Sunday, 29 June 2014
RPGPundit Reviews: Qelong
This is a review of the LotFP adventure/sourcebook Qelong, written by Kenneth Hite. The book is a softcover in the standard smaller-size format LotFP likes to use; it's about 50 pages long, with a very good full-color cover featuring some people in a flooded village fleeing from some fishmen, and it features some nice black & white interior illustrations, plus a particularly nice full-color fold-out hexmap.
When you hear the name "Kenneth Hite", you kind of expect something unusual; so it shouldn't be surprising that when it came to writing up an adventure for Lamentations of the Flame Princess, he'd have chosen to go with an "exotic" setting, in the sense that Qelong doesn't take place in the standard European-Fantasy milieu that most LotFP adventures are very much set in. Instead, Qelong is set in a kind of Southeast-Asian environment, or as the back-cover puts it "a barely legendary land far to the southeast". It is set up so that you can theoretically run it just fine playing your standard characters, however; the book almost assumes the PCs will be outsiders to the place.
Mind you, Qelong is not a standard "southeast Asian adventures" book (if indeed there is such a thing); what I mean is that it's not just set up as a kind of Siamese equivalent of Arrows of Indra. Instead, in a token of Hite-weirdness, Qelong is a small land that has for quite some time now been suffering the crossfire effects of an epic battle between two godlike beings happening "in the skies" above the land (or in the area past the mountains to the north). For the most part, more information about the beings themselves is fairly limited; they're beyond the scope of play. What is important bout them is that this war has been going on for a generation or more now, and has altered the very environment of Qelong; especially recently when an incomprehensible artifact fell to earth like a misfired shell from the celestial conflict, and began to radically poison the entire land.
So Qelong is a sandbox setting (I would call it a micro-setting; too small and too single-focused to be viable as a full-blown setting on its own, but perfect for "fitting into" a larger world), but more importantly it's a "sandbox with a mission". The land is slowly being destroyed by this "misfired shell", and the default premise of the book is that the player characters would be there to try to find this object and defuse it, making use of a spell scroll provided to them that would send the object back from whence it came, to the other side of the mountains where the two godlike-entities are fighting.
Note that there's no pushy element to all this, there's no reason that you couldn't run Qelong with the PCs trying to accomplish something totally different, or nothing at all. Hite provides explanations of other motivations, particularly for Chaotic or Neutral characters, to be in Qelong in spite of the danger. There are plenty of Super-magical byproducts of this divine conflict that, if they could be harnessed, might be of immense power and value to mere mortals.
The environment of Qelong is accurately reflected in terms of game mechanics to show off the harshness of the region, particularly toward outsiders. Weather and disease are meant to be important elements of adventuring there (and the game includes rules for both typhus and the plague!). But there's a further hazard, which is the material that the artifact (called "The Cylinder") is leaking into the environment (a kind of magical radioactivity called "Aakom"). It's some seriously harsh stuff, that at its best ends up gradually destroying anyone who has prolonged exposure to it; but beyond that it can also cause grave spell misfires for magic-users, and can generate spontaneous curses (as kind of 'mutations'). The presence of Aakom is what turns any adventuring in the setting into a kind of race against time, and a serious resource-management game to try to hold at bay the effects of the Aakom poisoning during the time spent in Qelong. There are also descriptions and encounters of unusual terrain types found in Qelong: things like canals, lotus fields, and the river; plus more setting-specific stuff, like the trail left by an army of mutant bugmen-warriors that are soldiers in the cosmic battle (who, like The Cylinder, got misdirected and are now wreaking havoc over the land). There are random encounter tables by terrain type for the coasts, forest, hills, mountains, rice paddies, plains, the river valley, swamps, and villages.
There's also specific encounter areas keyed to the map, including (naturally) the Cylinder itself.
There is, as to be expected, a very good selection of monsters and opponents, most of which are culturally-related; including angry ghosts, the aforementioned bugmen (myrmidons), naga (and their ruler, the Naga Qelong, which is the demigoddess spirit of this land, awoken by the current strife), and others.
One thing of interest is the inclusion of Monks, done in a fairly LotFP-style; though it is explicitly stated that the intention is for these monks to be a strictly NPC class, not for player characters. I think that's sort of a wasted opportunity; however, any GM worth his salt could use the material here to make a viable PC monk class of their own.
The book has some very useful features, including a large rumour table, and a random name table reminiscent of the ones I used in my own Arrows of Indra, to help out those who would otherwise be at a loss for naming conventions (unlike the ones in AoI, however, these tables do not include the names' meanings). Finally, there's a couple of new spells (one of which is specifically connected to The Cylinder, being the means to send it away from Qelong; the other being an LotFP version of "Stick to Snake").
So we can sum up what Qelong is, and what it isn't: Qelong is NOT a direct parallel to any specific or authentic part of Southeast Asian history, much less mythology. It doesn't try to be though; it lists its influences as including "Apocalypse Now". In other words, it is trying to literally be "Fantasy Fucking Vientam".
So if you're looking for something very authentic in terms of the reproduction of history or culture, you're better off looking elsewhere. I'd suggest Arrows of Indra.
On the other hand, Qelong undoubtedly IS a fascinating micro-setting; it certainly is full of intensity, danger, weirdness, and an exotic flavor (that while certainly not being historically authentic, it definitely is inspired by Southeast Asia). It is full, in other words, of the kind of stuff one would by now expect from Kenneth Hite if you are familiar with his works, and he certainly doesn't fail to deliver the goods in a neat and very appealing package.
Finally, for those who are old-school gamers but who have no interest in playing this setting out of the box, you could undoubtedly make use of a great deal of the material in here for other campaigns. As I read it, I thought about how it could even work for providing inspirational material for the "Golden Lands" area beyond the map of my own Arrows of Indra setting.
So in all, a very worthwhile product.
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