Author Topic: [Lamentations of the Flame Princess] Mother's coming  (Read 3001 times)

Ron Edwards

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[Lamentations of the Flame Princess] Mother's coming
« on: February 07, 2014, 11:23:44 AM »
Mark, Sarah, and I intended to start playing this game a week earlier, but at least two of us were sick. Finally we're in it!

I hadn't really perused the game itself until late last summer, when I visited Finland, hung out with Jim for a day, and picked up some texts. I don't mind saying that I quite love the game and I hope that Jim agrees we laid some foundations for a friendship. He's a good guy.

Going in
I acquired the AD&D DM Guide for Christmas at the end of 1979, not too long after its release if I remember correctly. I did not have much money as a young teen, and really scraped to meet my comics needs (Savage Sword of Conan above all), so gaming material was a real stretch for me. Therefore I didn't regularly read Dragon Magazine or otherwise keep up with the hobby-centric pulse of D&D in any way. Actual contact with that was infinitely more difficult than it is today anyway, especially if you didn't live in the D&D belt, roughly, a north-south strip from Madison, WI, to Springfield, IL.

I'm sure it had been published previously in some issue of Dragon, Dungeon, White Dwarf, or whatever, but I encountered rules - if you can call them that - for shipboard adventures in that DM Guide. I loved the idea; as a kid, my favorite Narnia book was undoubtedly The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which I knew by heart. Unfortunately, the text was about as usable as most of the DM Guide, meaning fuck-all not - it was basically cribbing from various encyclopedias about different kinds of ships. Nothing about actually how to play it, or neat things that were unique to adventuring in this way.

So I was pleased to see rather useful and fun-looking rules for exactly that right here in the Lamentations book! Yes, indeed. We're going on a ship now.

We met for character creation, and Sarah and Mark made up a character apiece. I felt this was fine, but sort of a bummer that we weren't going to get a better look at the system, so asked Jim if multiple characters per player was in his perceived zone for the game. He said yes, so we ended up with two characters per player. Also, a key bit of text reveals that it's fine to start with characters above first level, so I said, begin at 3rd level.

Sarah's characters are Temperance, a magic-user whose randomly-determined spells include Enlarge, Feather Fall, Speak with Animals, and Summon (I love you, blessed dice-roll!); and Batzorg, a dwarf. Batz's name is Mongolian, so he's not only a dwarf, but sort of implies that dwarfs are foreigners.

Mark's charactesr are Tobias DeBays, a specialist tending toward Tinkering-style skills, armed with a flintlock and rapier, and Faerg, a pretty straight-up tank fighter. I'm seeing our semi-historical, 1400s-type fantasy setting as being northern French/English Channel/southern England, with Temperance tweaking that a little with an anachronistic Protestant feel, and with Faerag being more-or-less Scots-Irish, and Batz being the really foreign foreigner.

The rules for beginning higher-level characters are quite generous regarding money, so they're well-equipped with armor and stuff. Batz has a hammer; Faerg has an axe. Temperance is reasonably well-armored as well, because in this game, armor does not limit spellcasting.

Next I was looking at one or two of the Dyson Logos mini-awesome dungeon set-pieces that show up in my G+ stream, and what should happen but a double helping mapped by Dyson and written by my excellent friend Jürgen Mayer! Cult of the Skin Demon. Ah-ha, I said, this will do as our opener. I bumped up the hit dice for everything in it, roughly doubling them.
Actually, I also said, "Nothing a little personality can't fix." I saw two humans skinned, one yielding a failed demonic warlock and one currently being prepared, and a cult champion who is not skinned. the champion caught my eye first - the cult is very recent, so this person needed to be a bad-ass before getting into it, and I thought along the lines of the two victims being connected ... since I more or less randomly decided to use Italian names, here we see Lucia, non-conformist young woman warrior, with her father Andrea and mother Paola. Whom she, with the other cultists, has killed and skinned.

As I mentioned, this is intended to be a shipboard, island-stop game, but I didn't want to deal with all the water-adventure rules at the same time as learning the basics in play. So for the first run, I decided that it should be set at the last "safe" stop prior to the ship entering the dreaded archipelago and going into full-bore exploring mode. I envisioned an extremely mountainous peninsula, practically an island with a narrow land-bridge, with scattered villages in the hills and a minor port.

You got horror in my fantasy / You got fantasy in my horror
There's nothing like a relationship map with a transgression against one of its generally-valued ties. The module's details and my social/personal prep tied together nicely.  It says to have them find a skinned corpse, so they did - therefore learning more about the people as the village saw them. That meant everything they subsequently found was really creepy in terms of NPC motivations and actions.

