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.
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? ↩
I had placed a few orders and backed several Kickstarter campaigns from Lamentations of the Flame Princess over the last year, asking that everything ship together to save me some money. And so it came to pass that I ended up with a giant pile of books to read a few days ago. I thought i’d start with The Monolith from Beyond Space and Time, James Raggi’s ode to H.P. Lovecraft. There are no giant Cthulhu monsters, but there is a lot of existential woe. This review is full of spoilers.
The module is split into three parts: first we are told about the random encounters that occur in the valley that surrounds the Monolith; then we learn about the Monolith itself, the area immediately around it, and the monsters that guard it; finally we learn about the bizarre interior world of the Monolith. I’ve never read another module like this one. This is both a compliment and a complaint. The Monolith from Beyond Space and Time is an interesting read because it’s full of zany ideas and encounters. The problem is that a lot of these zany encounters are, in my estimation, straight up dick moves.
A lot of the encounters in this module feel like they are sprung on the players without giving them any recourse whatsoever, and no clue they’re about to get screwed. Simply looking at the Monolith is the trigger for one ill effect, and the only way to end the effect is to venture into Monolith to destroy it—which is a pain in the ass, trust me. The Guardian, an invisible monster located just outside the Monolith, is for all intents and purposes completely invincible, and the DM is instructed to make sure the players don’t realize this is the case so they may waste their time fighting the thing. A portion of the adventure written by Kenneth Hite called “The Owl Service” is probably the worst offender when it comes to all of this stuff. It is a random encounter in the valley that surrounds the Monolith in which players stumble on some owls, have to hang around them till they are sufficiently creeped out, and then their characters are haunted by owls till they die. Yeah. For a challenge to be interesting in a game of D&D there needs to be some way for the players to circumvent or overcome it. A pit trap you always fall into no matter what is boring.
The Monolith is all risk, no reward. As a player, if I wandered all the way to the Monolith, explored it’s creepy-ass interior, and then escaped broken and maimed, i’d probably be a bit annoyed that I wasn’t coming home with buckets of money. The only treasure of note in the adventure is a magic-user’s head—and you need to eat it to reap its rewards.
Placing the Monolith in a sandbox game with a warning to never go there still might be interesting. You could have NPCs who have visited the Monolith, now afflicted by its curse, wandering the countryside leaving trails of dead bodies in their wake. It could be a source for all sorts of crazy out of context monsters and super villains. The players may feel compelled to sacrifice their characters to destroy the Monolith and put a stop to all this evil, which sounds like it’d make for a good story and a fine way to cap off a campaign.1
You can tweak the adventure to make it more fair. You could provide more clues about what’s going on. You could drop some of the encounters that don’t really belong in a game that is supposed to be fun. The thing is, at what point would the adventure cease to be scary? How do you fill your players with a sense of existential dread if they can overcome all obstacles presented through smart play? It seems like a true horror game is at odds with one of the most important parts of a good D&D game: letting the players make meaningful choices.
So, here’s the rub: I liked this module. Crazy, right? You’re probably wondering why you wasted your time reading everything I wrote above. That terrible owl encounter I mentioned previously is really well written. The whole module is. The art is fantastic and totally unlike anything else i’ve seen in an RPG book. I read this module a couple days ago and it’s really stuck with me. This is a terrible adventure to spring on your players, but i’m not sure the adventure itself is terrible. Confused? You should read The Monolith from Beyond Space and Time.
“Solutions? Explanations? The Monolith owes you none.”
So minutes after I posted this Zak from D&D with Pornstars suggested another way to use this module that would work quite well: “Like Tomb of Horrors, it could be considered a ‘go in, get killed, make a new PC, act with metagame knowledge, do it right this time’ situation.” To take this idea a little further, you could have characters killed during the course of the adventure simply wake up again somewhere in the valley. This would keep with the spirit of the module and makes a lot of the screw-you traps seem less harsh. ↩
Historical Amsterdam could probably be turned into any bustling port city. A D50 random random of encounters offers up some things to do while wandering around town. There are a couple tables for dealing with buying and selling things on the black market. I could imagine this would be useful in all sorts of settings. The later half of the book describes Joop van Ooms, what makes him such a strange and magical figure, his home, and a few of his compatriots. The character is a magical renaissance man, with all that might entail. Van Ooms could be used as a patron for a group of heroes: he’s rich, magical, and has an interesting world view.
Like most of the recent stuff to come out from LotFP, it’s a gorgeous little booklet: the layout, design, and illustrations are all top-notch. Jez Gordon has done a great job here. The PDF is fully bookmarked. (If you read it in Adobe Acrobat, everything that’s a multiple of 8 is hidden from view, as van Ooms would like it.) Like most A5 books, it looks great on the iPad.
The Magnificent Joop van Ooms is a magnificent little book. It’s a quick read and well worth checking out. If you’re looking for a fully fleshed out adventure, this isn’t going to satisfy. The Magnificent Joop van Ooms a book of ideas. I picked up a copy of The Magnificent Joop van Ooms to pad out an order from LotFP, and for the price I heartily recommend you do the same. The cover art is amazing: for $7 bucks you can frame the book and hang it on your wall.
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. ↩