[Lamentations of the Flame Princess] The threat of death = fun

edited May 2012 in Story Games
The D&D-esque game I was excited to play at Camp Nerdly was 13th Age, but the D&D-esque game I actually enjoyed most was Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

I guess I hadn't actually played a genuine old-school game since the Red Box era. I play Dungeon World and Storming the Wizard's Tower, but it's not the same sort of thing, as it turns out.

Some of the fun of the game came from the outstanding players and GM, of course, and some from the Nordic-death-metal-themed dungeon ("Hammers of the God"), which was filled with corpses and blood and assorted creepy shit. But a lot of the fun came from the constant threat of death.

The game was straight from the books - ability scores rolled in order (no adjustments), roll for hit point and take what you get, 1st level characters with one spell each. Our entire party only had one character with an ability score above 13. My character had 2 hit points, a club and one healing spell. She was totally unsuited for dungeon adventuring. A single blow had the chance to take her out.

Which turned out to be super fun. Because all the creepy shit in the dungeon really felt dangerous. A pair of zombie dwarves? Ahh, get out of here! They're gonna KILL US! Just like in Robert Howard and Fritz Leiber books. If a couple zombies come at you, you run. But in most later editions of D&D, if a couple zombies come at you, it's a minor irritant.

Also, my character died. I can't remember how. Zombie dwarf, maybe.

Comments

  • What I like about the threat of death, coupled with largely drama-based resolution, is how it makes people very invested in minute details of the fiction.

    We had a great sequence in play with the thief investigating a doorhandle in Tower of the Stargazer. The handle was carved like a snake, and on investigation, he noticed that there were minute holes in the ends of the snake's fangs, which were slightly stained. A poison delivery system! He took a spool of wire from his thief kit, and carefully plugged the holes with a length of wire. Then when the door knob came alive to try biting him, it was harmless!
  • Posted By: Simon CWhat I like about the threat of death, coupled with largely drama-based resolution, is how it makes people very invested in minute details of the fiction.
    Yeah, I'll buy that. In the dungeon in question, there was all this mysterious backstory business with dead dwarves and bas-reliefs on the walls. I didn't care in a "story" sense, but I cared because I wanted my character to gain some sort of way out of her imminent doom.

    I'm not sure what you mean by "drama-based resolution" though.
  • edited May 2012
    Posted By: Simon CWhat I like about the threat of death, coupled with largely drama-based resolution, is how it makes people very invested in minute details of the fiction.
    This. It's a completely different dynamic than just sort of floating along and counting on your character's high Perception skill to see you through.

    You were talking about the new Doritos flavor when the DM described the sacrificial altar? Bad idea...

    LotFP is a fun game. In a similar vein, the beginning of our Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign had fifteen characters enter the first dungeon and only six leave. A single hit meant almost certain death to any given character.

    As something of a grognard, I'm well familiar with this style of play but hadn't revisited it much until recent years.
  • "Drama based resolution" means that, for example, if you describe your character doing something, and there's no question in the fiction whether it'd work, it works. The whole interaction with the doorknob didn't use dice at all, it was all description and reaction. We use some "Karma" (these are old-fashioned theory terms) as well. The reason the character could do all this stuff without a roll is that he's a thief. A fighter, for example, couldn't have done that at all, at least not without rolling some dice.

    I totally get you about the backstroy thing. There's this fascinating thing that happens where every detail of the fiction, including seemingly superfluous decorations and backstory and such becomes part of the strategic landscape, and thus vitally important to play.
  • I've been jonesing for some Old School fun for a while, but can't find a system that doesn't make my eyes bleed. Lamentations comes closest so far...but why oh why are old schoolers so wedded to the damned d20...the crappiest probability curve EVAR. I mean...sure...in 197X when no one had done anything like this before I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time, but my god...get over it already. Are there any Old-School-Playstyle, Feels-like-OD&D games that use a system that isn't 1d20 based?

