I saw a conversation in a discord-style chat channel about Lamentations of the Flame Princess wherein one speaker noted that it’s just a house ruled version of B/X. Well, I am respectfully disagreeing with that! LotFP is much more than just a list of homebrew rules attached to a photocopy of the OGL! LotFP is a refinement of some core concepts that are implied within Dungeons and Dragons. These refined mechanics show some sincere insight into the game. Indeed, one of the core insights into classic medieval fantasy role-playing games is the definition of the adventurer.
Lamentations of the Flame Princess assumes the adventurers are adrenaline junkies willing to plunge unknown depths, face terrible creatures—and potentially lose their sanity—all for the possibility of coin and the thrill of it. That’s not that far from the truth when you think about the average gaming group. However, even if we broaden our milieu to include epic fantasy, sword & sorcery, or some other sub-genre of fantasy adventure, the player’s character has made a conscious choice to do something that most normal people don’t do:
To pick up sword & shield, spellbook & staff, or maybe just a lucky dagger or two, and go search for adventure. They’ve given up the (somewhat) stable life of being a farmer, potter, blacksmith, town guard, or acolyte, to go seek their fortune. In short, they have sought new employment by going out on their own. They are no longer engaged in their former profession and have adopted a new profession, which leads me to the first and most brilliant insightful set of mechanics from Lamentations of the Flame Princess: the common adventuring skills.
Climbing, Open doors, languages, sneaking, sleight of hand, bushcraft, tinker, backstab, and architecture. These skills are all necessary to survive a dungeon delve. How stable is this tunnel? Make an architecture roll. Can I unlock this door, I have tools? Make a tinker roll.
In LotfP, every character has access to these. They are all performed on a d6. On a roll of 1, you are successful. The specialist class, of course, can specialize in these skills to get a greater chance of success. Why is this insightful and amazing? Because these skills have been common to adventurers since the beginning of the game. Lamentations of the Flame Princess just made it more explicit. Remember rolling a thief in one of the advanced versions of the game and seeing that dwarves were natural tinkerers, but elves were better at sneaking? Or how about the dexterity bonuses that added to the skills? These percentile charts were there as a reference point to determine the base chance for anyone who wanted to try doing what the thief was doing.
Only the thief was better at it, especially at higher levels. It is almost as if he was a specialist…
Making the mechanic on a d6 (rather than a percentile) is brilliant because the common adventuring skills are now consistent with how the demi-human characters handled their attempts at success for their idiosyncratic abilities as well. In LotFP, these demi-humans are, in a sense, multi-classed specialists, (the elf being triple classed).
If I have any gripe about the common adventuring skills is that there needs to be a few more. In Eldritch Cock, James Raggi provides a rough outline of rules for the second edition of LotFP. (If ain’t broke, James, don’t fix it!!!). In that outline of playtest rules, he included a seamanship skill (which is bushcraft for water travel), Leadership (to bolster the morale of your henchmen), and a medicine skill (why that hasn’t been included already is beyond me).
I have tinkered with my own versions of each of these. I would also include “spell-craft,” which would give the non-spellcasting character a rudimentary understanding of magical effects, or lore about magic.
Anyway, the ease of adding to the list of common adventuring skills is another strength of this mechanic. If your particular campaign requires a particular skill, just add it!
When you include fighting as “common adventuring” skills, the four core classes of the B/X version of the game make even more sense: these are the sub-categories of the adventuring profession that specialize in certain adventuring tasks. In my piece on the fighter, I explain that the fighter is the master of weapons and mortal combat. It is why the fighter gains additional bonuses to hit, while the remaining character types gain a +1 to hit at level one, but gain nothing further. It allows the fighter to excel in their role as warriors.
But consider just the +1 to attack all of the core classes get at the first level. They have an attack bonus the 0th level non-player character does not have because, well, fighting comes with being an adventurer. Thus, similar to the common adventuring skills, where every member of the party has a rudimentary knowledge of these common adventuring skills, they also have a basic understanding of combat.
Anyway, I have yet to comment on LotFP magic users and how LotFP addresses magic. I think this is where LotFP really shines. Don’t worry. It will happen. There is a lot to talk about and I’m still thinking about it!
The point is, LotFP is not just a set of homebrew rules for a B/X game. Some serious thought went into how to make a unique game that fits the milieu of dark fantasy.
Until next time, Dear Readers…
Edit: i’ve been informed that LotFP was inspired by BECMI, not b/x. I wasn’t aware of that…and I have a tendency to conflate the two, which I shouldn’t, but I do. *Shrugs* Anyway, now you know and I know, and knowing is half the battle…or so I hear. Cheers!
My conclusion: the fact there is disagreement as to the pedigree of this wonderful game, and where some of the more interesting features are derived from, it proves how unique LotFP’s contribution is to the OSR…
…that and I will need to hone my skills as an investigative journalist, apparently.