Saturday, September 5, 2015

Retro Commentary On The Free OSR Literature Download - The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe With Artwork By Gustave Dore For The Lamentations of the Flame Princess Rpg and Other Retroclone Systems

The Raven is one of Edgar Allen Poe's seminal pieces of weird poetry and one of the most under utilized pieces of adventure fodder for old school games. Today we're going to be talking about plugging this classic piece of Gothic poetry into the Lamentations of the Flame Prince game

Grab it Right

So its getting towards Fall here in Connecticut and I'm thinking again about future OSR campaign adventures and one idea that I had was turning into my Lamentations Of The Flame Princess notes. I rereading my Grind house box set and came to the section on Edgar Allen Poe .One of the articles that's been making the rounds is  on Edgar Allen Poe's Raven with artwork by Gustav Dore. And my question is why hasn't anyone made a commerically viable dungeon or adventure location crawl out of this classic by Poe?  All of the elements are there for a crawl especially with Dore's incredible engraved illustrations. Poe is one of the most easily accessible and interesting American authors of horror, weird tales, and adventure that crosses the desk of most middle school kids and yet I've seen adaptions of his works for Call of Cthulhu, TSR's Masque of The Red Death  Ravenloft setting, and yet a quick Google search turned up not a single OSR role playing adventure.  Just in case you've never heard the Raven by the late great Sir Christopher Lee here you go.

Gustave Dore never saw the publication of his wonderful work into the public in 1883, he had died at the ripe old age of fifty one. But it was his artwork that really brings home the power of the poem. Wonderful, sublime, and beautiful and yet beyond  haunting is this poem. But don't let's its reputation keep you the DM from accessing it as fodder for an adventure especially for the LoFP system.

So here's the poem and let's begin to deconstruct this wonderful work and see what can be done with it. Right out of the gate we've got several NPC's to work with, The unnamed Narrator, Lenore, and the Raven.In the Dore artwork we are given wonderful engravings filled with visions of ghosts, angels, the angel of death, minor horrors all lurking in the background of it. Here's what I'm going to do take Dore's artwork and construct an adventure structure straight out of it using the poem as the frame work. Let's take a look at the poem itself. 
ONCE upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'T is some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door;         5
    Only this and nothing more."
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore,  10
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore:
    Nameless here for evermore.
And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating  15
"'T is some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door,
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door:
    This it is and nothing more."
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;  20
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you"—here I opened wide the door:—
    Darkness there and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,  25
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore:"
    Merely this and nothing more.  30
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore;
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore:  35
    'T is the wind and nothing more."
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door,  40
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door:
    Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,—
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,  45
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore:
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
    Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;  50
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door,
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
    With such name as "Nevermore."
But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only  55
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered, not a feather then he fluttered,
Till I scarcely more than muttered,—"Other friends have flown before;
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before."
    Then the bird said, "Nevermore."  60
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore:
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore  65
    Of 'Never—nevermore.'
But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore,  70
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
    Meant in croaking "Nevermore."
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining  75
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er
    She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.  80
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!"
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore."
    Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! prophet still, if bird or devil!  85
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore:
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!"
    Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."  90
"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us, by that God we both adore,
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore:
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore!"  95
    Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
"Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked, upstarting:
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! quit the bust above my door! 100
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
    Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming, 105
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor:
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
    Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Constructing the Frame Work of Poe's The Raven As
An Old School Adventure

The home depicted in Dore's artwork is twisted and odd filled with motifs of death, change, love, the unconscious self, nature, the human imagination, hope & despair,etc. All singularly wonderful fodder to place the PC's at the center of the cross roads of life and the afterlife. The home of the narrator is caught outside of time and space existing in a timeless limbo with both the nameless narrator & Lenore's ghost caught in the repeating cycle of horror and despair of the house. There are ten easy reasons to construct the adventure using the Lamentations of the Flame Princess Rules and Magic book  to start with;
  1. The narrator of the poem was a wizard who used a variation of the first level summon spell to call back the ghost of his beloved Lenore. The Grim Reaper took offense from this violation of its domain and now the entire mansion and grounds have been moved to its own location in the underworld. 
  2. The Raven of the title is another aspect of the Grim Reaper forever keeping watch over the NPC's. The adventurers are not the first to try and raid the house as it continues its journey throughout time and space. 
  3. Random encounters within the environs of the house include minor angels and demons who inhabit the timeless limbo. Some for good or ill mostly for ill given that this is a LoFP adventure. 
  4. Opportunities for looting and mayhem abound but there is also the possibility of encountering cursed objects and magickal items of entropy and death. 
  5. This adventure could be used as a jump off point for an old school campaign as we shall see 
  6. The horrors of the Underworld are not going to stay at bay. Demons and their ilks should be generated using the tables from the Summoning spell from the LoFP rule book. 
  7. For a really black metal feel to this sort of adventure the PC themselves might be dead, shades of Silent Hill and other classic horror films. 
  8. There is far more horror going on as the PC's find all the members of the mansion or house's staff have been murdered to perform the rite that summoned Lenore. 
  9. Lenore isn't real at all and a figment of the deranged, diseased mind of the wizard himself. Or is in fact a phantom of the fool's soul. 
  10. The NPC raven isn't too happy about the arrival of the PC's and begins to arrange for the PC's death's ten little Indians style.
       Adventure Location Encounter
    Table Based On The Raven

