Saturday 18 August 2018

[REVIEW] The Museum of Living Arts

The Museum of Living Arts (2018)
by Miihkali Tuominen and Thaumiel Nerub
Published by D-OOM Products
Low levels

The Museum of Bad Xerox Machines
Murderous statues and sordid experiments are to fantasy museums as giant rats in the basement are to fantasy pubs: they come with the territory, and they are not at all unexpected. If I heard there was a museum in the fantasy city my character was visiting, I would immediately prepare for strange disappearances and bloody murders. And surprisingly…

This LotFP scenario does it well. It takes the predictable premise and does something entertaining and imaginative with it. If there is good vanilla, this is good fantasy horror, missing the juvenile edgelordism found in many official LotFP releases. It still features plentiful gore and grotesque murder, but, if it can be said, it is all done tastefully. There is just enough of the tragic and otherworldly lurking inside the museum hall to make the horror underneath the not-so-innocuous surface feel interesting.

Much of the module revolves around the individual exhibits, and the central mystery of the place and the surrounding disappearances. The museum is a physically compact space (24 keyed areas split between two levels), but sufficiently labyrinthine, and divided into visitor areas and more restricted “staff only” zones. It offers good possibilities for infiltration and even reconnaissance – this is a dungeon the characters can visit by day and buy a ticket to look around unmolested! The exhibits are largely tricks/traps and inventive dungeon puzzles; they demonstrate a good sense of the macabre, and should be fun to deal with. There are occasional places where we get into LotFP’s tendency for lolrandom tables, but by and large, it is a nice, thematic dungeon revolving around (fairly modern and fairly high-concept) art. Creepy details like an interactive exhibit of stuffed demi-humans, or a secret arena where the owner pits his captives against each other in ridiculous costumes lend the place its character.

Nine new monsters / NPCs are presented in a preliminary bestiary section, variations on familiar concepts which give them a sense of the uncanny. Silver-plated skeletons constructed from former victims which are both monster and treasure. Clay “limb studies” which choke you. Hairless sphinx cats which lurk on the perimeter of your vision, watching. These monsters are put to good use inside the module; they are integrated into the area descriptions fairly nicely.

The Museum of Living Arts looks and reads well. It has an underground DIY look mostly using overexposed stock art (that looks like metal zines run through a photocopier one time too many), and a breezy, light layout which would make it ideal for digest-sized printing. (The 40 pages could easily be condensed to 20 while remaining readable, but that’s a quibble.) The writing has a fairly good balance between style and functionality; I was happy with it. This is an amateur module in the best sense. It would make for a good Halloween one-shot, or it could come in handy if you need a creepy museum for a reasonably cosmopolitan city.

No playtesters are credited in this publication.

Rating: **** / *****


  1. hey, french new follower here

    kinda newbie in OSR : may i ask for a top 10 : setting/adventures ?
    (i'm familiar with the LotFP releases)

    1. Hi,

      I have never prepared a top-10 list, but here are a few old-school supplements I have found excellent:
      Stoneheart Valley: A module collecting some of the best Necromancer Games modules, particularly The Tomb of Abysthor, one of the best dungeons out there.
      Yoon-Suin: A feverish, exotic setting of slugmen, opium, sinful cities, and colourful Asian lands, mostly presented via random tables.
      Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom: Small adventure with a focus on D&D's weird side. Also check out Demonspore if you liked it.
      Tomb of the Iron God: Classic first-level scenario. A good intro to D&D in general.
      Dolmenwood: Published through the Wormskin fanzine (and planned for omnibus publication), this setting re-imagines the English forest as an excellent, wondrous campaign setting.
      Secrets of the Wyrwood: Similar idea, different execution - a more faithful, creepy take on the faerie.
      Anomalous Subsurface Environment: Science-fantasy setting and megadungeon.
      Towers of Krshal: Another table-based setting, this is a very loose, very odd campaign idea set in a megacity ruled by intelligent differential engines. Would go well with the Into the ODD rules.
      The Red Prophet Rises: A sword&sorcery adventure location in the style of the first Conan movie.
      The Tomb of the Sea Kings: This is 1970s AD&D at its slightly silly, gameplay/puzzle-oriented best. Makes no sense, but it doesn't have to.
      Carcosa: Techno-magical, alien setting ruled by Mythos horrors, and ruled by savage customs. A bleak, depressing setting of dark sorcery, space aliens, and amoeboid horrors.
      The Hyqueous Vault: AD&D's tournament style shines through in a very meticulously designed and well-edited collaborative scenario.

      This is really off the top of my head - there has been a lot of excellent stuff in the last 18 years.

    2. Adding to that, I'd recommend Veins of the Earth.