Monday, April 20, 2015

Commentary On The Free LotFP Referee Book (old Grindhouse Edition) From Lamentations of the Flame Princess For Your Old School Campaigns

Since reading that the LoFP Reference Book ( The old Grindhouse Edition) was available for free download. I've been drowning in the blood soaked gore of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess rpg system goodness.

Reading through the Lamentations Of The Flame Princess Reference book today has been a tricky and skin crawling experience. This book for me at least is part manifesto, part stereo instructions for an old school rpg game,  and part advice column wrapped into a weird joint by its twisted author and shoved into my brain pan with rocket. And at the moment its free. So its generous author has opened up this book in all of its grind house goodness and pushed it across the table to you. But I can hear your spare thoughts rattling through the wires of the interwebz and trickling across my hooked in spine to the collective unconscious at my back brain. Surely this book can't live up to the hype that surrounds it. But that's where your wrong. For while we're waiting for the latest edition of this book let's dive into exactly what this is. While the LoFP Referee's book only clocks in at ninety eight pages, it presents its audience with a step by step set of guidelines for being a better Dungeon Master. And it does this with wit, style, and a sense of never talking down to its audience. James Edward Raggi IV takes you through all of the processes of LoFP from the introduction to a complete introduction adventure at the end. This book should be sitting right next to your copy of the LoFP rules and magic book. 

Grab It Free Right
I've got a history with this book and its a tale worthy of almost walking away from rpg's all together. I had a fanzine writing project tank and that takes a certain amount of strain on a writer's confidence.  Then here comes this book and its like having a friend show up and take you out for a beer. It sits you down and starts spinning out tales to you about well the ins and outs of running old school adventures. By the time I was hip deep into the 'What is a referee' chapter this line struck me -'Being a Referee is like being an artist, a manager,an accountant, and that crazy old guy that lives in the park that everyone avoids because he’s always talking to himself, all in one.Although hopefully you won’t be talking to yourself. At least not while anyone is listening'. So this book is pretty much wall to wall advice by a friend and fellow DM whose been there. He's been the guy trying to get his crap together to run in fifteen minutes and while he's not going to let you cry on his should he's going help you get your crap together and give you the guidelines for everything from how not to be a dick to getting it to work.  The rules chapter is basically LoFP short hand and these are crib notes for the game as well as having the balls to present it right in front of you.  
The Weird chapter is part primer on the splatter punk heart of LoFP and some guidelines on presenting the weird elements of not only LoFP but other horror and OSR games. This is a nice down to Earth chapter with some solid ideas in the background. Again with style and some actual common sense. 
The Adventure chapter is actually like a mini adventure construction set and gives a step by step set and kit of guidelines for DM's. This is all done in a down to Earth manner and with a no nonsense approach that makes this chapter easy to digest and with an internal sense that the author has been here time and again. There are are several pieces of solid game advice that can save you a ton of time and energy if you read them. As with all things these may vary for you.  Everything from adventure set up to trap placement is covered here with all kinds of ideas put into the mix and then some. Also this chapter gives some insight into the ideas that perhaps published adventures should be bend, folded, and mutilated as the dungeon master sees fit.
The campaign section not only gives the generalities that were outlined in the adventure chapter but expands upon them and then goes into the who, what, and where of the weird world of LoFP or should I say your take on it. An interesting thing about this chapter is the fact that gives some great insights into some of the choices that the author would go on to make with the LoFP line of products and the peudo historic world of the game. And some of the advice in here would be applied to adventure modules such as 'No Salvation For Witches'. Some of these pieces of advice can easily be used for your own worlds and campaigns which simply highlights the usefulness of this book from the stand point of any old school campaign.
This brings the pdf right into the NPC section which has lots and lots highlights from the generation, use, abuse and exploitation as well as one very important highlight of opinion. The difference between NPC's and monsters. The use of the NPC as antagonist of the party is clearly outlined right in this chapter very clearly. This chapter dovetails right into the backdrop  of the chapter on Monsters.  Monsters here are given a whole lot of thought by Mr. Raggi and are clearly outlined with lots of care and take down in their use, placement, and general menentence as old school campaign adventure generator. There are reasons for their being a non standard LoFP Monster Manual. The advice in this chapter is something that I think that every horror rpg DM should read. Especially Raven Loft DM's and this chapter clearly touches on one of my all time pet peeves with that setting. Namely that the weird and monsters should be incredibly special and treated with kid gloves. More is and has always been less.
One of my all time favorite chapters from this book is the Magic Item section, for not only does it have solid advice for the generating of these treasures, artifacts, and rare adventure motivators but it even includes a solid magical relic generators that can be used to randomly create thousands of horrific bits occult nastiness to get things moving in an adventure. Possibly one of the best chapters of the entire book and well worth the price of admission alone.
The Other Topics chapter is a catch up,round up, and agony aunt chapter for DM's to get a handle on running, recruiting players, and have an over all flow of the LoFP rpg system. There are several bits of solid and well thought pieces of advice in this chapter. This chapter leads into one of my other favorite bits in the Referee book, the What Else Is Out There. This is a chapter that does a whole bunch of adding and using LoFP with other OSR retroclone systems. This chapter is filled with nifty little conversion notes on using and adding elements and playing pick & choose with these retroclone systems. The fact is that Mr.Raggi has made some solid decisions regarding his opinions on how his system, classes, and fiddly bits fit with the other retroclone systems on the market. Again this is actually some very useful stuff from an OSR perspective. All of the high notes of the OSR are hit from Goodman games to Goblinoid and everyone else in between.
The final chapter is actually the LoFP basic adventure a Stranger Storm, which for a basic adventure puts the PC right into the deep end of the whole LoFP spectrum. The adventure does a fine job of taking the entire contents of the Referee book and put it into practice during play. Here is one adventure that lives up to the weirdness that is talked about throughout the book. No lie about this adventure because many of the later products to come out for LoFP princess share the pulpy and weird elements found in this adventure.  This one follows the familiar LoFP patterns and there might be a PC death or two before this adventure is played out and investigated or is it survived with LoFP.
The final pieces throughout the book are the handy reference charts and let me tell you that these things are damn close to being invaluable when your running the damn game. All of the basics are covered in these.
In conclusion this book is one of the best pieces of download investment that you can make if your interested in old school horror or pulp gaming. This book itself could be thought of as an almost anti D20 manifesto because it really puts the OSR edge of LoFP right against the vein of adventure design and old school ideals that this rpg system does right in my opinion. This book has so many pieces of practical and down to Earth advice that it remains one of my all time favorites. Grab a copy and get back to playing a fun game at your table. Five out of five in my humble opinion. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Commentary On Using Isle of The Unknown By Geoffrey McKinney For Your Old School Campaigns


