Death Frost Doom is curious book with an interesting history. This adventure launched Lamentations of the Flame Princess back in 2009. Originally written by James Raggi, it was subsequently revised by Zak Smith/Sabbath. It is a clever, unique adventure, and unlike anything I had ever seen before.
Centered around a mountain from which a nefarious cult used to operate, Death Frost Doom quickly ratchets up the tension and refuses to let up. From the moment the players set foot near the peak of the mountain, littered with grave stones and on which a petrified and frozen cabin rests, they are confronted and challenged by a relentlessly bleak dungeon. This is a harrowing adventure, and one from which it is difficult to emerge while still calling yourself a hero.
I want to avoid spoilers as much as possible, because Death Frost Doom deserves to be experienced. It is a work of art, but not some still life of flowers or prosaic rendition of people merrily strolling in the park. This is a Hieronymus Bosch painting, full of detail and color and terrible ugliness and absolutely in your face. It is designed to challenge you as a player. As a dungeon master it is plain FUN to run.
Originally designed to be system agnostic, you will need to do some lifting to port Death Frost Doom into the rule set of your choice. I ran it as an adventure for 13th Age after being thoroughly dissatisfied with Shadows of Eldolan, an adventure supplement for that game dealing with the undead. I wanted something rough. Gritty and confrontational. I found that in Death Frost Doom.
- The setting is grim. Dark. Bleak. You are investigating a tomb and it is a terrible and somber affair. This books oozes with darkness and despair. From the moment the players hit the grave laden landscape near the summit to their entrance into the greater tombs containing the secrets of cult at the core of the adventure, they are forced to interact with a relentlessly vile environment and the creatures responsible for its creation.
- This is a beautifully written book. It is simply an enjoyable read. Despite being short, it is incredibly dense. I ran it for weeks, and feel like it could have gone on longer. Ultimately, I was operating under a time constraint, but I’m satisfied by the time I spent with it. This is all the more impressive given that Death Frost Doom is digest sized and weighs in at a scant 64 pages. The authors waste very little of their limited resources.
- The art serves the book well. The interior illustrations are great. The cover, while not a masterpiece of technical showmanship, complements the interior and highlights the frozen and bleak nature of the setting. On reading the adventure you gain a real sense of appreciation for how it was executed.
- The story within Death Frost Doom rewards you for peeling back its layers. It is harsh and sorrowful and evil. This is not a Dungeons & Dragons style stomp the evil into the ground adventure. You get dirty. You find out things you would rather not know. Magic is bloody and terrible and awful and powerful. This cult is a real face of profane evil and not some thinly veneered bad guy that you need to confront because the story says so. There are numerous Chekhov’s Gun moments in this adventure, where an earlier scene or item is called back to in a way that imparts deeper meaning. When the party meets the sacred parasite, several things they saw and interacted with in the chapel impart additional meaning and depth to the scene. The entire chapel is just a masterpiece in slowly building horror and ratcheting up tension. You can run entire sessions just in that one room.
- The adversaries is Death Frost Doom are grotesque and horrific in all the right ways. By the time the party enters the Tombs of Greater Repugnancies, they have encountered so much of the handiwork of these foul undead creatures that seeing them in person imparts gravitas and revulsion at witnessing their corrupted flesh. These monsters did this to themselves, and they revel in their vile debasement.
- Value. Despite how brief this book is, you could easily use it to launch an entire campaign. For under $20 hardcover or less than $10 for a pdf you get an adventure unlike any other. It is hard to understate the utility of this book.
- There are some traps in the game that are decidedly Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Deadly and random. At times punitive rather than encouraging careful exploration. While that is fine for a Lamentations game, for other game systems/groups, you may need to dial these down. I label this as a con from a personal standpoint. Other people enjoy meat grinder style dungeons, but it is worth calling out so that you know what you are getting into. I personally do not like when merely touching something causes a 50% chance for each member of the party in the room to die. It is simple enough to remedy, which is ultimately what I did for my play through.
- There is very little combat, until there is ALL the combat. The first half of the dungeon is a tense and atmospheric exploration. Then you have an encounter and all hell breaks loose. The pandemonium is great, but the tonal shift can really throw people off. The enemies are clearly a major challenge for Lamentations PCs, but you need to port them to the system of your choice and potentially dial them back if you want the players to have a fighting chance. I was running this game for new players and people familiar with more heroic systems. Ultimately, I did weaken the enemies, like the traps, but even in that state, I received several comments about how harsh these opponents were.
- Jokes. There are jokes in this book, and for the most part they fall flat. They undercut the horror and make a mess of an otherwise masterful tome. Ignore them when you can, because they really bring nothing to the table. The most egregious example of this centers around the organ in the chapel. Entirely too much space is spent on what happens when different songs are played on it, and the inclusion of modern music really took me out of the moment while reading. While Inna Gadda Da Vida by Iron Butterfly is a great classic rock song with an incredibly indulgent organ solo, it is included solely so the authors can make a joke about moths pouring out of the organ and attacking you. The moment someone in my group starts talking about playing Hall and Oates You Make my Dreams like keyboard cat, I will stand up, walk into the bathroom, down two bottles of Xanax I keep for just such an occasion, and end it all.
I want to stress that Death Frost Doom is, at is core, a horror adventure. It will confront and challenge you. It is not pretty. It is not easy. But damn if it is not fun. I give this adventure my highest possible recommendation.