Given a keen eye on initiative and the techniques I discuss below, we enjoyed spectacularly great combats. Flintlock discharges, long rapier lunges, slamming chest doors closed upon seeing what's in it, learning that maybe you should look up upon entering a room in hostile territory, talking to a demon snake, respecting a competent foe who wins the strategic show-down even though dying in the fight ... not-too-long story short, Lucia managed to hold off the adventurers long enough for the ritual to be completed, so that the demon they summoned into her mother Paola's skin became a Demon Warlock - her last words were the thread title. The characters did try to escape at that point, and to use the rotating room as a stalling tactic, but having missed the secret doors (and knowing it), were cut off by Paola in the room with the chests. It was dangerous: three of the four were down in the "one bad hit from death" HP range, the flintlock was empty ... the cultists were pushovers but Paola was definitely not. Initiative started to matter a lot.

The magic flew: Faerg got Enlarged, but then mind-controlled, then fumbled when he tried to hit Temperance; Temperance busted out her biggest gun with Summon but failed to control the demon, so it became a game of getting your enemies between you and it ... and when they heard the demon bear coming, Tobias went and got the skeletal guardian to throw on it.

Every character pulled his or her weight and had their moments of tactics, both bad and good luck, and a solid start at characterization. I didn't fudge rolls a bit ... oh wait, I did decide that it was lame to throw a 2 on d20 roll for jewelry value, so re-rolled that openly ... not otherwise, though. A couple of characters came legitimately close to dying, even a nail-biting moment when Paola's attack spell came along - whom to hit? Temperance would not have survived it, and Sarah swallowed hard, but bravely. I rolled D3 to see which of the three possible targets she's strike, and it came up for Tobias, currently at the highest hit points. Not that he liked getting his brain fried, but it didn't kill him. Whew.

It's fun classic dungeon design, too: the bad guys can utilize their knowledge of the complex to out-maneuver the heroes if the latter treat it too linearly, and the secret doors can actually operate as a plot device rather than boring routine detail. I'm wasting time by saying this because it's such common knowledge we can call it a fact, Dyson dungeon design is a thing of gorgeous play utility - you don't just explore it, you experience it, you see why it is the way it is, you see how the things or people who are in there are using it, and how that overlays how whoever built it used to use it. Even if you make up the inhabitants and back-story yourself, the design keeps offering ways to make it more coherent and more vivid.

The characters emerged with some jewelry and a nice little haul of magic books, just far enough ahead of the demon bear to get out safely. Sarah summarized it perfectly when she said we should know we played Lamentations right, when our adventure ends with our characters righteously beaten to shit, emotionally scarred from what they've seen and done, dripping blood left and right, maybe with a friend's corpse or part of it, but emerging from the hellish hole in the ground (or mansion or funky forest or whatever) with a bunch of loot and wide grins on their bruised, filthy faces.

I heard someone once said that "system does matter"
When playing D&D of any earlier stripe, I have to adjust to its almost unique system mindset, which I can only describe as modular to the point of utter scatter. Every specific task is given a specific roll (chance for surprise, chance to break down doors, et ceter), with attacks or other abilities defined only within complex sub-systems, and no general principle of resolution, based off attributes for instance, prior to 3E (basically a full-on import of Talislanta).

Jim seems to have thought this through, at least to the extent of spreading out the basic mechanics of Mentzer D&D out to a wider variety of possible actions, as well as allowing saving throws a much broader range of application. Ultimately we did find that announced actions could generally be handled with rolls without that sort-of sick feeling that we were wandering away from the rules in doing so. My main learning curve lay in constructing a sort of Grand Resolution Map for these mechanics in my mind.

Sarah's and Mark's struggle was a little different, as they've been switching around so many different OSR games like Dungeon Crawl Classics and Swords & Wizardry, and D&D derivatives like Torchbearer. that they had to breathe deep a couple of times and remember which particular spins were in action and which weren't.

Keeping track of the funky room's current door-settings was the only distracting task. But it was fine, because we practiced the "group does the rules" technique I've grown so fond of lately. In other words, if I needed to understand a rule, I typically just asked someone else to look it up. Mark took on the role the most, but the net effect was for all of us to pick up the various "roll this for this." Sarah commented on how relaxing this technique was, and I agree completely. It all became quite smooth after a bit, especially because we got to see a lot of architecture and other specialized rolls.

I have a lot, and I mean a lot lot lot, to say about Lamentations as a uniquely coherent, original piece of game design - as I see it, not "terraforming" at all as Jim might prefer. I think Mark and Sarah are appreciating it greatly too, so let's take Temperance as an example or teaser for what I'll eventually post.

Consider: a magic-user must be Chaotic, which is not an ideology in Lamentations but rather a weirdness-magnet feature - specifically tagged as psychologically and metaphysically destabilizing. A magic-user has access to Summon (Demon) at first level, potentially, as Temperance happens to have achieved - a spell whose effectiveness and risk-factor can be treated tactically, at the moment of casting. The majority of XPs are gained through acquiring valuables - but not through employment or any other civilized means - it has to come from a lawless area, and be taken from someone or something who directly or indirectly doesn't want you to have it. Some of this loot may well be magical texts, often usable ones.

