[Lamentations of the Flame Princess] Weird Fantasy Atmosphere

MisterGuignol

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Over in this thread I posited the idea of writing up some addition inspirational material to achieve that elusive "Weird fantasy" feel that Lamentations of the Flame Princess calls for. Someone sent me a PM prodding to share my ideas as a supplement to what's in the Recommended Reading section of the LotFP Tutorial book.

Who am I to say no to such a request?

Once a week I'll get around to posting a different variant or flavor of the Weird to be used as a jumping off point for your own games. These won't be fully-realized, detailed settings; they will sketchy by design, intended to give you enough of a feel for the Weird so you can fill in the blanks and put your own unique spin on it.

If these come out well, I'll collect them and put them out as a free .pdf for all and sundry.

Feel free to ask questions or add your own thoughts on the Weird here in this thread. I'd love to see where people take this.

First up, the Weird North.
 
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MisterGuignol

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Weird Fantasy: The Weird North

“In the foggy embraces of maternal woods, where wolves and red riding hoods are lost and found, where strange becomings take place, at night, you can here howls, growls, and grunts. Inarticulate words create gothic soundscapes of abject horror and ritualistic transgression.”
Aspasia Stephanou, “Playing Wolves and Red Riding Hoods in Black Metal”

George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones isn't a Weird tale, but the sections of the novel set at the Wall—an enormous barrier of ice that separates the Seven Kingdoms from the savage, unknown North—show all the signs of being rooted in the Weird tradition. The Wall is patrolled by the rangers of the Night's Watch. Theirs is a grim duty: they withstand the howling, bitter winds of the icy North, struggle against barbarian raiders and wild beasts, and act as wardens against an evil race of mysterious beings known only as the Others. Life at the Wall is a mundane grind of military discipline and preparations for the coming winter, but behind the banal trials and tribulations of the everyday lurks something ominous and supernatural that threatens to break through. This particular constellation of conventions is a specific kind of Weird tale; it is a tale of bleakness, of the mad chaos of natural sublimity and natural savagery, of roaring wind and deadly frost, and of bloody red against a field of snowy white. It is a tale of the Weird North.

The Setting: An isolated northern outpost at the border between the civilized world and the unknowable wilderness. The outpost can be a garrison, a keep and its surrounding fiefdom, a trade town, or a rough, ramshackle refuge for wanted criminals. The outpost is encircled by natural vistas that are both beautiful and threatening: dense, primordial forests and rugged, towering mountain ranges. Every journey from the outpost has the potential for danger; the wild beasts who live in the forests and mountains are ferocious and have a taste for human flesh. Beyond the outpost, the northlands become a blighted tundra that is both unmapped and home to a grave, unknown menace.

The Themes: The natural world is harsh and unforgiving—use the setting itself as an adversary against the characters. Emphasize the biting winds and the way the chilling frost can be felt in the characters' bones. Steal all warmth and comfort from them. Civilization versus the Wild—make the outpost a place that the characters have a vested interest in defending. Make it clear that the outpost is civilization's first and best line of defense against something monstrous that could spell doom for all humanity. Imperil their community; make them scramble to protect the life they know. Grim fatalism—death is inevitable in the weird north; it is something to faced with a stoic mien and a hard heart. Put them in the position of making tough, if not impossible choices. Final stands against the darkness are a must.

The Foes: The Frozen Dead—those who succumb to frostbite in the wilderness rise again as tireless enemies of mankind. Their beards covered in hoar and the axes rimed with frost, they will ceaselessly pursue the living through forest and mountain. Giants—not the dunderheaded giants usually found in fantasy, these are the vicious giants of northern legend. They are more than mortal, they are the corrupted remnants of once-godlike nature spirits who wish to cleanse the land itself from the taint of man's civilizing influence. Wolves—in all their forms: dire wolves, werewolves, wolves who speak of blood in the voices of men, wolves who prowl the streets during the nightside eclipse. Never a single wolf; always an uncountable multitude of wolves, a wolfing, an endless pack of tooth and claw. Wendigo—sometimes the howling of the winter wind is not just the howling of the winter wind, sometimes it is the ominous call of the wendigo. The wendigo has a voice like the bottomless depths, can lift a man from the earth with an unseen hand, burn him with cold, and drive him mad by showing him things no mortal was meant to see.

