Friday, July 16, 2010

Wherein I Blather On About A New Product

Why you shouldn't trust what I have to say about Lamentations of The Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy:

-I helped edit some parts of this game, in exchange for James letting me use ideas from his adventures on our show (which was essential, since the campaign being filmed actually started--off-camera--with world-shaking events that came courtesy of his Death Frost Doom module. I literally could not have filmed what actually happens in our campaign without permission--though none of that stuff comes up til like episode 25 or so).

-Much much much more than that, I feel personal loyalty toward James because he's gotten my back once or twice without anybody asking him to during the interminable, inevitable "OSR-is-a-thing-with-a-name-and-is-on-the-internet-so-by-all-means-let's-argue-about-it" wars.

-It's the only retro-clone I've ever read carefully so I have very little to compare it to.

Why you should trust what I have to say about about Lamentations of The Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy:

-I did have to edit a fuckload of the thing, and so I did indeed read it very carefully.

-Most of my job was to argue with James about it and poke holes in it and point out things he could change. He didn't change all the things I would've liked him to. (Yes, I tried to get him to use male and female pronouns.)

-Since my name's on it, if I say "Oh, it's great, everybody should just fucking buy it," then I look bad if it's crap.

What I Actually Have To Say About Lamentations of The Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy:

First: it's a retro-clone.

It's like a game called D&D: Wizard, warrior, thief, cleric, and some races-as-classes, with some name changes here and there.

There are--aside from what's in the sample adventures provided--no monsters or wholly Raggi-invented magic items or spells. (Which is a bit of a drag, but, hey, there's other places to get that kind of thing.)

Is it the basic D&D retro-clone I would've written? Mostly, yeah. James has far more attachment than I do to a few eccentricities of the old games--like there are still saving throw categories that sound like a weird overlapping Borgesian Dewey Decimal system and magic-users are called "magic-users" rather than something a little less cranky like, say, "wizards"--but the vast majority of the game is about as crisp and clear and streamlined a version of basic D&D as it's possible to create.

Second and perhaps more interestingly, James presents a version of the ruleset which is ever-so-slightly- sharpened toward his particular interest: The Weird. The James Raggian Weird is defined roughly as: Stories where most things--including the PCs--are Normal and then they go out and find something Weird and that's trouble and the PCs have to be clever so it doesn't kill them. But then maybe it will kill them and that's fun, too.

James definitely views RPGs as a place to See The Weird rather than Be The Weird.

The major way he's done this is by radically sharpening and archetypalizing the classes (and races) so that they are only extraordinary in one way each: halflings have awesome saving throws--and that's their thing, thieves (called specialists) have a skill system (a nifty, simple, excellent, beautiful skill system that for all I know is cribbed from somewhere else but, if not, hats off to James) that nobody else does, and nobody gets better at fighting, ever, except fighters.

It moves the PCs away from being infinitely customizable fantastical selves and more toward being specific genre-story problem-solving tools. This is interesting. Some people will hate it. It definitely makes the game fit more into the way James wants to see it played. Nasty, brutish, possibly short, hopefully clever, like a true pulp Weird Tale: Here is Ed, Ed has one special thing about him. Ed met something terrible, he tried to use his special thing against it--maybe it worked. Maybe he died a gruesome death.

This isn't Jack Vance, Michael Moorcock, Tolkien, or Fritz Leiber territory--where the fantastic is in the very soil and around every corner--this is Lovecraft territory. The characters do not get used to the fantastic--every collision with it unleashes total chaos.

So, who should buy this?

- People who buy every gaming product they can get their hands on (obviously).

- People who need a retro-clone and don't have one.

- People who are into James' specific kind of Weird Tale-Influenced Old School.

I don't know how many people that is--luckily for James, there is, however, another person who should buy this box set:

Newbies who would like to play D&D-type RPGs but who might find the old TSR books--or the retro-clones that purposefully try to look like them--inaccessible, will probably like LOTFP: WF.

The box set presents all the familiar D&D ideas in an extremely easy-to-understand-for-civilians way. There's a Red-Box-esque choose-your-own adventure type intro, there's a well-written, believable, kind of hilarious, extended "example of play"*, the DM's intro is clear, solid, extensive and readable (if slanted Raggiward), there are simple rules for everything important, and there are sections introducing the reader to other clones and versions of D&D. There's even dice.

This is the game I'd recommend to someone who knows nothing about D&D but saw "I Hit It With My Axe" and wants to learn to play, or the video game kid who played with you once when she visited on Christmas and had fun but lives in Lansing, Michigan so has to learn to DM all by herself.

If the OSR is ever going to introduce total virgins with no RPG friends to Old School role-playing, this is the direction it should be moving in.

Also, the pictures are really nice. No I didn't do any of them.

*Since they're both written by Raggi, they're both brutal. The choose-your-own will probably kill you 3 times in a row and the "introductory example of play" may be the only one in history that ends in a TPK, but that's Raggi.


  1. Ugh. The pronoun thing. I remember 2e having a whole paragraph defending the use of "he/him/his" because "history has neutered it." If you have to write a disclaimer, then no, it hasn't.

    Still, LoTFp:WF has my attention. Hopefully I can take a look some day.

