James Raggi’s LotFP modules have generally two, rather extreme modes. The first, which I will call serious, includes Death Frost Doom, Hammers of the God, Death Love Doom, Better than any Man, God that Crawls, and Tales of the Scarecrow. The second, which I will call goofy, includes Monolith Beyond Space and Time and Fuck For Satan. The goofy modules often use incomprehensible space aliens rather than “a wizard did it” to justify the various puzzles and dilemmas presented to the players. Doom-Cave certainly belongs in the second grouping.
The categorization presented above is not perfect, as, for example Grinding Gear presents a set of absurd (though fictionally justified) puzzles within a relatively serious context, and Tower of the Stargazer (notably, one of my favorite of Raggi’s efforts) includes in an offhand manner a reference to bopping mossy plant creatures on Necropoli Centauri. The goofy mode modules often include anachronistic, present-day references (such as Wiki Dot Pod in Doom-Cave, which is actually explained within the fiction of the module). Depending on the group, this kind of humor could easily fall flat.
Another common Raggi module practice is the use of dungeon maps reminiscent of game boards. This is true most obviously here and in God that Crawls, but can also be seen in Grinding Gear and Death Frost Doom. There are lots of winding, 10-foot corridors intended to eat up PC movement rate and create attrition cost via random encounters. I do not think this sort of “tracking movement” is particularly bookkeeping heavy, contrary to some criticism, but it does require a certain discipline of taking your turn and moving your squares that may be foreign outside of combat to many RPG players that were introduced to the hobby during the 90s or later, where gaming is usually presented in a more dramatic fashion with all the paraphernalia of fiction in other media forms (scenes, plot, character arcs, and so forth).
The most interesting parts of the module for me are the monsters. The “no monster manual” philosophy of the system often pays rich dividends in this area, and Doom-Caves is no different in this regard. The monsters are interesting in mechanical execution in addition to conception. They are more than just different configurations of HP, defense numbers, and special attacks. For example, there is one group of monsters where each individual depends on the state of all the others (and surprisingly, this is done in a way that looks like it would be easy to run at the table). The monsters are all illustrated well in sketches by Gennifer Bone, the artist who is also behind Rafael Chandler’s in-progress Lusus Naturae bestiary.
The single most glaring weakness in Raggi’s goofy mode is that players often add plenty of anachronistic goofiness on their own to even the most serious of scenarios, as Noisms discusses in D&D as straight man. This is actually one of D&D’s unique strengths compared to other narrative forms. If all the modules in a campaign were of this type it would probably get old.
Raggi modules can be read a bit like zen koans meant to smack you upside the head with their absurdity to remind you that in these games of adventure really anything is possible, as long as you have a group of players on board. Why Limit yourself to the expected? Yes, yes, you do not need such prompting and how dare Mr. Raggi waste your time? If that is your reaction then you will probably not enjoy Doom-Caves much. From a perspective beyond that of any single group or referee, I do think it is nice that someone is putting together works that embody this philosophy.
In general, LotFP modules (especially those by Raggi himself) tend towards bundles of toys for players to interact with rather than coherent fictional scenarios (and I would argue that this is true even of the more serious modules, such as Death Frost Doom, though to a lesser degree). That said, a goofy Raggi module can probably best be used as a weird ice-axe to shatter the frozen sea of a placid campaign world. As a final assessment, I like the monsters more than the actual adventure. Even with a goofy, campaign-disruptive premise, I would prefer more connections between the disparate encounters and set pieces for use in my own games.
The Doom-Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children was LotFP’s contribution to Free RPG Day 2014 and I understand that it will be available in the next month or so for free download as well.