Friday, September 4, 2015

Revisiting Qelong By Kennith Hite For The Lamentations of the Flame Princess rpg & Your Old School Campaigns

Your PC's are a band of freebooters and adventurers taking full advantage of the peoples, circumstances, and tragedy of Qelong. And now we're going to slice in deeper below the surface of Kennith Hite's tour of a war torn mythic South East Asia Alternative location. Unlike other Lamentations titles there is little here of the adult themes of Lamentations. Instead you get a tight setting with lots of potential for not only PC death but also for use as a long range campaign.

Grab It Right

   So today I was cleaning up old notes and campaign logs for the past two years, one of which was from March 2015 when I cracked the pdf open up of Qelong & began to really start thinking about as well as running Lamentations of the Flame Princess rpg system. Well, Qelong got me really interested in South East Asia and its environs including Thailand,Pakistan, India, Iran, and Iraq of the Bronze Age, Iron Age, but especially the pulp and pop culture mythology of these areas. Kennith Hite does a bang up job with the material. So today I referred back to a review I did back in March and ran across this guy Troy V's review of Qelong : "In the typical LotFP fashion, the "winning" scenario is damn near impossible, the adventure contains numerous devices which screw player characters royally, and is grimdark to a fault, replacing wit and imagination with tragedy and cruel jokes. Your characters might as well just stay in the tavern, tea house, inn, or drug den. Better yet, tell your referee to lighten up or replace your referee, and stop pulling these tasteless, depressing pranks on you and the rest of the players." 
Well being one of those referees I'm going to not only address 'Troy V's' criticisms and claims but take them to their logical conclusion.  Normally I don't like to feed trolls at all. But this guy touched a nerve with me. Each & every time I went to reference or  deal with a LoFP product there was a nasty one or two star review, the 'reviewer' in question left the same comment for a Lamentations product varying the comment just slightly. Well, according to Troy the winning scenario is damn near impossible. This is because according to the campaign setting introduction, 'Qelong is a classic “exploration” adventure,set in a wet, poisoned sandbox. While the Cylinder is the focus of outside magicseekers,and makes a convenient “center of the labyrinth” for goal-directed players, the Qelong Valley is a setting first and foremost. That means that antagonists – set against the heroes and against each other – and environments play major roles in driving drama, conflict, and story.'
You've got a jungle mythological wilderness adventure setting with two divinities at each other throats whose war has invaded the Qelong region with their machinations. You've got a cylinder poisoning the entire region with magical toxic horror. The natives are contaminated with the magic of the cylinder plus you've got mercenary factions dividing up the land. Then there's the issue of aakom poisoning, this is the magickal energy source powering the divine weapons of the divinities and its very,very, nasty. There's no trick here at at all. This is straight up magickal toxic sludge poisoning and the PC's abilities to affect the locals are going to be rather limited and that's a real issue here because each and every faction in the setting is out to exploit the situation. Does this  adventure contain 'numerous devices which screw player characters royally, and is grimdark to a fault, replacing wit and imagination with tragedy and cruel jokes' , no not really because what the adventure does is work on the same level as Heart of Darkness novel by Joseph Conrad if it was combined with the Jain Agamas's  war torn landscape then spun through a lens of pulpy weird goodness. Is it grimdark? Yes, yes, it is and unapologetic in its own way. Which means that not only is the landscape exploiting the PC's  but there are lots and lots of monsters here with motives strongly connected with the encapsulating the setting of  Qelong. The ultimate futility of the setting is a nod to Vietnam contemporary conflict of the Seventies. Yet this is a post apocalyptic dark fantasy setting with some weird and warped creatures many of whom were once human.  Yet everything here is exploited by the combined effects of the two demi god's conflict and the four factions at work. We have the Myrmidons who are human males possessed by a swarm of large (finger-sized), pinkish ants and combined the worst aspects of foreign invaders and something completely alien and their very,very, dangerous in horrible kinda way.  Then there are the Naga Qelong and her kin ( shades of the Bride With White Hair film here mixed with Lovecraft) who was the local demi goddess but has been corrupted by the conflict. There is a creepy almost but not quite legends of Thailand  vibe echoing through the product. Aakom poisoning makes the undead of the Sajavedran landscape especially hard to turn except for local clerics. I was at once rereading Qelong taken back to my time spend in Thailand and rolled into a stinking alien irradiated jungle world waiting to be explored.  Which brings me to the other faction banner, the Varangians are elite mercenaries from a far-off land, one perhaps closer to the characters’ homeland than Sajavedra is. I seen these guys described as something akin to the Black Company. I really didn't quite get that with the Varangians. Instead I put them half way between a force that came from a Michael Moorcock novel and an army out of a novel by  Karl Edward Wagner. Like all of the players in this novel their down, dirty, and nasty with some tricks that the PC's might end up taking advantage of. The land of Sajavedra reminds me of some the darker regions of South Thailand in the back villages in the misty mornings. Everything isn't quite real yet and the nightmare qualities echo with a deeper sense of an adventure waiting to happen.

