Thursday, June 13, 2013

[Q&A] James Edward Raggi IV (Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Better Than Any Man)

[19:06] <+JimLotFP> My name is James Edward Raggi IV, I run the Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP) RPG publishing company out of Helsinki, Finland. We do weird old-school releases, some merely strange, others full-on horror. On Saturday we have a 96-page monster of an adventure Better Than Any Man being released in game stores around the world for Free RPG Day.
[19:06] <+JimLotFP> (done)
[19:06] <~Dan> Thanks, Jim!
[19:07] <~Dan> The floor is now open to questions!
[19:07] <~Dan> I'll start us off... Can you tell us the premise of the adventure?
[19:08] <+fantomx11> Other than LotFP, has the publishing company published any other games?
[19:09] <+JimLotFP> Sure... Thirty Years War, 1630s, the Swedes are sweeping through the Holy Roman Empire. The adventure takes place ahead of their advance, where a group of seven sorcerers has taken over a town trying to stop the war. This has only escalated things. The PCs arrive in the middle of a power struggle and of course darker forces are also moving in secret.
[19:10] <+JimLotFP> It's a rather big adventure, plenty of opportunities for intrigue, dungeoncrawling, whatever. Not so much a straightforward plot as a mini-sandbox with things to interact with and explore, or not.
[19:10] <+JimLotFP> (done)
[19:10] <+JimLotFP> fantomx11: No other games as of yet, it's a one man + freelancers operation so the schedule for the one game is erratic enough.
[19:11] <+fantomx11> so, give me the elevator pitch for LotFP
[19:11] <+fantomx11> please
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[19:11] <~Dan> (Howdy, Geek2theRight!)
[19:11] <+Geek2theRight> Hi!
[19:12] <+JimLotFP> fantomx11:  Old school (as in OSR style simulacrum) geared towards strangeness and horror, only hinted at in the rules but really hit hard in the adventures and supplements.
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[19:13] <~Dan> (Howdy, Abstruse!)
[19:13] <+fantomx11> what, in your mind, makes it OSR?
[19:13] <~Dan> (Abstruse: I'll PM you the talk so far.)
[19:13] <+JimLotFP> fantomx11:  Mechanically very inspired, to say the least, by early 80s era D&D.
[19:14] <+Abstruse> Dan just saved the neighbors the pain of listening to me sing along with No Use For a Name by reminding me of the Q&A tonight. Or delayed at least. They should send him a fruit basket...
[19:14] <+fantomx11> and, based on your description of the imminent adventure, the setting is kind of an alt-history?
[19:14] <+Abstruse> Early 80s as in B/X or 1st Ed?
[19:14] <~Dan> Jim: Abstruse is the gaming columnist for Ain't It Coll News.
[19:14] <+JimLotFP> LotFP stuff works very well with OSRIC, Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, and the other hundred OSR games built from common Open Game Content. And their stuff works with LotFP.
[19:15] <+JimLotFP> Abstruse: Mentzer red box was the biggest inspiration.
[19:16] <+Abstruse> BTW, I'm Abstruse from Ain't It Cool News Tabletop for the record. The press is here. And buzzed since it's the start of my two days off :p
[19:16] <+JimLotFP> fantomx11: My adventures take place on Earth these days, but the game itself has no setting (and includes demi-humans even though I don't use them in my own campaign). Other authors that LotFP publishes don't use Earth for their adventures and supplements.
[19:17] <~Dan> So regarding the Thirty Years War... Are you planning more adventures in that setting? If not, I'm wondering how useful the adventure will be in the long term.
[19:17] <+JimLotFP> Abstruse: Hopefully AICN plugs Free RPG Day and gets butts in the stores. :)
[19:17] <+Abstruse> I JUST bugged my editor about that today. I thought it was NEXT WEEKEND and didn't have it in this week's column :/
[19:18] <+Abstruse> Grrrr...
[19:18] <+Abstruse> Doesn't help my nearest FRPGD store is over 120 miles away so I can't participate.
[19:18] <+Geek2theRight> Speaking of LotFP, what the heck was up with the belly button dungeon entrance? That totally freaked me out.
