After the “prejudices” post, and seeing Raggi address some of the issues raised on his own blog, it struck me that my concerns about the niche (or lack thereof) for dwarves and halfings in the game is not really a problem. It’s just something for me to houserule if I don’t like it. And really, when I give my own B/X campaign a hard, honest look, it is within kissing distance of LotFP really. I lifted the d6-based skill system from LotFP (although I have since noticed it in other places too, so maybe we both stole the idea?). I have not adopted all of the additional rules you find in LotFP but in most cases, it is so similar to B/X that the differences are trivial. Some of my changes were directly influenced by LotFP, and some were not. I have not revised the spell lists as LotFP does but I have seriously contemplated at least renaming the majority of Clerical spells and changing some to fit my setting’s Norse Catholic Church. The clincher came after my AnCon game when the guest player, AJ, commented that he enjoyed playing and it was “good mix of horror and fantasy.” Wha-wha-what? I didn’t really set out to run a horror/fantasy game, but I guess that the inclusion of some of Telecanter’s creepier ideas really did swing it in that direction. (Confession time too: hearing my regular players “talk up” how unnatural the dungeons are to the new players spurred me to ramp up the weird a little.)
So anyway if my major complaint about the game is a few things regarding the distribution of attack bonuses and skill points, WTF am I complaining about?
Anyway there is a famous Trojan proverb: Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. I did get my copy of LotFP for free, and while that does not obligate me to write a positive review, I think I might be swinging too far in the other direction by focusing on the things I don’t like.
So, to get back to the actual review, the next thing I wanted to mention was the art. It is mostly fantastic. I am a big fan of black and white illustration, and clean layouts, and this has both in spades, for the most part. One small complaint would be the the “header” illustration in the magic rules, which takes up a fifth of each page for no good reason (a smaller header bar or something like that would have set the spells off from the text just as well and with less waste of space). But Tenkar has already mentioned that. The other quibble I have is a couple of lost opportunities in the “characters” section: one, there is no halfling illustration (or at least the illustration facing the halfing description is a massacre/battle scene that is awesome but out of place there); two, the very cool pictures of a pair of decaying heads and a candle burning out are placed haphazardly. If I were in charge* I’d have put them all on the top of the right-hand page so you could flip though them like a flip-book. That woulda been sweet.
A few of the pictures are pretty horrific, and somewhat disturbing, but there is nothing there that will give me nightmares. I won’t let little kids see it either but probably a mature 12-16 year old would be able to handle these books. The most graphic violence is in black and white, which blunts the impact (in a good way) and the sexually graphic stuff is not titillating so much as gross/gory too. I didn’t find anything objectionable in the text itself, although I was not especially on the lookout for it either.
Oh, a third thing: the fonts. The text uses an old-fashioned font which has that funky “long s.” A pre-1800 fashion that doesn’t do much for me but I guess Raggi likes it.
The box and other components are serviceable. The dice are tiny, and I guess I’ll keep them in the box in their bag or else I’ll lose them. The box is sturdy cardboard, and just fits all the books and loose sheets. I would have liked a little room so I could add modules or other digests if I wanted but as-is, it makes a nice sturdy package and should hold up to use for some time. My books (again, Tenkar noticed the same thing) had a little extra glue on the top edges which I had to scrape off. But they seem well-bound and should hold up OK. “Perfect binding” is neither perfect nor binding, though. In a perfect world I’d rather see booklets “saddle stitched” (i.e., stapled) or bound (i.e., real signatures sewn together) but these booklets are too thick to saddle-stitch and real binding is pretty costly, so I am not complaining.
Regarding the rules: In many ways this looks a lot like B/X with a makeover, adding some rules that are not far from what you’ll see on a lot of OSR blogs or in the retro-clones. Some new kinds of hirelings (household help mainly) are added. The silver standard for economics is adopted. Decent rules for magic research are added, as is the excellent simplified encumbrance system. The weapons are mostly simplified (a bit like Warhammer Role Play, with “generic” hand weapons doing damage based on their size — small, great, etc. — and a few specialist weapons like the rapier and cestus which have their own lines on the table). Fighters and demi-humans may chose to attack defensively or aggressively, trading to-hit bonuses and AC on a 2:1 basis, so that a “press” grants +2 to-hit and a penalty of 4 to AC and contrariwise a defensive stance gives +2 AC but allows an attack at -4. All good there. In a sense, we’re seeing Raggi’s preferred house rules woven into the B/X rules. Apart from the silver standard, all these were in the previous edition of his game.
The character sheets look really good, and I was very excited by the little “magic circles” on the character sheets but they are simply used to record what levels of spells a caster knows. I was hoping they’d have some neat mechanic attached to them, perhaps related to divine favor for clerics and taint/sanity for magic-users, but I guess I have to house-rule that.
It would have been nice to see a few sample monsters statted out in the referee section. I know Raggi is philosophically opposed to bestiaries which make monsters a part of the boring old flora and fauna. Still, I would have liked to get a sense of the game designers’ ideas about what an ogre or boogieman would look like in game terms. The fact that only fighters improve their base attack bonus makes me think that monsters generally wouldn’t have armor classes above the low 20s but who knows? I haven’t bought any of the LotFP modules, so all I have to go on is the sample session in the tutorial book (it is a hoot!) and the “Summoning” spell’s tables for generating random beings. That spell by itself could generate the “monster” for an adventure, and presumably most of the opposition in a normal game will be humans and such. So it is not a damning omission.
I still need to read the magic rules in detail. The characters section suggests that magic-users lose some of their humanity by casting spells so I imagine there will be rules outlining how that might happen.
Finally a note about the setting: There is none. This is actually a big plus for me, as I never use published settings anyway. I suppose that taken together, the various LotFP modules provide an “implied” setting of their own, and I assume that it mirrors Raggi’s personal game world, but there is very little mentioned regarding the world a LotFP game might play out in. The equipment lists, spell descriptions, and class/races all paint a picture of a world where humans dominate in a late medieval/Renaissance sort of fantasy earth, where dark forces stir below the surface. I tend to imagine Jamestown in the early 1600s, or perhaps Amsterdam circa 1500, as good starting points for what the world looks like, partly because of the illustrations too.
Part three will be along in a while…probably some time in June.
*Also: If I were in charge, nothing would ever get published, so good call on not putting me in charge.