Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Why I Love Lamentations of the Flame Princess - A Review

Why I Love "Lamentations of the Flame Princess"
A Review

I have played a good number of systems since I started role playing back in my first year of university. I started with Dungeons and Dragons, 4th ed. and ended up playing World of Darkness, Call of Cthulu, Savage Worlds, Rogue Trader, Eclipse Phase, D20 Lite, Firefly and a good few others. I like almost every system I play but for some reason I absolutely fell in love with "Lamentation of the Flame Princess".  I blame Oliver Palmer entirely for introducing me to it.  It's good fun, easy to pick up and quick to create characters. Whilst there are some issues with the system, and it is nowhere near as large in lore or following as the behemoth of RPG'S, Dungeons and Dragons, it has so much to offer, so many good stories and the atmosphere fits my style of role play and story-telling perfectly. I like old school (even though I am not old enough to have experienced old school, I get a sense of false nostalgia). I like weird. I like twisted. I like gory. I like mystery and I like folklore.

Character creation is quick and hassle free. Your character can start life and then immediately die if the modifiers don't add up to 0 or above, however, you can easily re-roll your numbers without having to break out a calculator or rub out your entire character sheet.

My First Two Character attempts.. Rest In Peace Nameless PC 1 and Nameless PC 2.
 You pick a class and roll up the stats with a breakdown of how to fill the sheet out at the back of the book along with everything you need on only two pages. The rest of the book is composed of rules and spells for your clerics and magic users; but more on that later. The character creation is simple and in its simplicity it is easy to focus less on the stats of the character and more on who your character is within the game setting. You find it easy to come up with a character whilst making your sheet because you are not bogged down rolling ten different dice . You can think about who you are playing. The equipment list isn't huge but it has everything necessary for a keen adventurer (although I always forget rations...). The amount of money you own when you create a character is based on a roll, either leading to a frugal and thrifty browse of the list or an all out spending spree for the more cash positive players. The only downside of the equipment is that the rifles/guns are not with the usual equipment at the front and they are located at the back of the book. This can sometimes be missed by over eager players who like to skim the PHB rather than sit and read it cover to cover, however, these are all very detailed pages with damage and reload times, accompanied with some gorgeous pictures.

Imagine this, but BETTER.
The simple system relies on Skills being rolled as a 1-6 chance with players increasing their chances if they are a specialist with skills. Different classes gain different abilities as they level. This is accompanied by your main stats, Wisdom, Intelligence, Strength, Charisma and Dexterity along with saving throw rolls for magic, breath weapon and so on.. You have to roll your X in 6 chance on your skill with a D6 to pass a skill check, you can make a stats roll and have to get under it to pass, or you make a saving throw roll and you have to get over. Once you have this down, it is incredibly easy to roll and players often don't need to be reminded of the roll they need to make. You do not have to go through any intense multiplication, or add thirty D6's when you hit higher levels. This allows a great deal of flexibility to both the game master and player on what the player can do and reap the terrifying consequences then and there without delay. If the player wants to try and convince someone that they are their second cousin twice removed whilst balancing on a precipice, two rolls, a Dex and Cha, determine the success. If a player wants to sneak, but they are a warrior in plate mail, they have naturally a 1 in 6 chance of sneaking. If they are a specialist, they might have a 4-6 chance. Overall the system feels very easy and easy is slick. Slick means a "quick to engage" game without getting bogged down in the rules and spending two hours trying to find the right page to check if something can be done and the mathematical equation to figure it out.  One of the downsides of combat is that you and your enemy could miss each other over and over again until you finally land a hit, however, this can easily be resolved with a little house ruling, and is not common. 

