An Endzeitgeist.com review
This massive core rule book clocks in at 176 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 167 pages of content, so let's take a look!
This review is based on the version of the rule book that does have the artwork.
Wait, before we do, a general disclaimer:
This book has an 18+ mature content warning.
Now personally, I wasn't offended by any imagery here, but your mileage may vary. The artworks contained herein feature copious amounts of gore in both b/w and full-color pieces and the book also sports full frontal nudity. I never got why nudity offended anyone, but then again, I'm perhaps too German in that regard. Suffice to say, little kids, particularly sensitive ones should not get their hands on this. There are kids like yours truly that have always gravitated to horror and the dark stuff, but I'll leave that up to parental discretion.
In order to determine whether you'd be offended by this book's art, there are two simple tests I came up with:
1) When looking at an album cover from a gore-themed death metal band like Cannibal Corpse or Bloodbath, are you offended? No? Great, the artwork herein is tamer, so you'll be fine. Yes? You may be offended.
2) The most risqué artwork (and one of the two most memorable pieces in my opinion) features a medusa performing sexual intercourse with a man she, by the look of his face, has obviously petrified in just this moment.
If one of those two offend you, I'd suggest getting the art-less version for this book instead...but then again, not sure you'd be comfortable with all of the material LotFP has to offer.
Now there are two main points I feel the need to cover in the context of the game as such and the first of these would pertain the rules. The rules herein are OSR-rules: Attributes ranging from 3 - 18, bonuses/penalties based on them from -3 to +3. Hit points are determined by class and non-human races are their own class; while dwarves, elves and halflings aren't necessarily an assumption in the pseudo-historical context many LotFP-books operate in, they are included here for the convenience of the customer. Combat is resolved via an ascending attack bonus: Roll a d20, add modifiers and compare to AC; if it's higher than that, you hit. Nat 20s are always hits. Classes gain +1 to attack at first level and increase that every level; fighters start with +2. Saving throws are included in the class table and depict the target number - roll that or higher and you're good. Paralysis covers movement impediments, poison covers...well, poison, breath weapons are used for area effects, magic device is for magical items and magic covers innate abilities and spells. Alignment-wise, we remain similarly old-school: Lawful, Chaotic, Neutral. That's it.
Unlike many OSR games, the default value for coins is the silver piece and conversion notes are provided. Starting money is 3d6 x 10 sp, plus an equal amount for characters that start at higher levels. The class tables feature, as we've become accustomed to, different XP values for different class level ups and the respective classes do feature entries for apprentice/0-level characters. Clerics gain spellcasting up to 7th level, magic-users and elves up until 9th. Spells gained through level-ups do NOT pop up; they still have to be researched.
Also: This is old-school. Once you hit that 10th level, you will no longer get full Con-mod to hp and a fixed value. A massive modification has been done to the specialist, who is this game's "thief/rogue"-standing - you get to choose your area of expertise in a simple manner: You allocate a few skill points. You have an "X in d6"-chance and for each skill point allocated, you increase that chance. Default start is 1 in 6; sneak attack works a bit differently: for each skill invested, the damage multiplier for such attacks increases by 1. A specialist with 2 points in sneak attack would deal triple damage, for example. This mechanic is also used for the dwarf's architecture, the elf's searching tricks and the halfling's bushcraft.
Unarmored AC is 12; armored, you gain the armor's AC. Shields provide +1 AC versus melee, +2 versus ranged attacks. Ranged weapons have short, medium and long ranges. Some weapons have a harder time hitting foes with a certain AC threshold. (Good luck whipping that dude in the plate armor...) and a ton of miscellaneous equipment is provided with prices -that are different in rural areas and cities...pretty cool. Italicized items are negligible for encumbrance purposes; bolded items in italics are Oversized.
While old-school, I'm not too happy with the suggestion that avoiding foes or negotiating does not yield XP per default, but that rule is easily ignored enough. Guidelines re XP by monster HD are simple and cleanly presented. The book provides clean and simple rules for getting lost, catching diseases, foraging, etc. Rest usually recovers 1 hp and shifts, unless something happens, do not hamper this recovery. Characters who spend a full day resting with at least 1/2 maximum HP also regain 1d3 hit points for each day spent thus. Characters below 1/2 their maximum hit points don't regenerate any hit points by resting and only 1 via full day's worth of rest. Characters reduced to 0 HP will regain consciousness after 1d6 hours, thereafter they may crawl at 10' rate. Temporary ability score losses are regained at 1 point per day.