[19:18] * +Abstruse grumbles "Didn't want that stupid SHADOWRUN 5th Edition QuickStart anyway..."
[19:19] <+diogenes> The Tower of the Navelgazer?
[19:19] <+Abstruse> With the what's of the who? You've now got my undivided attention. WTF?!
[19:19] <+Geek2theRight> It was a pic on that kickstarter.
[19:20] <+JimLotFP> Dan: Nothing else planned for the Thirty Years War right now, next releases are Kenneth Hite's Southeast Asian inspired adventure, Vincent Baker's Vance-inspired Seclusium supplement, my next thing is a supplement about drugs and magic.
[19:21] <+JimLotFP> Geek2theRight: Tower of the Navelgazer is a "Fantastic Voyage" kind of adventure, where characters are inside one of the PCs' bodies while they're also having whatever their "real" adventure is.
[19:21] <+JimLotFP> Sort of an adventure within an adventure.
[19:21] <+JimLotFP> Hoping to get that out finally in July.
[19:21] <~Dan> So do you see Better Than Any Man as the launching point for a Thirty Years War-based campaign, and if so, how much support is there in the adventure itself?
[19:22] <+diogenes> The thing about historical setting is that it's easy for people to place the adventure in their own campaigns. They'd most likely replace the setting relevant bits anyway.
[19:22] <+Geek2theRight> Being John Malkovich meets Innerspace?
[19:22] <+JimLotFP> Geek2theRight: Yes.
[19:23] <+Abstruse> (I work for AICN and I've never seen BEING JOHN MALKOVICH...)
[19:23] <+diogenes> It's easier to say for instance that the setting is ancient Egypt than it is to say that the setting is Fantasy kingdom of Tweinfvrw, which is a bit like ancient egypt.
[19:23] <+JimLotFP> Dan: Better Than Any Man is good for at least 3 or 4 sessions of play by itself. It really doesn't detail the greater Thirty Years War, it's packed enough just describing Karlstadt and Würzburg and its environs.
[19:23] <+Geek2theRight> I love whoever came up with that now. But the pic is still capital F Freaky.
[19:24] <+JimLotFP> But after those 3-4 sessions follow-on adventures should suggest themselves based on what happens in play. There's a lot there.
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[19:25] <~Dan> (Howdy, Squide!)
[19:25] <+JimLotFP> (done)
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[19:26] <~Dan> I noticed that, as one would expect, there are firearms in BtaM. As I recall, there aren't firearms rules in the LotFP core rules. How much detail about firearms is there in the adventure?
[19:27] <+Le_Squide> (Heya)
[19:28] <+JimLotFP> Dan: There is a quick firearms primer in the adventure, but the new printing of the LotFP core rules does include firearms. Art-free version is downloadable here: (Link: and the new hardcover Rules & Magic book is at the printer right now.
[19:29] <~Dan> Ah! Excellent. Does it stick with Renaissance-era firearms?
[19:29] <+Abstruse> Not related to your game, but I've been dying to ask someone involved in OSR...what do you think of D&D NEXT so far?
[19:29] <+JimLotFP> Dan: yeah, matchlocks, wheellocks, flintlocks.
[19:29] <~Dan> Cool.
[19:30] <+JimLotFP> Abstruse: I haven't seen any D&D5e stuff myself, just seen people argue about it online. I'm going to wait until it's published before I check it out.
[19:32] <+Abstruse> Do you publish solely in English or do you publish in Finnish as well? Or any other languages?
[19:32] <+JimLotFP> Abstruse: Just in English. My Finnish is rather poor (I'm originally from the US).
[19:34] <~Dan> Where would you say BtaM falls on the fantasy-to-horror spectrum?
[19:34] <+diogenes> What sorts of things will happen to PCs in Better Than Any Man?
[19:35] <+Abstruse> You referenced Mentzer Red Box as an inspiration. Do you draw on any of the modern game design paradigms like skill systems or point-based character generation?
[19:35] <~Dan> (Question pause.)
[19:36] <+JimLotFP> Dan: Heavily tilted toward the horror. The "real world" stuff is Witchfinder General in tone, and then when it gets supernatural there's cancer monsters and insane wizards who make plastinated children sculptures and cannibalism and other fun stuff like that.
