I’ve been meeting up with a few of the players from the online game OD&D game I play in weekly1 so that we can play random D&D like games. Playing D&D online is always fun, but playing in person is still a much more enjoyable experience. Most of the games thus far have been run by Evan, who runs Game Peices
Evan made up the rules for his game, which are based around using a 2d6 dice roll to resolve most everything. It’s a strange system. There are no hit points: when you are hit you roll a saving throw (a 2d6 roll) to see if how badly hurt you are. You can spend a ‘hit die’ to add its result to your saving throw. In this way you might have a better chance of avoiding being “Eviscerated”. Thus far the game has had a bit of a meat grinder feel. I’m not sure if it is actually anymore deadly than a by-the-book game of D&D, but it seems that way because a character death feels a lot more binary. I lost my first character in the inaugural session. I lost my second character in our last session, the 3rd game we played. In fact, everyone lost their character: it was a total party kill.
There is something satisfying about a good [TPK]. My character had been grievously wounded something like 3-4 times during the course of the session. I was basically a walking corpse, unable to do much of anything. I couldn’t even carry my gear anymore. The whole party was in rough shape. We fought monsters we shouldn’t have fought. Were trampled by a dinosaur. Tried and failed again and again to set some giant spiders on fire. It was all a suitable build up for our final trial, fording an underground river. We tied our characters together, because we thought that would be safe. Instead, our characters and henchmen all drowned together. It was failed roll after failed roll: someone makes it across, but is pulled back into the river by someone else who is drowning. So on and so forth till we were all washed away.
The Pahvelorn game has branched in to a few new games. Nick is running an LotFP game dubbed Dungeon Moon, that takes place on a moon that is completely a dungeon. Brendan has taken a break from running Pahvelorn to run something he has dubbed the Finchbox. ↩
This painting is by Yannick Bouchard for the new LotFP Referee book. Is there anyone else putting out RPG art of the same calibre as Lamentations of the Flame Princess? Their Tumblr is full of amazing pieces of art work. They definitely out class Wizards of the Coast, which one would hope has a much bigger budget for this sort of thing. I often feel like all the good fantasy artists get sucked up into the behemoth that is Magic: The Gathering. It’s good to see that this isn’t always the case.
James Raggi sometimes gets flack for the art work he puts in his books. Sometimes people say they are too gruesome. Or they say they are too full of nakedness. I don’t think i’ve ever heard complaints they are too boring, though.
Rolling 3d6 to randomly determine a characters weight is probably a stupid idea. No doubt Gary Gygax included a realistic table to figure this stuff out in the 1e DMG, which I should have used instead. So it came to pass that my character in Nick’s Dungeon Moon game weighs 60 lbs. That’s pretty small. I figured my LotFP specialist would be a 10 year old chimney sweep turned adventurer. In the next session of our game the character hired a retainer. I wanted to hire a torchbearer so my character could carry a bow and arrow around, like a lost boy. I decided the person he hired would be his babysitter.
Tasked with taking care of their young stewards, babysitters are a strange breed of adventurer. Many a child has gone off in pursuit of treasure and danger, followed into the mythic underworld by their attentive babysitter. Often torchbearers and porters, the babysitter is the unsung hero of many an epic poem.
The prime requisite for a babysitter is Wisdom. They receive a 5% bonus to earned experience points if they have a wisdom score of 13-15, and a 10% bonus if they have a score of 16+.
RESTRICTIONS: Babysitters use six-sided dice (d6) to determine their hit points. They may wear nothing more protective than leather armour, and may not use a shield. They may use blunt weapons only. Saving Throws and XP progression as a Thief.
SPECIAL ABILITIES: Babysitters are hard to surprise, and so begin the game with a +1 bonus to avoid being surprised. Babysitters have a +2 to all reaction rolls. This value increases by +1 every 3 levels versus humanoids, to a maximum of +4. They ignore any penalties they may have for having a low Charisma score when making reaction rolls. Babysitters have a 2 in 6 chance of finding hidden doors and passages and in picking locks. These values increases by +1 every 4 levels.