  2. I've always sort of liked "racial classes" mostly because...well, what is Galadriel besides a REALLY GOOD Elf? Anyhow, I like "really good at one thing" classes, but I also like "I'm the generalist!" to be one of the options.

  3. My interest is piqued, Zak, thanks. I certainly don't need a new system, but:

    1. Your review is intriguing
    2. I love Raggi's ideas
    3. I like boxed sets.

    I will have children someday, and they may enjoy me killing them with LOTFP instead of Moldvay Basic as I planned.

  4. Looks interesting. I have no interest in playing D&D, but I enjoy Young Master James prose. He was right about using male pronouns by the way. Where do I buy this?

  5. Thank you for the concise review. I've been following LOTFP on James's site an was dithering about getting it, but not commiting because I was not certain what I'd actually be getting (if you understand what I mean). Your points on who should get it helped clarify that for me greatly. This is a product I will be purchasing this year, sooner rather than later.

  6. @conrad

    i'm glad i'm writing a blog called Playing D&D With Pornstars rather than Playing D&D Without Pornstars Because Everything About The Hobby Reinforces The Idea That It Isn't For Them is all I'm saying.

  7. ... so *is* there a good OSR clone based on the 3.x SRD that keeps Fort/Reflex/Will saves? I really want to run an oldschool game with my 3.5 group but I know enough of them would choke on the "weird overlapping Borgesian Dewey Decimal system."

  8. @eric

    i'm not sure, but if that's your only beef, i suggest just getting a retroclone and just house-ruling the saving throw rules. Can;t be hat hard.

  9. @conrad

    If you will (and if Zak doesn't feel like I'm hijacking the topic of the post, in which case I won't take offense if it's deleted), would you mind explaining why only male pronouns should be used? I'm not interested in an argument - I just don't often hear the "why" behind that opinion, and I'm curious.

  10. That boxed set looks pretty sweet, I may just have to check it out. The simplicity sounds appealing (for someone such as myself who's never really played a retro-clone). And the artwork is indeed quite nice.

  11. Eric, you could try one of the Microlite series. They're not exactly retroclones, more stripped-down 3.5e (although Microlite 74 is a stripped-down 3.5e designed to play like a clone), but they might be what you're after.

  12. And I think I could really get behind this concept of "The Weird". A demarcation between the fantastic and mundane helps keep the fantastic interesting every time it appears. I think the Song of Ice and Fire series of books (which I adore) could kind of fit in with the concept - magic and supernatural events are rare through the course of a book, and always leave a lasting impression.

  13. So if Jorge Luis Borges had actually been a co-author to D&D, the saving throw categories might have been something like this:

    -save against inebriation and small falling rocks
    -save against calamities foretold through augury
    -save against dangers caused by other PCs screwing up
    - saves the DM doesn't tell you he rolls unless you fail them
    -saves you really, really rather wouldn't be rolling
    -save against stampeding herd animals.

  14. @Eric:

    As Zak said, it should be easy enough to use 3rd edition style saves. Just note that dwarves and halflings have big bonuses to saves compared to human fighters.

    You could also use Swords & Wizardry, which has only 1 save, with specific bonuses (eg "+2 vs spells")

  15. Ronson,

    That made me smile. Widely.

    Hey, Zak! you sold me on it. After I bought it! :)

  16. Nice review.


    There is a table for S&W 3.5 saves on my blog:

  17. @Chris Lowrance: There's no argument for all-male pronouns other than 'tradition,' which is bullshit. Mixed pronouns are inclusive, evocative, and clear, and (bonus!) they keep people on their toes rather than allowing them to lapse into exclusive habit. The whole 'male pronouns are neuter' line is a lie, and a childish one at that. James is admirably thoughtful about many things, but at times he veers into adolescent posturing. -1 on 'Welcome one and all to our welcoming hobby,' I guess!

  18. @Wally

    James own justification for his isn't that it's "neuter". I may not agree with him on this issue, but this is not an occasion to accuse him of "adolescent posturing".

  19. @Wally

    See, it's my experience that for every stance like this someone somewhere has an actual attempt at a defense besides "tradition." Gay marriage, for instance: Many who are against will talk about non-procreative sex being bad for civilization as a whole because it promotes population decline. This is a (swiss-cheese-like, easy-to-refute) argument. But it's better than "'Cause tradition!"

    There's got to be something like this for male pronouns, right? The "neuter" thing doesn't count - that's an argument for why it's okay to use them (still wrong) but not for why you should not use mixed pronouns.


    I'd love to hear his (James') side of it, but I'll go to the source.

    (Funny thing? I write copy for a LGBTQ porn site, so I'm used to neutral pronouns like "ze," people that want to be called "it" and those that like "they" because "it's not just gender-fucked, it's grammar-fucked!" Somehow, "he" and "she" seem quaint.)

  20. I bring it up on the very first page in the box. I realize it's an issue, but I feel like I'm waffling if everything is "his or her" and alternating use just drives me insane when I read that sort of thing - just pick one and stick with it, darn it!

    And so I did. Every choice had downsides, so I just went with the one that was the most natural and comfortable for me and that was that.

  21. @James

    Thanks! Yeah, I don't think that makes you a Horrible Sexist Monster. I'd have done differently, but like I said above I'm more accustomed to pronoun issues, so "he or she" doesn't sound waffling to me.