Monday, August 23, 2010

LotFP Weird Fantasy RPG: Rules Review

In my estimation, Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing is yet more proof that there is still life in the original Dungeons & Dragons ruleset. Within Weird RPG's 48 page rulebook, James Raggi has married the OD&D ruleset with weird tropes and his own particular brand of lunacy, to create a game that feels like OD&D, yet is also vaguely unsettling and unfamiliar.

Right off the bat, Weird RPG re-arranges our familiar six prime abilities and places them in alpha order (Charisma, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Strength and Wisdom), making us re-think our assumptions about the relative importance of each ability. Abilities are generated with six 3d6 throws, in ability-order, and Weird RPG employs the traditional B/X ability modifiers, ranging from -3 to +3. Weird RPG considers your character unsuitable for play if the sum of your ability modifiers is less than 0.

Another somewhat unconventional choice: no experience-bonuses for high prime requisites. In fact, no prime requisites at all. While you have the standard four classes (Fighter, Magic User, Cleric and Thief/Specialist) and demi-humans (Dwarf, Elf and Halfling), none appear to need any minimum ability score to be playable. So a Fighter or Dwarf with 8 Strength is possible.

The Fighter (and I presume Dwarf and Elf, though it is not explicitly stated) are the only characters who can improve in combat ability. This is a marked departure from OD&D where all classes improve in combat, albeit at different rates, but one that I do not strongly disagree with, since Fighters in Weird RPG no longer possess the ability to inflict multiple attacks on multiple low-level monsters. This rule change certainly encourages the Clerics and Magic Users to focus on their strength, spell-casting.

The re-imagined Thief, named the Specialist in Weird RPG, uses a novel mechanic to resolve the traditional thief skills. A d6 system has been instituted, with each specialist skill converted to a certain chance in 6 of succeeding at a task, whether it be picking locks, finding traps or climbing walls. As the character advances in level, the players spread an additional 2 pips between all of the specialist skills, gradually increasing them over time.

Weird RPG uses a three alignment system (Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic) but assumes that most characters (other than Magic Users and Elves who both tend towards Chaos) will fall in the Neutral camp.

The Starting Equipment section occasionally slips into Gygaxian excess. For those who want to get on with playing, the Weapons section is mercifully short: most weapons are smartly grouped into four classes, of minor, small, medium and great weapons, with each weapon within the class priced the same and inflicting the same damage. No more min-maxing based on cost and the best damage within a given class! And nine specific weapons possess additional characteristics, with each profiled in its own paragraph. Sadly, the much-maligned d12 is once again left out in the cold, as weapons do anywhere from a d3 to d10 damage.

On the other end of the Gygaxian-excess scale, there are nearly 70 miscellaneous equipment items, 17 unique ship types, 14 food items, and four sizes of tents. Since I am a fan of Gygaxian excess, I felt like Scrooge McDuck rolling around in his vault of treasure when I looked at those item lists. The relative pricing of items is always a tricky business, and depending on how you approach your game economics, you may want to fiddle with Raggi's prices. In Weird RPG, livestock is priced at 50 gp a head, while a riding horse is 15 times that, at 750 gp. A warhorse comes in at 7,500 gp.

Weird RPG has nine pages of adventuring rules, such as opening doors, foraging and hunting, the effects of disease and falling, light and vision, the passage of time, and so on. Some interesting insights and approaches can be found in these pages. Of particular interest to me was Raggi's approach to encumbrance. Rather than tracking weight, you simply track number of items, with each 5 items moving you up to the next level of encumbrance. While i'm not sure that I am completely satisfied with this approach, it is a novel and simple way to handle the issue.

Considering that Weird RPG includes 17 unique ship types, it is only fitting that it should also have its own set of Maritime adventure rules. Finding a way to boilerplate subsystems like maritime adventures and combat to a role-playing game has always been a challenge for RPG designers. Weird RPG provides its own travel, water-bourne chases, combat, damage and boarding rules. I'd be tempted, instead, to find a board or hex-and-chit game and simulate ship-to-ship combats and chases that way, but the maritime rules provided in Wierd RPG will certainly fit the bill.

What better way to pay homage to OD&D, than to include a comprehensive and detailed section on retainers? You will find four pages of rules and information on hiring and using retainers. This is one of my favorite sections of the book, if only because it revels in more Gygaxian excess, with 24 different types of retainers, along with rules for determining their upkeep, maintenance and loyalty.
Weird RPG also includes rules for purchasing and maintaining property and investments. The mechanics are relatively straight-forward, because, let's face it, its more interesting to go adventuring than paying attention to how well your estate is doing.

Finally, we reach the section on Combat. Weird RPG has a very rules-light combat system, but gives you several interesting options, such as pressing (a vigorous attack that costs you AC to employ), holding (waiting to see what the other side does before intervening) and parrying (where you gain an AC bonus but lose any chance of hitting your opponent). I presume your Strength modifier can be used for both a bonus to your chance to hit and added to the damage you inflict on your opponent, but I had difficulty finding the reference to same.

The last page of the Weird RPG rulesbook provides you with instructions on how to complete your character sheet. The instructions are useful, even to old-hands like me, and I marvel at how effectively the character sheet was laid out.

Overall, I am very impressed with the Weird RPG ruleset. I did not find any rules that seemed particularly jarring or out of place: they all seemed to fit together rather well. And the art is in keeping with the weird theme of the game.


KP said...

LOTFP:WFRP looks like such an intriguing product. Visually stunning; an interesting permutation of the OD&D rules; the boxed set presentation. It's an OSR product that definitely holds an appeal for me...

... but, oh that price. That's a barrier that'll prevent me from buying it. And, I wonder what kind of obstacle it will prove to be for newer gamers, or any gamers outside of the most fervent OSR enthusiasts.

Anonymous said...

I suspect not even the Dwarf and Elf get any better at fighting as they level, to make up for the Dwarf having bings of hit points and the elf being a caster class. That would be in line with the way in which all the classes are made somewhat less powerful than in B/X &c.

Aaron E. Steele said...

@KP: I hear the 'high' price is a concern for many. Fortunately, there is an inexpensive pdf version. It would be great if you could just buy the rulebook itself. The add-ons are what push the cost so high, that and the lovely box.

@Prince Herb: I think you're right. It's a moot issue for me, since I never allow demi-human player characters.

Sean Robson said...

Is there anything in the rules that supports the subtitle 'Weird Fantasy Role Playing'? I've read several reviews of the game, and they've all focused on the similarities/differences to OD&D, but I haven't seen much discussion of the 'weird' aspect of the game (other than the art).

Anonymous said...

The elements that make the game a Weird Tales RPG are liberally scatter through every section - beginning with the character class descriptions and really coming to the fore in the descriptions of spells that you thought you knew.

If you turn to the Referee booklet, the designer talks about specific ways to make your game 'Weird'.

Aaron E. Steele said...

@Sean: What Hogscape said. I gather Chevski will be reviewing the other books as well, and i'm sure others, including myself, will be wading in with some additional observations.