Just another attempt for a very minimalist D&D set of rules. Please playtest and critize. — snorri, Aug 23, 2009
Searchers of the Unknown is a role-playing game whose rules fit on a single piece of paper. I’m not really sure what the pedigree of such minimalist rule sets is, but Searchers of the Unknown probably wasn’t the first of this breed of game based on its tag line: “Another minimal way to play D&D”. That said, it seems to be the most popular. It has spawned its own sub-genre of “Searchers” minimal D&D games. The original announcement thread on ODD74 collects some of them, such as MUTANT SCAVENGERS of the RUINED EARTH, Witches of N’Kai, Re-Searchers of the Unknown, etc. What’s interesting is that the thread has chugged along for the last 4 years. Though most of the activity came in the months following the initial posting, every so often someone would jump in to share some new mini-D&D development. This week someone posted Call to Adventure, which looks to be another interesting take on a minimalist D&D game. If you find most versions of D&D too overwhelming, these minimal games might be your cup of tea.
Update 2013-09-19: Shortly after posting this I was tipped off to Lurkers of Carcosa, which are minimalist rules for play a game set in Carcosa. That Carcosa setting book basically suggests you through away lots of the basic rules to D&D, so it lends itself well to this sort of minimalist game.
With my review of the Rules and Magic hardcover, i’ve reviewed all the books in my giant shipment from Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I thought it would be handy to have a single place that collects them all together, so here they are once more:
I do have two small complaints about the [LotFP Grindhouse] books as objects: the three books are quite nice, but I think they would have been nicer with thicker covers and softer paper; the title font, while appropriate for the contents of the book, is a bit hard read. It’s a very nice boxset, but after seeing Carcosa I can imagine a future edition of the rules that will truly be epic.
As I mentioned in my review of the Grindhouse Boxed Set, LotFP builds on top of Basic / Expert D&D. It’s not quite a retroclone, but its also not a huge departure from the source meterial. Even if you aren’t interested in “Weird Fantasy Roleplaying Games” LotFP would make for a great ruleset to play D&D with. I am a fan of all the tweaks Raggi has made to the game.
This books contains all the rules you need to play a game of LotFP. The book is split into two parts, which you can probably guess from its title: rules and magic. Rules covers the rules for adventuring, of course. The magic portion of the book is the pretty extensive spell list for LotFP. The two halves of the book are about equal in length, about 70 pages each.
The rule changes make sense within the context of the sorts of adventures Raggi writes. Fighters are the only character class that improves at fighting. They, along with Dwarves and Elves, also have a few additional tweaks that make them more versatile when fighting. This helps better differentiate the Fighter from the Cleric, for example. In most LotFP adventures, fighting is probably not going to get you very far, so the fact other classes are going to have a hard time hitting things really won’t have much effect on the game. Raggi is trying to encourage a style of play that doesn’t lean to heavily on killing everything. The encumbrance rules in LotFP are much more straightforward, and the official character sheet makes tracking encumbrance very simple. In a game where you get most of your experience for treasure, tracking how much you can carry out of a dungeon becomes interesting and important. Do you weigh yourself down? Do you leave this treasure chest behind? These were the two biggest rule changes that first sprung to my mind, but there are lots of little changes like this throughout the book.
When I bought the Grindhouse boxed set I skimmed through the magic portion of the rules book, there was so much to read. This time I thought i’d read through it all to really see what was changed. Briefly: a fair bit. The changes to the spell lists in LotFP give the game much of its colour. They are doing a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to making the game “weird”.
The spells available to Clerics have been changed quite a bit. Several spells typical to the Cleric in D&D end up being Magic-User spells in LotFP, like Hold-Person and Speak with Animals. Several spells were dropped from LotFP, like Sticks to Snakes and Raise Dead. The tweaks better cement the Clerics position in the world of LotFP as agents of Law, demon hunters, healers, etc.
