Sunday, November 16, 2014

Old D&D editions and clones - Lamentation of the Flame Princess

A few years back everyone was publishing games in boxes. Brave Halfling announced a boxed set of Swords&Wizardry, and a crazy American living in Finland announced he was publishing his own game, in a box. I took down my copy of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess box, and re-read it. I love boxed games!

It's interesting to think about what the intended audience is for a game. It used to be standard procedure to include a short section in the beginning of the rules about "What is a role playing game". Considering how common it seems to be to learn to play from someone else, the uselessness of those sections have of course been debated. LotfP consists of not only two books of rules, one book of GM advice and two adventures, it also includes a booklet called "Tutorial". Four years later I wonder how many read that booklet and learned something from it? I do applaud James Raggi for trying to grow the hobby, but I wonder if that booklet was of any use to anyone?

The game is clearly based on D&D. There are classes and armor class, and there are spells per level. Very much D&D. There are some nice tweaks to the D&D baseline, like the Specialist class. I have never really understood the big fuzz about the Thief class, but the Specialist feels like a nice take on it. It's customizable and can be the basis for many fantasy tropes and roles. Another invention is a simple and usable encumbrance system. I like that Intelligence is used for spell saves, and not only giving additional languages. I never found all those languages very useful. After someone invented "common" all that bathwater followed after the baby out the window. Maybe it was the other way around. Whatever.

Then there's the fiddly bits. Lots of fiddly bits. You'll find rules for different combat actions, different AC if you're in melee or in ranged combat and rules for investments and the very old school saving throw system of nonsensical categories from the early seventies in the American mid west. No condition is passed by unmentioned and there are rules for excavating, foraging and lots more. My lasting impression is a little bit like when I read Dark Dungeons or the complete Mentzer sets of D&D. Everything is covered. A more modern comparison would be the revised 3rd ed. D&D. In a way I guess it would make excellent sense if this is a game for a newbie. Whatever you want to know is in there. You're covered, calm down and get on with the game!

When I get to the Referee book, this impression is kind of reinforced. I think most of the advice is very good. Solid and functional suggestions for how to create encounters, adventures and campaigns. There is one thing that stand out, though. James puts a lot of emphasize on how important it is with NPCs. This I find interesting. Clearly James is very old school in his approach to GM when he suggests extreme detachment and fair adjudication of situations. In alignment with the Story Now moniker, his style is very much Story After. It's a post-modern Story, laid on the events in hindsight. It's taking the game part and simulation part very seriously, but putting an emphasis on the NPC I have not seen in many other old school games. I have played the game only once, with the designer himself as Referee. That scenario was all about interacting with the world and the NPCs. When I compare that to some of his other published scenarios they feel very different, being mostly empty places or mysteries placed in your way to explore and trigger like a bomb.

My way of running a game is very much by the seat of my pants. I grab a setting book, a couple of pre-made adventures and modify on the fly very much dependent on Story Now or "wouldn't it be cool to throw this in now, given the context?". I find the approach to the game in the rules and in the advice leave me with awe and admiration. But, it does not make my wheels spin.

This is not a bad game, and some parts are excellent. But having read it, I don't feel engaged. I think my unplanned chaos way of refereeing could use some of the cold analytic approach in the Referee book. Apart from that, I will put this game back on the shelf without any further play. Should the opportunity arise to play with James again, I'd grab that seat in an instant, though!

...and the box is a beauty!
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