Personal note

Another Lamentations Review…well, sort of…

So, per my prior post, I have been devouring material published for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. And I want to make an observation that I think is very important as I believe it distinguishes LotFP from WoTC. Products produced by LotFP have a game component in them that, in a way, is a solo game for the GM, DM, Referee, etc. Typically, we see these sorts of things as a series of tables, charts, die rolls, graphs, etc. as simply tools for the gamemaster to assist in designing a dungeon, a session, or even a world. But the sheer plethora of material that contains this very unique random [insert whatever you want here] generators provided by Lamentations of the Flame Princess suggest to me a stylistic theme from LotFP that you just don’t see anywhere else.

So, what the hell am I talking about?

For example, The Seclusiam of Orphone of the Three Visions by D. Vicent Baker is, at its heart, a random wizard’s tower generator. But it is more than that. He approaches it like an anthropologist would approach a subject. The idea is that a wizard’s tower goes through phases and, when the adventurers tackle a mage’s tower, they are tackling it during its “vulnerable phase” where the wizard has left for some reason and the tower is empty–well, sort of. This anthropological approach gives you, the reader, something fascinating to read that is beyond just a series of charts or a recitation of old wizard’s tower tropes. It is a wholly unique take on the subject of a wizard’s tower.

But! The charts are fun to roll through. It’s like a game for the gamemaster as he is prepping his next adventure. What are you going to roll? What are you going to come up with?

Veins of the Earth by Patrick Stuart and illustrations by Scrap Princess is another great example of this. This book is about designing cave systems. On a personal note, I hate drawing dungeons and the random generators you get from WotC are not very exciting. Veins of the Earth approaches the cavern system in a very unique way that is–again–incredibly fun to work through as you prep an adventure, session, or whatever. (I think Veins of the Earth deserves its own post as it is one of my favorite books from LotFP, so stay tuned True Believer!)

Vornheim by Zak Smith is another one. It is just a fun way to design a city and encounters within a city. His approach to random encounter generation is one of the weirdest and innovative I have ever seen. This is another book deserving of its own post.

You really do not get this sort of treatment with WoTC products…and when you do, what is generated feels rehashed or bland. I submit to you the 4e base model for encounter generation or the ubiquitous “random dungeon” generator that has changed very little since the early days of the game. You know what I am talking about: the assumption that the dungeon (which could be anything, a cavern, a castle, a wizard’s tower, etc.) where all of the floors, rooms, etc. are generated with a 5’x5′ or 10’x10′ grid in mind. Then you have some random elements you might put in there. It has its uses, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t have quite the amount of fun that Lamentations of the Flame Princess is providing me as a gamemaster.

And, while I’m meditating on this, WoTC is about to publish (or has published) another game supplement, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.  While I haven’t purchased it yet, the reviews that I have seen at this point give me a sense that it was designed with a focus group in mind (rather than the brainchild of a specific author). And, like early supplements for the WoTC brand, this is designed mostly for players.

As gamemasters, we spend a lot of time alone in our thoughts prepping a game, a session, a world, etc. It has been said that a gamemaster is more invested in his/her game than anyone else at the table. That is true. I often feel very selfish when speaking about my campaigns with players outside of the game as I feel like I am talking about what is going on inside my head-when all they want to do is watch the football game and drink a few beers. So, for me, Lamentations of the Flame Princess is providing a product with me in mind. It is giving me something fun to do while I prep a session. It is allowing me to have my thoughts and wizardly musings as I contemplate my next session or campaign, or just meditate on the craft of a gamemaster in general.

Gamemaster’s Getaway

Okay…so another thing I started doing during this pandemic (hereinafter referred to as “Nurgle’s Side Bitch,” a/k/a “Das Rona”) is a podcast with some dudes I met on a Facebook group, Dungeoncraft. (You should check out Dungeoncraft as Professor Dungeon Master is very knowledgeable and he is not some schlocky talking head like some of the other guys out there in the great unknown (read: “the Internet”)).

Gamemaster’s Getaway is, essentially, three guys (Gary, Brian, and I) just sitting around talking about gaming from a gamemaster’s perspective. We are system agnostic. This is not necessarily about D&D 5e, or Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or Star Wars, or [insert your favorite game here]. Our focus is the one commonality between these games: the people who play them, especially the gamemaster.

We are trying to keep this informal and conversational. I do not expect us to finish a topic in one night. Rather, we will be revisiting topics as our own knowledge base increases and our evolution as gamemasters continue. We are not trying to come to a consensus to “Tell you how to play [insert favorite game here].” Rather, we are just talking about what has worked for us and what hasn’t. Sometimes we agree. Sometimes we don’t. I find the more interesting conversations are the ones where we do not come to a consensus.

We will be doing some live plays of games as well. We plan on discussing games, reviewing them, and just plain having fun. I am going to do my first live play on 8/28/20. I will be posting my thoughts on it shortly thereafter. I’m running “Going Through Forbidden Otherworlds” by Zzarchov Kowolski. It is a Lamentations of the Flame Princess publication. I’m looking forward to it.