Magic-Users in LotFP have a pretty huge list of spells available to them. (20 spells per level for the first 7 levels of spells, and then 10 for level 8 and 6 for level 9.) There are lots of small tweaks and changes to the flavour text that give most spells creepier overtones. Mirror Image pulls versions of the caster from alternate timelines that then distract opponents as per the original spell. Charm Person works as it does in Basic D&D, but the charmed creatures explicitly remember what they did while charmed when the spell ends. Animate Dead brings people back to life, but they have vague memories of their former life, which drives them mad and makes them destructive. Summon is a first level that lets the caster summon a demon. Failure to cast the spell can result in a TPK at the very least and wreck serious havoc on a campaign if dice rolls go the wrong way. Magic-Users and Elves are generally treated as “evil” when it comes to spells like Detect Evil, Protection from Evil, etc. They are Chaotic and this has some concrete effects on the game. This all works together to create a vision of magic that is decidedly less high-fantasy than your typical D&D.
There are several new pieces of art in this new book, and they are some of the best yet from LotFP. The two new colour Magic-User pieces are particularly good, and really stood out to me. One for its cosmic level of awesome, the other for its gleeful violence. Another piece I like is that of the infamous Alice from the Tutorial book armed with a blood soaked musket, herself drenched in blood. As with the latest LotFP releases, the graphic design and layout of the book is excellent: it is such a marked improvement over the older Grindhouse rulebook.
So yeah, I can think of no good reason not to own this book. As I said to start, the new Rules and Magic rule book from Lamentations of the Flame Princess is amazing.
The module, if you can call it that, is very short. It describes an adventuring location, a small farmhouse surrounded by a corn field. The set up is generic enough it would be easy to fit on most game maps. It would probably make a good entry on a random encounter table. There are a few NPCs, magic items, and a creepy new monster the players will have to deal with. That monster is the crux of this adventure.
The players will no doubt wander towards a farmhouse in search of treasure, traveling through the cornfield. It’s a trap, of course. A horrible creature lays under the house and field. It has some stats, but trying to fight the thing will probably be a giant suck. The players will likely find themselves trapped, alongside another adventurer whose friends are all dead. He has been in the farmhouse for days and has turned to cannibalism. (The corn is poisoned, as is the available water.) He has some treasure, and needs the players help to escape.
The Tales of the Scarecrow also includes a couple of interesting magic items. In true LotFP fashion they give as much as they take. There is a sword that appears to be quite handy in a fight until it starts hitting your friends as well. There is also a spell book full of such blasphemous magic the PCs will be hunted down once it is discovered they know about it, let alone have it in their possession. Finally there is the titular Tales of the Scarecrow. The book grants experience points to the player who writes up the best stats and powers of the scarecrow that sits out in the cornfield near the farmhouse. If the players make the creature too soft, they will lose out on a chance to win experience points. If they make it too hard they’ll have to deal with difficulty they create in the game. It’s a prisoners dilemma of sorts. James Raggi seems to enjoy including these sorts of “post-modern” magic items in his game.
The interior artwork (and layout) by Jez Gordon is really nice. The module is well written and clear. Sometimes Raggi can be a bit too wordy with his writing, but I don’t think that’s the case here. Each of the elements in this adventure could be taken apart and used individually. Tales of the Scarecrow is available for almost nothing as a PDF. I think it’s worth the price of admission.
The latest limited edition module from James Raggi is Fuck For Satan. You can pick up a hand numbered copy from his online store. I got the 35th copy, apparently. There are 666 in total, of course. The cover art is awesome. This adventure features missing children, a haunted hill, a cult, aliens, and some fucking. This thing has it all. If only it was good. This review is full of spoilers.
In Fuck For Satan the players are tasked with finding some missing children. This will lead them through a small, but tough, dungeon, one that will be a real slog to get through. There is a warning telling the players as much before they even go in, but who is going to heed that warning? There are no wandering monsters, so players will have all the time in the world to screw themselves. And they probably will.