I've seen review after review of Geoffrey McKinney's Isle of The Unknown most negative, some positive and some completely missing at least for me the point of the adventure location. This is definitely one of those books that I need to have a physical copy of and its on the 'to get list', that being said I've read and reread the pdf over the better part of six months of time. And its an interesting location to play around with in a DM's head space. See one thing I've learned over the years is to read rpg review but make up my own mind about a product especially on the utility of said product. Such is the case after reading various reviews of Isle of The Unknown. 
This isn't a regular hex crawl at all but like many other McKinney's efforts assumes that your going to look below the surface of it. There are reasons why the the Isle contains 330 unique challenges and locations, including over 100 new monsters and dozens of spell casters with unique abilities.  
This isn't simply a hex crawl or mini campaign as it's a unique mythological and symbolic journey through the  weird & twisted downfall of a civilization told through the encounters of the isle.  

There's a major SPOILER over HERE

Isle of the Unknown has a completely different feel to Carcosa, the isle itself has lots of potential as an adventure location with opportunities for the PC's to become enmeshed in the background of the adventure location that it is.  The adventure location is absolutely relentless and presents chimerical monsters time after time along with odd park like decadence and its cast of weird mages, priests, and horrors.


I've used Isle of the Unknown time and again as ship wreck location for Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea. This location is a perfect addition to the lost shores of a small inter dimensional plane or as simply another location within the Hyperborean oceans. Because of the quasi Minoan background of the Isle, this location makes an excellent stand in for a lost Atlantis. This is a product that brings a lot to the table but its an incomplete product in the fact that it assumes that the DM is going to pour more effort into it to work the product into his campaign. Should the PC's survive there's plenty of high weirdness to add into the fray.
Dungeon of the Unknown adds even more high level weirdness to the Isle, located in hex 2214 of the Isle of The Unknown. The dungeon is a two level location based adventure that features clues and history of the Island's past. And one of my all time favorite monsters the six sample Goop monsters and a random generator to make even more.
The location of the Dungeon of the Unknown makes it a very interesting location to gate in the PC's. Given the highly bizarre nature of the place the dungeon is a nice choice to begin events on the isle. 

File:Lastman Odysseus and NausicaƤ.jpg

This dungeon is part of a greater location based adventure campaign but its a decent way to introduce the PC's into the Isle of the Unknown campaign setting. Using this dungeon the PC's are going to get a taste of the greater elements that await them on the Isle and they may have a better survival rate. This dungeon isn't as deadly as some of the hex crawling efforts found in Carcosa and that's fine.
In point of fact I think that the Dungeon of the Unknown makes a better stepping stone into this end of the LoFP system and it can be used to mix in parties from AS&SH as well. Its not that its any less deadly or more so but this dungeon makes things a bit more manageable for mixing and matching parties together. Give a group of PC's a few common enemies and watch them blend together quickly. This module will allow you to do that as a dungeon master to plug into the ancient horrors that lurk beyond the threshold what we laughingly call reality.


One thing I've learned from reading through LoFP adventures is that manifestations of magick, gods, etc. into our local space time continuum is never a good thing. These ancient powers bring with them raw power on an alien scale that our little ape brains can't really deal with let alone our flesh.  Treasure, relics,artifacts, etc. are simply the remains of trinkets that pass away as the survivors try and gather the jangled wits and intelligence of these brushes with the hellish unknown and unknowable that swirls just outside our universe.

File:Satyr and Nymph by Konstantin Makovsky.jpg

Time, space,energy, etc are pretty meaningless in these locations just off the edge of the map and so this is why products like Isle of the Unknown continue to grace my table. What you bring to them is exactly what your going to get out of them. This is one of the continuing lessons that Lamentations of the Flame Princess has brought home time and again.