The spell lists are great fun, although sometimes a little broken. One of the first spells that a player can have is Summon. This brings forth a demonic monstrosity that may or may not be in the control of the caster and has around 5-6 pages dedicated to it. The player can summon something that could completely kill everything and everyone in the area. The first time I used summon whilst playing Purple Putrescence I summoned a massive frog demon who I had no control over. It had a myriad of nasty spells and a drive to kill us all. The only reason we did not have a full scale player wipe was down to Purples unique spells and a very good roll sending the giant demonic frog to a Masquerade in old Venice. Italy suffered, we survived. The other spells scale with caster level becoming larger and more powerful. What I love about this is that the magic user class doesn't have the power to punch nor do they have the skills to really be useful sneaking, but their intelligence coupled with the mighty spell list makes them absolute great fun to play and powerful foes. It is best not to piss them off. They feel stronger each time you level, rather than feeling scaled down to everything you face, and a well maneuvered spell can have some brilliant effects. You can use them creatively, to get yourself out of a jam using Web and setting it alight, or using your unseen servant to bypass traps, or you can become a combat based mage with a Magic Missiles to the face. 

The specialists are a great class because as they level they are the only class to gain new skill points to spend as you wish allowing you to customize as you go. They therefore become an important character when you play them as they can do a lot of things other players would struggle to do, like searching, sneak attacking or opening doors. A specialist I knew became an expert gunman; carrying several pistols and a rifle. Due to the reload time he would unload all of the pistols and the rifle one after the other, drop them and attack with a sword. He became a very effective and very sneaky assassin. The specialist is a great example of how each class in Lamentations has a clear role, giving players a sense of importance and unity.
The warrior grows in physical power as you level and what is great about this game is that it manages to make you feel like there is a clear progression with leveling up that benefits your classes uniqueness. Fighters become killing machines and have a lot of interesting perks, such as the ability to slip into a defensive stance or push their attack for extra benefits.

Try not to piss off your Warrior...
The Cleric is a class I have neglected to play, the class can either be your designated healer or have more of a heavy religious combat element. It is a hybrid between a warrior and a magic user. The Cleric's healing spells are useful, however, they do not bring a character to full health all the time and like old school games, it take  a day for a spell to refresh, making them an important addition to the group whilst still keeping the element of danger and certain death in the minds of the players. Clerics have to be strategic with their healing, which makes playing them an exciting challenge.

One of the strange things about Lamentations is that Half-lings, Elves and Dwarves are classes in themselves. A lot of the time, I have been with players who have avoided being a Half-ling, Elf or Dwarf in favor of the Magic User, Fighter, Cleric and Specialist. I have found that the appeal of playing a race as a class is not strong enough to have me play them over the others. However, Lamentations does allow for the game master to adapt, for example in a game based in Shakespeare's London, one of the player's opted for being a Half-ling class due to their sneakiness in order to play an effective street urchin. This again shows the flexibility that I love about Lamentations in that it is easy to tweak the classes in favor of having an enjoyable gaming experience. Also, unlike in a game where Elves, Dwarves and Half-lings are inescapable it is easy to leave out these classes without it feeling forced or having to rewrite entire stories. The unfortunate reality of these "classes" is that they are often ignored or left out of games in favor of the four "main" and more familiar human classes. However, it has been mentioned to me by enthusiasts of LOTFP that the Elves, Dwarves and Half-lings may be edited or removed as James Raggi moves the focus of "Lamentations of the Flame Princess" towards a more magic-tainted historical setting rather than a generic old school fantasy setting. 

Something else about the system I enjoy is the unforgiving rolls. Although you feel like you have a massive impact, your character hangs on the edge of death at every turn. You may even face foes you couldn't possibly destroy, leaving you with the option to run or find another solution to your problem and reminding you that you are "only human". A badly rolled save or a tumble into a vat of acid will leave you with a character death and sometimes a game can result in more deaths than Sean Bean's career. This gives players the incentive to be more cautious, to really search and explore before simply diving head first into combat. Players who usually like a chaotic "kill them all, loot the things" characters find themselves investigating rather than cutting through the masses. That is not to say this play style is not welcome to the game, it is just more likely to end in a player death early on. First level characters feel vulnerable, and when a player levels the reward is that much sweeter and leveling actually does feel like a reward in this game rather than a simple mechanic.

But gold is also a reward, don't forget the gold.