We would like to have guests as well. Not sure how that is going to work yet, but I like the idea of bringing in other people in the community. Because this isn’t about us, really. It is about the craft of being a gamemaster. Everyone should join the conversation so this wonderful hobby can grow and continue to thrive.

We are still working out the kinks on marketing and presentation, (apparently we are on Spotify) but it has been a lot of fun and I look forward to our Wednesday night recording sessions. Our Facebook page is up and I would appreciate it if you “liked” it.

Gary had the idea back in June and I responded to him on a lark. I’m glad I did. Because Gary and Brian know a lot…and I mean A LOT. Just participating in this project has made me a better gamemaster. I hope you listen to our discussions…and, if you are interested in being a gamemaster, I hope we make you a better gamemaster too.

And…by all means…if we get it wrong, let us know. Join the conversation!

My new obsession

If you buy the core rule book you will see how she lost her leg!!!

Hello, 2020! Hello, the brave new world of insanity…quarantines, riots, angry internet people…it is as if the Seventh Seal has been opened and, well, here we are. If Kirk Cameron had mysteriously disappeared, I would have concluded that the Rapture happened and we all have been Left Behind. I guess the good news is that he’s still around, so the world hasn’t ended…yet.

Ironically, COVID-19 expanded my gaming significantly. I have been gaming more than I was a year ago. It has been great! I am currently playing in a D&D 5e Curse of Strahd game. We are taking a brief break from that as the dungeon master wanted some time to meditate on the game and avoid burnout. He has been running downtime via email so we can still “play” our characters until “CoS Season 2” starts in October. He has been doing a great job and I look forward to when we pick it back up. Every now and again there is a Tyranny of Dragons game I play in as well. That one has yet to hit its stride, but it has been fun playing a wise-cracking halfling wild-mage gambler.

As a game-master, I am running a ton of campaigns and it is awesome. I am running a D&D 5e campaign based on the Tales from the Yawning Portal campaign book. We meet every Thursday night for that. It is a blast. I am also running a Waterdeep Dragonheist campaign every other Friday night. That is an interesting campaign. I suspect I will have to start writing about both of these campaigns. Recently, my main gaming group got back together after a six-month COVID-19 hiatus. It is a homebrew campaign in a world of my own devising: Arynor/E’turia.

On top of all that, I started a podcast with a couple of guys I met online who are longtime gamemasters. It is called “Gamemaster’s Getaway.” We are still working on the marketing side of things, but I will be posting links soon.

But my inordinate amount of D&D 5e games is not the “new obsession.” No. In fact, I think the saturation of 5e gaming is the reason I have this new obsession. My new obsession is a little independent gaming company called Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

I picked up the core rulebook about a year ago on a lark. I was learning about Old School Rennaissance (OSR) and wanted to see what it was all about. I picked up the book, saw the art, and was blown away. I couldn’t believe someone out there was making stuff like this. As my gaming group at the time (December 2019) was not interested in OSR, I did not push it or consider picking up any further products from the publisher. Then COVID-19 happened and my main homebrew epic storyline involving the beleaguered kingdoms of Arynor had to be placed on hold.

My friend Jeremiah started running CoS on Fantasy Grounds. The idea was that we needed to stay in touch, play games, and keep our sanity. I, too, started running games (Waterdeep & Tales) using Fantasy Grounds. But I gotta say…I have had my fill of 5e.

*Enter stage left a flame-haired beauty sporting a peg leg and a silver rapier. She speaks with a decidedly Finnish accent and she is into heavy metal*

Lamentations of the Flame Princess is a breath of fresh air in a gaming community saturated with milquetoast easy to digest games and story hooks. That’s not to say that Wizards of the Coast is not putting out a good product. They are. But DM’s Guild and other independent 5E designers and writers are not doing it for me. To be honest, I am tired of the safety of political correct stories, concepts, tropes, etc. I just do not find it innovative or creative. That, and coupled with some mechanics issues I have with 5E, I am craving something new. Indeed, I started writing something to publish on the DM’s Guild and I stopped because I am just bored with 5E. (I still intend to finish it…I will let you know when it is up. I hope people like it!)

Lamentations of the Flame Princess has a punk rock, heavy metal vibe, which I love. The artwork depicts a very brutal and risque game world. All bets are off. If you are squeamish or easily offended, do not buy this game. Do not waste your time buying it and complaining about it on Twitter. Just don’t…the world is bad enough as is.

For the past few months, I have spent a significant amount of money picking up adventures and supplements for this game. I have not been disappointed with any of the products I have purchased. As a general matter, the quality of art and writing is great. It almost feels personal when compared to the writing from Wizards of the Coast. Where WotC is technical and instructional, I feel like I am reading experimental prose or avant-garde storytelling. In fact, when you read an adventure from the brainchild behind Lamentations of the Flame Princess, James Edward Raggi IV, it is very personal. I am hesitant to refer to an RPG as “art,” but this stuff is bordering on art qua art. In the future, this blog will be bloviating on some of the stuff I have read and giving you some of my thoughts on the modules and supplements.

