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. 

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