[19:37] <+JimLotFP> diogenes: One of my favorite things is the arm monster that takes its spare arms and grafts it to random parts of an opponents' anatomy during combat, making their nervous system freak out because "Hey, there's now an arm sticking out of my forehead and I don't know how to control it yet!"
[19:38] <+JimLotFP> Abstruse: LotFP has a primitive skill system that's really just a focusing of the various skills that were already present in the old games. Don't do point-based generation.
[19:38] <~Dan> (Normally, it's unwise to arm your foe.)
[19:39] <+diogenes> (But everyone has the right to spare arms right?)
[19:39] <+Abstruse> (I've played PARANOIA...I wouldn't agree)
[19:39] <+JimLotFP> Several of the monsters most likely to be fought don't do regular damage. There's the arm thing, then there's the aforementioned cancer monster that just gives you enormous tumors so heavy you can't move anymore, then there's the otherworldly thing that scrambles your XP total digit by digit.
[19:40] <+etaoinshrdlu> (Arming your foes can end up costing you an arm and a leg.)
[19:40] <~Dan> Weird.
[19:40] <+fantomx11> can scrambling your xp total delevel you?
[19:40] <+Abstruse> This is starting to sound like GAMMA WORLD...
[19:41] <+Le_Squide> How easy would it be to use the stuff from BtaM in, say, ACK? (Also, any progress on the Domains at War w/ Firearms front?)
[19:41] <+JimLotFP> I don't usually "delevel" when draining XP, it'll just take that many more XP to finally level up again.
[19:41] <+diogenes> this being an introductory adventure distributed for free to people who haven't seen your stuff before, what do you hope the adventure will do to people's regular D&D campaigns and their gaming in general?
[19:44] <+JimLotFP> diogenes: Totally warp them. That's the hope. The adventure is "introductory" in that it introduces all the common LotFP things: bizarre monsters, dangerous adventuring, brutal art, no "correct" way to do things.
[19:44] <+JimLotFP> Le_Squide: BTAM should work just fine in ACKS. ACKS has some additional character features that won't be in the LotFP stats, but the LotFP stats are real basic and can be understood on the fly by anyone familiar with ACKS.
[19:46] <~Dan> I was surprised at how monster-heavy BtaM is. Do you consider it average in that respect for LotFP?
[19:48] <+diogenes> Dan: since you've read the adventure, were there any bits that made you go "f*#% no!"?
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[19:48] <~Dan> I've skimmed it. I haven't read it cover-to-cover.
[19:49] <+JimLotFP> Dan: It's definitely got a LOT more monsters and combat possibilities than my usual stuff, but not a lot of it is necessary to fight. There's a good possibility a party would primarily only fight humans if they were cautious and wanted to stay away from the really bad stuff (of course, if they think like that, they're bad adventurers. :D)
[19:49] <~Dan> Do you mean "f*#% no!" in a good way? :)
[19:49] <+diogenes> in any way :)
[19:49] <~Dan> Well, the potential to be showered with feces and urine kinda gave me that reaction, yes. :)
[19:50] <+JimLotFP> ah, the secret back entrance up the toilets. :D
[19:50] <~Dan> That's the one.
[19:51] <+JimLotFP> There are several bits in the adventure intended to cause awkward discomfort with the players.
[19:51] <~Dan> Yeah, I noticed that. :)
[19:51] <~Dan> The bit with the "water" (quotes intentional) comes to mind as well...
[19:51] <+JimLotFP> That's one of the milder bits I think, but you'd be surprised how much a player dislikes the idea of their make-believe character getting doody on them. :P
[19:52] <~Dan> No I wouldn't. I wouldn't like that, myself. :D
[19:52] <+Abstruse> My players never say "f**k no" when it comes to killing something. Even if they're 2nd level and I throw a Mature Black Dragon at them to attempt to teach them the value of a strategic retreat/
[19:53] <+diogenes> Abstruse: JimLotFP has an another adventure for that too :-)
[19:53] <+JimLotFP> I've got a lot of "innocent refugees on the run" wilderness encounters that are designed to make a party argue over whether or not to rob them.