    I thought Dungeon Crawl Classics sounded pretty sweet until I read enough about it to realize that it was OGL based...not even a retro clone but actual OGL. GAAA...its enough to drive a man to write his own damn Old School game that uses something other than the craptastic d20 just to prove it can be done.
  • Ralph!

    Hack your own! It's super easy. If you don't like d20s, use 3d6. The core of the game isn't the specifics of what dice you're rolling anyway. I can send you the ultra-simple hack I did for myself which could use 3d6 instead of d20 no problem, but really there's nothing to it.

    You gotta keep 3d6 in-order for stats, because there's a fetishistic, macho man quality about it that is just great. I use lots of d20 roll-under ability rolls, but that's just a personal style thing. You don't need it. Maybe a way of figuring out hits in combat. 3d6, roll under 10 + AC? Why not! Fixed or variable damage, your choice.

    Honestly, you need barely anything else. You could work out some class differences for fun and to broaden the strategic options, if you like. I have fighters who can actually survive fights, thieves who give some surety to clever-dick trickery, and scholars to facilitate funnelling information to the players. The classes don't need to be "balanced" and in fact it's better if they're not, so long as they have distinct tactical roles.

    The trick is to download some great modules to get you in the right frame of mind, cultivate the right attitude in yourself and amongst players, and then don't chicken out the first time someone's beloved character dies.
  • Posted By: Valamirnot even a retro clone but actual OGL.
    All the retro-clones are OGL! That's why there are retro-clones, because of the OGL. It don't mean nuthin'.
    Posted By: ValamirGAAA...its enough to drive a man to write his own damn Old School game that uses something other than the craptastic d20 just to prove it can be done.
    You mean like Fantasy Traveller or something? DO IT!
  • I had a lot of fun running this game. You guys brought it in a great way. I felt a little frustrated that there was this whole backstory that you didn't have access to, but in retrospect, I think that worked because it kept you wondering, and it provided an awesome hiding place for a pit viper to kill a halfling in the face.
  • I died *twice* in our last Lamentations game. In the space of 30 minutes. Thank goodness LotFP characters are easy to make, or I'd have been sidelined all night.
  • Posted By: JohnstonePosted By: Valamirnot even a retro clone but actual OGL.
    All the retro-clones are OGL! That's why thereareretro-clones, because of the OGL. It don't mean nuthin'.

    Poor phrasing due to stream of consciousness ranting. I meant it wasn't an OD&D derivative but a d20 era 3e derivative (at least according to some of the reviews on it read).
  • Brian, my experience was the same as yours. There was this constant tension and anxiety that I haven't had in any other games (though this old school D&D gaming is totally new to me). It was a lot of fun, though we got extremely frustrated with one puzzle. I also died (it was a regular zombie that got me).
  • Posted By: ClintonI had a lot of fun running this game. You guys brought it in a great way. I felt a little frustrated that there was this whole backstory that you didn't have access to, but in retrospect, I think that worked because it kept you wondering, and it provided an awesome hiding place for a pit viper to kill a halfling in the face.
    I love this stuff. It inspired me to go purchase Hammers of the God and Tower of the Stargazer. I already own Death Frost Doom but haven't played it yet. Question for you, Clinton: the modules have a bunch of backstory written into them but I don't see a lot of opportunity for the characters to learn it during play. So... take it as entertainment for the GM only as s/he is reading and preparing? Or do you work it in somehow? Maybe it just doesn't matter that much in the Old Skool arena but it seems a damned shame to let it go by the wayside.
  • Matthew,

    There's room for the players to engage with the backstory, but it shouldn't be shoved on them. It's a combination of what their characters are capable of (does anyone read Dwarven?) and the players' interest. In "Hammers of the God," there's a library with 100 books. We rolled randomly to see which one they picked up and it happened to be crazy interesting (and led them in the wrong direction).
  • edited May 2012
    I talk over here about how I played a session of LotFP and the lethality fucked with my expectations of how roleplaying games are played. It was problematic in other ways, but I appreciated the perception shift.
  • Matthew,

    The way I play it, I'll sometimes (especially if the player describes them as a historian or something) let a scholar roll a straight-up INT check to know some of the backstory. If it seems plausible, I'll even just read them the background text, and call it a local legend or something they read in a book once. I did that with Tower of the Stargazer.