The Soundtrack: The Weird North requires a soundtrack that is both pummeling and funereal. Xasthur, Portal of Sorrow—indulge in the melancholia of mystical, suicidal black metal. Blood of the Black Owl, A Feral Spirit—introspective doom metal; a ritual invocation of sublime wildness. Wolves in the Throne Room, Two Hunters—a black metal explication of man's alienation from the natural world. Neurosis, Enemy of the Sun—crushing, churning existential doom.

Literary and Cinematic Inspirations: Algernon Blackwood's “The Wendigo,” John Carpenter's The Thing, Angela Carter's “The Company of Wolves,” August Derleth's "Ithaqua," Cristophe Gans's Brotherhood of the Wolf, John Linqvist's Let the Right One In; Steve Niles, 30 Days of Night, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (particularly the frame narrative), and Snorri Sturlson's Prose Edda.

Gaming Inspirations: Death Frost Doom and Weird New World (for Lamentations of the Flame Princess) and Hellfrost (for Savage Worlds).
 

MisterGuignol

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More bits and bobs on the Weird North:

Historical and Cryptozoological Inspirations:
Alferd Packer and cannibalism, the Dyatlov Pass Incident, and the Yeti.

Random Weird North Scenario Kickstart Table (d4)
1. Something has been prowling outside the outpost's gate under the cover of darkness for a week. The adventurers are tasked with venturing outside the outpost's walls, doing recognizance to figure out what that something is, and getting back inside to help form a plan of attack for dealing with it.
2. The monthly supply caravan is late with a crucial shipment of food. There have been reports of avalanches along the Trade Road, so perhaps the caravan has been buried under fallen rock and snow. The characters have been tasked with journeying up the Trade Road to discover what happened to the caravan and, if possible, retrieve the much-needed supplies.
3. A child has gone missing. She was last seen picking berries at the edge of the forest. Over the last month strange piping sounds have been heard emanating from deep in the woods. The characters have been tasked with finding the child and returning her to her parents' care.
4. A famous explorer arrives at the outpost with a charter from the Queen authorizing him to form a party to map the unknown regions in the howling northlands. He offers good pay and the adventure of a lifetime, but perhaps he harbors ulterior motives for bringing a company of mortals into the frost-bitten north.
 

Wulfgar22

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MisterGuignol you are on a roll. Keep it up! Oh...and my vote is for Behind the Facade of the Coastal Town.
 

MisterGuignol

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Weird Fantasy: Southern Gothic

“She remembered how it was here that she had seen a side of her mother that had frightened her, a scary, frenzied, secret self that normally hid behind soft bleached aprons and stoic silence. And it wasn’t just her momma who changed. The services would transform familiar, ordinary people, people she saw every day, into creatures as fascinating and horrifying as the beautifully patterned scales of the serpents they caressed.”
Linda Chandler Munson, Moonblind

War leaves lingering scars on both bodies and minds. The conventions of the Southern Gothic use those scars to draw out the deeper tensions that exist in an antebellum society that has grown fallow after a great war. The Southern Gothic depicts the world in grotesque terms; physical deformities and exaggerated bodily characteristics always sympathetically correspond to mental, emotional, and psychological aberations: the big-nosed woman in the house next door is invariably a gossip and a busybody, the lame-legged preacher possesses a soul crippled by guilt, and the twisted old man who presides over the town council is gripped by equally twisted desires.

Of course, not every scar is apparent on the surface. In the Southern Gothic, things generally look peaceful, placid, and genteel, but dig a little deeper and you find a culture whose heart beats to a sickening rhythm. There is always a sharp divide between a town's old, landed aristocracy and those who work with their hands for a living. Though the days of the plantation were over after the war, the social chasm between the haves and the have-nots is a simmering cauldron of resentments apt to spill over into outright violence. The tipping point is likely to be the inherent hypocrisy of the town's “moral” guardians; whether family patrician, pious man of God, or respectable debutante, the town's upstanding citizens all harbor dark secrets.

