Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lamentations of the Flame Princess is Better Than Any RPG

Today marks exactly one year since I ran my first Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP) session.  This review is my celebration, and is organized into three parts:

1) You should be playing this game.
2) What sucks about it.
3) A comprehensive listing of modules beyond the official ones.

"Imagine a terrible, unforgiving world where horrible things happen randomly to innocent people.  Lamentations is a great way take your mind off it for a while and be somewhere worse."
-Hilliard, The Skinned Man
I think James Raggi created this game for me.  Yes, it’s “a retro-clone,” “OSR-style,” or “a simulacrum of the World’s Greatest Role-Playing Game,” but there are a lot of those and Lamentations sticks out like a sore dick from the rest.  BLotFP (that’s Before Lamentations of the Flame Princess), I had played a number of RPGs, ranging from 1st-3rd editions, storytelling games like Fiasco, and was deep in Pathfinder as a GM and player.  I dismissed older editions of D&D because they "didn’t tell stories," because you spent all this time on creating characters just to have them killed by a giant centipede during the first session, because the rules were clunky and overly complicated, because I was a fucking idiot.

Raggi kicks my door down with Better Than Any Man.  Ironically, I was at my FLGS to play in a Pathfinder Society game on Free RPG Day (which was about 4 hours of un-fun punctuated by moments of, “am I having fun yet?”) and grabbed a few free things that looked neat.  When I got home, I read BTAM like one reads a novel: it had interesting characters, events and sites that were connected and not, an overarching plot with numerous "endings," and a slew of crazy original ideas.  BTAM shows unequivocally how awesome an RPG game module can be.  Even if I never ran it, my life was better for having read it.  And of course I wanted to run it.

If you do nothing else, go get that module right now, for FREE and read the damn thing.

So, reason Number One to choose LotFP over other systems is: it’s the system you use to run Better Than Any Man.  (Also, Doom-Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children.)

Well, of course you can use B/X, or Labyrinth Lord, or DCC or Little Timmy’s Pen and Paper Adventure Game of Holes and Harpies to run Better Than Any Man, because it uses the OGL and is compatible with any system based off those classic rules.  But choosing those other games over LotFP is like if someone is about to give you the A-Team van or KITT or that car from Mad Max, and you say, “Nah, I’m just going to take this Ford Festiva…I mean, they’re all cars, right?  And I just need something to get me from point A to B…”  Technically you’re right, but…I'm done talking to you.
Yes, that's the car for me!
Some people live in a fantasy world where Orcs and Goblins are interesting.  I don't get it.  Honestly, I've never been that excited about high fantasy settings (I'm more into sci-fi or mythos type stuff).

 Lamentations encourages and is designed around a low-fantasy setting.  Players are typically human, romping around Europe in the 17th Century, dealing with other shitty humans and encountering horrific, supernatural monsters.  All of the modern modules for LotFP are based on this motif – most of the adversaries are humans and the monsters are one-time encounters.  Humans are evil enough (and dealing with another person doing something bad is much more complicated than dealing with a random monster doing the same thing), and horror is more effective when the world is mundane (how scary can the monster of the week be in a world where everywhere you look there are orcs, goblins, dragons and a variety of other fantasy tropes?)

Number Two: Lamentations brings back the sense of horror, mystery and discovery that people might have felt with the original games by replacing fantasy cliches with fresh ideas.

That said, if you love your Elves, Dwarves and Halflings, Raggi is nice enough to provide the rules for you to play with them.  I think this sucks, and will talk more about it below.

I’ve read a number of other OSR games, and LotFP has my favorite ruleset.  There are certainly brilliant rules and ideas to be picked out from those other games, and some of them are quite innovative (Dungeon Crawl Classics, Dungeon World and Torchbearer all stand out as games that do more than just allow you to run Old School style games…also see Neoclassical Geek Revival).

In fact, I would say that the LotFP ruleset shines because it is not innovative; the goal is to provide streamlined, intuitive play and to be highly compatible with other Old School game modules.  One criticism new readers have leveled is that when they read the ruleset, they don’t really get the “weird” from it.  That’s because the rules are not weird – they allow you to play the game easily so you can focus on the weird in play.  This simple ruleset also makes it easy to add house rules.