[19:53] <+Abstruse> Or was it an Elder? I can't remember, but I pulled out my Huge mini for it...
[19:54] <~Dan> ("I pulled out my Huge mini" sounds hilarious if taken out of context.)
[19:55] <~Dan> Oh... does LotFP dispense with weapon restrictions? I recall seeing a wizard with a sword in the adventure...
[19:55] <+Abstruse> (Nothing mini about my...Huge?...umm...I'm not drunk enough to dudebro talk this one...)
[19:55] <+JimLotFP> Dan: No weapon restrictions in LotFP. Spellcasters have encumbrance restrictions but you need to be carrying a fair amount of gear to run afoul of that.
[19:56] <~Dan> What was your thinking behind that?
[19:56] <+Abstruse> (I'm also distracted because I had a major paradigm shift on the novel I've been toying with for about a year so I'm trying to work through the massive tone changes)
[19:56] <+JimLotFP> With the Fighter being the only class to improve in combat capabilities as they gain levels, there was really no reason to restrict anybody else, the fighter is going to rule in fighting even if your Magic-User has plate armor and a gun.
[19:57] <~Dan> Ah, yes. I forgot about that.
[19:57] <+JimLotFP> Mechanically inspired and quite close to old games, but totally different flavor. :)
[19:58] <+Abstruse> I always liked the Shadowrun "Spellcaster with a rocket launcher" mentality...
[19:58] <~Dan> Speaking of classes... is it assumed that clerics in BtaM will be Christian clergy?
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[19:59] <+JimLotFP> Well PCs can come from wherever. I do believe there are no Cleric NPCs in the adventure.
[20:01] <~Dan> Is BtaM a "hidden magic" setting, and if so, do you think that clerics would be a poor fit?
[20:01] <+BlasterKyubey210> mmm
[20:02] <+JimLotFP> Well it's supposed to be a "hidden magic" setting, in that magic-users are hunted down and killed (the adventure takes place in one of the most active areas historically for witch-hunting), but the event that drives the whole adventure is a group of wizards quite openly seizing control of a town.
[20:03] <+JimLotFP> I'm veering away from using Clerics much myself for the sole reason that their presence pretty much demands a certain sort of cosmology.
[20:03] * ~Dan nods
[20:03] <~Dan> Do you mention anything to that effect in the adventure?
[20:04] <+JimLotFP> But I know a lot of people just use LotFP for a darker-edged sort of D&D style so it's a balance between having a game that can support several different styles (the job of the core rules) and presenting my specific play ideas (the adventures).
[20:05] <+JimLotFP> I didn't address it because it really doesn't break anything if a standard fantasy party is used in the adventure. "Oh, a dwarf! Your folk are from Scotland, aren't they?"
[20:05] * ~Dan chuckles
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[20:06] <+JimLotFP> Sure, that might seem incongruous early on with the historical focus, but when you get to infinitely repeating towers and wizards with disco outfits and duels for control of a floating sphere, nothing is really out of place anymore.
[20:07] <+diogenes> You could even replace the swedes with orcs if that suits your campaign better, I suppose
[20:07] <~Dan> ...Disco outfits?
[20:07] <+JimLotFP> Page 52.
[20:07] <+JimLotFP> Good old Willibald Schwartz.
[20:08] <+JoeGenero> @JimLotFP - Your Thirty Years War adventure has disco in it?
[20:08] <~Dan> Ah, there we go. :)
[20:09] <+JimLotFP> JoeGenero: Yours doesn't?
[20:09] <~Dan> Oh, hey, Joe! I didn't think you'd make it.
[20:09] <+JoeGenero> I've been here the whole time. I've just not had any questions until now.
[20:09] <~Dan> Ah. :)
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[20:10] <~Dan> (Jim, this is Jason Holmgren of Sanguine Games -- Ironclaw, Jadeclaw, et al.)
[20:10] <+JimLotFP> The adventure does sort of present a problem, in that people not interested in historical stuff will get turned off by the premise, and people really into historical stuff will likely be most dissatisfied with how irrelevant history ends up being in the adventure. But a lot of my stuff begins with "that would be an awful idea, wouldn't it..."
