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.