    Other times, discovering the backstory in play is part of the fun, especially when they see part of the story, but not the whole thing. That makes it all seem much more mysterious and interesting.
  • Posted By: Clinton... I think that worked because it kept you wondering, and it provided an awesome hiding place for a pit viper to kill a halfling in the face.
    Yeah, he was the first character to go. I can't remember his name, but he was all heart. *pours one out*

    So, another interesting thing is that, normally, if I enjoy a new game, I buy a copy. I enjoyed LotFP, but I have copies of the Moldvay basic and Expert D&D books, and there didn't seem to be a lot of daylight between those rulesets.

    Many props to James Raggi for reminding gamers like me how awesome this kind of game can be, but I'm not sure LotFP does anything my ragged-ass old D&D books don't do. Am I wrong?
  • edited May 2012
    Posted By: ValamirPoor phrasing due to stream of consciousness ranting. I meant it wasn't an OD&D derivative but a d20 era 3e derivative (at least according to some of the reviews on it read).
    Somebody lied to you! The Flame Princess is a version of B/X and BECMI D&D. It is certainly not d20!
    (In the back of my mind I thought that's what you might have meant, but it is so ridiculous! whoever has been saying LotFP is d20 should be banned from internet.)

    Posted By: Brian MinterI'm not sure LotFP does anything my ragged-ass old D&D books don't do. Am I wrong?
    Nope, not really. The differences in LotFP are pretty minor, like anybody can wear armour, XP is based on silver pieces, there's more spells and they are weird, turn undead is a spell, whatever. It's one DM's house rules bolted onto B/X so it works for his adventures. Except they run fine with B/X as well, if you don't care about those changes.
  • Posted By: Johnstone
    Somebody lied to you! The Flame Princess is a version of B/X and BECMI D&D. It is certainly not d20!
    (In the back of my mind I thought that's what you might have meant, but it is so ridiculous! whoever has been saying LotFP is d20 should be banned from internet.)
    Not Lamentations. Dungeon Crawl Classics.

    Lamentations is currently my favorite of the stripped down dungeon crawl systems.
  • edited May 2012
    Dammit, posting without paying attention again! Sorry. Yeah, the DCC beta was sorta 50/50 d20, so I guess it's a fair comment. It had skill checks and DCs (and spells were all done as skill checks), but percentiles for thief skills, and B/X stats. Dunno what it is now, but that seemed like a pretty optional part of the rules. Rolling for spell effects and the 0-level adventurers thing seemed to be the main draws for DCC over other versions.
  • edited May 2012
    For old-school games that don't use d20, I'd recommend Epees & Sorcellerie, which is designed around 2d6 as per Chainmail and reflects Nicholas Dessaux's genius for minimalism (also seen in Searchers of the Unknown) and medievalism.

    I am glad to be reminded that the appreciation of death is one of the seven stages of Gygax!

    Some later stages are:
    - Gee, since there are lots of different things characters can do in this game, it would be nice if we could ever survive long enough to reach those levels
    and if you get past that one,
    - Hmm, now that we can cast raise dead, I miss the threat of meaningful death

    If I recall correctly, LotFP deals with the second of these by eliminating the possibility of resurrection, which fits thematically but makes the first problem more severe.

    ACKS mitigates the first by allowing for the possibilities of disfigurement or other serious injury as well as death when characters are dropped below zero, and trades it off against the possibility of spiritual hazard or soul loss from the equivalent of raise dead. The ideas about having characters at all three levels, which we're just starting to explore, are also responses to this situation; you can play the adventurers to experience the thrills of fragile mayflies, while the kings carry the narrative weight and have character sheets and domain holdings elaborate enough that you don't want to roll one up anew every session as I did for a whole year of first-level B/X play.

