attack from another reality, which means it can deal enormous amounts of damage while remaining utterly indestructible itself. Naturally, Raggi advises that the DM hides the fact that it's invincible from the players until they figure it out on their own. Also naturally it has a range of 50' from the Monolith, and so it'll continuously hit and deal damage to the party without any way of stopping it. Even if the party separates it'll just teleport to who it wants to hit. The intent is to drive the party to the Monolith, as if any party in the history of forever would run deeper into an invisible, unkillable monster's killzone instead of skirting it and seeking a solution.
Inside the Monolith
The monolith's interior initially appears to be an endless corridor that is in fact an infinite maze... made up of a straight and endless corridor. The "maze" isn't actually a maze at all, it's basically just a fog, you can go wherever you want so long as you always walk in the direction you're looking, and that's it. (As an aside, if you can't see you're basically trapped. So you're screwed if your character is blinded somehow, like if they blindfolded themselves to keep those aliens from possessing them.) The corridor seems to always be ahead of the PCs regardless of their actual direction, which poses some very interesting navigation challenges. Especially since distance and time do not exist inside the monolith (this also means characters will never age, which for reasons described later is not a good thing), and the only way to get anywhere is to wish to be there, which makes as much sense as you'd think.
The only creatures inside are impossible to detect unless the PCs want to find something they can fight. Despite their freakish appearance they all do piss-poor damage and die in one hit from any weapon.
Locations Inside the Monolith
- "Control Room": Anyone looking for some kind of control room will find themselves in a strange place made of gray spongy stuff lined with tubes full of liquid and electrical pulses everywhere. "Of course" the person in question has actually traveled inside their own brain... somehow. PCs can enter the brains of other PCs as well as themselves, and there are two full pages explaining how the party can give each other brain damage by fucking around with this (and how certain spells don't work just because the DM said so). Also, when returning to normal consciousness PCs are given the chance to become "one with the multiverse", killing them off but giving a bonus for the next character they roll up. Given what an average character will be like after this module is done, you'll probably want to take that offer.
- There is a way to completely break the game, should you want to. Simply cut a victim's brain, spill the blood on the floor of the Monolith, go inside that brain, and cut it so you can drink their blood until they're level 1. Rinse, repeat for as much experience as the original player had hit points or until they force you out (of course you can stop by the next entry should you need to).
- Healing Room: The pod in this room will put you to sleep for a period of time (which can be forever), and after that you wake up fully healed. If someone tries to open up the pod before it opens on its own, random shit happens. Destroying the pod retroactively puts whoever was inside in an entirely different pod in an identical room, and having two people enter the same pod merges them into a deformed abomination, with one of them permanently losing control (and their character effectively dying). The survivor only gets to keep the weakest scores and abilities of the original two characters.
- Literally Anywhere: If a PC wishes they were somewhere other than the valley, the monolith will be teleported (along with the Guardian) to absolutely anywhere at all, including the past or the future. Incidentally, travelling to the future will kill one party member, grant another party member a bunch of levels ("so they'll argue against returning to the past"), and age everyone else by 1d100 years even though Raggi already said nobody ages inside the monolith. Isn't inconsistency grand?
- Assuming you're following Raggi's rules (that nobody ages in the monolith, only that years pass), this is another way to break the entire setting via level-farming. Take blood from each others brains, go to the future, spill the blood of whoever died, rinse, repeat. It's a free 1d8 levels every time you do this.
- "Adventure": Anyone who wants to find something a little more normal than this will be transported to a completely different setting. No, really. The DM is advised to pick out a random module regardless of system or genre and then open it to a random page - the character is now there. Just in case it might be something that could actually be fun, all of the monolith's weirdness continues to affect that victim (i.e. the alien possessors will still be a problem). The only chance of going back to the character's own world is to find the monolith again and re-enter it. This is also the same condition that can happen if the players try leaving the valley with the Monolith still active, except they no longer lose random stats for no good reason.
- The Weapon: Wishing for an armory or a weapon will bring the character to a room that's empty, save for a rune-covered pylon and a transparent case containing what looks like a mutant tapeworm. Opening the case causes the worm to infest the host "through the most convenient orifice". The host then becomes repulsive to all wildlife (and most people), instantly kills slimes and similar monsters by drinking them to death (after which the host doesn't need food or water for a while), grants damage re-rolls in melee attacks, and can be commanded to attack enemies or even charm them. It also causes anyone who sees the worm enter or exit the host to become immediately hostile to the host, and if the host is charmed the worm will desert the host in favor of the charmer.
