An Analysis Into the Nature of Man & the Satanic Power He Contains (edit: 30 minutes after I made this entry, DTRPG decided to ban the book and it’s no longer available from that seller; but you can still buy other products) is one of four products launched by Lamentations of the Flame Princess for the GenCon 2019, and of the four is the most notorious due to its controversies around its supposed content, but not its real content, which few know except for some photos and decontextualized comments.
Originally titled Zak Has Nothing To Do With This Book, the title describes the module’s premise (the story, if you like), but it is also a meta-commentary on the controversies in which its author, James Raggi, has been involved. At the end of the review I will talk more about this.
A group of parishioners finds a forbidden book, everyone immediately recognizes the book as “evil”, and the village priest determines that the owner of the book should be executed. Everyone agrees and determines that the owner is the jester, Zak Canterbury. Everyone knows that the accusation is false, they don’t feel good about it, but any protest could cause suspicion to fall on them. This fear is exacerbated because all eight involved are victims of a curse and have a magical tattoo, but nobody knows that others also have their own curses and tattoos, so they will do their best to keep both characteristics secret. If this means sacrificing Zak, so be it.
This is where the adventure begins, the PCs soon discover the situation and what they do depends entirely on the players. There is nothing to indicate that the best course of action is to defend the accused, nor to join his accusers; they may well ignore the matter and let it be resolved without their intervention. They could also take advantage of the situation, as is typical of the old-school style, and stealing the book passes its personal use.
Each of the 8 characters is described in some detail (and each has its own full-page portrait). What James Raggi presents to us is not an adventure in the traditional sense, it is not a script, it is not a story, but a situation; the referee must improvise every moment based on the actions of the players.
To achieve this, each NPC has enough information to understand their motivations and can be interpreted appropriately.
The curse that weighs on each one, and the powers granted by their tattoos, help this task, in addition to causing the situation to become “weird”, a characteristic usually associated with LotFP products.
At the end of the book, two quick reference tables are found to always keep in mind the motivations of each character, as well as a quick description of his curse and his tattoo. These tables should be printed to always have them visible.
Also included is a single page chronology with the relevant events before and after the discovery of the forbidden book, until the arrival of the characters.
In the description of the forbidden book it is revealed to us that it is a spellbook that contains several common spells, a new spell (bloody, grotesque, dangerous), and a virus spell.
This spell is a novelty; it is an undetectable spell that is prepared automatically when a Magic-User prepares a spell from this book, or by transcribing any of them to his own book and preparing it from there. The virus spell does not count towards the daily spell limit nor does it increase the study time, it is automatically prepared and, when the MU casts the first of its highest level spells prepared that day, instead of the expected effect, it is the the virus that occurs.
Another good thing: One character is called Blackie Ritchmore.
Due to the type of situation raised, it is impossible (or almost) to include a guide on how to run this adventure. This is not a defect in itself, as an experienced referee should be able to handle it without too much trouble, but a referee with little experience will be in trouble trying to understand what is expected of him.
The adventure lacks introduction, it would have been a good idea to add a comment about the expectations of the game.
The book tells us that, whatever the intervention of the adventurers, if Zak survives, he will feel grateful to them. This does not make much sense but it can be ignored, unless the referee wants to continue the adventure. In this case, ten ideas are given: Zak has ten jewels that he is willing to offer them, but each one was hidden in a different place. We are given a brief summary of where they were hidden and the difficulties to recover them. However, each of the ten options would be very difficult to pursue if Zak does not get rid of his curse, but that is not the problem, the problem is that most of these adventure hooks are uninspired, and it feels like they were drafted with haste.
This haste is present in several parts of the book, it is clear that James Raggi did not have enough time to present all his ideas.
Nor are we given any explanation about the curses and tattoos, or the forbidden book. This information is not essential to run the adventure, but it could have been useful to understand it better and have some idea to improvise. Of course, a lot of backstory is something that these modules should reject, but a line or two for each thing would have been a good addition: “The virus spell uses the book as a vehicle to search for a new carrier.” About the tattoos and curses I can’t think of any justification.
An Analysis Into the Nature of Man & the Satanic Power He Contains is a good product for those who like the adventures and supplements produced by LotFP, but this is more difficult to use than others, however I do not see how it could be facilitated, because the expectation the game is total improvisation.
If you don’t like LotFP products, this one won’t change your mind.
If the adventure seems interesting to you, but the typical elements of Raggian Grotesquerie are not to your liking, it can be easy to change them, as these are mainly limited to the new spells.
Surely all the readers of this blog know the situation of Zak Smith and the accusations of sexual abuse against him (accusations, on the other hand, credible). Among those indirectly affected by these events is James Raggi. Raggi, in his public statement, said he had made the decision not to publish new books by Zak, not to reprint the three books he wrote for LotFP, and to cancel the projects that were underway, in which Zak was involved.
Soon, and without any foundation, some people began to claim that it was a lie, that Zak Smith would continue writing and publishing with James Raggi under pseudonyms.
This, of course, is offensive. There is no indication that this was the case, but that did not stop the detractors of James Raggi and LotFP to continue perpetuating that rumor and giving it as an absolute and unquestionable truth.
Raggi, as always, defended himself against his attackers using satire, so he published a book called Zak Has Nothing To Do With This Book, which refers to the real situation he was going through: accusations of continuing to collaborate with Zak (Smith), and also to the content of the book: Zak (Canterbury) has nothing to do with the forbidden book.
It was very easy to get fast and wrong conclusions. Of course it was!
At first (and I include myself here), many assumed that it was the way James Raggi told us that, in his opinion, Zak Smith should not be considered guilty until a court of law determined that he did was. Some people made him the target of his attacks, again (in this I don’t include myself: if James thinks Zak is innocent and I think he is guilty, neither his opinion nor mine are important because we are not part of the jury that will determine his guilt or his legal situation; I may disagree with James’s opinion, but that does not mean that he deserves the attacks and disqualifications that he has been a victim.)
However, after reading the text (and James’s detractors should read it too) it is clear that the book is no defense of Zak, it is a satire about the false accusations of continuing to collaborate with Zak in secret, and nothing more than that.
Zak Smith has nothing to do with Zak Has Nothing To Do With This Book, also known as An Analysis Into the Nature of Man & the Satanic Power He Contains. The book is not about Zak Smith, it’s about James and his attackers. The jester is not Zak, it’s probably not James either. And this must be said clearly.
In my personal opinion, all those people who attack James Raggi and demanded DTRPG to remove this book, especially those who continue to play D&D 5e, are hypocrites. Wizards of the Coast erased Zak Smith’s name from the credits of his product so that no one realizes that they collaborated with a sexual abuser and possibly a rapist, which is a cowardly move and only concerned with the prestige and profits of the company. James Raggi did not erase the name of Zak, what he did was to completely remove Zak’s products from his catalogue, which implies a great economic loss for him, but the fact of having written a satirical book called Zak Has Nothing To Do With This Book was enough for his detractors to return to the attack. One would think that the real crime is not sexual abuse but to use the name of a sexual abuser.
My conclusion is that these people don’t care about Mandy or the accusations; they see in the whole situation an opportunity to destroy James Raggi and his company. This goes beyond simple animosity for a style of play that is not the one that these people like, more it seems a strategy to eliminate the strongest competitor, before which their products pale in quality of production and content.