Language-acquisition is similarly simple. Now I already mentioned encumbrance, so how does movement work? There are 5 levels of encumbrance and carrying certain objects increases it. movement rate is reduced accordingly. Characters carrying 6 + different objects? +1 encumbrance point. Chain armor? +1. Plate? +2. Movement in combat is 40 ' for the unencumbered, 30 ' for the lightly encumbered, etc. Overland exploration and running follow a similar formula, beginning with 120 ' and decreasing it in increments of 30 ' and a simple miles per day column also is included. I wished that one had kilometer-values as well, since the (feel free to boo) feet, yard, mile, etc. system never made any sense to me. Metric system ftw. Oh well, that's what I get for favoring roleplaying games... ;P
Time is measured as follows: A round is 6 seconds; a turn is ten minutes and a segment is 1 second. Skills and their use are codified in simple and easily understood ways: Characters have a 1/2 swimming speed and characters too encumbered have a referee-determined chance to drown. A ton of different ships with required crew and carrying capacity, hi points etc. are provided and the pdf sports similarly easy ship-to-ship combat rules. Retainers to send into the corridor and die horribly...äh, I meant "valuable assets for adventuring groups" also get a massive table with wages and space requirements to house. Managing finances and property (!!!) is also covered in this book with surprisingly nice and concise rules - this patrician wizard...yeah, the rules support making that guy.
Now, as for combat: Characters may be surprised on a roll of 1-2 on a d6, 1-4 on an ambush, etc. Encounters usually begin at a distance of 3d6 x 10 ' and random NPC reactions can be determined, if required. Initiative is either determined for the whole group, or by players, with 1d6. Dex is used as a tie-breaker. Actions include attacks (with means to emphasize offense or defense), changing weapons, casting spells, holding, parrying, aiming, etc. - oh, and firing into mêlée isn't smart: random chance of who is hit. Aiming can skewer the odds slightly...but yeah. I actually like this; always hated how easily most systems allow you to fire into the chaos of mêlée combat.
Spellcasting also deserves special mention - veterans will note that quite a few modifications have crept in here and this section, perhaps more so than any before, should make clear that LotFP's WFRP has a somewhat different focus. A couple of weeks ago, I posted my take on Frog God Games' excellent "Swords & Wizardry"-rulebook - which is my default OSR-system for traditional fantasy and fantastic roleplaying. This book, in contrast, is what I use when I'm going for the dark, the weird, the strange - this system, while generally usable for a plethora of games, has an undercurrent of the horrific: The dead animated with magic always interpret your commands in the most violent way possible, for example. More interesting and perhaps enlightening would be the fact that Summon is a truly horrific and risky business - the rules of the spell cover multiple pages; if the caster botches it, he may generate blasts of antimatter, different creatures...or may not even be able to control them. Oh, and guess what? If you're really unlucky, effects like an collective unconscious desire for suicide can be found; and if your group switches referees, that is a distinct possibility as well.
Other highlights include being hit by mankind's fear of universal annihilation (yes, ALL of it!)...or all sense breaking down, which is represented in the following gem: "Make have is the to and of them meaning numbers power order no sufficient no. [...] Cleric retain faculties, keeps time slipping, must kill the stalwart stabilist to stabilize. Kill until it is dead. First to next sleep dies as brain flees." - to give you and impression of why I consider this section frightening and inspiring. What if time starts breaking down as the collective spaces between second break into the timestream? Oh...and if you REALLY botch it...there's a chance that the global sea level will rise, by 10' per round, until it's 50 ' higher than the character's location. Yes. This can END THE WORLD.
Btw.: Grognards who are missing the ole' fighter attacks everyone in range-trick...Army of One. Turn Undead's a spell, just fyi. This whole section is intriguing -a somewhat eclectic, yet organic collection of magic that manages to capture old-school aesthetics with a general feeling that magic is something DANGEROUS. Weird Vortex can make the target develop explosive blood that damages those that hit him...and that is just one of the effects...others include degeneration/devolution...so yeah, the theme is different; this is closer to horror, to a framework that works when postulating a pseudo-historic environment. After all, there needs to be a reason for all that hubbub surrounding the slaying of witches, hunting warlocks and the like...Oh, and guess what? Most direct damage magic spells are gone. No lightning bolt. No fireball. Magic-users subsequently feel much more like the characters from Sword & Sorcery books, Howardesque fantasy or horror literature - smart, yes; powerful, yes. But once the mob is coming, they better have planned for it in advance...
The appendices contain a handy glossary, rules for early modern firearms and associated equipment (including detailed pictures of the firing mechanisms) and a break-down of the character sheet - you get a visual representation AND the pages where the information can be found - pretty handy!
