Dark, Dank and Dangerous
Original D&D can be a bit of a marmite game. If you grew up playing it then you're probably really into it and will sing its praises to anyone you can trick into listening for long enough. If you grew up with one of the later revisions you probably think it's clunky, out-of-date, and not something that people should really be using anymore. If you're anywhere near that first camp of people then you're going to be super into Lamentations of the Flame Princess. It's basically classic D&D with a lot of gruesome, horrific and downright disturbing situations thrown into the mix.
Lamentations of the Flame Princess is the brainchild of James Edward Raggi IV, an American RPG author now living in Finland, and was created originally in 2009. THe version being covered here was published in 2018. The system that is the backbone of Lamentations might as well be the spine ripped straight out of old-school D&D, which is actually a pretty fitting analogy for this game. The system is probably going to be very familiar to many who are into the old-school revival movement, but that's okay because it's not the basic systems that make the game interesting. It's the flavor, style and downright meat-grinder-esque adventures that come along with it.
There's no specific setting for Lamentations. It's basically plonked straight down into 17th century Europe, but with the possibility of running across a fantasy elf, dwarf or halfling. There is however a specific theme that is suggested by the artwork. In many ways, it's the Game of Thrones of fantasy tabletop RPGs. Everything that takes place in the illustrations is gruesomely realistic, down to people losing eyes and limbs in combat, which is something that games like Dungeons & Dragons tend to shy away from for various reasons.
Consider this your warning. Lamentation of the Flame Princess is dark. In fact, it's so dark it might as well be Vantablack. No light escapes from within. From the rulebook to the various different adventure anthologies and campaign settings, things are going to get weird and they're going to get violent. If you aren't comfortable with an RPG going to some pretty horrendously dark places then you probably aren't going to enjoy Lamentations.
Warnings aside, Lamentations of the Flame Princess is mechanically very close to the 1981 Dungeons & Dragons B/X sets on which it is based. Characters hit a soft cap at level 10 onwards. Ability scores are permanently capped at a maximum of 18 from level 1 onwards, etc. The main differences presented, other than the above-mentioned style of the game is in how the magic is arranged and works. Certain spells, such as animate dead, have been tweaked so that they're more violent. In this specific case, anyone you raise from the dead will interpret any command given in the most violent way possible. You can imagine how a GM/Referee might use that detail in an adventure.
The class system is also pretty much exactly how it used to be back in the early 80s. In lamentations, you can choose from 4 actual classes and 3 non-human races who operate as classes. Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User, Specialist, Elf, Dwarf and Halfling are what you have to choose from. By default, only the specialist and non-human races have access to any sort of special skills, while everyone else must make do with the chance of getting something done 1 out of 6 times. Obviously, if you're more used to modern tabletop sensibilities this might be a bit of a shock for you. Honestly, it's just part of the charm for anyone who is into old-school tabletop gaming.
It is also worth mentioning how the book is formatted. It comes with a bunch of tables on the front and back pages which are insanely useful when running a game. This includes things like price lists for items and services, as well as saving throw, movement and attack charts. It makes it much, much easier to quickly flick to a part of the book and consult a chart, without having to use 50 different bookmarks. There's also very little information actually missing from the book. The only thing I couldn't find included was the difference between iron and regular rations. So if you're not at least a little familiar with tabletop roleplaying you're gonna need to google it. Then again, one missing piece of information throughout the entire rulebook is actually pretty damn good going.
If you're going to get your hands on Lamentations of the Flame Princess I also recommend picking up two of Raggi's adventure anthologies. Adventure Anthology: Fire and Adventure Anthology: Death. Again a warning if probably in order here. Death is an absolutely brutal book. It is filled with the weirdest, most graphic and horrific things you're probably ever going to find in an adventure anthology. So if you're of delicate sensibilities maybe just stick to the Fire anthology. Then again, if you're delicate you should really probably not have picked up Lamentations in the first place.
Adventure Anthology: Fire is a great book to start out Lamentations with. It has several adventures that are designed to ease you into the concept of weird roleplaying adventure. The first adventure in the book feels like a classic fantasy adventure but brings in cosmic horror as it goes. As the book moves through the 3 other adventures things get stranger and stranger. They're great ways to get a reading of how into this game players might be. There is a decent amount of absurdity throughout, and it also starts out with several incidents to prepare players for the fact that foolish decisions can lead immediately to death, just as things used to be in the Gigax days.
Adventure Anthology: Death is a good bok to figure out how far you're really willing to go down this rabbit hole. It opens with what might be the most interesting adventure ever written for fans of a certain brand of horror. This is also true of the final extra secret inclusion, called Adventure #10. You'll never find anything more out-there than the adventure contained herein. How much of it you can stomach depends on your mindset going in. The two central adventures are very grim, and in many cases overtly sexual too.
Both of these adventure books are well written, just as the core rulebook is. While Fire works as an introductory piece, Death is what you really come to Lamentations of the Flame Princess for. It exists to push the boundaries of what is acceptable an RPG. If you're not ready to push that sort of boundary you will undoubtedly hate it. But, if you're into the idea of seeing what occurs when you're put into the darkest situations possible, or just playing through an adventure rife with body horror, then there's nowhere better to find it.
The Bottom Line:
Lamentations of the Flame Princess is a well-written, well-formatted take on the whole old school revival thing. If you've ever wanted an old-school style RPG with a penchant for the weird and grotesque then you'll find no game better. It's certainly not designed for everyone, and I wouldn't suggest anyone start out with Lamentations, but if you're already neck-deep into tabletop, then it's definitely and inky-black depth worth plunging.
Get this game if:
-You need a new OSR game in your life.
-You're looking to experience some dark and weird fantasy gaming.
-You want a well-formatted, well-written and compact rulebook to play from
Avoid this game if:
-You're easily put off by shocking imagery
-You have only played modern RPG's and don't want to try anything old-school
-You don't want a classic, if twisted, fantasy setting.
TechRaptor covered Lamentations of the Flame Princess with a copy provided by the publisher.