Are you seeing how these things are like spokes of a wheel? Why even playing a magic-user at all is an engine for genuine emergent plot at the level of the whole group, and if one is so inclined, a character arc?

Lamentations of the Ron Princess
Ah, the ratcheting, stop-motion ordering/action system, I am so wearily familiar with it. And having solved it via insanely wide exposure to RPG systems and through experimental design, not once but twice, it holds no nostalgia for me. It's just a bad design which persists through inertia and - cue insensitive meanness - through mistaking mechanical faithfulness for something good.

Sigh. So I cut back to the skills I honed in the 80s, while playing Champions, one of the king hell masterpieces of the stop-motion technique. Briefly, you use vagaries of damage rolls as a door to effective Color narration.

Example: when Lucia entered the storage room upon hearing the demon dog's alarm bark, and the characters all did a swallow-hard moment (by now, they knew the ritual was under way, they'd heard about her competence, they knew she'd killed her parents), Faerg got in a very lucky hit right off the bat. Given that after that Lucia gave them a very hard fight, and he didn't get in even a minor strike after that, I narrated her combat actions with more and more and more competence each time - nailing Temperance with an off-hand small-axe strike without hardly looking as she fought the others, using fancy longsword work to keep positional advantage, and similar. All this was just Color but it really brought out the idea that injuring her like that was almost the worst thing possible, as a real challenge brought her to peak form.

And that fed beautifully into the fight with the Paola-demon, when Faerg again hit arly (he has insane to-hit compared to the others), but in this case Mark rolled a a measly 2 damage. Excellent! In this case, I narrated it as her using her palm to deflect the axe's blade without losing her calmly-standing posture, cutting her a little but is totally bad-ass. Again, nothing but Color, but meaningful, characterizing, inspiring Color - it affects the choices the players make, of all kinds.

Final point: I fucked up something totally. It's the main obvious blanket-instruction for the adventure, that when you kill a skin-hosted demon, there's a 50% chance it can act for one more round before vanishing. I totally forgot about this, being too focused on "look at numbered entry per room" during play. I like the way we played it, with the demon basically liquescing nastily out of what was left of the skin, but it's a classic case of finishing a published adventure, patting yourself on the back for doing justice to the written work, and then realizing you totally fucked up a Big Thing. Some things never change.

Best, Ron

Ron Edwards

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Re: [Lamentations of the Flame Princess] Mother's coming
« Reply #1 on: February 14, 2014, 06:41:54 PM »
Second session! I prepared for three possibilities: the group stays for more excursions into the ruined old temple, a strong possibility considering they knew the library probably had lots more books; they leave in the ship and cast off into the archipelago, in which case .... well, two ways to go at that point. Since they chose to stay around and go into the temple one more time, I'll talk about the other prep after we play some more.

We followed the healing rules, and as it turned out, by the end of six days, half the characters were fine and the others only a little under par. I'd stated that the captain planned to set sail after a week, so they have a day to delve.

I am fond of looking over an elaborate set-piece like a dungeon after the characters go in and come out, and thinking about what changes. In this case, the whole "cult ritual" conflict in the original write-up was concluded, but the bear-demon remained, as well as a couple minor animal-demons, and one the skeletal guardians. I should explain that I had previously altered one thing in the original text, making the crap old skeletal guardians into later additions by Law-type holy people, when they defeated and sealed the original Chaos temple.

Well then! I spy with my little eye a heating-up of the ancient conflict, with the demon bear on one side, and the remaining guardian on the other. Each got a sizeable mechanics beefing-up - now they were "more fully in existence" or whatever - and I ramped up their visuals considerably. The demon-bear was now headless and neckless, with the very bigstump occupied by a huge bulging eye; the holy guardian was now a humanoid figure defined by racing streaks of light, with a scary glowing spear. I put them in a stasis-deadlock, straining toward each other but locked in place due to utterly matched metaphysics. Can anyone say, "gee, aligned player-characters entering this situation will break that deadlock?"

A quick look at Law and Chaos in the Lamentations construction is enlightening. Jim does it in a completely original way, which I emphasized during character creation but tended to slip a player or two's mind during play. To summarize:

Law and Chaos are not characters' ideologies or opinions, but rather metaphysical conditions and even cosmic expectations. A Law-aligned character has a destiny which events tend to set up for him or her; a Chaos-aligned character is basically a weirdness-magnet and destabilizing influence. Again, the characters' own inclinations and actions may be absolutely opposed to or indifferent to such concerns. Alignment is about what the universe thinks, not what the character thinks. Neutral, on the other hand, simply means "metaphysically normal," so the character acts however they want without the Big Forces giving a shit.

