Revisiting Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Plate 8 of 22 for the Macklin Bible after Loutherbourg.Since posting about various retroclone games, I’ve re-examined my opinions a bit. Thus, I decided to revisit Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Something about the design kept calling me back. In part, the layout looks gorgeous, even in the free no-art version. Also, largely inspired by LotFP, I watched the 2009 movie Solomon Kane. I wanted to get a sense of that early-modern dark fantasy, even if it has more than a few plot holes. For an evening’s viewing with popcorn and whiskey, it entertained me quite well.

The simplification of some things like skills and the silver standard also appeals to me, even if I find six-sided dice a bit ho-hum. My only previous complaint about the game itself had to do with saving throws. It takes the standard approach found in the editions of D&D it emulates. Whereas I earlier stated a preference for the approach of 5e, matching saves to abilities, that has started to feel stale to me. That makes saving throws just another form of ability checks. But they don’t reflect, say, the innate resistance to magic of classic dwarves. I haven’t given the older approach a fair shake.

So what does LotFP do better than many other games?

  • Simplified encumbrance rules that take out most of the bookkeeping but retain the resource management.
  • “Maritime Adventures” get an entire chapter
  • “Property and Finance” for those who get into domains and strongholds
  • Magic remains somewhat unpredictable, especially when researching new spells or summoning monsters. Especially when summoning monsters. More on this below.
  • Skills exist, but with a straightforward “n out of 6” system. Only one class, the Specialist (previously known to many of us as “Thief”) gets to improve these skills as they increase in level.

However, I’d like to see some things improved. Hopefully the upcoming referee book includes guidance on monster creation. The philosophy of the game seems to imply fewer but weirder monsters, which makes sense for a number of play styles. But a few tips would go a long way.

Alternatives to the classic pseudo-Vancian system would work very well in this game. In particular, a vitality-based system (similar to what Microlite20 uses) would fit the “weird roleplaying” motif. Casting spells cost hit points, and only rest, not magic, can heal that “damage”. You could potentially reduce max HP until a full night’s rest for a similar effect.

I should not have written the game off so quickly. The next time I run a new game, I will likely give it a try.

Review: Secrets of the Old City from Immersive Ink

I’ve not yet had the opportunity to play an RPG that takes place in an urban environment. I’d really like to do that soon, however. To that end, I’ve picked up a few products to explore the ideas. This includes Vornheim, of course. But it already has a well-deserved reputation as perhaps the high water mark for RPG supplements of any kind, much less city-building, and I don’t need to spend a lot of time reviewing it here.

So this post is instead about Secrets of the Old City (found via OSR Today). It didn’t cost me anything, after all, and hopefully it could provide some inspiration. An earlier version of this dungeon won “Best of the Best” in the first One Page Dungeon competition in 2009.

Secrets of the Old City mapThe new version comes as two very short PDFs, one two pages long and one four pages. The cover has a map that lacks much in the way of organization. The keyed encounters, for example, appear scattered about the map randomly. I don’t recommend printing it, either, considering it’s mostly black and will kill your ink. The PDF does not include a player version such as what you might use in Roll20 or some other virtual table top.

In the encounter PDF, the map legend doesn’t match the map at all. It uses letters and symbols (like “*” or “?”) while the map has actual icons. The legend looks like a holdover from the 2009 version but did not get updated with the map. The urban dungeon itself includes a goblin invasion, a small and incompetent thieves’ guild, and several more significant monsters. Most of the encounters don’t have anything particularly new or interesting: an ogre has been cooking and eating children. The boots of the recently-eaten goblin does go in the right direction, providing a bit of dynamism. One encounter refers to “dungeon level 2”, but nothing else in the document does. I suppose the DM should use this as a hook for creating something else below the Old City.

With a little more effort, this could really shine as a starter urban sandbox. I hope the creators update the map for usability and the encounters for a bit of innovation. Now I’m really motivated to enter the contest this year.