After hearing good things about Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP) I decided to head over to the LotFP blog to see what I could see. I had the vague notion that LotFP was a retro-clone of sorts with a weird treatment. First off, the cover really drew me in. From there I headed over to RPG.net and read a few threads. Tim aka Samwise7 had some great things to say and that sold me. I've met Tim in real life and while I don't think we like all of the same things our gaming sensibilities line up quite often. In short, I trust what he's saying. So, off I went to get my hands on a copy.
I needed another retro-clone like I needed a hole in the head. Up until LotFP the only clones that clicked for me was Swords & Wizardry Core and WhiteBox. Those two variants of OD&D allow me to run games like I used to run AD&D back when I first started in this hobby but with a dash of modern je ne sais quoi. But I'm always open to trying out new games.
I sat down and read straight through the main rulebook. Right away I saw the unique balance not only between classes but also between the classes and the antagonists of the greater world. Only fighters have an ever increasing attack bonus while clerics and magic-users of course gain spell slots. As part of this treatment the cleric's ability to turn undead is not a class ability but is instead a spell. Magic-user spell slots are pared back as well. Immediately I could see that an extra bit of parity was baked into the class design. The game also covers dwarves, elves, and halflings all handled as race as class. I like it. Keeps them separate and unfamiliar.
What about thieves? Technically there isn't a thief class but instead there is the Specialist. The Specialist class is a template of sorts. LotFP codifies a list of abilities that everyone can do such as climbing, searching, find traps, etc. All classes start out with a 1 in 6 chance of success modified by context. The Specialist of course has all of these abilities but starts out with 4 skill points to distribute amongst the abilities as pip increases. As a Specialist goes up in level he gets more skill points. It's an incredibly flexible approach making thief/rogue more of a meta-class. The Specialist class provided the spark for my setting for LotFP. More on that later but first I have to talk about the character sheet.
The character sheet is top notch. It provides an extra bit of ease of use that we really appreciated. Next to each Ability Score modifier there is a short list of things of what the modifier is used for. The Armor Class subsections for Ranged, Without Shield, and Surprised were really useful even for old hand gamers. And most important of all, the list of Common Activities is right on the sheet. These things at first blush may not seem all that important but what it did was put the author's system design intent right there in front of us the entire time. This is a good thing because it meant that we could easily play the game with very, very little page flipping.
Gotta mention the encumbrance system before I forget. It's concise and well done. Encumbrance states and how you got there are all on the second page of the character sheet. A couple of times I hit some difficulty because I was overcomplicating it. Encumbrance is one of those things that as DM I typically handwave but for this game I'm sticking a little closer to the rules as written because the whole notion reinforces the feel of fragile man in the wilderness amongst the unknown.
To me, Lamentations of the Flame Princess feels a lot like Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox with a few more goodies baked in. In my estimation it sits right in between the barer WhiteBox and the more advanced Core rules. That's a good spot to be in.
About that setting that I mentioned. Right now it's just the barest of sketches but enough was put together to run our first session. In a nutshell, the world was a warmer nicer place. It got cold and suddenly colder still. The world's population crashed. Lords still sit atop the social order but they are the faintest reflection of the opulence that once was. Though winter is long and summer is short the woods stand unmolested for the most part because the people fear that which haunts them. Deep into those woods and beyond lie the remnants of a familiar yet distant civilization. It calls to those who would risk a miserable life for riches. There are few but they are ready.