- The Head of Carter Holmes: Wishing for treasure takes you to a room with the severed but still-living head of a very evil mage. He wants to die, and will tell the players that whoever eats his brain will gain his magical powers. While he's not lying and the spells and non-spell abilities granted are indeed very strong (although the DM is advised that if the players seem to like them too much they should point out how well they worked out for Carter), the power boost only works if Carter is still alive when a given piece of brain is removed and eaten. And to up the disgust factor even more, he's still able to feel all of it and will encourage the players to eat his brain, even as he's reduced to screaming in agony or incoherent groaning. Apparently the lotus eaters weren't enough to appease Raggi's cannibalism fetish. And as just another flaming "fuck you", the non-spell powers all come with drawbacks that the PCs won't know about until they first kick in.
- The Exit: A seemingly ordinary hole in the passageway appears for anyone who wants to get out of this shithole or is smart enough to wish for "the solution to this adventure", with a big stone door standing open by it. The PCs are invincible to all attacks from the monolith dimension as long as they touch the door, and by shutting it the monolith and all of its related insanity winks out of existence until the door is opened again. Unfortunately, the door has to be held closed from the inside, and it has to be done by a character inside the monolith (so in other words they're stuck inside forever). Did we mention that not closing the door when you leave means those alien spaceship possessor things will keep taking over your body? Oh, and don't even try to get around it by using some kind of anti-magic spell, or you'll tear open a hole in reality that destroys the entire valley and spawns an infinite number of eldritch abominations to flood the rest of the world for some reason, because accidentally triggering the apocalypse worked so well in Death Frost Doom. This is in spite of mentioning just earlier that using Anti-Magic Shell cancels out the effects of the Monolith, only now it does exactly what that spell cannot do (makes as much sense as getting somebody pregnant by stabbing them in the chest).
- Oddly enough, this module does actually have a win condition, presumably because Raggi forgot about his own rules. If you manage to go inside somebody's brain, stab into it to steal some blood, then wish to be in control of your own body again and spill the blood on the floor, you can create a duplicate of that person who hates their original occupant for some reason. All you need to do now is convince them to hold the door closed (either by charming them or through some other method, up to and including giving them something that will paralyze them forever) and you've won the module, no party members lost. You can also convince the duplicate to let you leave the Monolith, then have them look out the door and wish to be on a world where their original doesn't exist. Doing this causes the Monolith to leave and all its effects to end as if the door was closed. Of course the only way you'll know that you can do this is to have read the module in the first place, and if you've done that you should know better than to play it - unless your idea of "Lovecraftian-horrific fun for the whole party" involves taking the sheer cosmic indifference that was the central theme of his works and grinding it down into complete and utter hopelessness, because engaging and competent roleplaying and storytelling will NEVER be as fun as finding new ways to stretch out the lining of your players' assholes!
Fucking fuck, Raggi.
How NOT to DM
The module incorporates the single worst aspects of LotFP, and thankfully it's nice enough to distill them into one perfect example of why this shit isn't fondly remembered by a lot of people who've played it:
An Example of Travel Within the Monolith
- Bob (playing Jake the Fighter): "So we both see this featureless tunnel?"
- Referee (playing That Guy the DM): "Yes."
- Sarah (playing Veronica the Specialist): "I look at the wall to my left."
- Referee: "There is no wall. It's just a passage going forward."
- Bob: "I have an idea! We get back to back."
- Referee: "OK..."
- Bob: "Now we will both walk forward, away from each other."
- Referee: "Sarah?"
- Sarah: "Yeah, I'll do it.
- Bob: "After I walk ten paces, I turn around.
- Referee: "You see a featureless white tunnel going forward into infinity.
- Bob: "But do I see Sarah's character?
- Referee: "Oh yes, she's right in front of you. Looking at you.
- Bob: "What?"
- Sarah: "What do I see?"
- Referee: "You were still walking down the passage, right? You don't see anything, but the passage."
- Bob: "What? She's right in front of me though?"
- Referee: "Yes."
- Sarah: "I don't see Bob in front of me?
- Referee: "Well you do now. You are looking at each other now face to face."
Everything about the above is wrong. Interpreting player questions as character thoughts or actions, screwing with them for express purpose of frustrating them, forgetting your own rules and descriptions only to pretend you meant to do that when you were reminded of them, hardcore railroading your players, needing the players to have to read the script and spoil the entire adventure just so they know what the fuck they're doing (or drop so many hints you're spoiling them on it yourself), the list goes on. In short, if the above for whatever reason is happening then something has gone wrong with your group, and the DM running it needs to practice a lot more before they run another.