Today, I had a couple of friends over and we tried out Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy RPG. The fellows rolled up 2 PC's each, 2 dwarves, a fighter, and a cleric, and off they went to the Tower of the Stargazer.
I'll give the session report momentarily (and it WILL HAVE SPOILERS so if you don't want to know how the Tower of the Stargazer runs, stop reading before you hit the session report). Before that, some comments about the LotFP:WFRPG.
1. Physically, the rulebooks are little booklets with paper covers. I don't believe they would survive continuous play very well. The print is very small as well, which makes it annoying to read. There's no index either. The physical presentation would be greatly enhanced by a single 8 1/2" by 11" hardcover book with larger print, and by the addition of an index. It also has tiny dice and a tiny pencil. My box set was missing the promised sheets of graph paper, but somehow I'll get by without that.
2. The cover artwork is astoundingly cool. I like that the female fighter is in some sort of full-dress-coat leather armor, rather than a chainmail bikini. Or even worse than the chainmail bikini, a set of dungeonpunk armor. She's stylin' and practical. The Type V demon is topless, but tastefully topless. If a hideous snake monster can be tasteful, that is. It's pretty uncontroversial, although I expect that for any serious attempt at retail penetration, the hair will have to be modified to drape over her chest (just my guess of course, I'm not in the game publishing biz so I could be completely wrong, and maybe the author isn't going for retail penetration anyhow). Other art is OK, but it's clear where the big art budget went.
3. The tutorial is silly-long, for a product that is pretty much guaranteed to be picked up only by people who've already played D&D.
4. There was only a little bit of combat this afternoon, so we didn't explore the various new combat mechanics (parry, etc). Nobody rolled a specialist (thief) either, but the skill system for them is really really well done, it fits right into the game seamlessly, and doesn't feel tacked-on like other skill systems. It's ascending AC, too, if that's something you care about. I like it better than descending AC, personally.
5. There's no bestiary. The author has a section where he encourages everyone to make up their own unique monsters, and about substituting humans in for humanoids in published adventures. I'm not a fan of that approach, as the monsters are part of what makes these games fun. Every game has a bestiary for a reason, because they are fun. Clipping out fun for ideological reasons doesn't seem like a good idea. In the event a new DM picks up the game, he's also going to be left without any model monsters to emulate.
6. The character sheets available on the web site are formatted for A4, which I was afraid would prevent me from using them. They printed fine on regular paper when I selected "fit to paper size" though, so all was well there.
STOP READING NOW IF YOU WANT TO AVOID MINOR SPOILERS
7. The intro adventure is very punishing for inquisitive players. If you investigate anything in the tower too deeply, it turns around and bites you. Literally in many cases. I don't have a problem with the front door, it sets the tone, and you get a save, but many of the inquisitive actions you do in the tower can get you killed, with no warning beforehand. It encourages players to never touch anything, which isn't really how I like to run things. NOTE - I haven't read the Weird World intro adventure yet, that may have a different tone. Everything else in the boxed set, I've gone through. Also note, my players were decidedly un-inquisitive in this session, and missed a lot of the death traps.
8. The rulebooks are very nihilistic in tone, but the intro adventure seemed to be a more traditional D&D dungeon-crawl feel. The sample gameplay session in the tutorial was also very D&D-esque. So the nihilism isn't an inherent part of the gameplay, at least as far as the Tower of the Stargazer went. Probably a good thing, it's hard to be nihilistic when you're stuffing your face full of pizza.
Overall, it played just like a D&D session. So what you get buying the boxed set, is a clone with some interesting features, that I'm sure are discussed elsewhere better than I'm discussing here. You get ascending AC, a really nice skill system for thieves, some tweaks to combat (parries, etc), and fighters being the only class who improves in attacks as they level (which really makes you wonder what the point of a dwarf or halfling is, but it's a very humanocentric game, so I suspect they are intentionally being made less desirable). You also get the nihilistic weird-fantasy style that the author advocates. He is a very good writer, so the rules are entertaining to read. So in a nutshell, it's a cleaned-up rule system, deviating in many points from a standard D&D clone, plus some attitude in the rules. It'd be more of a win if the physical presentation was better, as it stands I expect regular play would destroy the rulebooks in short order.
And now, the session recap. MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW.
(by the way, please excuse the writing style on these recaps, I'm basically just doing speed-typing here to dump the whole thing out before I forget what happened, I know I'm mixing tenses, being repetitive, etc)
Our intrepid party, consisting of dwarf Rollo, fighter George, cleric Shippy, and dwarf Groo, are brought to the base of a mysterious tower by the Adventure Railroad. The tower is 80' tall, with a dome at the top, ringed by metal spikes, and completely windowless. The area around the tower in a 50' radius is completely turned to ash. At the edge of this circle of devastation stand four massive metal spikes, 40' tall. Lightning continually hammers down on these metal spikes, and occasionally on to the ground around the tower. The party considers heading back towards the Adventure Railroad to find a less scary wizard's tower to assault, but it appears the train has already left the station. With nothing else left to do, George approaches the entrance.