Both of Mark's characters are Neutral; Sarah's characters are Batz the dwarf, whom she decided was Lawful, and Temperance the magic-user, who by the rules must be Chaotic.

Without step-by-step recounting, it all turned into a huge fight with the Neutral characters trying to battle two nasty powerful entities simultaneously (including a truly awesome feat of strength by Faerg, and a very cunning rope-trick by Tobias), and the other two drawn into a freaky, surreal Alignment skirmish.

I say, modestly, that I can bring the weird like no one's fucking business. Batz failed a roll against the demon's eye, and ended up trapped in a nexus of possibilities that would annull his destiny unless he found his way back on that path. The demon-bear offered Temperance hit-point replacement as long as she kept casting spells, and as long as she worked against Batz. Basically, I set the two player-characters against one another in terms of available power and a sense of identity.

Sarah, of course, found herself acting for two, and did an admirable job. It was also a stretch for Sarah because in every other iteration of D&D she'd played (or anyone has played), alignment means motivation, and here, it was all merely visuals and opportunities external to the characters, with their desires or outlooks being entirely up to her. My whole point was to let things go any which way in the context of raw available temptation from either major metaphysic of the universe. I may be biased, but my take on the session is that all of us found it genuinely metaphysically interesting and dramatic.

It's also both wonderful and hilarious that without any railroading, pre-planning, or other deliberate meddling on the parts of anyone at the table, each character did his or her level best to kill the other at one point or another, but as things turned out, neither succeeded, and neither knew about the other one trying.

After the big fight which miraculously killed no one, they went to the library to fetch lots and lots of books. Of course, I'd prepped that the ancient mechanism had not stood up well to the way they'd employed it so recklessly last time, and its various grindings and malfunctions scared them enough to get out of there with only a couple of additional books. The players' instincts were right on, too, as really bad things like dungeon-collapse were set to happen at only one "pull the lever" more. Batz and Tobias were knocked unconscious but not dead (lucky!) by a lightning trap, too, and Temperance and Faerg had a terrible time getting their armored, inert friends all the way outside in time to make the ship's departure deadline.

Fun as hell! I think we really came into our own unique sense of playing these characters, with this game system, with one another as invested role-players, this session.

Best, Ron


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Re: [Lamentations of the Flame Princess] Mother's coming
« Reply #2 on: April 18, 2014, 01:31:52 PM »
Thanks, Ron, I really enjoyed this write-up.

Where in the text are you getting the stuff about law and destiny? I didn't come away with that, though I did enjoy the metaphysical tilt on law and chaos.

Ron Edwards

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Re: [Lamentations of the Flame Princess] Mother's coming
« Reply #3 on: April 18, 2014, 02:14:47 PM »
Hi Judd,

We've been playing this game for a while beyond what I've posted, too. I haven't had time to write about it what with Circle and all, but I will.

The Law/destiny stuff is quite explicit on page 8, especially in combination with the text on Neutrality. Every real (non-fictional) person is Neutral, by this concept of alignment. Law and Chaos are not philosophies or personalities, but metaphysical forces wholly external to characters and what they may want.

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Re: [Lamentations of the Flame Princess] Mother's coming
« Reply #4 on: April 24, 2014, 03:20:50 PM »
Frisky ladies in the water

I prepared two encounters based on whether the characters advised the ship-captain to explore the available scatter of islands off the west, or to forge ahead north on a swift current hugging an inhospitable shoreline. I figured that what I had in mind would account for two solid encounter-sessions, but as it happened, we played both.

On the islands, they ran into some friendly, welcoming humanoids in simple clothing, whose faces were human but whose brain-cases were mainly composed of  enormous exposed gems. (During the walk inland, Temperance could have used Speak with Animals to find out a lot more about this whole problem, but she didn't ...) Talking to them operated as a Charm spell and led a person to placidly go where they directed, toward the mysterious heights at the center of the island. They kept popping up as the characters attempted to leave, repeatedly slowed by one or another of them getting a silly look on his or her face and and walking the wrong way.

When thwarted, or when a character was befuddled and close enough, the critters became quite savage, so it was a bloody and desperate group of characters who returned to the shore shouting for the captain and crew to decamp a.s.ap. This led to plans whereby they would send up smoke signals whenever they were inland and needed to tell the captain news of this sort.

Sailing north on the current, they came upon a strange sight: a bunch of nude women treading water there in the sea, splashing, giggling, playing patty-cake, and otherwise disporting themselves. While the sailors eagerly prepared to join them, Temperance noticed that the various women's actions each cycled through a set, robotic routine. Long story short, which includes some horribly killed sailors, there's a monster down there with stalks, each terminating in a womanly body just at the pubis, puppeting them as distractions and minor prey-takers as it moved its main body into position to attack its primary prey, the ship. The fanged mouths are on the stalks just beneath the surface and there's another down in the main mass. I rolled my die to find out how many rounds it would take to get to the ship under water, and the fight was on.