The dungeon is quite linear. There are basically three spokes to explore. I can appreciate the reason for this: the dungeon is a big red-herring, the children aren’t there. If this dungeon was obnoxious to map and navigate players might spend far too long trying to look for that one spot they haven’t checked out yet. They might never clue in to the fact the children aren’t here.
A couple traps in this adventure trigger when the characters see them. As I mentioned in my review of the Monolith Beyond Space and Time, that’s kind of a boring way to trigger a trap. If you want something to happen all the time you should just say “this thing happens all the time no matter what the players do,” because most players aren’t walking through dungeons blind folded, led by charmed retainers or some such thing. Since players are looking for these children, and are likely to explore every nook and cranny of the dungeon, they are probably going to encounter both of these traps. One of these traps requires the players sacrifice someone to escape the dungeon. The other summons a monster that I am guessing is meant to poke fun at people who get worked up about objectionable content in books.
A portion of the dungeon is a sort of prison for creepy monsters and I thought that was done well. The whole double door “air lock” type passageways were neat. There are two monsters to fight, though this being an LotFP module you are best off avoiding both.
Fuck For Satan feels like it’s trying too hard. It’s supposed to be a funny fuck you to people who get worked up about the stuff James Raggi puts out. I mean, it’s called “Fuck for Satan”. There is a walking alien penis monster. There is a giant gay orgy. There is a monster that forces players to shit themselves, and then they have to fight their shit. The adventure feels like a parody of an LotFP adventure. I’d skip this module unless you are a collector of LotFP books. Compared to all the other recent releases from LotFP this one seems particularly weak.
Update 2013-10-28: This is an interesting little tidbit from James Raggi over on G+:
The Twinkly bit from Fuck For Satan, continues to get a lot of response, and I can only assume the occasional group of players sending me character sheets is indicative of the adventure being used for actual play.
Interesting how few of them are actually using LotFP stats. :D Lots of 3.x/Pathfinder, some DCC, and then a bunch that could be whatever old D&D.
Even though I feel the adventure is far more gag than functional, it is still being used in the wild. I’m curious to see how much, if at all, people tweak the adventure.
Qelong is fantastic. The book describes a sandbox setting, a place to have a horrific wilderness adventure. This is the model to follow if you want to put out a setting book. Though only 48 pages long it provides more than enough information to run a campaign in the Qelong River Valley.
Qelong gets right to the point. First we are introduced to the place this adventure takes place, a devastated region that is the site of a war between two elder beings. There is one obvious adventure hook, a magic weapon cast off by one of these creatures is a much sought after treasure. A rumour table helps the DM introduce the rest of the world to the players and provides a quick glimpse to the DM of what Qelong is all about. From there we get detailed descriptions of the various terrain features found in the Qelong River Valley, along with some example encounters. Each terrain type also has it’s own random encounters table, a nice touch. Along with some new monsters this all works to help paint a picture of what this place is like, better than your typical travelog style settings book. In many ways this book is reminiscent of Carcosa in how it presents the game world, though unlike Carcosa the presentation is much less obtuse. The book concludes with a few named encounter sites. These are a bit more detailed, describing the bases of important factions or places of interest to the PCs. A DM would need to flesh these out more for his game.
The book is very well organized. This is one of the few campaign books I could imagine pulling out and using at the gaming table. It’s the antithesis of all those Dark Sun books I have. Most of those books are needlessly wordy to the point of being boring. They are often so detailed they are stifling. Qelong provides just enough information and no more.
The encounters, the monsters, the factions: it’s all good stuff. Kenneth Hite has done a great job bringing to life this creepy fantasy version of South-East Asia. Nothing feels boring or recycled. As written it seems like it’d be a very difficult place to adventure in. It’s a place ravaged by war. There are no friendly faces. Most everyone is disease ridden. The land itself is poisoned, and as characters adventure in Qelong they are going to get poisoned themselves. The rules for this are presented early in the book. They seem like they might be a bit too fiddly to track, but what do I know? They certainly would make adventuring in the region much more interesting.