Editing and formatting are top-notch. I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a b/w-two-column standard that is easy to read. Artwork has approximately 3 distinct styles: There are somewhat stylized, comic-like renditions in b/w that tend to depict gore and violence. There are almost photorealistic, glorious b/w-artwork that feature unique environments, characters or e.g. ships that are very evocative...and in the middle of the book, we have a total of 8 full-color pieces that, quality-wise, are certainly on par with the cover - drop-dead gorgeous, they depict witches eviscerating foes by disintegrating them, horrid blood sacrifices, a mummified god floating in space as an iconic character approaches, sheathed in magic from the cold void (my other favorite) or blood-spattered musketeer-style iconics, triumphing over their viscerally slain foes and aforementioned medusa-artwork, to name a few. No matter your stance regarding drawn violence, the quality of the artwork here is impressive and I like quite a few pieces. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, with ample of nested bookmarks.
James Edward Raggi IV may be a somewhat controversial character, but honestly, this rule book as such doesn't leave much to be desired. I can see people being somewhat disappointed by the lack of magical items and specialist classes like assassin, druid and the whole associated material - but you can get that in Swords & Wizardry (and mix and match systems easily). I can see people being offended by the art, though I honestly don't think it's that bad. I saw infinitely worse stuff online when I was 13 and the internet was much tamer back then.
So what is exactly the focus? See, this is where it's a bit harder to describe, for if you take a look at some of the things circulating online, you'd think this is just blood, gore and guts. That is patently WRONG. While gore is certainly a part of the aesthetic, shock-value decreases in effectiveness quickly. So yes, while the book features that component, it is NOT the content of it...or the modules available for it.
I've seen this called "Metal" - without any prefixes, I'd disagree: The cheesy 80s-metal/power metal/heavy metal aesthetic is captured better by Kort'thalis Publishing's Crimson Dragon Slayer.
I've seen someone call this the "Death Metal of OSR" and I'd beg to disagree; this is not as in your face as you'd expect it to be; it's not shock for shock value's sake...at least not all of it.
Instead, a closer analogue would probably be the calmer and more introspective black metal or the atmospheric doom metal bands out there; I can see Skepticism or Reverend Bizarre working rather well as a playlist for a session of LotFP. For non-metal-heads: The assumption here is, that while there are horrible and bloody things that happen to characters, and while characters will die (quite a lot), shock value is only a thin coating of something that actually has a worthwhile substance, only an accentuating highlight for a grim panorama.
You can play gonzo happy go-fun adventuring with these rules; but the way the magic and everything in the small details is set-up, I'd call this the go-to low magic and horror iteration of the OSR-systems I know of; the system for the truly strange and outré ideas. I was talking about substance before. Well, a rule-book needs to be easy to use, easy to grasp and precise. This book is all of these. Unless you manage to be offended by the artworks (with the text being crisp and deadpan), the structure and organization of this book will make its use easy and quick. There is less choice than in some rules-variant peppered OSR-systems, but that would be by design. The changes and modernization of the specialist-formerly-known-as-thief is glorious and makes them suck no more, particularly at low levels. The modifications of the spells, particularly when they are radically changed or have these small, uncanny sentences, similarly help generate a basic expectation: Once you realize how dangerous magic can be, it suddenly is something to be slightly weary of...even if your ole' friend over there is casting it.
So, if you're looking for OSR-rules, through a shade darkly, then this book will deliver in spades. The weirdness, though, stems mainly from what you (and LotFP's cadre of authors) do with the framework presented by these rules; there are glimpses and hints of the things to come, there are small tweaks in the system here and there that already show some of what's to expect - but as a stand-alone book, this simply is a retro-D&D-system with dark fantasy/horror-conductive tweaks and great production values. Even if you are not interested in the system or the art, scavenging the concise and simple encumbrance system or some of the other modifications is done easily enough - even for use in a regular fantasy setting/with other OSR-rules. The transparency is there and the operations simple.
How to rate this, then? Well, in the end, this is one of my two favorite OSR rulesets. In my own OSR-games, I mashed this one and S&W together until they became a horrifically gibbering monstrosity. If you eliminate all the controversy and the focus on the excellent art, this book remains a more than solid rulebook - and one whose merits you can ascertain for free if said controversy-inducing art doesn't interest you anyways. For the low price point of the pdf, the art we do get is exceedingly impressive (if you like dark and gory artwork) and the quality and merits of the rule set are pretty evident. You can complain about the aesthetics, they are a matter of taste; but I can't see any true faults with the rules presented herein. Making the specialist not suck and customable is awesome and I love what was done with the spells and the encumbrance system is genius.
So yeah, I will settle on a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval. And yes, I will cover more of the darker OSR-material now that I've covered LotFP's basic rule book.