Review: Lamentations of the Flame Princess


Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Lamentations of the Flame Princess is an OSR fantasy horror RPG written and published by James Edward Raggi IV.
By Aaron T. Huss

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Dubbed as weird fantasy by the designer, Lamentations of the Flame Princess is an OSR product in the guise of Basic / Expert Dungeons & Dragons in a lighter version. The mechanics are designed with more simplicity in mind with what seems like an effort to move the game away from just combat and treasure hoards and into areas where the horror is turned up and the over-powering abilities of the Player Characters is turned down. Yes it contains the same core abilities as all OSR games and probably all the same spells, but skills are handled in a simplified manner (using a d6), alignments have more of a real meaning, there are no magical weapons, and characters don’t simply get stronger as they increase in level, they have to become better at what they specialize in.

Without looking at every single OSR game out there, and I’ve seen a few along with the originals, Lamentations of the Flame Princess has additional simplified mechanics over its equivalents such as static attack tables – there are no charts, just static target numbers according to armor. Saving throws are statically defined in the character class. Increasing melee attack bonuses only attack to Fighters (except for the simple +1 all others receive) again presented statically. There are no d% rolls when determining opposed checks, just simple target numbers. In other words, Lamentations of the Flame Princess takes out a lot of the fiddly mechanics from many OSR games to concentrate more on telling interesting (or weird) stories instead of just delving into random dungeons or clearing out the closest vanilla wizard’s tower (not that you couldn’t do it, but where’s the storyline?). This is an Indie game using OSR mechanics. The benefit there is that the amount of published material compatible with Lamentations of the Flame Princess is huge and thus can be incorporated into your games with little to no conversions necessary.

CONTENT

Lamentations of the Flame Princess is presented in three books contained with a single box set (that also includes character sheets and some miniature dice). The books are noted as follows along with their content and the suggested reading order follows from top to bottom.

Tutorial

Tutorial is a narrative introduction to the core mechanics of Lamentations of the Flame Princess by stepping through a couple adventures and explaining the mechanics in use and what they represent (from a mechanical and narrative perspective).

Getting Started contains the basic information for those picking up a role-playing game for the first time such as what it is and what the dice are.

Game Information is broken into two narrative adventures that include explanations of how the mechanics apply to game play. The first narrative adventure begins with the most basic mechanics including a look at ability scores, combat, damage, hit points, and being an adventuring group (as opposed to solo). The second narrative gets further into the mechanics governing combat by looking at stats, target numbers, and turns. This adventure gets more into a step-by-step exploration of a series of rooms (similar to a dungeon crawl) showing pieces of investigation using skills, plot points, and adventure structure.

Playing the Game jumps back to information by setting up the overall experience of playing the game, what’s required, and how the mechanics really work. This includes details about things that occur during game play, what the rules are about and how to apply them, and finishes up with an example of actual game play.

Next Steps is basically what you do next now that you know you want to play by detailing recommended authors and where you can find inspirational material.

Rules and Magic

Rules and Magic is the actual core mechanics of the game. Use of this book is simple for those familiar with role-playing games, but further details and explanations of what everything means can be found in the Tutorial for those who are mostly unfamiliar.

Character Creation is the full description of the core mechanics for Lamentations of the Flame Princess covering abilities, character class, hit points, attack bonuses, saving throws, and alignment.

Equipment Lists is a basic list of armor, weapons, animals, vehicles, food, services, lodging, and all the miscellaneous items important to the characters. Note that there are no magical items here.

Adventuring: The Rules of the Game goes further into the mechanic used during game play such as skills, experience points, treasure, advancement, survival, hazards, movement, traps, and other various tasks that are commonly performed by the characters during actual game play.

Maritime Adventures presents the mechanics and options for traveling across and combat on the sea.

Retainers allows you to take your characters career in different directions by giving them the ability to employ others to do certain tasks (such as if you were the captain of a ship or mayor of a city). This details the various retainers available, their wages, and the mechanics governing them.

Property and Finance is available should the characters wish to maintain a property that provides a certain amount of wealth.

Encounters details the mechanics governing combat.

Clerics details the additional mechanics for clerics such as preparing and using spells and scrolls.

Magic-Users details the additional mechanics for magic-users such as preparing and using spells and scrolls, spellbooks, and a staff or wand.

Spells is the actual list of cleric and magic-user spells along with spell descriptions and mechanics.

Referee

Referee is the additional material for the referee, not really meant for players to read. This offers additional advice along with a beginning adventure.

Rules presents a GMs look at using the rules and how to better use them at the tabletop.

The Weird is a discussion on the weird fantasy flavor of Lamentations of the Flame Princess and how to incorporate that into your games.

The Adventure is a detailed section about constructing adventures by looking at them in multiple ways to create something exciting. It also presents a number of tips for GMs to keep their game interesting and keep the players coming back for more.

