Saturday, April 1, 2017

RPG Review: Lamentations of the Flame Princess & Death Frost Doom

LotFP
Disclosure: Links to product in this review include my drivethrurpg.com affiliate identification. I receive a token % if you purchase something from the landing page.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess & Death Frost Doom
By: James Edward Raggi IV & Zak S.
Published By: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Publisher Website: http://www.lotfp.com/RPG/
Written By:  J.L. Duncan

Welcome to a review of Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP) and the adventure supplement Death Frost Doom (DFD). Reviewed, are the PDF versions of these products.
Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Death Frost Doom can be purchased at drivethrurpg.com and rpgnow.com in PDF. If you prefer an actual book, visit: http://www.lotfp.com/store/ order it from the LotFP product page. As far as I can tell, each book ordered from the LotFP site includes a PDF with purchase. The company is based in Helsinki, Finland.

When I first contacted James Raggi about reviewing LotFP, he requested, that I review the recently revised DFD adventure supplement as well. The hope being that I would be able to better understand the “feel” of LotFP, as an RPG. Or that which is beyond its own subtitle, “Weird Fantasy Role-Playing.” Besides the fact that had no reason to refuse such a generous offer, I agreed and for the most part Mr. Raggi was right.

In regards to system, LotFP doesn’t necessitate a game play dynamic or seem much different from any other Old School Renaissance (OSR) retro clone that uses an Open Game License (OGL). The Tolkien inspired setting has many of the familiar elements with its hand in the proverbial Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) cookie jar. Yet-there are defiantly features which distinguish it as a system and LotFP accomplishes something I’ve found rare among retro clones, it really does stand out. How it stands out is one focus of this review.
Fans of D&D and/or OSR works in general, will defiantly appreciate the author’s efforts. If you consider yourself in either of these categories, it’s safe to say that you should have this RPG. “Lamentations,” is worth your CASH.

Some of the features that I appreciate about LotFP are in my view, subtle improvements to D&D, but it also has to do with how “Lamentations,” applies the old school game in concept. As I’ve noted in other reviews I’m not a sage of D&D, so forgive me if I miss something vital. And while you’re doing that, also forgive my chosen format for this review-as it is more of a highlight piece of what I found most interesting-and what I found unique, rather than my typical format.
The first thing that struck my eye with LotFP is how alignment is presented and so following how magic is viewed within game context. LotFP; Alignment, PG 8:

“Alignment is a character’s orientation on a cosmic scale. It has nothing to do with a character’s allegiances, personality, morality, or actions. Alignments will mostly be used to determine how a character is affected by certain magical elements in the game. The three alignments are Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic.”

Alignment for LotFP breaks the typical handcuff of character morality. To paraphrase a later passage, morality is something that a player has to role-play in regards to character. If I had a gold piece for every time I heard a Referee (Ref), question a player: “Yeah, but does that action follow your character alignment?” I’d have a dragon’s hoard. I’ll bet most of us would.
I’ve never been in favor of how alignment has come to work in most games, or I should say, how it is applied. You may not be in favor of it, but at the very least, LotFP presents something different.

Character classes for the most part follow with the tradition of D&D, but LotFP has done a bit of hammering and a little beveling. The classic demi-human races such as the dwarf, elf, and halfling are presented as a class; with human classes being the cleric, fighter, magic-user and specialist.
The traditional thief class has been replaced with the specialist class. Specialists have a few more options available to them than the traditional thief and receive points upon character creation and at each new level, which they can spend towards nine (thief like) skills. LotFP has done away with a percentage as a base and in turn skill progression determined by character level. A specialist gets to choose how they allocate these points and all skill checks utilize a D6, with a point increasing a skill by one point out of a maximum of six.

Optional: Black Powder
The fighter class is the only class which is awarded attack bonus upon creation and as they progress levels. For the human classes this is design gold, though it leaves my beloved dwarf a bit out in the cold in regards to combat. While most of us are accustomed to the idea, “Yeah-we’ll give every class a bonus to hit and kill stuff-but the fighter will have even more…” From a design standpoint I thought this was an innovative approach to what essentially can become a number crunching dilemma. LotFP strips this away and says, “fighters, fight-and are good at it.”   
Clerics are required to be of lawful alignment, while magic-users and elves must be of chaotic alignment. Though with the understood changes, this is not such a restriction, as it is in other games; but a cosmic philosophy if you will.