The drowning rules in Lamentations are pretty generous as long as you're not wearing armor, but Faerg still took in a lungful at one point, and Batz didn't get too far trying to stand on the critter and fight the stalks. Temperance irresponsibly summoned another demon, this time getting a cloud-like thing with lots of gibbering maws, oozing and stinking with shit, and giving off horrible radiation. I love the rules for demons, I really do. Her control roll did not go well, but as it happens, Tobias has an anti-demon sword and was able to prod it away from the ship's deck and basically force a fight between it and the monster (he now has cancer, but who's counting?).

It ended with a nasty wet explosion and a somewhat-damaged ship, but again, everyone survived. Score another point for lots of fun combat situations and descriptions. The session also underscored the point that money matters a lot in the experience system, as they'd only recovered one gem from the creatures' heads, and the valuable trinkets bedecking the stalk-babes were lost as well ... so not too many E.P.s gained from the bloody clashes.

Law, chaos, and one demon too many

I decided to go with Law and Chaos epic-destiny play this time, and it might not have been the best choice, as I think the back-story and planned-horror of the session was too clear in my mind, not left emergent enough. Or maybe it was fine, I'm not sure. This isn't really a dramatic-epic game so much as a horror-vignette series with continuing characters, or characters who sometimes continue and sometimes perish, as you'll see.

It began with a mysterious ghost girl appearing on the ship and pretty much influencing an expedition to a certain island. Temperance took a deep dislike to her and throughout the session, Sarah rolled on the classic Harlot Table each time Temperance complained, which led to (ahem):

expensive doxy (2)
wanton wench (3)
cheap trollop
saucy tart (4)
brazen strumpet
slovenly trull
and ghostly tart (original)

Thirty-four years since I bought the original AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide, and finally, I get to use that table in play.
At the same time Batz experienced many "destiny" visions and portents cueing another "Law is kicking in" session, and to make yet another long story short, it turns out he's supposed to re-enact the sacrifice of this girl on a lonely hilltop among a bunch of dwarven stones, with a sacred sword-axe thing. Meanwhile Fearg and Tobias are pursuing his fanatic little dwarf-ness up the hill, trying to get him to stop just as the ghost-girl pleads, and Temperance is coming along but spewing invective the whole way.

Part of the outcome really floated my boat, in that it's very cool that Batz bucked his "destiny" at the last second and refused to kill the girl - thus angering all the dwarven ancestors and fucking up the cosmic Plan for him something awful. However, going by my prep-centric orientation, I was kind of bummed by the multi-cornered fight that followed, as I don't think the players really got the Progrock Cosmic Saga I was riffing, and I can't really blame them as such things aren't too coherent to begin with. They ended up fighting a lot against foes they might have done well to play off one another, and not running off when they realized this was pretty much a profitless affair at the whim of Asshole Mystic Long-Dead beings.

Temperance decided that another demon was called for, and this finally did it: not only getting horrible repeats on the Features table so the thing was absurdly randomly monstrous, but failing both the original magic save and the control roll ... the latter so badly that a genuine "go to this disaster table" result ensued ... and Temperance was utterly owned by the demon, body and soul. That still led me to consider a possible rescue if they could kill it without killing her, but as the fight went on, that didn't happen, and a fine character did meet her end on that hilltop.

So ... pretty cool in a lot of ways but probably better as a story and maybe not as a session. Maybe. Sarah and Mark said they enjoyed it; maybe I'm being over-critical.

The dwarven fortress and more feces

Mark and Sarah presented a fascinating thesis of 80s D&D fandom divided into camps of Forgotten Realms vs. Dragonlance, hitherto unknown to me as my position toward those series at the time was pretty much "agh all horrible die die," and I admit isn't much different today. Anyway, what they said led me to wonder about others' experiences of the two franchises, so hold forth if that applies to you.

Sarah also talked about the continuing physical maiming of the title/flagship character through the publications. She lost some fingers and the lower part of a leg, and I think more may come (or rather be lost) in future imagery, and yet remains a powerful, intriguing icon for a female character. I agree with her about that, but it also made me suddenly realize that I didn't recall any rules for maiming and recovery, which seems like kind of a bummer, unless I missed some. If anyone knows, direct me.

Anyway, it was time to think about a real dungeon to delve in, so I turned yet again to Dyson and found a cool multi-level fortress. Stocking it is kind of a tough job at this scale, as I tend to like small dungeons with a fairly digestible and coherent history, but I did OK - not giving much away at this point. Suffice to say they couldn't get in through the mysteriously pristine main doors down in the valley, but 'way up top, among the blasted and ruined above-ground fortress-type structures, they ran into some nasty things to fight.