What I love most is that both playing and game mastering is fun with Lamentations of the Flame Princess. There are already plenty of excellent games out there to play for it. Some of the games I have found the most fun are Tales of the Scarecrow, The Pale Lady and No Salvation for Witches. Creating your own campaign is easy and you can create a game and then fit Lamentations System into it easily. You can adapt any story or Campaign to use the Lamentations system without difficulty. The great thing as well about this system is how easy it is to pick up for new players and old players alike. I ran my current work in progress, a one-shot The Wandering: Panic in Pluckley using the Lamentations of the Flame Princess system in MK RPG and I had around five players who had never used the system before; within minutes they were playing without difficulty and all expressed how neat the system was for players to pick up and roll with (pun intended).

The Artwork for the "Lamentations of the Flame Princess" is another reason I love it so much simply to look at and really adds flavor to the system. The style reminds me of the Elizabethan era and each image draws you into the twisted and weird style of the game. Some of the images are definitely NSFW work, which helps emphasize the unique, gory, and horrifying setting and style of "Lamentations of the Flame Princess".

Overall, this is one of my favorite systems to play for ease and inspiration, and to run as a new game master. It gives a great sense of nostalgia for old school games which challenge the players rather than let them swan through a session, it has great spells, it is a wonderful system to use when creating new games, and overall the main reason I love lamentations?

It is really good fun. 

All images are free from This blog does not use images for commercial or monetary gain. 

Friday, 14 August 2015

Cursed Items to Screw Up Your Players - The Albatross Pendant

Cursed Items to Screw Up Your Players 

 The Albatross Pendant

"Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung" Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Rime of the Ancient Mariner

The ship creaks and moans. It is an old place, filled with ghosts and old trinkets of little monetary value. You have been disappointed by this ill advised adventure. As your comrades ransack barrels and the long dead crews personal chests, you find yourself drawn to a small box heavily locked on the Captain's rotting bedside table. You usher over your sneaky thief who resents you calling her such. She breaks open the lock with little difficulty and suddenly an overwhelming urge to vomit takes hold of her. As she rushes to the upper deck, you roll your eyes. Seasickness, wimp.

 You turn the box over and out drops a small, simple silver necklace with a pendant of a large bird. A whisper makes you turn your head to look behind you but all you see is your dwarf companion  stuck halfway inside a barrel, attempting to scrabble for the contents at the bottom. You look back at the pendant. 

You reach out and pick it up. You suddenly want to put it around your neck. Without knowing why you do.

The chain feels heavy and begins to dig into your skin. You reach to take it off but it does not budge, it's too heavy to lift back over your head. You frown and ask the strange witch you travel with to have a look. She observes the pendant curiously, then bursts out in a haughty laugh, calling you a fool for putting it on. 

You frown. She cackles and says that you can do nothing more but wait to see what horrors the pendant might bring, although, you shrug off the words of the witch as nonsense. You continue on your hunt for treasure with the silver chain burning the back of your neck and you do not notice as blood begins to pour.

The Albatross Pendant can only be removed with a high success in a Save Vs. Will/ Save Vs. Magic roll. A magic user may be able to remove it if they have the appropriate skill and the game master is feeling generous. This should not be easy to take off.

Every day, the pendant adds encumbrance to the individual wearing it. It grows heavier and heavier until eventually the silver chord cuts through skin, flesh, muscle and bone to severe the victims head slowly from its body.  The player begins to lose hit points from the start and each day must roll a D4/D6 to see how much they lose.  I would increase the dice needed based on character level to deliver a suitable punch.  This pendant will kill a player after three to five days of wearing it through decapitation. The pendant will also, after three days, cause the player to be fully encumbered (if you keep track of this). From day one, all climbing or acrobatic rolls are hindered with a -2 on the first day, a -4 on the second, a -6 on the third and so on.

Once per day, however, the Albatross Pendant allows the wearer to call upon a thick ocean fog from nowhere. This obscures enemies ranged attacks, however, it also causes allies to lose -2 to any ranged roll. The fog also allows the players to make a clever escape however does not turn the players invisible. 

The Albatross Pendant also makes the wearer a great shot. They are able to shoot in the fog with no penalty and gain a +3 to any ranged attack rolls in order to improve hit.  It will improve any sneak attacks as if the player is stepping from fog.