    1. Demonic raven with various mutations from the LoFP summoning spell table 
    2. 1d8 books of forbidden lore with appropriate horrific spells based on Poe's tales. 
    3. Shadows and ghosts of ancestors of the narrator walled up in various secret points in the house. 
    4. Servants of the angel of Death 
    5. Alien horrors from beyond in some of the rooms, these encounters move randomly as day becomes night and so forth. 
    6. The shades and undead of other freebooters and other adventurers who have encountered the house. 
    7. Cursed objects and weird effects of the house itself. 
    8. The ghost or dream self of Lenore plus random damned souls who wander into the house.
    9. Weird demonic animals out on the grounds of the house. 
    10. Strange sights and lights in the sky. 
A Table Of Ten Random
Location Encounter Areas & Notes

  1. Alchemy laboratory and summoning room the first weird location that resonates with the aura of decay and demonic, the place has a sort of Devil Rides Out aura about it.  
  2. The Library - A place filled with volumes of forgotten and forbidden lore. Also a location for a cursed object or two 
  3. Chapel - The perfect location for an encounter with the Angel of Death, the Raven, or a Demon. The whole place should have oppressive and weird atmosphere.
  4. Small dungeon and torture chamber where the servants and staff of the house were 'retired'. 
  5. Small barn, horse stables, and servants quarters plenty of opportunities for weirdness or monsters 
  6. Family crypt - what's an Edgar Allan Poe adventure without a buried alive or bursting crypt of the ancestors. Also a great place to encounter a ghost or two. 
  7. Secret Compartments& chambers - small forbidden black magick libraries, walled up ancestor's skeletons, forbidden secrets, secret chambers are perfect encounter points. 
  8. Abandoned or weird house sections or rooms - The house gains or loses a hallway, room, section,etc. 
  9. Ghosts, spirits,etc of the dead at the windows as the plot of the adventure progresses. 
  10. Adventurers encounter a dead PC or NPC alive almost as if nothing ever happened to them. Then suddenly the wounds of their death appear across the body. Death has taken them already and their trapped along with all of the rest of the members of the house. 
Actually Using Edgar Allen Poe's
The Raven For Your Old School Campaigns

 Alright here it goes. There are several ways of actually using the Raven as an adventure location. The first of which is to simply use the time lost location of the mansion and its half mad wizard narrator as another loot point only to discover far  too late that the LoFP train has left. I seen several references on boards about how fire arms will make an impact. Once again given the nature of wizards, undead in LFP such as Death, Frost, Doom and the fire arms issue will make very little impact. What you will need is the Lamentations of the Flame Princess Referee's Grind House Edition book .
The beginning adventure a Stranger Storm could be used as a perfect jump point for the Raven. The PC's are thrust into the circumstances of that adventure only to find themselves neck deep into the events of the cycle of the Raven. Then theirs the conversion charts that Guide provides for jumping between the various retroclones on the market currently, very handy things to have as we shall see. Other possibilities for using the events, NPC's and materials of the Raven also include Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea PC's. The translation between the two games is almost seamless. Now given the Dream cycle of HP Lovecraft and the dreamlike qualities of such an adventure location its easy to see this sort of a place being used as a cross over point. In fact given the alien nature of the LoFP demi human races its easy to see them used as fodder for an OSR death and dream adventuring style campaign.
Given the entirely weird and dreamlike qualities of a Red and Pleasant land its an easy leap to have the timeless adventure location that I've thumbnail sketched out be used as simply another branch in the other dimensional river


This is one of the qualities of Poe's work that makes it endlessly timeless and adaptable is that it can cross over into a new generation's material. This style of campaign makes it easy to see it being slid into Rpg Pundit's Dark Albion given the unhinged in time and space aspect of the Raven's adventure location. There are three things that work in Dark Albion's favor for Poe's Raven. The dark nature of the spiritual entities and patrons at work here. The ghosts, demons, etc. that exist on the border of the mundane and the horrific. The mansion can continue its journey across space and time luring adventurers and freebooters to their doom.  As I go about the mental exercise of constructing another adventure location, the dark echoes of Albion seem to wash against the lapping waters of the realms of the dead. More to come.

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