Photo from
Paul Brockmeyer (brockzilla) from Chicago, USA

So is Qelong perfect as a setting book? No, lack of maps is one minor point of contention that I've seen. But this is one of the tightest written setting books that has come down the pike for not only the  Lamentations line but also any OSR system. There are several reasons for this the editing is very well done. The material is original and has a sense of accessibility to it not the  , 'You must use this material this way'. Instead we are given an expansive palette of old school goodness to design everything you need for a variety of old school far Eastern adventures with a sense of its own identity.

Actually Using Qelong For Your Old
School Campaigns

This brings me to actual experience using Qelong, I've actually had quite a bit of playing with the various bits and pieces of the setting. You can easily drop your Lamentations adventuring crew right into the center of the setting with little issue. I've seen some folks waffle on about how fire arms are going to make a difference in
Sajavedra. It really won't given the various mutant horrors, former human beings, semi divine things, and the hordes of undead. Couple this fact with the constant weirdness around them and LoFP setting book is going to alter the destiny of any adventuring crew up in the middle of the material. There have been various folks who have been outspoken about Qelong being the prime opportunity for LoFP to introduce a monk class. There are plenty of first edition monk resources that can be easily and seamlessly added to your existing campaign if the Lotus Monk faction needs to be added. One of these is the high end book by Kabuki Kaiser Mad Monks of Kwantoom setting book whose own creatures and monsters fit right into the back end of Qelong with little to no issue. The fact that its on sale for five dollars is another plus. You get a ton of old school bang for your buck. A fact that I exploited to great effect over the past year. Mixing and matching various OSR elements is one of the more interesting things that the book allows for without breaking the setting at all. Not only can this book be used for cross over but because of this fact Qelong is a  nightmare fueled mythological East Asian book that can be used for all kinds of fusions you can get into all kinds of trouble with it. For example Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea offers a pimped up sword and sorcery setting that easily works with LoFP. Simply drop your AS&SH PC's into a dimensional warp and away you go.

But there's more to it then that, reading through Qelong tonight I was reminded by the
aakom & god technology of the myths of Vimana and other pseudo UFO lore such as the Ancient Atomic warfare theories of pop culture. This is not the full mythological or religious elements described in Hindu texts and Sanskrit epics. Of which I have the greatest respect and admiration for. No this is the pop culture pseudo material that has come into play over the years through Orientalism in pulp magazines and Western perceptions of these wonderfully rich sources. These bastardizations could be retro fitted into a  fully exploitable campaign setting to fill in the rest of the Sajavedra story line. Mohenjo-daro  and several sites in the Indus Valley Civilization could be used as stand ins for an alternative Earth setting.
 This also goes back to another source of potential OSR exploitation in the use of Dark Albion The Rose War  as another potential setting to back fit into Qelong as a sort of 'stranger in a strange land' faction. The various powers trying to exploit the landscape of
Sajavedra is in keeping with the expansionist attitudes of the Rpg Pundit book. Though he might argue me to the ground, Dark Albion's pulpy setting tropes mash well with the alien lunacy and OSR  attitude that the LoFP setting book has. Its a sort of Solomon Kane meets the Rose War via a mythic South East Asian hell. If you haven't gotten the feeling that Qelong is one of my favorite Lamentations books, then this commentary has been for naught. Qelong will be used in spades in the near future. I'll keep you posted.

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