The art in the book is by Rich Longmore, who did the art for Carcosa, and is some sort of god damn art superstar. I feel like the cover by Jason Rainville isn’t doing this book justice. I wish they used some of the bigger black white art by Longmore for the cover. There are some amazing pictures in this book. It also goes without saying that the production quality of the book is top notch, like all the recent Lamentation of the Flame Princess releases. This is a softcover A5 book sporting a great layout by Jez Gordan.
So, to reiterate: Qelong is fantastic. I hope it’s selling well amidst all the other stuff Lamentations of the Flame Princess have put out recently, because it’s probably the best wilderness adventure I’ve ever read. I’m actually curious to hear what modules people think are better, because this book sets the bar very damn high. Does it sound like i’m gushing? Well I am fucking gushing. This book is a must-buy.
The God That Crawls was produced at the same time as The Monolith Beyond Space and Time, both products resulting from a crowd funding campaign run early last year. The God That Crawls is a much more traditional module. There a church. Underneath the church is a labyrinth full of treasure. Guarding that treasure is a monster: The God That Crawls. This being Lamentation of the Flame Princess, things are so neat and tidy. The God That Crawls is one of the smartest takes on the dungeon crawl I’ve read in quite some time. This review is full of spoilers.
The module opens with some backstory about the church and the creature that lays trapped below it. Like most recent LotFP modules the adventure takes place in a fictional version of Earth. This module takes place in 15th Century England. Of course, you can drop that dressing easily enough. The players will probably end up in the catacombs below the church, because that’s what players are about.1 Once in the dungeon they’ll need to find a new way out because the way in will be barred to them. There is only one monster stalking the halls of the dungeon in The God That Crawls, and that would be the titular God That Crawls. The players will need to avoid the creature while trying to escape with as much treasure as they can carry.
The God That Crawls will be a challenge for any party of low level characters that attempt to fight it directly. Though easy enough to hit the monster has plenty of hit points and can regenerate a few hit points per turn. The creature moves quite slowly, so fleeing the beast when it is encountered is going to be the party’s best bet. So, for the module to be interesting and terrifying DMs will need to handle a couple things I suspect most everyone hates to deal with: time and encumbrance.
There are two ways suggested for tracking the monster in the dungeon: the first is simply to track exactly where the players and the monster are located; the second is to make random encounter checks each turn that change based on the parties actions. In each case, you need to be mindful of where the players managed to move in a turn at the very least. (I think it’s probably easier to track things exactly rather than run the God as a random encounter, since for that to be interesting you need to know roughly where the players are located anyway.) The module will be more fun if you are also tracking when torches are spent and rations are eaten. If players aren’t careful they can end up trapped underground without light or food. I haven’t played a game of D&D where the rations on my adventure sheet have mattered at all, or where I feared I’d run out of torches before the adventure was done.
LotFP has pretty great rules for tracking encumbrance. I’m not sure if most DMs playing LotFP games are better about keeping track of how much junk their players are carting around. In this module it seems particularly important to pay attention to how encumbered a player is. If the players are loaded down with treasure fleeing the God might prove too difficult. This is the first module i’ve read where the encumbrance rules are called out specifically as a way to ratchet up the tension.[^2] Players will need to decide if they want to lug around that extra treasure, or stay nimble so they can flee from the God when he jumps them.
One more thing that’s been on my mind with this module is using it as a board game without a board to teach people about dungeon crawls. In this game the goal of the DM is to kill all the players, while the players need to flee the dungeon with as much treasure as they can. (You could ignore all the atypical encounters that are mentioned in the book.) I think you could run the whole adventure only using a handful of rules from the LotFP game: basic combat, fleeing, pursuit, encumbrance, and movement. I’m sure you could generate similar style crypts randomly if you wanted to run the adventure again and again.
If I have one complaint about this module it would be its cover, which is really boring. And that’s really about it. This is genuinely great module. I read through the book and I instantly wanted to grab some people and play it: sadly my wife and toddler don’t play D&D.
Well, most players. I have played the occasional game with people who don’t actually seem interested in doing any god damn adventuring. Why are you playing D&D? ↩