Review: The Pale Lady by Zzarchov Kowolski/ D12 Fae

Spoilers: if you intend to play in this module, avoid this review.

I have since written a series of simple tips for Refs running this adventure, which you can read here.

The Pale Lady is an adventure written by Zzarchov Kowolski and published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess. It's about a Fae lady and her army of emaciated rabbit monsters, who kidnap firstborn children on the Vernal Equinox and force them to work on the Lady's estate as slaves. The tone is dark and ominous; there's a strong pagan vs. christian vibe and a bit of Hammer horror. It also goes without saying that there's some weirder stuff going on: it's LotFP. This adventure is a good example of that, because it has a grounded setup that includes not only historical detail but historical superstitions as well, and then builds on that sense of otherworldliness further with magical items that appear equally alien and fairy tale-inspired at the same time.

Wouldn't it feel wrong to play a fae adventure listening to anything other than folk metal?

It's a gorgeous module, with excellent black and white art in a crosshatched, almost chiaroscuro style. It's short, at 12 pages, and could likely be run as quickly or lengthily as the Ref wants. My group got about 5 sessions out of it, giving it a lot of bang for the buck at $5. It has enough material to provide a range of gameplay experiences, from combat to defending the town to exploring to a more social experience bargaining with the Lady. Like many LotFP modules, it has a ticking clock: the Vernal Equinox, which lasts for only a single night. While players aren't given this information, it certainly highlights the weirdness of it all since they're probably not expecting the portals to close and make the estate unavailable or trap them in there. It's certainly best to end the adventure with the players wanting more and wondering what they missed than it is to drag an adventure out. Also, as we all know, it's impossible to have a meaningful campaign if strict time records are not kept, so this one is gonna up your Ref game, too. In my game, the sudden closing of the portal while the players felt they still had more to do was shocking and left them with a grudge against the fae that's got them itching to go back and kick some ass.

Reading the adventure, it has quite a bit in common with another of Zzarchov's adventure, Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess: other worlds entered through hedges, enslaved little people, semi-cartoonish monsters, and villains that are a dark take on fairy tale creatures. A cynical person might even call it a re-skinning of the other adventure, although they do have substantially different tones and different climaxes. I like both, but for this reason I wouldn't run both in the same campaign- although it's unlikely that a campaign could reconcile the two tonally, anyway.

There are a few things that make it hard to use, unfortunately. First of all, the layout isn't up to the usual LotFP standard. The inside cover says "An adventure for levels" with no numbers given. The area keys for the Lady's estate aren't in alphabetical order and follow no discernible pattern. I'm totally puzzled as to how this happened and that no one else seems to have noticed. I'd also raise a minor complaint at the very specific magic words that are required to enter the gate, which are Gaelic and impossible to pronounce, and no translation is given. Using Google Translate, I discovered it to be a highly flavorful incantation, which makes it a shame that information wasn't given, and a module should neither expect a Ref to know Gaelic nor use Google during play. None of this killed my enjoyment of the module, but it certainly could have been improved to make it easier to run and reference, especially since indexing, layout, and ease of use are hallmarks of the LotFP brand.

So, what did I think of the adventure?

Pros: 
  • Fairy tale flavor with some weird sprinkled on top
  • A sense of pressure due to the ticking clock
  • Great art in the module which inspires evocative descriptions for the Ref
Cons:
  • Very similar to Zzarchov's other LotFP adventure Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess
  • A few "choke points" if the adventure is run strictly as written
  • Monsters that are more funny than threatening
I'd recommend this module to a Ref looking for a short, reasonably self-contained adventure that could fit both in a standard fantasy campaign or an LotFP early modern/historically-based setting. With some prep beforehand, tweaks can easily be made to overcome its shortcomings, and my group had a wonderful experience that kicked off our campaign nicely and inducted several newbies into LotFP aficionados.

555/666 - well worth grabbing for an LotFP fan, but not among the best adventures of the line.

Bonus gameable content:
D12 Fae, Mischievous, Mysterious and Maleficent
1
Hans & Delphinia- Pixie brother and sister, recent escapees of a dark wizard's experiments. Hans is cruel and untrusting, and Delphinia is a sweet trickster, although she has deep trauma.
2
Talbot Shoemaker- A pooka living in disguise as a cobbler. He likes his community and sells shoes and repairs for a pittance but has had to do terrible things to protect the sacred standing stone which gives him life.
3
The Erlking- Known by some as the Elf-King, he wanders dark forests and takes children who bring dishonor on their parents. He can travel on the notes of a song and spring from the womb of a hind in the dark of a new moon.
4
Madalena- A Portuguese duende who rides a goat along empty roads, seeking travelers with whom to hold pleasant conversation. Those she speaks with will find a single silver coin on their person, stamped with her charming smiling face.
5
Urisk- A large, stone-hided and many-horned beast who cries at night because he is so ugly that he knows he will forever be an outcast. He would do anything to make a friend, but he has a habit of eating people.
6
Stephen Six-strings- A finely carved marionette given life by fae to torment children who do not leave offerings of cream at night. Those who do not get the message are found garrotted.
7
Karelia- A wizened old hag who tills the fields of empty farms at night with a plow pulled by a cat. No one knows where the farmers went, but they know that they dare not trespass.
8
Torvald- A jolly, short fat man who knocks at people's doors. If allowed to stay, the owner will find their kitchen filled with mysterious guests and a sumptuous feast which will go on until not a morsel of food nor drop of drink remains in the house. If asked to leave, the guests will tear the house asunder at the gall of their host.
9
Carina the Midwife- A young woman with the hooves of a pig, hidden beneath her clothes. She arrives mysteriously at the homes of expectant mothers, aiding in childbirth and asking nothing in return. The children are all healthy and cheerful, but all have an identical birthmark in the shape of a crescent moon behind their left ear.
10
Sal the Spriggan- A violent ne'er-do-well who roams with a group of bandits, killing all who cross their path. He can grow to monstrous size and snap a wagon in two with his hands.
11
Eddwin Four-toes- A dancing troll who will challenge those who encounter him to best him as a dancer. Those who agree will find that he never tires and they are unable to stop as long as he continues.
12
Lenora Sparrow-rider- A diminutive woman who rides with lance and shield atop a sparrow. She patrols the wilderness and comes to the aid of those in danger whom she finds.

Comments

  1. After reading your play reports and this review, I've decided to pick the adventure up. Not sure when I will run it, but it sounds fun and I'm sure I could get some good mileage out of it.

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    1. Woo hoo! Looks like I have a bright future ahead of me as a corporate shill!

      I'm confident you can have some very cool adventures with it. My main issue with the adventure is that I thought the rabbits were cheesy, but with a minor change it became very flavorful and we had an awesome time. If you end up running it, let me know how it goes!

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  2. I used elements of this module in the opening scene of my current, long-running Clockwork & Cthulhu game. The Pale Lady has evolved into a major campaign "villain", much like Galactus, which the PC's prevented from invading the material plane. So, for my money, the Pale Lady stands up because I got a detailed NPC with enough hooks and original ideas to keep reusing long after the initial site-location of the adventure was encountered.

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    Replies
    1. That's awesome! I like the Pale Lady herself quite a lot. She definitely compelled my players as well. My only real beef with the module is its layout. It was great as a campaign opener and I definitely recommend it highly. My review comes out to a B, which I think is accurate when considered next to other LotFP adventures.

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