The tower entrance is a massive pair of doors, each with a serpent-shaped handle and a door knocker. George uses the knocker, and the doors silently swing inwards. He beckons the rest of the rest of the party forwards, and they enter the tower. They explore the tower's first floor, finding a trap door under a large pile of fake crates, and four bottles of wine. Deciding that they want to stick to the tower, which they know is only 60' wide, and thus an easier mapping chore, they head upstairs to the second level and ignore the trap door.
On the second level, they see another set of stairs leading up to the third floor, trickling blood down the steps. Before investigating the blood, they search the third floor, finding a diary of a servant who ran from his insane wizard master, and a key. They then head upstairs, following the blood, and find that it comes from a massive iron door at the top of the stairs. The blood is leaking from the keyhole. The key they have doesn't fit, so they head back downstairs to the trap door.
Heading down, they find themselves in a store room full of crates with whimsical labels such as "The shoulder blade of a soldier who loved God." Opening the crates, they find exactly what the labels indicated - various bones.
They headed into the next room, and found a laboratory with several small dead animals with sewn-up wounds, and a human cadaver sewn up with gold thread. George yanked out the gold thread, and was shocked to find the corpse's intestines leap up to strangle him. After a short fight, the party subdued the innards, and they continued exploring the room. They found a microscope, a box of slides with blood samples, and several vials of a red substance. They ignored those, and George investigated a hall full of mirrors. The mirror at the end of the hall blazed with a brilliant light, and poor George was singed by the power of it.
Giving up on all that, the party headed south to a corridor full of cells. Corpses immediately leaped up in the cells, floating a few inches above the floor, and somehow floated through the bars towards George. George stood in the doorway and gave his all, sending many corpses back to their graves, but the last floating corpse tore his throat out. The rest of the party slew the remaining corpse, and then lit the whole pile of them (and George) on fire. After the fire died down, they explored the rest of the cells, finding a skeleton with 15 arms and 4 spines, and a corpse that when disturbed spat out a leech, that the party quickly smashed.
They then fooled with a strange shaft in the eastern side of the tower. It had a dial that could be pointed at various numbers. They pointed it to the number 1, and a disc floated down in front of them, to the bottom of the shaft below them. Moving the dial to 2, the disc floated to floor level. They stepped on to the disc (over two trips, as the disc was too small for all of them), and moved the dial to 1 and floated down to the bottom of the shaft.
In this area, they found a room with 4 levers, and many blue force-fields barring the way towards 10 treasure chests. They found that objects touching the force fields would explode. After fooling with the levers, they gave themselves some electric shocks, but were otherwise unable to cause any force fields to disappear. They decided to rest for a few days in the relative safety of this room, and recover from their wounds.
Returning to the elevator, they set the dial to 3 and rode up into another level of the tower. Opening the door to this level, they found themselves on the other side of the bleeding-iron-door.
A wizard trapped in a circle of salt asked for assistance, suggesting that he'd give the party 100gp if they erased the salt circle, so he could escape. He explained it was a tragic accident that left him trapped. The party asked him how long he'd been trapped there, and the wizard exploded in rage, threatening to kill them all if they didn't break the circle immediately. The party taunted him for a while, then looted the room while the wizard watched impotently, taking a key from the door, a large crystal, as big as a man's head, and a book from the wizard's desk.
Heading up the elevator to the next level, they found a freezer room, with a cold metal box full of blood samples. The party decided to just close the box and move on. Next, they found a library, full of ancient books, that needed to be handled extremely carefully, with gloves, tongs, and special lighting. Groo went through the library, tossing every single book to the floor, gleefully watching them disintegrate under his ungentle care.
As the wound their way through this level of the tower, they ended up in a room where a ghostly figure materialized, asking if anyone wanted to gamble their soul in a game of skill and chance, to remove a force field preventing the party from entering the next room. The cleric Shippy agreed immediately, and a fierce game of checkers ensued. Shippy prevailed, and kept his soul, and the force field disappeared. This led to another library, where Groo started trashing all the books again, although these books were newer and didn't disintegrate on contact.
Taking the elevator to the next level, the party found themselves in a room with a retracted telescope, bins of charcoal and black powder, a control panel, a book on a pedestal, and a fish pool. Rollo took the book and shoved it in his pack, and then tried feeding rations to the fish in the pool. He was shocked to see the crumbled rations fizz and hiss as they hit the pool of water. Shippy started fooling around with the control panel, and found a way to open the dome at the top of the tower. He then closed, hit another lever, and the telescope started extending. As it became clear it was going to hit the closed tower roof, he hit the lever to open the roof, but it was too late - the telescape smashed against the roof, and chunks of glass and metal fell to the ground, slicing clean through Shippy's skull.
They returned to the bottommost level of the tower to fool with the levers some more, but had no luck making the force fields disappear. They decided to take the loot gathered so far, declare victory, and go home.