by Ramanan Sivaranjan on June 09, 2012
I received a package all the way from Finland. It contained: Carcosa, Vornheim: The Complete City Kit, and the boxset Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Roleplaying (Grindhouse Edition). I had been reading through the PDF copy of the Grindhouse Edition while waiting for these books to arrive, so I will write about the books contained within the boxset first.1
Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Roleplaying is a roleplaying game by James Raggi. (The game will be referred to as LotFP hence forth, because Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Roleplaying is a lot to type, and that seems to be the acronym of choice on the Internet.) The Grindhouse Edition boxset collects: the rulebook for LotFP, a book for dungeon masters on how best to run the game, and a tutorial book for players and dungeon masters about role playing games in general. The boxset also includes some (tiny) dice and some very well designed character sheets. If you bought this boxset you would have everything you need to play the game, you’d just need to find some players.
The boxset is (surprisingly) small. (It’s smaller than your typical hardback novel.) The three books within are all A5 in size, half as big as your typical 8x11 D&D book. Because they are perfect bound softcovers they feel even smaller. Unlike your usual gaming product these books are ideally suited for use while playing: they take up next to no space, they are light, and they are easy to flip through. The rulebook actually has a bunch of important tables for the game right on its back cover, so even while closed it serves a useful purpose.
I do have two small complaints about the 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.
The first book in the boxset is the Tutorial book. It begins with a discussion of what a role-playing game is and what the deal is with all the funky dice. It then proceeds to a sample adventure that steps through some of the the mechanics of the game. The adventure also sets the tone for LotFP: it’s dark, creepy, and full of death. This is then followed by a choose-your-own adventure game that walks you through even more of the game’s mechanics. The second adventure is a sequel to the first: it’s your very first LotFP campaign!
After the adventures Raggi discusses RPGs in more detail. There is some exposition on how role-playing games work, in a most general sense. There is a lot of discussion that ultimately boils down to a look at the relationships between players and their characters, and players and the dungeon master. It’s a short section of the book, but I think it manages to convey a lot about the sort of role-playing games Raggi feels are most effective. More than anything this section seems to be about letting players and DMs know that they shouldn’t play like assholes.
Finally we get to an example of a group playing LotFP. These sorts of dialogues are found in most role-playing games books, and they usually preset a far too idealized example of play. The example presented here works well because it’s funny, and is a pretty accurate look at what a role-playing game is like. There is petty squabbling, people complaining about dice rolls, people being inattentive, people forgetting the rules, etc, etc.
The books ends with an Appendix N of sorts. There are a series of essays on a few authors that Raggi felt best exemplify “Weird Fantasy”. I thought the essays were interesting, presenting a little bit of background on each author, pointing out what makes them important to the genre, and also suggesting good first books to look into.
The Tutorial book is pretty great. The whole tone of the book is really friendly and positive. This book, like the others in the set, features some pretty explicit art work. This makes for an interesting juxtaposition with the text. I don’t think the artwork in the Tutorial book is nearly as gruesome as the stuff found in the Rules and Magic book, but it almost feels more gruesome because it’s sandwiched between feel good advice about having fun with your friends. The Tutorial book almost seems out of place in a boxset such as this. I can’t imagine anyone buying this game who isn’t already intimately familiar with Dungeons and Dragons. That said, i’m really glad Raggi thought to write it. It makes the Grindhouse Edition boxset a surprisingly good introduction to roleplaying games.
The Rules and Magic book is the meat of the boxset. The two sections of this book contain what you actually need to know in order to play a game of LotFP.
LotFP is basically a simplified (and extended) version of the rules found in the original Dungeons and Dragons books. It’s certainly not a retroclone, but it’s also not a big departure from the system it’s clearly built upon. You have your usual six ability scores, you have saving throws tables, you have armour classes and hit points and all of the minutia that makes up D&D.
