2013-08-06 The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions


I wrote this on Google+ and it grew and grew and now I think I should put it on my blog as well.

I’ve been using Vincent Baker’s The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions to work on an upcoming adventure (which I haven’t finished, yet). Before buying it, I had heard that it was “organized into fairly poorly designed tables and lists and multiple choice locations that make the creation of these dungeons harder and slower than they need to be while not gaining a lot from being presented in that format” [1], the layout was “atrocious” and that almost all tables ended with “or another of your own creation” which was said to be “irritating”. [2] (A full quote is on the comment page.) Others just said “all I hoped it would be and more” and “super fucking cool” without exactly saying why. [3] [4] [5] Here’s why I think you might want to buy it.

James Raggi said that the layout worked very well in the physical book, i.e. a two page layout. I tried reading the PDF on my tablet using the “two pages, with cover page” setting and it worked very well. The columns flowing across pages didn’t bother me. The tables also had enough options such that “or another option of your own devising” didn’t bother me.

Unfortunately working through the Seclusium doesn’t provide you with material on the level of an old school dungeon crawl. There are no maps, no stats for monsters, no ready spell books to find. If those are concerns for you, I think you’ll be happy to find lots of maps to start with at Paratime Design Cartography. Thank you, Tim Hartin. As for monsters, I’m sure you’ll be able to use any monster manual or creature generator such as James Raggi’s The Random Esoteric Creature Generator. Personally, I stick to the monster manuals. Finally, spellbooks. If you need some non-standard spells, I’ll suggest Theorems & Thaumaturgy by Gavin Norman. Having all the scrolls be from a dedicated strange and new school of magic works for me. I don’t think I’ll require magic users to switch class to use them. After all, I use the restrictive interpretation of the B/X spellbook rule: Magic users and elves may only know or master as many spells as their spells/day.

That leaves the question of prep efficiency with The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions.

I agree, reading the tables and rolling or picking entries, writing down the results, then rolling on further tables takes a long time. I entered my endeavor with some notion of what I wanted, so perhaps that helped. You only roll for the parts you’re missing. Even then, it’s slow. You’ll discover that there is a keeper of the pantry and buttery still around. Later, there’s table for mundane people in the seclusium, ouside of the seclusium, magical entities, and so on. It takes a lot of rolling and leafing around if you want to do it by the book. How much better would a huge “all in one” table be with type, job, attributes as columns notes – roll once and use the entire row or roll multiple times and combine. That would have been faster to use. Is that how Vornheim does it?

The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions doesn’t work like that. It’s more of a workbook, helping you think it through, methodically. Do you care about the looks of the wizard? The eyes? Did you consider the outhouses? The people who worked there? The guests? Prisoners? What about magical entities? How about geographical features? Portals? Artifacts? Did you consider any drawbacks they might have? Does your seclusium contain an inner sanctum reserved for the wizard? How is it protected? And so on. It’s slow reading because it works like a checklist. Did you think of this? And this? How about this? And if your inner voice says “hm, didn’t think of that, but this could be cool…” then the book goes on to provide you with a table of 12 or 20 things to use.

Yes, not all of the things might seem immediately useful. I don’t really care about the eyes of the wizard nor the quality of their vestments, nor for their hairdo. Then again, perhaps I should. Perhaps it will change the way it all plays out. It pushes me to places I haven’t been before.

I don’t know about you, but here’s something I’ve hardly ever mentioned. There is a moment of shyness in my imagining. A fear of being an idiot. Of repeating myself. Of mundane and boring encounters, of cheap shots. This fear is fed by improvisation at the table. Sometimes I need something quick and I don’t mind and I spew forth NPC names and corridors and magic effects and I love it. Later, I’ll wonder whether these things are not all pale shadows of the same ol’ Alex game that I’ve been running ever since I learned about roleplaying games. Am I repeating myself? This is why I like to use material by other people. It pushes me to places I wouldn’t have thought of. Even if the ideas presented by other people are mundane and boring, they’re different from my own mundane and boring.

Here’s another thing: I prep “just in time” and therefore it’s always possible that the players venture into territory I didn’t prepare. There will be no random encounter tables for this region, no lairs, … and I improvise quickly. But perhaps I’ll improvise something level appropriate? Something everybody expected. Something boring. Again, using other people’s products provides a sort of external reality to my fantasy world. If The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions says that most of the wizards have access to other worlds, then I feel good about it. On my own, my suppressed id can’t express itself. It’s all tempered by years of “traditional” fantasy. I’ll read up on the gate spell and on permanency and I’ll bog myself down. I’ll forget about the free form rituals and pacts that take are unconstrained by the rules. This is where a book only slightly constrained by the rules (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) shines. It pushes me and tells me “it’s OK.”

Anyway, The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions works for me. It’s a workbook, not a generator to be used at the table. It helps if you are slow and methodical like I am but would like to be pushed like I’d like to be pushed.

Addendum: 2013-08-19 Skills Inspired By Apocalypse World, where I talk about the house rules presented in the appendix. 2013-08-21 Moldvay Dungeon Stocking vs. Seclusium, where I talk about the procedure being extremely slow, unfortunately. A review on Save vs. Total Party Kill, a review of the magic item creation rules on Necropraxis, opinionated review by by Bryce Lynch.



For purposes of thoroughness, I want to post my (originally private) comments which are link #2:

  1. The layout of this book is very ornate but in practical terms it is atrocious. There are gaping chunks of whitespace, and items within tables go across columns and pages (sometimes continuing on both sides of what will be a printed page). There are six totally blank pages to make sure each chapter starts on a new page, and thirteen pages are taken up by the same graphic - effectively this is a 141 page book with 19 pages of padding. The art is sparse but of reasonable quality.
  2. The three seclusia provided in the book are not fleshed out; instead they make the mystifying choice of providing multiple options for every facet of running them. The magic items are somewhat interesting, but the rest of the section is absolutely useless since it mostly duplicates the charts presented later on in the book, with fewer choices. Each seclusium could have been done in less than half the space without losing anything.
  3. The charts at the end of the book could be quite useful. They are still poorly laid out, and there are literally 72 charts in the book that end with the phrase “Or another of your own creation.” This is irritating. But the charts themselves are actually usable and could generate an interesting random environment, some people in it, and some magic items. This is the meat of the book.
  4. The maps at the end are sub-useless. It’s not clear what they represent, but it certainly isn’t a wizard’s seclusium. I am going to go so far as to say they are the worst maps I’ve seen in an OSR product.
  5. Part one of the book is cool, and gives it a bit of a weird fantasy vibe. It’s somewhat followed through in the magic items and the portals, which have a pseudo-Vance feel.
  6. D. Vincent Baker failed to design an OSR module. There is almost no system material here, and as such the NPCs are just bland text. This is a generic product that might as well have been systemless. No harm using it in old school games, though. The “House Rules” are crap.

Overall: If the layout were better, and this book was just Part One and Part Three, I would say it was a good book. That’s about 70 pages of the actual final product, or half of it when you discount the padding. Part two has some half-formed ideas that aren’t really worth following up on. The maps are awful. As a whole, I’d say it’s worth getting in PDF so that you can reference the useful parts.

Wayne Rossi 2013-08-06 22:36 UTC

I think the “maps” are actually supposed to be blank sheets for the DM to draw on.

– JYB 2013-08-06 23:24 UTC

Interesting comment on Google+. More about improvisation on Roles, Rules & Rulings.

AlexSchroeder 2013-08-07 22:14 UTC

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