Hello, friends, and welcome back. So last week we took a look at the old school inspired RPG the Hero’s Journey, and if you haven’t checked it out for yourself get on it, because it’s a great high fantasy style system that deserves some love. For this week, we’re doing a total 180, diving into a game that thumb’s its nose at epic play and embraces a much darker theme, and it does so with absolute glee. So let’s talk about the horror show that is Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and be warned, it ain’t for the easily offended.
I’ll start off my saying you all know my love for a good old school system, and couple that with low fantasy horror, and I’m as happy as a chubby kid at a cake buffet, which I used to be incidentally. Lamentations of the Flame Princess tackles and blends both really well, but with that said, it’s not going to be for everyone. We’ll kick it off by having a look at the overall appearance of the book, which it expressly states is for the 18+ crowd. It measures in at a slim 164 pages, but it more than maximizes the space it has to work with. The layout is pretty if not a slight bit disjointed in organization in a couple spots, but since it’s so slim, it’s still easy enough to find what you’re looking for. Most of the book is done in black and white but there is a small section that presents some full color artwork. I have to say that the art is amazing, with the black and white drawings all up alley in terms of what I like to see in quality. But the art is also mainly the source of the game’s adult rating, as a good amount of it is rather grisly and some even borders on the perverse. There is nudity, stabbings, and dismemberments a plenty, including rather graphic piece with a demon shoving his clawed hand into a woman’s lady bits and yanking out her intestines. None of it really offended me either way, but I would recommend keeping it far away from younger gamers or those who are brand-new to the hobby. But it is a more than quality product that does what it sets out to do, just know what you’re going to see before flipping through the pages.
With my warnings about the art aside, let’s get into the mechanics of the system, which don’t disappoint as far as old schoolers go. Everything is pretty much set up and handled like the original D&D rules, roll 3D6 and record the stats and bonuses in order and so on. There is no mixing of class and race, as the demi humans are all handled as their own separate classes as they were back in the day. Elves are a mix of fighter and magic user, dwarves are their own thing, and halflings are a scaled back thief, very scaled back I might add. The rest of the classes are fighter, cleric, magic-user, and specialist, with the last pretty much being the rogue you’re probably used to seeing. It’s a nice mix that should suit fans of both the old school and contemporary styles, with everyone finding something to play.
We next get into the equipment, running the game, and combat sections, which are well done but a few imbalances with the classes do crop up. For starters, straight up combat is going to be difficult if you’re not a fighter, as the fighter class is the only one that actually gains an attack bonus as they go up in level, with all others simply getting a strength or dexterity bonus where applicable. Skills are handled in a much different way than you’re probably accustomed to, as most classes have only a one in six chance on a D6 of pulling off a skill check successfully. There are a few exceptions with the demi human’s racial abilities, and the specialist class gets skill points galore to distribute like crazy, but generally, it’s a tough go for the rest. The thing that really bugs me here is that the specialist can quickly leave everyone else behind in terms of sheer usefulness, getting enough points to spread around that he’s pretty much maxed out on everything by the time he gets to level eleven or twelve, if he actually lives long enough of course. We next get a nice couple chapters on sea combat and retainers, which are both short but useful. I’ll say real quick that retainers are going to come in very handy in this game, so do yourself a favor and shill out the coin for a nice meat shield on occasion, you’ll really be glad you dropped the extra funds on it.
The rules for magic come next, and damn can this turn into a horrifying total party kill if things go poorly. The clerics aren’t handled any differently than they have been before, with all of their familiar abilities and healing spells being present. The magic users are where the rules here can get really nasty, if not a lot more subtle in spell choice and less damagey than other games. There are hardly any big attack spells to choose from so if you’ve come to rely on fireballs and lighting bolts to get the job done, you’re sol. The more physically deadly spells have been replaced by ones that take a much cleverer approach to get the full effect desired, and by that, I mean ones that are designed to befuddle or distract, or in some cases, just meant to drive a foe outright mad. It’s all in an effort to make the system feel more akin to the dangers of sword and sorcery stories, especially when you get really ballsy and try your hand at summoning, because good friggin luck with that.
The summoning spell is a mere first level spell unlike with other such systems, but lord help anyone who’s actually fool enough to try and cast the thing at first level. Everything is rolled for and determined randomly when this spell is cast, from a summoned creature’s form, method of attack, and even its hit dice. You could end up with a hulking brute of an acid spitting demon salamander but just as easily be stuck with a pool of half-sentient goo with feather fins. One thing’s for sure, though, is that the creature is going to be absolutely pissed off that it’s been called from its home, so your character is going to have engage in a battle of wills to control the beasty, and believe me when I say you don’t want to lose. I should also mention that your poor little magic-user could inadvertently summon a creature that has no form at all, the entity taking on a completely shapeless concept or collective fear. This can range from going mad by being confronted with an unsolvable equation, feeling everyone around you is a cheating lover and trying your damndest to mutilate their genitals, or opening a gateway to a dimension of infinite liquid until the entire world, yes ENTIRE world, floods to point that your magic-user is drown and dead. It’s brutal, unpredictable, and totally awesome, but not for the squeamish by any stretch.
In all, I really like most of what Lamentations of the Flame Princess does, as it blends the classic D&D play with a wonderfully dark fantasy feel. With that said, there are a few things I’d tinker around with, but since it’s done old school style house rules are more than encouraged. I think the biggest thing I’d change are the skills and attributes, as I don’t like the static nature that’s presented in the rules as is. For attributes, perhaps a free point every three or four levels for players to distribute, and with skills, I’d give out a single point every odd level to help the other classes even out with the specialist so they can avoid being left behind and become totally inept. I think this helps with players feeling their character is progressing more as well, which gets them more involved and into the game, and that’s never a bad thing.
Lamentations is a great little book at a more than affordable price, and I really think it’s worth a look if you’re into something darker, and by that, I mean if you’ve always wanted to try a system that heavily mixes first edition D&D with a strong Cthulhu flavor. It’s not quite an all in one as it lacks a setting and beastiary, so you’re going to have to come up with your own world and plenty of baddies for your players to fight. If you and your players want to tap into your evil sides, or just see if you can survive, then I recommend giving Lamentations a go, just make sure everyone involved is comfortable with themes that are going pop and you should be fine, and no younger gamers, that would end up just being bad.
For next week, I promise we’re going to lighten things up again compared to this look into the RPG abyss, instead taking a gander into the abyss of pro-wrestling. Seriously, it’s a hilarious travesty that I have coming up for you guys, and believe me you don’t want to miss out. Until then, later gang.