The Campaign is a detailed section about constructing full campaigns. This presents a bigger picture of the world surrounding the campaign and how the characters get involved in it.

NPCs presents additional information about using NPCs.

Monsters is a toolkit for creating unique monsters along with tips for different types of monsters. Lamentations of the Flame Princess does not present a bestiary but rather attempts to have the GM create unique creatures that the players haven’t encountered in the past, or at least have not encountered in the same way.

Magic Items is an explanation about how to make magic items, promoting that magic items should have very specific uses and not be generic like a “+1 sword.” Lamentations of the Flame Princess attempts to avoid the typical magic item tropes of fantasy by making the items more like a relic created for a very specific reason. Three samples are provided.

Other Topics continues the GM advice by supplying additional tips and tactics for the Game Master.

What Else is Out There? is a behind-the-scenes look at Lamentations of the Flame Princess in regards to its mechanics and how they relate to other OSR systems available.

A Stranger Storm is a fully fleshed out adventure that truly immerses new players and GMs into the weird fantasy aspects of Lamentations of the Flame Princess along with being a good introduction to its mechanics.

OVERALL

Before getting into the ratings, it should be made very clear that Lamentations of the Flame Princess is a game you have to want to play in order for it to be a desirable game. Why do I say that? Because if you’re a full-blown grognard and only play B/X or AD&D and their retro-clones, this may seem familiar and yet not familiar and not what you want. It’s not a traditional old-school system where you primarily delve into dungeons, castles, towers, or what-not and spend your time adventuring, collecting treasure, or just getting wealthy (or more powerful). This is an OSR game that tries harder to concentrate more on the story. This is an OSR game where player characters are extraordinary figures, but not epic fantasy almost-demi-god heroes. This is an OSR game where magical weapons may not exist and the creatures abroad are terrifying. This is an OSR game where you have to embrace the theme as much as you embrace the system.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess is not a retro-clone, it is a unique game powered by old-school mechanics utilizing a unique setting (loosely defined setting that is). It is fantasy horror (weird fantasy), not epic fantasy with high magic. At the same time, it is not horror as there are still standard fantasy tropes. Once you realize that, you’ll better understand what it’s about, and what it’s not about.

RATINGS

Publication Quality: 10 out of 10
The entire Lamentations of the Flame Princess package is beautiful. The writing is excellent, the layout and formatting and superb, and the weird artwork is creepy and terrific. If you pay close attention, in some of the sections, the headers change like a flip cartoon from page to page. I agree with the decision to break the system into three books, especially since not every player or GM needs to use every one of them. The fantasy horror of the setting definitely comes through vividly in the artwork.

Mechanics: 9 out of 10
Although based on previous versions of Dungeons & Dragons and slotting into the old school renaissance, the lightness of Lamentations of the Flame Princess is an excellent implementation of the retro mechanics, focusing more on the story instead of convoluted charts and fiddly bits. The absence of a bestiary can be a definite turn-off for many people, but I am within the camp that new systems and settings benefit from unique monsters that players have never seen before, or at least have never experienced in this way. It’s a matter of creating something new instead of rehashing everything old. I would prefer to have seen more guidance such as a bestiary creation toolkit, but there is no shortage of narrative to get you moving. If all else fails, there is an abundance of bestiary material out there that is compatible with Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

Desire to Play: 9 out of 10
As stated before, you have to want to play Lamentations of the Flame Princess to get the most out of it. You also have to embrace the flavor of the game presented within the content to understand the approach of the weird fantasy. You could very easily take Lamentations of the Flame Princess and play the same old dungeon crawls or campaigns seen for the past 35 years. The system presents a lighter version of those old mechanics, but you can easily play them and keep your epic fantasy experience. However, that’s not what the system and flavor is trying to promote. Everything within is attempting to explain and promote the horror of the setting above and beyond the high fantasy flavor and effects. The core mechanics keep the danger high, but you can overcome that. With that said, the desire to play a fantasy horror game is as much in the flavor of the game play as it is the mechanics of the system.

Knowing all this, I find Lamentations of the Flame Princess to be an excellent representation of fantasy horror and those ready to play weird fantasy will find the mechanics and flavor content embrace that to full effect.

Overall: 9 out of 10
I may be slightly biased here, but Lamentations of the Flame Princess is my favorite OSR game. Not because it allows you to play everything that you’ve played before, but because it presents a familiar system in a new light, with trimmed down mechanics and the removal of all those fiddly bits. I may also be slightly biased because the content truly embraces the weird fantasy flavor in every way possible, without forcing it through the mechanics. Published adventures and supplements can better demonstrate this, but the core mechanics are a perfect blend of familiarity, light rules, and opportunistic game play that brings out the storyline in the old school renaissance.

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