RPGPundit Reviews: Lamentations of the Flame Princess Player Core Book
This past week I received a package from Finland which contained (approximately) one metric fuckton of LotFP products for review. So that's the good news: there will be quite a lot of upcoming reviews for one of my favorite OSR games. Now, here's where I apologize to the authors of Stark City and Achtung Cthulhu, which are also coming up for review; but I decided to push this particular LotFP product up to the front of the pack. Mainly, because I already reviewed it: the LotFP Player Core Book is a newer and hardcover version of the most important of the three books in the LotFP Grindhouse Edition boxed set, apart from a few slight differences.
And its great that this book has come out in this format, for a number of reasons. First, because out of the three books in the boxed set, the Core Rulebook is the only one I ended up actually using; its got everything that's actually important, as opposed to James Raggi's ranting about his particular vision of what constitutes "weird fantasy".
Second, because my copy of the core rulebook has been getting quite worn and dog-eared; mind you, this is not due to any quality issues. Its due to the fact that I used the shit out of it in a campaign that's been going on for about three years now. So I'm glad to get a fresh new copy of the book.
The book is, as I mentioned, a slim short hardcover, apparently of very high quality. The colour cover is magnificent, as are the various colour plates in the middle section of the book; the black and white art in the rest of the book is pretty great too! The book is 168 pages long, plus the front inside cover has the price list for equipment, and the back inside cover has reference tables for movement, encumbrance, saving throws, weapons, attack bonuses, armor and cover.
For simplicity's sake, if you have no idea what the LotFP rules are about, please refer to my earlier review of the Grindhouse edition box set. Do keep in mind that this review was written before I actually played the game. Now, I've been running the "Dark Albion" campaign (the free setting is available on the Pundit's Forum of theRPGsite) for several years, and if anything I have even more admiration for this game than before.
The new Player Core Book: Rules and Magic is a reprint of the rule book from that set, with a few changes and additions. Aside from the new hardcover format, and changes in the art (the new art is equally good, plus many of the more gruesome and outrage-inducing pieces from the old set remain there), there are only a few significant changes worth noting. The layout has been somewhat improved; it looks nicer and even more legible than before. The spell sections have had minor modifications; for example, the "Gate" spell is no longer included, while the "lost dweomer" (a spell that is in the index list of m-u spells but isn't actually found described anywhere in the book) is still kept as a stupid practical joke on the reader.
Where you see the biggest difference is in the appendices; and a lot of this change, I think, has to do with what must have been a change of focus for James Raggi sometime shortly after completing LotFP. The LotFP game as it is was clearly intended for a standard-D&D-type "fantasy medieval" setting. But many of the adventures that came out for LotFP subsequently became more and more about a setting geared to the later renaissance; the "wars of religion" period from 1600-1660 or so. The appendices try to rectify this incompatibility with aspects of the rules, mainly the equipment rules.
So after a glossary of terms, we get an appendix that details the variant technologies of the 17th century meant to supplant or replace the more medieval equipment of the main book. First, there are rules for firearms: pistols, arquebuses and muskets; in matchlock, wheellock or flintlock form.
The rules for firearms are relatively simple, but fairly effective for representing this technology: pistols, arquebuses and muskets all do 1d8 damage, with rifles and muskets having a longer range (but pistols can be used one-handed; while muskets require a special stand to fire without penalty). All firearms ignore the first 5 points of armor at short range (muskets do so at all ranges). They are finicky weapons, with chances of misfire (rolled on a separate d10; I would have personally just incorporated it into the attack roll, with natural 1-x causing a misfire) and difficulty in poor conditions (particularly in damp environments). They are essentially one-use items per combat, taking up to 10 rounds to reload (though the more advanced flintlocks take less time, and fighters take less time than other classes; though even in the best of circumstances you're still talking about 4 rounds to reload).
I have no objection to the idea that guns in this period should be somewhat less than ideal; that they shouldn't be utterly reliable. Now, I've already designed my own house rules for guns in the Dark Albion setting, but even so I will likely incorporate some of this material into my game. However, I do think that perhaps the effectiveness of guns has been slightly underplayed; even if the approach Raggi took with them wasn't historically inaccurate, I think it makes sense to make firearms slightly more appealing to players than these would be. I would personally fix this by increasing the chance of damage in some way (in my own game, I do this by having a maximum roll result in an additional die of damage). There's also sensible rules for cannons (which aren't very useful for non-mass combat; but effectively devastating for warfare), firebombs, and scatter-shot ammo.
Of less use to my own (late 15th century) campaign but far more interesting on the whole are the new armor rules; detailing the rarely-covered early 17th century armor preferences. You have stats for buff coats, helmets that do something without being unbalancing, pikeman's armor, and full armor for the mounted heavy cavalry and high-ranking figures.
I want to be really clear about Lamentations: while I don't really get or particularly like Raggi's ideas about "weird fantasy" (the bulk of which are, I repeat, NOT found in this book, but in the GM's guide, which in turn contains nothing of any importance to actual play, as my lengthy campaign without using it at all proves), and while I think the LotFP products evoke some mixed impressions on me (half of them are absolutely amazing, and half seem totally unappealing), there's no question to me that as a rules-set, LotFP is one of the absolute best in the OSR field. Apart from my own Arrows of Indra, the two OSR games I think are the very best in the field are Dungeon Crawl Classics (which represents the ultimate "out-there" extension of what you can do with the D&D ruleset) and LotFP (which represents the most ideal distillation of capturing the essencial core of the D&D game). If you love old-school play, this is the book for you; and its certainly playable for far more than just "weird fantasy".
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