[20:11] <+diogenes> did the Münster Rebellion in 1530's have any influence on the adventure?
[20:11] <+JimLotFP> Not really, this is set 100 years later.
[20:12] <+diogenes> the situation in the town reminds me of it
[20:12] <+JoeGenero> And no, the Thirty Years War game I worked on didn't have disco in it. :`)
[20:14] <+JimLotFP> diogenes:  ah yeah, the anabaptists. nah, the idea of the sorceresses came before figuring out what to do with them and why the PCs would be in conflict. The similarity between BTAM's Karlstadt and 1534 Münster is coincidental.
[20:14] <+BlasterKyubey210> mmm
[20:14] <~Dan> I get that BtaM is totally LotFP in tone, but what mechanically makes it a LotFP adventure in particular?
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[20:16] <+JimLotFP> Dan: hmm, probably just the fact that there's so much custom rules bits. Like first level time travel spells, the previously mentioned monster attack effects, things like that. Basically when it's time to get weird, it's time to disregard anything previously written and just make stuff up freeform and then jury-rig some rules to explain it.
[20:17] <+BlasterKyubey210> LotFP?
[20:17] <+BlasterKyubey210> Sorry, forgot to answe that
[20:17] <+diogenes> Lamentations of the Flame Princess
[20:17] <+BlasterKyubey210> Ah
[20:18] <~Dan> So would it be correct to say that LotFP is as much a way of doing things as it is a rules system?
[20:18] <+JimLotFP> Yes.
[20:18] <+diogenes> It's mechanically compatible with other old-school D&D games old and new though, right?
[20:19] <+JimLotFP> There are differences but in general there should be no problems.
[20:20] <+JimLotFP> People have said they've used my stuff with Warhammer and the newer 40K RPGs and the BRP stuff like Call of Cthulhu and Stormbringer and Runequest and even D&D4e so it must be pretty pliable. :)
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[20:20] <+diogenes> so what's the LotFP way of doing things exactly? stark contrast between normal and weird, really weird weird, lasting consequences?
[20:22] <+JimLotFP> hmmm
[20:23] <+JimLotFP> Well, establish a "normal" first so the "weird" seems unusual, yeah. The contrast is important.
[20:24] <+JimLotFP> And for the weird, don't use anything that you've already seen rules or procedures for. Make new ones.
[20:25] <+JimLotFP> That's pretty much it. Fill it in with details to taste. :D
[20:26] <~Dan> Does it follow, then, that LotFP adventures are almost independent from the core rules?
[20:28] <+JimLotFP> I think that would be accurate. If you use the LotFP rules you'll definitely get a consistently dark style of play I think, but if you don't use the LotFP rules you'll still get that vibe and move play in that direction using LotFP adventures with other systems.
[20:29] <+JimLotFP> Because a lot of the "special effects" aren't attached to a specific rules system in the first place, you don't lose a lot in translation to another system. You just need to substitute your system's rules for the mundane stuff, "what's a normal guy in armor with a sword like?" isn't something you necessarily need LotFP's rules to answer.
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[20:30] <~Dan> Hmm... That being the case, do you have any concerns that BtaM won't really translate into LotFP sales? That seems like a particularly big risk, given the size of the adventure. It goes WAY beyond what I'd expect for a giveaway.
[20:31] <+diogenes> for someone who gets BTAM and likes it, which of your adventures would you recommend they get next and why?
[20:33] <+JimLotFP> When people gave me almost $19000 to fund this with the Kickstarter, and with this being the most-circulated thing I've done, I thought the best way to represent LotFP would be to just go big and make the absolute best thing I could. Treat it as a proper work and not just an advertisement or a gimmick or a souvenir. If people like it I'd hope they'd want to..
[20:33] <+JimLotFP> ... see if there's more where that came from.
[20:34] <+GenoFoxx> g'night
[20:34] <~Dan> Fair enough. You're definitely going big! I'd never have guessed BtaM was a freebie.