    AD&D's rules about losing a point of constitution and having to make system shock rolls to survive resurrection are, likewise, coming from a point where people had been playing long enough to make it desirable to re-introduce the threat of death into D&D. The OD&D "will withstand adversity" can be read as implying what AD&D takes it to mean, but it doesn't have to. The biggest surprise for me in Michael Mornard's game, and the way in which playing with one of the originals is unlike the way we play in the OSR, is that death has little sting. My character hasn't died yet, but is carrying three separate geases from when we've brought party members to be raised, and even the henchmen expect that we will bring them back from death.
  • Posted By: ValamirAre there any Old-School-Playstyle, Feels-like-OD&D games that use a system that isn't 1d20 based?
    What about Tunnels & Trolls? Or is that too different?
  • I enjoy that...but it was always a radically different experience for me...that may well have been an artifact of how we played. I've never played T&T straight...it was always...more like a Ron Edwards' Elfs farce for us.
  • Posted By: TavisFor old-school games that don't use d20, I'd recommendEpees & Sorcellerie, which is designed around 2d6 as per Chainmail and reflects Nicholas Dessaux's genius for minimalism (also seen in Searchers of the Unknown) and medievalism.
    Thanks for the tip! Snagged the free PDF.
  • edited May 2012
    Posted By: Brian MinterPosted By: Clinton
    So, another interesting thing is that, normally, if I enjoy a new game, I buy a copy. I enjoyed LotFP, but I have copies of the Moldvay basic and Expert D&D books, and there didn't seem to be a lot of daylight between those rulesets.

    Many props to James Raggi for reminding gamers like me how awesome this kind of game can be, but I'm not sure LotFP does anything my ragged-ass old D&D books don't do. Am I wrong?
    I'd at least grab the free PDF of the rules to check them out. There's a few changes that I think make the game better: in particular, the specialist class rules and the lack of increasing fighting ability for anyone except the fighter. The Referee book doesn't come with the free PDF, and it is my favorite part of the game. LotFP is a little pricey, so I wouldn't invest in it unless you plan on playing, but I think it is worth it for the Referee book alone.
  • Posted By: TavisACKS mitigates the first by allowing for the possibilities of disfigurement or other serious injury as well as death when characters are dropped below zero, and trades it off against the possibility of spiritual hazard or soul loss from the equivalent of raise dead.
    I played ACKS at an academic conference with Tavis and it was a lot of fun for just this reason. We each had three characters: a 3rd level PC and two 1st level henchmen. I had a henchman with 1 hp who nonetheless kept throwing himself into the fight, only to get knocked down to death's door again and again. I cast cure light wounds, another player used bandages on him, and just when I thought he was down for the count, someone else had some healing herbs that brought him back. But he had lost an ear and suffered some brain damage, so he was never going to be the same dwarf. Rolling for the consequences of severe damage was really engaging, for some reason, and the whole process gave me a sort of protective investment in and sympathy for the character.
  • Posted By: Bill_WhiteWe each had three characters: a 3rd level PC and two 1st level henchmen.
    We did this in Clinton's LotFP game too. We each rolled up an extra character at the beginning, who tagged along as the hirelings, but were basically "grayed out" in the game fiction until one of the PCs died.
  • edited May 2012
    I also use a homemade serious injury table for when PCs reach zero it points. It reminds me of WHFRP.

    In last night's game, we had 2 PCs who brought 2 henchmen each into the giant metal steam-powered lizard to fight goblins. Three characters lived (one henchman became a PC), and out of them, two had been facially mutilated (-2 Charisma). I guess those goblins like to go for the face hits!

