Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Marketplace: Amazon, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, DriveThruRPG
Engine: B/X OSR
Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Rules and Magic is the core rulebook to Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and I shall use the terms pretty much interchangeably or LotFP.
LotFP was the first retroclone I read when I decided to get to know the OSR about a year and a half ago. I was taken with how it cleaned up B/X Dungeons & Dragons, and put its own twist on it. I've held off on reviewing it all this time because I did not have a physical copy, and when talking abut LotFP that is important for reasons we will discuss below. Now I finally do, and can give the whole picture.
Lamentations of the Flame Princess starts with B/X Dungeons & Dragons and makes a lot of simple quality of life changes to it. It uses ascending AC and a Base Attack Bonus. It replaces the Thief with a Specialist class that measures skills on a number of pips on a D6, with a PC needing to roll equal or under, with some additional skills beyond the standard Thief skills; PCs get points to distribute.
It gives PCs a chance at knowing a language they encounter. PCs are capable of talking or crawling at 0hp, are unconscious and bleeding at - 1hp, and dead at - 4. Inventory is handled with slots. NPC Reaction rolls and encounter procedures are a bit streamlined. Clerics get spells at 1st level, but Turn Undead is now a spell. It includes D&D3e-style ability damage mechanics.
Beyond these simple tweaks, LotFP adds in some changes that make characters feel more specialized and competent. It also includes rules for Naval Combat, seafaring, buying property, investment, and firearms that are decidedly unique to LotFP.
Rather than assume a 14th century level of technology, LotFP assumes something close to the early 17th century. Many of its supplements draw on the Hundred Year's War for a backdrop.
What really sets Lamentations of The Flame Princess apart, however, is a design aesthetic that is found through all of The LofTP line; it is dark, gory, and full of body horror and the most grotesque fairy-tale style of villainy imaginable. From baby-eating witches in Frostbitten and Mutilated, to feeding Protestants and Spaniards to acidic ooze monsters in The God that Crawls, to making statuary out of dead children and encountering a god that is eternally being eaten alive by giant insects in Better than Any Man. Lamentation of the Flame Princess takes D&D into its darkest, most apocalyptic places.
|"Oderus Urungus (GWAR)" by Nirazilla |
is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
And another part of that aesthetic is quality. The quality of writing that comes out of Lamentations of the Flame Princess is set at a very high bar. Shock for shock's sake is not enough: there needs to be cleverness in there, too. And well articulated. I am in particularly fond of the materials LotFP has published by Zak Sabbath and Jobe Bittman.
What I Loved
The physical book of Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Rules and Magic is absolutely gorgeous. It is in a trade paperback size, hard-bound with stitched spines and glossy paper. The paper backings of the covers are covered in tables to avoid wasting space, making reference extremely easy. Offering high quality products like this makes me want to collect. And makes me enjoy browsing the book.
|"Broodmother Skyfortress" |
Cover Art by Ian MacLean
©2016 Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Lamentations of the Flame Princess is one of the few B/X Clones where the writer has tweaked the actual underlying math. Unarmored characters in LotFP have an AC of 12. Fighters are the only characters whose Base Attack goes above +1. Specialists who choose to have only the skills a D&D thief would are slightly more competent at 1st level, but miss out on some new options.
These choices adjust the game experience in a number of ways. Fighters feel more skillful and more dangerous. Specialists do not feel like a juvenile pickpocket in over their fool heads. Lightly-armored characters in an age of firearms feel like something other than paper dolls.
Low level play doesn't feel like a slog to get to the point where your character can actually accomplish something.
But at the same time, a monster with 3 or 4 Hit Dice is a nightmare that will grind through low- or even mid-level PCs posthaste if they stand and fight. An AC of 15 or so makes a monster seem invulnerable to everyone but a Fighter. Lamentations of the Flame Princess is the game that made the tentpole adventure a core part of the experience: just one or two monsters is enough to make an adventure feel terrifying and lethal.
The Art in Lamentations of the Flame Princess is also very high quality and evocative. There is no piece in that book that I would say is poorly drawn or that doesn't add something to the book. It is also there to establish the feel of the game: The art is gory, twisted, sometimes overtly sexual, and often bizarre. You get a pretty solid idea of what kind of strange and disturbing things LotFP brings to the table. You do need to be able to handle shock: the game is not for children of any age, and comes with a warning label on the cover for a reason.
|"Frostbitten and Mutilated Cover" by Zak Smith|
©2018 Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Lamentations of the Flame Princess boasts some of the most legendary and well-written modules ever created for an OSR game. They are definitely in stiff competition with Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classics for some of the most readable material out there; although they definitely appeal to different tastes. Like DCC as well, no adventure makes the PCs feel like they are not a part of something big, although in some cases, the PCs in Lamentations' feel like poor doomed witnesses to The End, while DCC makes every character feel like an unlikely hero doing epic things.
