Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The HAUL Reviews: Blood in the Chocolate


This review is a bit of a throwback to something that I bought back in January, Keil Chenier’s Blood in the Chocolate. I suppose it’s an appropriate time for it as any, since the adventure has been nominated for an Ennie Award. Get ready for some HOT TAKES™.

Blood in the Chocolate is an excellent example of that odd sort of mental fracture that can occur when presented with the difference between concept and expected / realized execution – the gut says “but the concept is X! I thought it was going to be more execution Y, because that makes sense for X!”, while the brain says “No, see, there’s also some sense in it being execution Z, that also works with X” and the gut says “but I wanted Y!”

You know how it is.

Let’s start with the conceptBlood in the Chocolate is a horrible Wonka factory dungeon-crawl. I am down with this concept. There isn’t a thing in that statement I don’t love the sound of. But the translation of that concept into the reality of the product is where what I want to see and what Kiel wanted to see went completely different ways.

Blood in the Chocolate is a Lamentations of the Flame Princess module, which means that it is going to take place in the early modern Europe, with magic. You’re hired by the French to investigate a factory in Friesland, run by a woman who brought magical cocoa back from Peru. Intellectually, I’ve got no issue with this.

Gutwise, I think “why is it so boring?

A thought neither fair nor rational, but unshaken even after reading it and Kiel’s design posts multiple times. I see what he was going for, with the low magic, real world, human greed and human evil above the supernatural motif. He succeeded at it. There was thought and care put into this adventure and I just cannot find it within myself to be enthusiastic.

Blood in the Chocolate is less fantastic than the book it was based on. It lacks the Dahl part of the equation, and if there was anything I would consider absolutely necessary for a horrible Wonka factory dungeon-crawl, it is the Dahl part of the equation. The language, the Quentin Blake illustrations, the silly names and clever comeuppances – it’s not here. It is not a flaw on the module’s part, that must be crystalline. It is silly to pan something for missing pieces when those pieces were not in the plan to begin with.

The concept cries out to me as brimming with potential for a fantastic funhouse dungeon, filled with all manner of outrageous monsters and oodles of imaginative, bizarre candies. But it was not to be. Blood in the Chocolate is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with every molecule of joy and wonder and fun stripped out and it, and this was done with competence and skill in service of a well-articulated design philosophy. It a grimy meatgrinder of candy-coated misery, where any surviving party members will come out looking like a Deviantart gallery. And this was precisely what it set out to do.

It’s a good module. I don’t like it.

(ADDENDUM: I left this part out due to lacking a good segue, so it's getting dropped right here at the end. The one criticism I think I have a leg to stand on is the lack of trap variety. While the book contains d12 random chocolate effects and d8 poisons and diseases, non-random applications lean towards the blueberry curse, which strikes me as a bit of overkill on the "hey, remember that part of the movie?")

(ADDENDUM 2: Also let it be known that if you are the kind of person who prefers to keep sexual violence away from your table, you will have to make a few executive edits to this module. It's successful at being shock horror, but once the shock wore off my thoughts were more "oh, more blueberries again. I thought this was supposed to be a chocolate factory.")

4 comments:

  1. Good villain, though. Lucille's a right monster and good for some hammy acting.

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  2. That cover art doesn't help to set the record straight.

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    1. It's pretty accurate to the contents of the module, using cartoony imagery to contrast with the horror elements.

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  3. I see what you mean. It could've been grimy and horrible yet still had bits of wonder and fun to balance - and even reinforce by contrast - the horrifying darkness, in the vein of the Jurassic Park film or, heck, just a more intense version of the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

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