Some things that do stand out and contradict my suggestion that Raggi isn’t innovative in the Rules & Magic book: Magic-Users can use any kind of weapon and wear armor, Fighters are the only ones who get better at attacking as they level up, Specialists can excel in skills other than thief-style skills, and the spells in the magic section are all Fucking Awesome (check out the Summon spell as an example).  The spells in particular show the "weird" of LotFP, but many people don't just sit and read those.

You can pick up the free ruleset HERE, however, I strongly encourage purchasing the hardcover.  The art is where you will get a feel for the tone of the setting, and you aren't doing yourself any favors by missing out on it.

Number Three: streamlined, easy-to-learn-and-play ruleset.

Ah, the motherfucking art!  I remembering looking through the art in my 2nd Edition books as a kid (especially DMG, p. 40 for some reason...)  No matter how many times I looked at it, it was still fun to look again.  Lamentations brings that feeling back.  Many of the pieces are highly detailed and repeated viewings are rewarded.  Other pieces are iconic, you want to look every so often, like reliving a memory.  This is not your typical fantasy art.  It's Art.  Not just filler, not just elf porn, it's Art.

Just go here and look at some of it.

Okay, have you played some of these modules?  There has been talk lately about the “Nega-Dungeon” or that running Raggi modules ruin a campaign because players can’t trust the world anymore, etc.  Maybe that's true, but my players love these modules.  We meet weekly, and they happily trudge toward every Raggi module I run, begging to read them after we’re done.  

Personally, running LotFP this past year is the most fun I’ve had at any hobby, and I have plenty of hobbies (board games, RPGs, video games, music, literature, movies, TV, alcohol...)

Remember when I thought Old School games couldn't tell good stories through play?  LotFP tells the best stories.  Or, rather, LotFP enables us to tell the best stories.

I guarantee you will experience things while playing LotFP modules that you will not with any other.  There are metagames, twists, horrific death hidden so deep you can't imagine your players ever finding it, the worst hilarious magic items imaginable, monsters that make you chuckle and squirm, and more glee than you deserve.

Number Four: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is the most fun you’ll have.  Ever.  Also, if you want to get revenge on James Raggi, play his game and tell him how much fun you're having.  He hates fun.

"LotFP is like sex and pizza.  Even when the mushrooms on the pizza are alive and the people you’re having sex with are dead, it’s still good."
-Fred, The Shaggy Dog
I promised to tell you some things that suck about it.  This has to be a fair review, right?

1) I wish there weren’t Elves, Halflings and Dwarves in the Rules and Magic book.  I know why they’re there (so that you whiny fucks who want to include them in your game can).  Still, I don’t want them in my game and I don’t want them in my rulebook.  I wish Raggi had gone Bard-style on the fantasy races and included them in the appendix as an “optional rule.”

Also, some of the older modules (Weird New World, Hammers of the God, Vornheim…) feature fantasy races.  These were published before Raggi made the “official” change to a low fantasy, Early Modern Era setting.  I wish these were updated to match with the current setting.

2) LotFP uses a silver standard.  This is purely an aesthetic thing (one that I happen to like, actually) but it’s a pain when running virtually every other published game using these rules.  In some cases, converting is easy – if the players find a gem worth 30 gp, you just convert it to 30 sp.  But what’s the best way to convert a chest with 3,458 cp, 1,334 sp, 2,366 ep, 345 gp, and 45 pp?  If you keep it as is, this is an absurd amount of treasure in the LotFP world.  Or you can just move everything down a notch (but there is no platinum or electrum in LotFP). Or you find its total gold value, change that to silver, then divide it back into copper, gold and silver.  Or just say,  Fuck it and give the players nothing and tell them it's James Raggi's fault.

3) What is all this shit for?  I believe Raggi set out to create a game that would be interesting for veteran players, but also get new people into the hobby.  The streamlined rules, easy character creation, and simplified combat succeed here.  Also, the attractive (gripping, disturbing) art and writing style pull readers in.  Where it fails is providing players with some ideas about beginning adventuring.  The equipment section takes for granted that someone knows what all of this shit does (or that they have a phone with internet access handy).  Oddly, the weapons have quite a few details, including additional rules for firearms in the back, but nothing like that for normal gear.