[20:35] <+JimLotFP> +diogenes The God That Crawls has a similar historical angle plus stuff (in the form of magic items instead of monsters in this case)
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[20:36] <+JimLotFP> Dan: I'm a small company and a little-known brand, I've got to show up ready to impress.
[20:36] * ~Dan nods
[20:36] <~Dan> Well, I'm definitely impressed.
[20:37] <~Dan> I think you'll definitely get noticed, showing up with a free product that dwarfs some of the for-pay products of other, larger companies.
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[20:38] <~Dan> I love the sandbox approach as well, by the way. Were the CoC "Lovecraft Country" books any inspiration in that regard?
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[20:38] <+JimLotFP> Embarrassing confession: I've only ever read the CoC 6th Edition core book and Cthulhu Dark Ages, I've never read any other CoC game material.
[20:39] <+diogenes> how's the progress on Another S***** Adventure and the Navelgazer?
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[20:39] <+diogenes> those were some of the kickstarter perk adventures
[20:40] <+JimLotFP> Another S**** Adventure is waiting on the geomorphs, I'm going to wrap the adventure around that. Navelgazer is about half done, going to be about a 16 pager, it's just that the mere announcement of LotFP being a Platinum level participant in Free RPG Day immediately threw everything out of whack.
[20:41] <+JimLotFP> I thought the rush would come after the day, not months before it so now I'm playing catch-up.
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[20:43] <~Dan> Is "sandbox" your standard approach, and is that hard to do with horror?
[20:44] <+JimLotFP> It is hard to do because the strength of the sandbox is that adventure is everywhere. Go north, something there! East, something different that way! etc. Horror I think has to be a bit more hidden and out of the way rather than something you run into no matter where you go.
[20:46] <+JimLotFP> I run into problems sometimes with my home game where the players suddenly decide to travel someplace I had no idea they'd try to go and coming up with something interesting and fitting (not interchangeable with what they would have met had they gone somewhere else) doesn't always come out great.
[20:47] <~Dan> Do you plan on sticking with that format, though?
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[20:49] <+JimLotFP> I don't think Better Than Any Man is a "true" sandbox, because although I tried to have interesting locations around the map, it does funnel play towards a few specific locations. The one real sandbox I did, Weird New World, well, that's not my best work. I think I work best when I present a limited situation or location with something going on for people...
[20:49] <+JimLotFP> ... to place in their own sandboxes.
[20:50] <+diogenes> there's a difference between a sandbox and a hexcrawl though
[20:51] <+JimLotFP> You can see in Better Than Any Man that there a few well-detailed locations in there that each have a purpose and tie in with other locations in the adventure... and then there are a few places of interest that are just kind of there on their own.
[20:51] <+diogenes> you can have a sandbox with a rumor web
[20:51] <+diogenes> instead of hexcrawley sandboxes
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[20:53] <+JimLotFP> True, but I tend to associate "hexcrawl" and "sandbox."
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[20:54] <~Dan> As always, you're welcome to chat with us as long as you like, Jim. That said, is there anything you'd like to bring up that we haven't covered so far?
[20:56] <+JimLotFP> I think we covered all the important bits. I just hope people pick up the adventure and give it a read and finds it unique and interesting, leading to them using LotFP (rules, adventures, or both!) in their home games.
[20:57] <~Dan> I'll just add that, as I've said, I've looked over the adventure and am very impressed by what I saw.
[20:58] <+diogenes> the referees will, after hearing their player's lamentations for their feces covered flame princesses
[20:58] * ~Dan chuckles
[20:59] <+JimLotFP> oh dear. :)
[20:59] <+Abstruse> Sorry I've been absent. I just had two different creative ideas I've had for over a year crystallize in my mind. So I've been blaring punk music at myself to help the thought process.
[20:59] <+JimLotFP> But thanks for having me. :)
[21:00] * +Cassandra scratches her head.
[21:00] <~Dan> Our pleasure, Jim! I'll have the log to you shortly.
[21:00] * +etaoinshrdlu waves at the Cassie :)
[21:00] <+Cassandra> Hello, Etaoin!
[21:01] <~Dan> And I should head out as well. Have a good one, folks!

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