    Two henchmen died immediately at zero hit points and one PC rolled too high on the serious injury table and died immediately. Because these were 1st-level characters, they had to quit the dungeon at one point to rest and hire that second henchman (their original Charisma rolls were pretty bad).
  • Posted By: Brian MinterAlso, my character died. I can't remember how.
    Pretty sure you fell off the bridge like the rest of us...
  • No, my FIRST character.
  • I think the only one who died at all before the bridge was the 'allegedly poison-proof' Halfling, right?
  • edited May 2012
    Posted By: Johnstone

    Posted By: Brian MinterI'm not sure LotFP does anything my ragged-ass old D&D books don't do. Am I wrong?
    Nope, not really. The differences in LotFP are pretty minor, like anybody can wear armour, XP is based on silver pieces, there's more spells and they are weird, turn undead is a spell, whatever. It's one DM's house rules bolted onto B/X so it works for his adventures. Except they run fine with B/X as well, if you don't care about those changes.

    I was listening to The Podge Cast this morning and one of the hosts made the very good point that changes that look subtle in the rules, and don't really affect one-shot first-level play, can go on to have profound effects on campaigns and settings. The two specific things he mentioned were that in LotFP only fighters get attack bonuses with levels, and the lack of high powered offensive magic spells. You play out those two things to medium and high levels, and you are definitely not in Greyhawk anymore.
  • Yes. LotFP is most notable for what it removes. The magic-users thing sneaks up on you, too; I pretty much skipped the spell list the first time, 'cause I was like, oh, I know all this stuff. Then I started looking for things that weren't there, and my brain exploded. In LotFP, MUs don't blow things up; they recontextualize problems.
  • Not to totally derail the topic but, how do you all like the game overall?
  • Posted By: mease19Not to totally derail the topic but, how do you all like the game overall?
    It is my favorite classic D&D-like game, which is high praise from me, considering I like a lot of them.
  • Posted By: mease19Not to totally derail the topic but, how do you all like the game overall?
    Enough that if I'm gonna play a game with dungeons, XP, and hit points, I'll play LotFP. (Of course, I'll also crib a lot of stuff from ACKS.)
  • And just because it's topical, the LotFP hardcover Indiegogo campaign has eight hours left and could use your cash if you're looking to get a copy of the game. "Only" $1875 needed to add a an adventure by Frank Mentzer to the pot!
  • Posted By: Christopher WeeksAnd just because it's topical, theLotFP hardcover Indiegogo campaignhas eight hours left and could use your cash if you're looking to get a copy of the game. "Only" $1875 needed to add a an adventure by Frank Mentzer to the pot!
    Looks cool, but confusing. Is the Rules & Magic everything I need to play the game? Is it a supplement? Weird name, if it's not.
  • It's like a Player's Handbook, base rules + spells.

    The Grindhouse edition is three books, the Rules & Magic, a Tutorial and a Referee guide. The campaign is for making a hardcover version of only the Rules & Magic book (the one you use in play). Also the artless version of the Rules & Magic book is available for free.
    Seems there will be minor corrections etc in the hardcover version (and in the free version at the same time).
  • Posted By: IvanHoIt's like a Player's Handbook, base rules + spells.

    The Grindhouse edition is three books, the Rules & Magic, a Tutorial and a Referee guide. The campaign is for making a hardcover version of only the Rules & Magic book (the one you use in play). Also the artless version of the Rules & Magic book is available for free.
    Seems there will be minor corrections etc in the hardcover version (and in the free version at the same time).
    Ah, thanks. Grindhouse has been on my radar for some time, and I'd still rather have that box set than the hardcover version. Thanks for the info!
  • For an extra $10, you get a cheat:
    You will receive the Rules & Magic book (or both the Rules and the Magic books if we hit that stretch goal) shipped first class. Within the book itself will be a handwritten alteration (initialed by me for authenticity!) of a single rule which will be official for your character in any LotFP game played, or else your Referee's a butthead.
    Reminds me of what Steve Jackson games does with their Munchkin cheats. Funny stuff.
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