4) Alignment in D&D is ridiculous.  I still want to punch my friend in high school who insisted on playing the Chaotic-Neutral character who was "all crazy" and ran around purposely fucking with my game.  LotFP handles it much better:

"In the real world, every human being that has ever existed has been Neutral."

"Clerics must be lawful.  Elves and Magic-Users must be Chaotic."

Here's what I don't like:

"All others are free to choose their alignment."

Why?  Alignment in LotFP is primarily to interact with game elements like detect evil, etc.  Why would some douche who picks up a sword suddenly be chaotic?  

Detect Evil should be Detect Chaos.  It was kept as Detect Evil to be aligned with the original game/rules and compatible with others, but it's another area where I wish the publisher had just pushed all the way through and committed fully to his version.  (If only I was here to tell him what to do when he was single-handedly writing the coolest game ever, right?)

Finally, every time I get to the “Property and Finance” section I can’t help but wonder what kind of a sick fuck James Raggi is.  In just a few short pages, I know that guy is going to stab that woman through the eye with his rapier, yet I’m reading about investments, taxes and interest? 

“Okay guys, you  made it out of the dungeon, what now?” 
“Hmm, I am going to go hire an accountant and find a good way to invest this silver I dug out of the belly of the Bleeding Ass Golem that killed half our party…” has happened NEVER.

Why not some good carousing rules here to encourage players to get shit-faced, spend all their money and get back to another adventure?

Obviously, none of the above are enough to detract from my enjoyment of the game and I've already house ruled away the fantasy races, added in carousing, and don’t allow my players a choice in alignment.  I think overall, the book would have been more cohesive and aligned with the setting with some of the above changes.  I would have preferred a full on, balls out, “This Is How It Is!” rather than the more diplomatic, “Here it is, but I want you to be able to use this with those other games too…”

"It’s like playing D&D with your creepy uncle Bob and his penis monster."
Nara, She Spits on your Grave
You should be playing this game.  And to help you with that, there are a number of amazing modules.  Once you've played all of these, or to provide more variety during play, you should also explore more from the authors of those modules.

Zzarchov Kowolski wrote Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess, Scenic Dunnsmouth and Thulian Echoes for Lamentations of the Flame Princess.  He has also written a few other adventures that fit effortlessly in the LotFP setting: The Gnomes of Levenec, A Thousand Dead Babies, and The Scourge of the Tikbalang.  As I fished for those links, I see that he already has new stuff I need to get.

Geoffrey McKinney wrote Isle of the Unknown, Dungeon of the Unknown, and James Raggi re-published an expanded version of Carcosa.  He also publishes adventures (by various authors), Psychedelic Fantasies, which fit nicely into the LotFP setting.

Rafael Chandler is writing some upcoming books for LotFP, including No Salvation for Witches and World of the Lost.  He has also published a few books that are fully compatible with LotFP, like Lusus Naturae, The Teratic Tome, and Bad Myrmidon.

Michael Curtis wrote A Single, Small Cut for LotFP.  He is more well known for his DCC adventures, and his brilliant Dungeon Alphabet.  He has also done Stonehell Dungeon and Realms of Crawling Chaos.

Other folks to keep an eye on:
Kelvin Green has published his first adventure, Forgive Us, with LotFP, but has done art in others (like Death Love Doom).  Would love to see more from him!

Zak S wrote Vornheim, a beautiful city adventure builder book and will be publishing a Red and Pleasant Land through LotFP.

D. Vincent Baker wrote The Seclusium of Orphone for LotFP.  He's probably most famous for Apocalypse World and Dogs in the Vineyard.

Kenneth Hite wrote Qelong for LotFP.  He also writes about stuff and is responsible for Trail of Cthulhu, and much more.


  1. This is a good overview, and yes, there's more on the way!

    1. Thanks for reading! And I'm excited to hear you have more coming!

  2. Great article? Can I translate and publish it in Russian? With all due credits and a link for sure.

  3. A couple side notes: although I'd prefer robust carousing rules, the households and investments session serves as a necessary cash sink. _Summon_ gets pretty reliable if you can dump 10000sp into a summoning circle for a +20. Also, and make running LotFP a lot easier.