Magic-user and cleric spells offer both the familiar and the not so familiar. If anything captures the essence of LotFP it is this section. One interesting choice is to make Turn Dead a spell rather than an automatic divine privilege for clerics. Magic-user and cleric spells are weighted more as tools rather than offensive firepower (which more is typical in old school games). Magic descriptions are quite good, feeling a bit fast, while anything but loose. Again some of these will be familiar, but most if not all have been tweaked (some to the weird) to a few degrees.
Let’s talk, Death Frost Doom. 

Death Frost Doom 2014
According to the PDF, the original Death Frost Doom was released by LotFP in 2009. The one I have is a 2014 revision of James Raggi’s original. Tweaked and made creepier by author Zak S. The cover art is the work of Yannick Bouchard. The black and white illustrations, cartography and interior images are the work of Jez Gordon. The art for this supplement is excellent, many of which are full page black & white illustrations and perfectly serviceable as game aids.

While I’m perfectly comfortable comparing LotFP to its origins, I hesitate to compare Death Frost Doom to any other adventure module or supplement. Certainly, it has the classic elements of a dungeon crawl, but it also offers such a dark and foreboding environment, it is more akin to a Call of Cthulhu scenario. I’ll leave it there and let’s take a brief and muddy crawl down the rabbit hole:
“There is a mountain that no-one climbs. It dominates the landscape like fear and the memories of what once lived there. But memory recedes and rumor breeds-and the rumor is a rumor of gold.”

“Someone will be the first to scale the white mountain: it will be someone who is greedy, stupid or fanatical— but also, perhaps, lucky…” (DFD: Pg. 8)
Through to a graveyard, which rests at the top of a snow and ice covered mountain, there is a cabin. Below the cabin, within the bowels of the mountain is a cursed tomb, one with unique enchantments and evil. However, it’s actually much-much worse than that.

If the player character’s survive, they will likely turn out to be the catalyst of this adventure, releasing the evil of the tomb upon the world. Death Frost Doom is not only an adventure supplement, but offers the potential of a campaign. Assuming the player characters will want put right the evils they have unwittingly rerelease upon the world. If they survive...
Traps in DFD are of the magic variety though they are very unique in their application. They might not even qualify as traps in the classical sense. They are not the typical, step here and enact a poison arrow trap. The traps require more interaction such as moving the hands on the clock creates a time warp (forward or backward in time) while playing notes on the organ creates a random effect none of which are particularly beneficial-outside of the fact of making the player characters aware that indeed this place is magically cursed.

Encounters don’t begin until near the end of the tomb delve. DFD doesn’t provide a table to roll for random encounters. And this makes sense because nothing random would inhabit such a place. The tomb itself is what is at play here, each room being an encounter unto itself; the discovery of how deep and dark the rabbit hole goes. The tomb is one hell of a creepy place. The writing is really excellent with ideas and options for the Ref to play with and consider.
Overall, I found Death Frost Doom refreshing and unique in its approach to the “Dungeon Crawl.” If you wouldn’t use it in full you could use many of its elements to create your own ideas-and run with them. Though it’s obviously designed with LotFP in mind, it’s serviceable towards any OSR system.

Added Post: I've read some recent commentary that DFD is known as a negadungeon. Or that the best thing the characters could do would be to ignore the place entirely. While I certainly see the point, what makes this product a true gem in my mind is the content of ideas being presented. I myself rarely run straight from the script, so when I get a product like this, what I'm really buying it for, is ideas. And which, this product has plenty of.   

Lamentations of the Flame Princess encapsulates old school, yet it doesn’t do it idly or rest on the laurels of D&D. The art is spectacular, though I would recommend it towards mature viewership; featuring old school black and white goodness as well as an inlay of color art. Did I mention the art is spectacular? The book offers a concise layout of game rules and tables. The writing is succinct and to the point.
No game I’ve reviewed yet, has done it better.

Disclosure: This review is property of Kenzer and Company, published here with permission. The writing may have been slightly tweaked from the original.