Some of the games written for LotFP worth an immediate mention to my mind are:
- Frostbitten and Mutilated
- Blood in the Chocolate
- Broodmother Skyfortress
- Better than Any Man
- Deep Carbon Observatory
- Veins of the Earth
- Towers Two
At the moment I am only in a position to give a full review of two of those. But I am hoping to cover several more in the future.
Low Level Play Support
Almost all Lamentations of the Flame Princess products are geared to low-level play. Either they tell a whole story that PCs can handle at levels 1-3, or they are so dense in material that characters can start there and level up to higher abilities long before they reach the end of the material. Making adventures that a player is going to have to play forever before they experience is not a part of the LotFP philosophy.
None of the adventures in LotFP treat low level characters as useless scrubs, either. There are no adventures that feel like clearing giant rats from the basement. Escaping tombs of otherworldly horrors, stopping the sack of a city, preventing the apocalypse, or ending a war between mad wizards are all things characters at 1st level can expect to try in Lamentations'.
Another thing Lamentations of the Flame Princess does well is placing the game on a real historical Earth where supernatural horrors are going on just at the remote edges of the world. While it is not as meticulous as something like Kasimir Urbanski's Lion and Dragon, most LotFP is grounded in 16th-18th century history. When players encounter the strange and supernatural, it is meant to be suddenly weird, jarring, and terrifying, backing the game in a world with recognizable places, beliefs, and cultures enhances this impact.
This attention to detail really shows in the section on firearms in Lamentations of the Flame Princess, which gives a simple, but detailed rundown of the evolution of match, wheel, and flintlock pistols in European warfare an their impact on the use of armor, and the way war was practiced. It is a pleasure to read. At the same time, the rules themselves are kept fairly simple and easy to port into any OSR game. (I am using them in my current ICRPG game.)
Naval Combat Section
I keep my copy of the Dungeons &Dragons Rules Cyclopeadia around no matter what version of D&D I am playing, because no other version of D&D offered as complete a system for dominions, mass warfare, or long-distance travel, In fact, BECMI is still the best way to get every stage of the D&D experience, and can be had with just the Cyclopaedia and the Wrath of the Immortals Boxed Set (which WotC offers free on DTRPG.) But if there was one place where BECMI was weak, it was naval cmbat.
Lamentations of the Flame Princess offers a light, smooth, and gameable system for naval combat that fills in a hole in BECMI nicely. And that is a rare thing, indeed!
Most of my criticism of Lamentations of the Flame Princess is general to all B/X clones and might be better served in a separate article. As far as retroclones go, it balances remaining recognizably Dungeons & Dragons so that it is easily picked up and adding something new, which I appreciate. So I will hone in on one criticism unique to LotFP.
Lamentations of the Flame Princess tries a little too hard to shock. There are places where the Art in particular goes over the top just often enough that you start feeling a little bored and numb of it all. For me, the flip-book animation of the rotting head that sits in the corner of every page of the spell section just seemed superfluous. We already have a medusa grinding on a freshly-petrified sexual partner, a female fighter run-through the eye in a multi-page comic-style spread, ghouls ripping another female adventurer apart, and the iconic red-headed adventuress having fingers and leg melted off by some sort of organic acid. It just loses its impact with repetition.
I have written before on how shock has lost its cultural capital, and I stand by it. Nobody is moved by shock. Today it is a cultural signal that says either "I am another disaffected artist who still doesn't feel heard, and so I am going to scream at you, because you and your culture are obviously too stupid or too arrogant to hear what I have to say!" or "If you listen to Slayer and Cradle of Filth, and read Fango' as a teen you are my tribe! Come check out my stuff."
With Lamentations' it is the latter. And yeah, I am that kid. I know this game is targeted at me; I dig it. But I could do with just a touch less of it. Maybe one more cool spell illustration, not a 30-page flip book; more grue adds nothing to my experience after the color plates.
I suppose it is also a test to see if you are too easily offended by this game. If the viewer can't handle screaming peasant women trying to inexpertly protect their babies with swords, or gore-soaked clerics standing over the bodies they have either blown the head off of or stoved the skulls in in the name of Jesus while still clutching their gore-encrusted musket... then they probably won't enjoy reading Better than Any Man, and will likely whine about it.
Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Rules & Magic is B/X D&D streamlined, elegantly tweaked and made for metalheads and gore-mongers who want a game full of blood and mayhem starting at level one. It does that very well and in very beautiful, high-quality books with amazing writing. It has a few mechanics and spells well worth stealing. I would say it is worth having on the shelf of any OSR gamer or collector who doesn't mind (or enjoys) a little gore and porn on their TTRPG bookshelf. I am definitely glad I bought it.
If you want to check out the rules with a much reduced tits and blood quotient, an art-free version is available for download, too. It is well worth checking out for the skill, gun, and sailing mechanics! And the PDF with art is very affordable, even if you miss out on the premium hard-copy as object.
If you are tired of shock, or you want a retroclone that offers a lot of big hacks to pirate, LotFP may not be your cup of tea. It offers more in the way of mood, aesthetic, and tone than it does rules innovation.