 If the pendant is removed the player can put it back on again and the cycle will start again. 

"Twas right, said they, such birds to slay,
That bring the fog and mist." Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Rime of the Ancient Matiner. 


Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Three Great Table Top Player Types (And the Worst!)

Three Great Table Top Player Types (And the Worst!)

We have all had a group with at least one these types of players in our games. We've loved them, applauded them and wept (in character) with them. Others, we have wanted to cast a magic missile where the sun doesn't shine to shut them up. In my humble experience, I have identified my top three player types I love to game with and my least three player types, and a few little methods on how to deal with them.

The Good

The Listen and Learn

They could be anyone. They can be the teenage girl in the glasses who rolled a Dwarf Cleric, the project manager who decided it was time to be a half-elf Ranger, the sales adviser who wanted to have a hand at being a magic user and blow the heads off of enemies with a well timed spell or a very very ill timed Summon. These secret leaders of the group grab the story by the horns and encourage other players to dive in head first with their enthusiasm and willingness to share their ideas. They don't railroad, they don't demand everyone listen to them constantly (except when their character does!),  they don't expect everyone to do exactly as they want to do. They go with the flow, or gently edge the game in a good direction by listening to their fellow players wants and needs. They do what they want because it's fun, but they don't do it at the expense of the group. They suggest things when people get stuck, they offer encouragement when a player wants to bring out their character's story but isn't sure how. They bring the player handbook but they don't shove it down your throat. They help with the rules but they don't stomp over the authority of the dungeon master. They inform the party of what they know with a passionate exuberance and sometimes a wicked smile or hold it back for good reason. They don't have to be the best but in a way they sometimes are. They are there to enjoy the game, unravel the mystery and most important of all... spend time with good friends.

 They might have their own goals and they might only like role-playing, or only like combat. The thing that marks them as great is their ability to make the game about the enjoyment of the group, not about themselves. 

These players are often forgotten in favor of the Loud Leaders or the Perceptive Puzzle-crackers. It's worth sometimes making a note of these silent heroes and rewarding them, either with an in game treasure or an out of game pizza slice. A little acknowledgement for being a good player goes a long way!


The Luck Baron

This person blows on their dice and rolls a critical success. This person has a 1 in six chance of rolling a stealth check and... always does. This person is a dice whisperer. No matter what happens, there is a player in your group you will always want around to try out that roll you just could not make, because, somehow, through sheer luck or through Pelor's intervention, they manage to always bloody crit roll and they go with it. They ride that luck like a bull. They use it to enhance the roleplay or crush the combat. It's all for the good of the party, and the thrill of being a miracle worker.  

There is not much you can do with a Luck Baron, except ask them to purchase you fifty scratch cards and fifty lottery tickets and rub their belly until you win millions.


The Honors in Acting  

These player's are the most hilarious, most intense, most terrifying and most heart-warming individuals you will meet. They bring the game alive. Sometimes they are improvisers with immense talent, or simply veteran role-players who love their characters and know them well enough to do them justice, these players draw everyone into the story and help the dungeon master make an unforgettable game. This person doesn't necessarily need to be Shakespeare and stay in character constantly; but when they do they bring the thunder so hard Thor has a momentary heart attack and Mj√∂lnir thinks them worthy.  Not only do these lead actors progress the plot with their character mastery, they bring everyone else character into the game. They don't run over their fellow roleplayers and they banter and bounce off other player's roleplay so well the game master can sometimes sit and simply enjoy the scene. 

One of the best roleplaying moments I have seen is when a character died. He threw himself over a comrade to save him from certain death and the game master allowed it. He was run through with a spear and the person he protect, in vengeful anger, severed the head of the enemy. The protected player lowered the other to the ground and shouted for assistance, but unfortunately a critical roll left the protector beyond help. They role played a death scene worth of Sean Bean  in pretty much everything, and, what should have been quite funny became serious and solemn. We had lost our leader. We were so wrapped up in it, we ended up having a funeral with eulogies. It was one of the most interesting sessions I have had when a player has died. It took away from the usual "Oh, he's dead. Roll a new one" and added some serious heart to an otherwise quite silly  game up to that point. The atmosphere changed that session and we went from enjoyable jaunt to full scale epic which carried on into many other games.