My favorite was the huge, obese ogre-giant guy with three faces, who attacked with big lazy slaps and with penetrating insightful stares which change the target's past according to my little random table. Faerg got off lucky, with only his hairstyle altered; some of the results would have changed his whole race or class. Once it was killed, a hole into the main fortress was revealed - the ogre-thing had been sitting on it for eons and it was unbelievably horribly slimed and stopped up by its dung. (I was thinking, during prep, "gee, I think I'll make Jim smile," and that's what I got.) They made a brave effort to try going down there, but it was just too disgusting if anything else was available.

That's probably why they went on to assault the other structure up there on the heights, a more intact walls-and-battlements affair. There, they faced very fast evil mutant-elves, all sticky and gooey, and were pretty much savaged into retreat, although they inflicted enough damage on the creatures to make a later attempt on that structure likely.

Basically, the main and underground original dwarven structure is apparently little touched by time and magically protected, but from (at) the top, chaos-magic-gross things are apparently infesting the whole thing. And that's all I'm going to say.

Looking over our sessions, I come to the conclusion that I'm a very stingy guy, although it always seems to me as if I'm presenting tons of opportunity for loot - and true, those magic books were a real haul. But since then, yeah ... maybe it's time to sprinkle a lot more silver pieces on my prep.

Ron Edwards

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Re: [Lamentations of the Flame Princess] Mother's coming
« Reply #5 on: June 02, 2014, 04:54:09 PM »
Two more sessions closed out our Lamentations experience.

Maps and prep
Here are the maps I was using: Fedor's Pass, without reference to whatever Dyson was using them for. I didn't use any of his labels, e.g. Fedor or whatever.

All right, the ruins at the top are as I described: infested with chaos mutant elves, which they'd killed messily as I recounted, and an undead pteranodon, which they got to fight in the next session to finally clear the above-ground ruins. This permitted them to get into the "dungeon" (actually an ancient dwarven fortress) without having to go nose-deep in giant shit.

I am deeply disappointed that the Lamentations rulebook does not have descriptive tables and other game mechanics concerning feces. I needed those!

This is how I work with Dyson's stuff: it's raw material. I look at it and basically riff ideas right onto the map based on what I perceive as history and current usage.

Here are my notes written onto the side-view, overall map – I stress that these are primary, initial notes, not references to more detailed content.

Opal Lake = temple of the Golden – lake itself = only surviving Golden
Plateau ruins = blighted, tainted, awful Chaos; mutant elves, undead dinosaurs; 3-face giant over stair
Lower fortress = awesome preserved dwarven stronghold; what's that cave across the way?
Palace = horrific battleground – dwarven ghosts

These notes prompted tons of imagery and ideas and applications of the Lamentations rules in my head. For (some) clarity, I conceived of a long, slow-motion battle between the Chaos at the top of the stronghold and the basically long-dead, ghostly, preserved-in-amber dwarven culture at its bottom. The temple of the Golden, whatever the hell that might be (as I initially wrote it), was secondary to all of this, having been established more recently.

All that was general preparation. Then I scribbled all over the more detailed maps, which I will summarize in a minute, and more so before a given session of play, for the areas most likely to be encountered. So for that session, I'd have all the details for things like creatures, specifics of traps, relevant saving throws, and various conditions they'd have to deal with.

For the sessions I've already described, here are those notes on the maps:

Plateau Ruins detail: over the crappier structure on the left, "3-faced giant." Over the fortress surrounded by the river-moat, "mutant elves, undead pteranodon."

Palace Level Detail: this is the level directly accessible via the aboveground fortresses on the plateau, so I spent a lot of time on this one. The whole map is labeled "mutant elves vs. dwarven ghosts." There are squiggly lines indicating the flow of the giant's shit from the spiral stair at the left, even labeled "shit stream" in the long corridor leading to the pillared room.
Pillared room = "now mutant breeding pits," and if you go to the lower right corner, those rooms behind the secret door = "magnificent art and artifacts," and if you go north, the rooms on the right = "beaten up and useful but full of valuable statuary," the twin rooms at the top are "wretched mutant rejects," and the stairs go up to the fortress. Hence that's the way the characters went in, disinclined as they were to descend the shit-choked spiral stair.
The big, enclosed room to the left of the map is untouched by the giant's chaos-mutant-generating shit, blocked by doors and guarded by magic, and it's full of the dwarven ghosts.
The row of rooms along the shit-corridor are also all protected by their doors, and are labeled "bedchambers – pretty much untouched, valuable knickknacks," and the two rooms whose bathrooms are connected by secret doors are labeled "amusing ancient but irrelevant backstory." I also labeled every little square room "jakes."