On two occasions, I have had a chance to play Lamentations of the Flame Princess one-shots online. They were a blast and brought me back to when I first started playing D&D, but with a horrific and weird twist. A fun and wonderful experience to be sure.

For a bit more detail: Lamentations is a D&D “retro-clone” of the Basic D&D system. There are seven classes: Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, Specialist (all human), Dwarf, Elf, and Halfing. Rather than using THACO (To Hit Armor Class 0), it uses the d20 mechanic of an ascending armor rating for attacks. There are the classic saving throws from Basic D&D (Paralyze, Poison, Breath Weapon, Magical Device, and Magic). The target numbers of a character’s saving throw progressively decrease as the character gains in level, thus an easier save. When you roll your character, you buy some equipment and off you go. The character classes are distinct and there are no feats, passive/active abilities, or special powers. You have your sword, your armor, (and hopefully) your wits as a player. That’s it.

The most intriguing part of this game is the skill system. Rather than have your specialist (formerly called “the thief”) roll percentile checks, all skills are reduced to a 1/6 chance on a die roll. Everyone can search for traps, open doors, know a language, hide, etc. The specialist gains points to add to increase his chance 2/6, 3/6, etc. Obviously, the demi-humans have access to a few of these skills as well. This skill system is elegant in its simplicity.

The game itself feels like something you can pick up and play. But, also, there is all of this room for you to add your own “stuff” to it, to customize the game to fit your style and personal predilections as a Gamemaster. This is what I have been missing with 5e. 5e is a very tight and integrated game system that any tinkering with can easily spiral out of control and lead you down a path of ruin. (A topic for a future blog post). But the simplicity of Lamentations of the Flame Princess allows the Gamemaster a lot of creative control mechanically. We all know that the Gamemaster can do whatever he wants at his table. (He is the master of the game after all). But it is one thing to retcon some Forgotten Realms canon in order to fit a story arc, it is another to try to mechanically change the way the game is played to fit the story and/or world you created. (Again, another topic for a blog post). Lamentations of the Flame Princess makes it easy to do just that. Indeed, if you read Vornheim, Veins of the Earth, or The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions, and others, you can see the potential a creative mechanically inclined Gamemaster has with this system.

In fact, I hereby declare that I am going to be using this system to tinker with the old AD&D 2e Darksun world! I know someone has tried to do it, but I don’t like it and it is not complete. I will be dedicating future blog posts to this endeavor.

Anyway…go buy the core rulebook. You will not be disappointed.

Well, here it goes!

Just sent my first submission proposals to Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeon and Dragon magazines.  I hope they like them. I haven’t submitted any writings proposals before, but I am fully aware that I am more likely to get turned down than accepted.  Every writer’s workshop has insisted on that.  It would be nice if they accepted my ideas, because then I would get paid for them.  But, should they choose to reject my ideas, I will post them here anyway.  I like them, that’s why I sent them!

I would like to do more game design to expand on the Dark Sun Campaign setting as I felt the book was lacking in material.  Fortunately for me, a few in my gaming group have indicated they would like to return to my Dark Sun campaign.  I shall have to enlist them as guinea pigs.

Anyway, wish me luck!

Winter is Coming

First, I got married and I’m really excited because, while my wife thinks my gaming hobby is nerdy, she is totally supportive of my interest in, and writing about, gaming.  She does a great job at pretending to be interested in my stories and character ideas. Who could ask for anything more?

Second, winter will be setting in here in Upstate New York which means my group is going to start gaming again. And with the start of the “gaming season”, I have found myself contemplating what I need to do to keep my player’s interested in our games.  You see, I have a problem. I love to role-play. I mean, I really love role-playing and I don’t think my players are all that into it.  They like the challenge of a fight and the thrill of opening a treasure chest, but when it comes to interacting with my NPCs (or each other for that matter!), it’s like pulling teeth.  I have been desperately trying to figure out a way to get these guys serious about role-playing something.

Compounding the issue for me is that I have just discovered George R. R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” series. (Yes, I know. I am way behind the times on this one.) I purchased Robert Schwalb’s RPG set in Westeros and it is fantastic! I have always liked the story-teller game system. (It uses a roll and keep system similar to Legend of the Five Rings and Seventh Sea.) But, more importantly, character design is linked to house design. Meaning, in order to make your character, you have to build your character’s family house!

How cool is that!

Anyway. As you can probably guess, I want to play Song of Ice and Fire. But will my players? We shall see. My players have been uncertain and non-comittal about starting up again. The last time we hit a lull in gaming we didn’t return to gaming for quite some time. My great concern is that, indeed, a long winter is around the corner: a winter devoid of gaming.