The Setting: A cheerily-named town of white-washed fences, grand plantation houses, and rough habitations on the wrong side of the tracks. There is a town meeting hall where the various old families endless maneuver for pride of place and political power. There is a well-attended church where a preacher delivers hellfire and brimstone sermons to his ever-sinning congregation. (They may even handle poisonous snakes and speak in tongues to demonstrate their religious fervor.) There is a bawdy tavern that everyone knows about, but no one ever mentions at the outskirts of town. It's said that the drinks, women, and music there are all fast, fiery, and loose.

The Themes: Evil wears the mask of propriety—the town is rotting from the inside out. There is no real outside threat to the town's existence; rather, it is the evil that men hold in their hearts that endangers the good people of the town. This danger hides itself behind a facade of cultured manners and Southern charm, making it insidious and difficult to detect. Class warfare—the town is home to barely-repressed social resentments. The poor and the rich hate each other instinctively, the old money has a vested interest in keeping the middle and working classes from gaining too large a share of cultural capital, the disenfranchised minority is kept at the menial, abject fringes of society. If your group has the stomach for it, you might even work racial tensions into this heady brew of contention. The grotesque conflates revulsion with empathy—although the grotesque characters of the Southern Gothic tradition are engineered to illicit disgust, their very human fallibility also marks a point where they evoke our sympathies. For every horrible secret that is revealed about a society matron's past, we should also learn a fact that puts her actions into perspective. For every revolting detail that comes out about the secret life led by the pastor's son, there should also be some note of sympathy. Though their actions can never be forgiven, there must be something about them that makes us wonder if we would have done any differently given the momentous choices they had at hand.

The Foes: The antagonists in the Southern Gothic are rarely explicitly supernatural or monstrous; instead, they illustrate that man is the worst monster of all. The town father—he brings wealth and stability to the town, but what secret does he guard about his family's past? What accursed deals has he struck to insure the town's prosperity? The preacher—a traveling man of the cloth who has set up a tent in the town's poorest district. He claims that he wants to save the bodies and souls of the needy, but what if he were indoctrinating the indignant as his own personal army? The belle—she's the beautiful young woman that all the unmarried men come to court. She's the picture of proper behavior, grace, and unblemished reputation...until the sun sets. Perhaps she might be found down by the river, introducing her suitors to strange, unwholesome rites.

The Soundtrack: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Papa Won't Leave You, Henry and Murder Ballads—filthy, murderous, outlaw music. Various Artists, People Take Warning!—authentic recordings of Americana songs about death, catastrophe, and disaster rescued from the scrap heap of history. Marissa Nadler, Ballads of Living and Dying—the sweetest of voices, cutting right to the bone. The Scarring Party, Losing Teeth—uncanny and nasty, like a hex lurking at the bottom of a dry well.

Literary and Cinematic Inspirations: Poppy Z. Brite's Lost Souls, Nick Cave's And the Ass Saw the Angel, William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, “A Rose for Emily,” Daniel Knauf's Carnivale, Charles Laughton's Night of the Hunter, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Linda Chandler Munson's Moonblind, Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man is Hard to Find and Wise Blood, Marlene van Niekerk's Triomf, Eudora Welty's “Clytie,” and Tennessee Williams's Suddenly, Last Summer.

Historical and Cryptozoological Inspirations: Jim Crow laws, Pentecostalism, and Tent revivals.

Random Southern Gothic Scenario Kickstart Table (d4)
1. The patriarch of a powerful, wealthy family. The characters have been tasked with taking his remains to a familial crypt on the outskirts of town. They must be on their guard as a faction of town elders would like to make sure the corpse never reaches its final resting place—why?
2. The characters have been asked to escort the daughters of a old-blood family to a masked ball. To decline the pleasure would be seen as an affront to the family's honor. However, one of the daughters is not what she seems.
3. The town's pastor has asked the characters to infiltrate and investigate the doings of the traveling preacher who has set up a tent revival in the town square. What does the pastor really want of them and what is the preacher's real reason for setting himself up in the heart of the town.
4. A worker from a local plantation has contacted the characters and wishes to meet with them. The note he sent claims that he has something of terrifying importance to tell them, but before the characters can meet with him he turns up dead—drowned in the fountain in front of the mayor's home. What mystery is being concealed here? Can the characters uncover it before a secret from the town's past erupts to trouble the present?
 
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