You can imagine for yourself my prep for things like the giant's hit points and the table I rolled on if it hit you with its gaze-attack. It looks pretty much like any such prep notes. What matters to me is that armed with a Dyson map, I can scribble on it first, and then it's very easy and fun to work up the detailed notes either at my leisure or during the day before we play that evening.

So as of the last posting, poor Temperance was dead, and the characters were exploring the outer environment of this huge citadel which was obviously mostly underground. After their first encounters in the aboveground ruins, they established an encampment and general infrastructure for their incursions into the deeps and scouted the whole area of the valley - and lo and behold, the little cave high on the valley-side across from the ancient citadel's gates was discovered. I'd already thought about what was in there, and it was suited to introducing Sarah's new character, Sabine, the pipe-smoking cleric. Apparently a dwarf emissary had been sent to get help back when the chaos-incursion battle was really happening all those centuries ago, and he'd only made it this far. But his remains were protected by the same stasis that afflicted the whole dwarven area, and which reduced real people from real time to sludge. Like the adventurers who'd touched it and were now ooey-gooey on the floor. But Sabine, a cleric of the same law/gods principles which include the Golden, was protected by the influence the local Golden, so she'd been standing there all frozen in golden light for a couple of years. When our characters (barely) figured out the situation, partly because Batz was a dwarf and protected in a different way, they were able to pull her out with a rope.

This raised a "space" of decision-making and play that I know pretty well. Sabine is now established as having been "already there," as far as the adventure is concerned. It's axiomatic that the character has a knowledge base and sequential history leading up to her presence. My experience with this runs deep from many years of playing Champions with an old-school Marvel fan's regard for continuity and coherent back-story (far exceeding any such things found in the actual comics, mind you).

The problem with the situation, or potentially, is using such information to the player in a way that demands, or feels to them to demand, that their character behave in pre-set, fixed ways. In this case, the matter was compounded by knowing we weren't going to be playing much longer, which to some eyes and tables might imply that I write in an ending centered around Sabine's presence and goals. I therefore kept the information as useful as I could make it, in that Sabine knew that her goals were not in the dwarven citadel but somewhere near it (hence why she and her defunct pals were rooting around in the cave), and that "the Golden" was related to her faith, without knowing much about what it was.

I'd been giving some thought to Lamentations as a game, and decided basically to throw loot at the characters. The idea was to focus less on finding it and more on how hard it was to take it, and what might be necessary actually to secure it for return home. So rather than stock the citadel with barriers (which is kind of what the elves, pteranodon, and giant were), I figured once past all that, this would be about exploring and less about constant in-your-face attacks. Dangers to be sure, but mostly leftover and incidental dangers rather than active opposition. I also decided that the Golden had been around long enough for some of it to "bleed" metaphysically into the Citadel, which as it turned out, was a really good idea in play.

So here's what I'd written onto the individual levels-maps of the citadel:

Great Stair - Upper Level: there's nothing marked on this map except squiggles to indicate giant shit in the room associated with the stair, at the far left, also marked "Ew!" The overall note reads, "blighted by giant's unspeakable excretion - but blocked by doors
pretty isolated! arguably completely pristine
so complex and sophisticated it's overwhelming, one door in save vs. magic, save vs. paralysis to take anything, and spilling horrible shit into it is pretty devastating"

Great Stair - Middle Level: here I drew squiggles to indicate the effluvia, from the stairway at the far left running to wherever it could go that's not blocked by doors. (I conceived of all the doors as very high-tech for the setting, set flush into the walls with fancy knobs.) I numbered the rooms clockwise from the top left, missing a couple, such that 8 was the little room at the bottom left. The notes read, "stench is awful but just scummy [i.e. it's not pools and rivers of shit, just a coating]," "rooms full of great loot," "7's the best and 8 is its trap." The numbered rooms are listed:

1. Tapestries of dwarven wisdom
2. The really nice ones with spells
3. Just piles of coins, "new"
4.More coins - less, cased, really old
5. All the sex stuff (for dwarves), tall skinny women in the hidden part
6. Thin stone panels with myth saga
7. Gold and tiny, goes with temple

Lower Fortress & Great Stair: the top right is circled and labeled "where dwarves lived, and the lower right (the three rooms) is labeled "old religious stuff," in both cases meaning a ton of once-useful bric-a-brac of no real value to anyone today. From the spiral stair on the right, flowing left, is the river of giant's shit, blocked by the wiggly line which I decided was a magic barrier. At the lower left, that odd little setup of rooms, I labeled "blaster mechanism," thinking the dwarves would have some kind of fallback weapon. At the far left, I labeled the complex of big rooms, including the sunken area on the protected side of the magic barrier, "amazing grand hall."