I haven’t played old-school D&D in a very long time, so I really can’t pick out every rule change that Raggi has made. The most obvious would probably be the change to the rogue class, called the specialist in LotFP. The common thief skill checks from D&D, and a few additional skills new to LotFP, are decided by rolling a D6. For most characters there is a 1 in 6 chance for success. Specialists can spend points that they earn every time they gain a level to improve their odds. The specialist is a much more broad character than your typical D&D thief.
There are other more subtle changes throughout the rest of the rules that I noticed. The only one worth pointing out is that AC is ascending: just the way it god damn should be.
The magic portion of the book outlines the various spells the cleric and magic user classes can use in a LotFP campaign. There is a mix of your typical D&D spells, like magic missile, along with all sorts of new stuff. The changes here seem to add to the tone of a LotFP game. For example, you can summon a crazy-ass demon you probably won’t be able to control as a 1st level magic user. What? Magic in LotFP is dangerous and probably a little bit evil. The spell lists help reinforce that.
The last book in the boxset is the Referee book, LotFP’s Dungeon Masters Guide. It similar in tone and style to the Tutorial book. James Raggi is preaching to the reader about what it means to be a dungeon master, and what makes for an enjoyable and successful role-playing game. The book is full of advice for the rookie DM.
Beyond the advice, the book also focuses on explaining what makes a fantasy game ‘weird’. There is no bestiary in the boxset.2 Instead, there is a discussion about how monsters should be as unique as possible, and that their use in your game should be kept to a minimum to highlight the fact that monsters are in fact pretty strange. Similarly, there are no long lists of magic items. In an LotFP game there should be no such thing as a generic magic +1 sword. Besides being boring, items like that take away from the mystique that surrounds magic. (More so, who are these wizards churning out +1 swords?) Magic is a dangerous thing. A magic item should be a creepy-ass artifact, not some Vorpal sword.
One thing I liked about the book is that it acknowledges that there are other RPGs out there. There is a section of the book that looks at how you can incorporate material from other games into an LotFP game. The book explains possible rules changes that a DM might need to make when using material from other books, or when using LotFP material within the ruleset of another game. (There’s also a short table to help convert between the slightly different AC rules everyone seems to use.) This section ends with a shout out to some indie game publishers putting out old school D&D modules that would work well with LotFP.
The referee book closes with a short adventure, A Stranger Storm. This boxset really does include everything you need to start playing a game. The Referree book rounds out the boxset nicely.
I would be remiss not to mention the artwork in the Grindhouse Edition. It is probably what has earned LotFP the most notoriety. The art is amazing and unique, but also particularly violent and explicit. I never thought I’d see a dudes schlong in a RPG rule book, but here we are.
The books are all in black and white, so for the most part the artwork is black and white illustrations, sort of reminiscent of the stuff you’d find in old D&D books, but much more dark and twisted. The rules and magic book has a few pieces of colour art work separating the two sections of that book. My favourite piece of art in the book appears here: a medusa has just turned a man who was in the middle of enjoying himself with her into stone; throughout the rest of the room you can see other petrified men, clearly frozen in the middle of some sexual act. Another piece that’s pretty great is a woman whose fingers and a leg have been melted off by some sort of ooze. I have heard Raggi on a podcast talking about how he felt the art work presents a more realistic look at the life of an adventurer. If you go spelunking in dungeons filled with monsters and traps that story is probably going to end kind of bloody. Another theme of LotFP is that the players aren’t playing superheroes. The art with all the death and maiming really reinforces this.
To properly appreciate a game you really need to play it. Hopefully i’ll get a chance to do just that soon, and can then provide a fuller review of the game. Putting that aside, I have no qualms with recommending the Grindhouse Edition to anyone looking for a simple old-school D&D role-playing game system.
Expect blog posts on Carcosa and Vornheim in the coming weeks. ↩
If you are looking for help creating monsters, you might want to check out another book by James Raggi with an equally long name: The Random Esoteric Creature Generator For Classic Fantasy Games And Their Modern Simulacra ↩
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