These players are best rewarded in game, with a healthy dose of situations for them to really sink their creative teeth into and plenty of situations where the characters can interact will satisfy and challenge them. A little nod at the end of the game, or some experience points never hurts!

The Bad

Now we are on to the worst of the players. The problem with the players that cause the part and the game master headaches is that there is sometimes no solution to stopping it. Sometimes, people are people and people are either oblivious or simply dicks. The nice thing about the former is that a little ignorance can be educated. 

The Backseat Game Master

"Er, excuuuuse me, you can't let the Monk do that, it's not on page 35 of the rulebook of the third edition which I said we SHOULD be using for the campaign you spent weeks writing for us all instead of the fifth because it is far superior. You should have them do a grapple, then a dexterity roll, and then lick the inside of a unicorn horn whilst reciting the korean alphabet to pass that check"

Yes. We have had that before. Perhaps, not quite so dramatically. There is that one player who will find it difficult to separate themselves from being a game master, or maybe they just feel their opinion is best aired every thirty seconds. They speak over players, add their dice for them, read their sheets over their shoulders, bark rules into the air and when the game master says something, they second guess it constantly. The problem with this sort of player is that they sometimes think that they are helping, which only backfires. It's sweet, but it's aggressive and intimidating. Sometimes they just like to have the power trip of feeling like they know more than the group. Suddenly, the group is theirs and the Game Master is an inconvenience. I once had a guy who, when we went down a corridor towards a shimmering arch, began to argue about what we should find there and what rolls the dungeon master should make for his minions. The dungeon master made a point of throwing in a few traps to shut him up. With death. A bit extreme, but effective.

This is not just a case of being a bit excited about the rules or wishing to be helpful, this is the player who runs a hostile takeover and ends up ruining the fun for the entire party with bickering and confrontation. They don't listen in game, which makes it worse. Everything is a challenge for dominance and it is exhausting.

These players are best taken aside at the end of the game or before the game and their behavior pointed out to them gently. Once we had a chat with our resident backseat Game Master they mentioned they hadn't even realised they had been doing it, and the pressure of being in a new group manifested in a.. rather odd way. He calmed right down and became a Honors in Acting. Other times, these players are too far gone and if they are warned and don't comply, they should be asked to leave for the sake of everyone's legal records.

The "Me-Me-Me"

The "Me-Me-Me" is self explanatory. They have the "best" character with the "most interesting" backstory, if any at all, and the game is there for them to propel themselves, and only themselves, to fame and glory. The "Me-me-me" isn't aware that the point of a table top game is to share in a community of fun, and experience an adventure as a group.   

Unfortunately the "me-me-me" will protest and rage if they don't get their own way. If they wanted to go east and the rest want to go west, they are the person who goes east anyway with the magic item the party needs regardless of group consensus. If they don't have it they will steal it. This is not in character, this is out of character. They meta-game to get their way and sometimes they use "it's just my character" as an excuse to do something that makes their denied wish come true.

We had a player who so hated combat that they deliberately stole other players dice to stop them from being able to roll on their turns, saying that "they really didn't care about combat" enough to let the others, who did, enjoy it. The game was not combat heavy and the players sometimes put themselves into combat situations (in this case, stealing a crown) but this player saw all combat as boring and immediately began to act up the moment it happened, despite two players who struggled with verbal communication expressing that combat made them feel more involved in the game. They just didn't care because it wasn't satisfying them.

 Another player didn't have the story arc focusing on them after one of the quieter players found a piece of an artifact that, caused them to go insane, so the player (despite having a "good" character) tried to kill the quiet players character without provocation to get the attention on them, and they proceeded to act insane (not Nolan's Joker Insane, Clucking Hen insane) even though the crown had no effect on them after a Will Save.

The Me-Me-Me needs to be reminded they are not the center of the game universe, or the real universe, and that the game is for everyone to enjoy. Feeding a bit of their ego can sometimes keep them satisfied with a quick one on one roleplaying session or some combat, but if it is too much a word alone on behaving in a group may help.

The Chaotic Douchebag

My least favorite player on the planet. 

Once we were playing a group of superheroes and we were stuck. The reason we were stuck was because one player had decided to simply kill everyone we tried to talk too. Any evidence she found, she burned or hid. She constantly separated from the party and simply sabotaged us as a group. We were superheroes, but she decided it would be "funnier" to be a villain and to make it difficult for us or the game master to do anything by having a character who completely destroyed everything. She caused a frustrating block by claiming it was her character, not her. Despite external calls for her to tone it down, she simply laughed at us and really did, in real life, say "What you gunn' do about it, punks?"

Okay, perhaps she didn't say it exactly like that.

The end result was the group of good superheroes tied this woman up, stole her belongings (and the information she had hidden) and then dropped a building on her. We did it in ten seconds because were were all so utterly pissed off and the Game Master just shrugged. She then through a hissy fit because we would not let her roll the same character and continue in the game. 

If you are going to be the Chaotic Douchebag, expect no one to play with you. And if they do, expect to be ripped on.  Play Chaotic like chaotic is meant to be player aka. Not A Serial Killer.

I am not a great player, I have my flaws and I love working on them to be a fun player to hang with both table top and larping. I hope the good inspires to be good and the three players I cant stand serves as a warning, and as a help, on how to play with groups.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Cursed Items To Screw Up Your Players

 "The Can of Infinite Despair" 

A tin can sits, covered in dust and cob webs, upon an altar. It is a plain and old tin with a paper label which, despite the age of the room around it, appears pristine and untouched by time.

The Tin is is branded "Ziens Prototype" and along the label it reads "Diamond Encrusted Gold in a light Mercury Soup" with the slogan "Ziens, The Superior Soups for Superior People". The tin looks innocent and if a tin could look smug, it would look smug. 

As you approach, something about the tin doesn't feel quite right. The tin's shadow seems to stretch on far too long, wide and dark. The lid looks to have been opened once and then resealed. You can see scratches where nails have tried to open the lid.

Caution may have stopped you, and common sense might have warned you against it but something about the contents of the tin draws you forward. Perhaps it is because it includes gold...encrusted in diamonds. Against your companions better judgement you reach out and grasp it tightly.

Nothing happens. It feels like an ordinary tin.

Suddenly spurred by confidence you seize the clip and pull the lid of the tin off in one dramatic sweep of your arm. You peer into it expecting to see gold, diamonds and a strange metallic liquid floating in the bottom ripe for the taking. 

Instead, you see nothing. 

There is a void within the can so pitch dark you cannot make out the bottom. Something moves.

Time seems to have stopped and your comrades screams are muffled, distorted as if you are underwater. Suddenly, long, thick, black tendrils erupt from the can and wrap themselves around your wrist and neck. You struggle to escape but to no avail as the tendrils tighten and small mouths with serrated teeth gnash the air. In horror you stare at the monstrous tentacles as they begin to consume the flesh it has gripped. Unbearable pain courses through your body as you collapse to your knees. More and more slither out of the can and tear at your body, slowly eating you alive.

Your comrades watch in horror as your body is shredded and each tendril carries a piece of you back into the can until there is nothing but a gore stain smeared on the ground. 

The can drops, it clunks along the floor and then the lid snaps shut. 

It rolls and hits the boot of your comrade. She leans and picks it up to read the back of the label.

It reads, "Beware; contains fools gold."

 The can of Infinite Despair is an item designed to kill players foolish enough to fall for it and open it. It can be used in any setting and if you are not comfortable with it being a tin can you can replace this with a jar or a bottle of any kind. 

There should be a Save Vs. Magic/ Save Vs. Will to avoid falling for the curse of greed that the can has to lure victims. The player should also be allowed to grapple with the can and free themselves from the tendrils. The difficulty is entirely up to you. Enjoy your insta-kill!