Also one of the levels-maps was missing, so once or twice I kind of kluged my way through regarding how the characters got from one place to another. And Dyson went and provided that map a couple of weeks ago – too late for me, but at least now it's there.

So you can see how I did this: a strong sense of the whole place, in broad strokes, with core details or concepts in place per mini-location, and then specifying game mechanics details in preparation. However, none of it really reached the level of a published adventure with every corner mapped. If a room is tagged "useless bric-a-brac, dangerous footing, Save vs. Paralysis," then you won't find any other descriptive notes and I'm happy to riff off these when and if characters get to that place.

A certain pride also prevents me from dropping in made-up stuff like a big spiders' nest or anything else dangerous. Something about that top-down process really cements where the dangerous stuff is, or in some cases, what rolls or number of rounds are involved in its movements and imminence. I don't make up any of that during play.

The second-to-last session played out surprisingly effectively, with a very satisfying combination of fighting mutants, encountering dwarven ghosts (my ghosts are a lot like the mechanized spectres of Disney's Haunted Mansion – not a lot of dialogue there), getting an idea of the back-story without too much detail, deciding which loot would get lifted upside, and unpleasant encounters with dangerous bits. Best, though, is that just as the players were realizing most of this was unwieldy but valuable junk which was too much like work and not enough like adventure … they went into one of the two (just two!) little rooms I'd decided were linked somehow to the Golden off in the hidden lake and temple. It couldn't have happened more neatly psychologically and dramatically than if I'd timed it and manipulated things into peaking right at that moment.

Something about the very oldest D&D adventure modules works like that for me. I have found few, possibly none of the retro-clone style publications that do it, even those I like a lot for other reasons. I even wrote a whole game based on this principle (Elfs). It leads me to think more about improv content and its bipolarity (awesome/sucks), and how I am more willing to rely on it than on meticulously mapped details, when it comes to this kind of play - while, oddly, treating the stuff I do prep into place extremely seriously.

In a nutshell, Sabine and Faerg accepted the blessing of the Golden and became scary religious fanatics, tasked to slay unbelievers. I imposed a hit-point levy on them per day if they didn't.

The final session
Well then, obviously it was time to get to the lake in the cave, the hidden waterfall, and so on. Sabine had just enough knowledge to get them looking for it.

Opal Lake Detail
At the cluster of rooms near the cave-mouth, my notes read "long, long
unused – can pray there and receive
1-2 1-3 gold eyes
   4-6 gold skin
3-4 1-3 gold fingernails
   4-6 gold teeth
5-6 1-3 gold hair
   4-6 gold blood"

The boat is circled and the legend reads "boat guarded by enchantment, needs sanctity of some kind"

The complex at the right is labeled, "the naïve and cloistered temple of the Golden – completely benign [vulnerability …][/i]

Given the blessing of the Golden so far (which in the prep was not guaranteed, they merely happened to have acquired it), this part was treated simply as exploration, no challenges. Faerg and Sabine both prayed in the little closet prayer-rooms and came out with gold hair and gold blood. Batz and Tomas became increasingly uneasy as they all rode the boat across the lake (the two nonconverts noting something huge in the water), and some talk of "when do we just kill them" began.
And on the final page,

Opal Lake Fortress
Upper Level: overall, labeled "the high ideals of the Golden." The entry room at the lower left is labeled "split," with arrows going to the exits and the areas just past those are each labeled "prep." The rooms with doors going into the "T" shaped passage are each labeled "Are you sure?" and the three weird rooms at the right are collectively labeled "3 mind blowers."

Lower Level: simply labeled "the horrifying secret of the Golden"

I don't suppose you're surprised that Faerg, with no other obvious "unbelievers" in sight, killed the whole kit-and-kaboodle of robed, friendly, naïve, feckless hippies who'd been worshipping the Golden there for who knows how long.

They descended into the depths to discover the awful heart of religion, in a hallucinatory horror-sequence that I have honed through many drug-psychic superhero battles, Sorcerer & Sword otherworlds, and Glorantha heroquests. You knew that all religion is based ultimately on feeding dark and awful urges down in the interstices of reality, right? "The true gods, boy, are dark and bloody!" (The Altar and the Scorpion, by Robert E. Howard)

And finally the finale, in the mind-blowers area, admittedly not especially profound but what other "peek behind reality" comes to mind anyway when role-playing. Yes, the characters saw their players' faces. It was reasonably satisfying at most, I think. Partly I had pretty much already reached my own peak with the under-dark sequence, and partly, we were a bit worn out.

So Lamentations! I have some more thoughts about the game but until then, post about anything the above account brings to mind.

Best, Ron


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Re: [Lamentations of the Flame Princess] Mother's coming
« Reply #6 on: June 10, 2014, 11:00:06 AM »
I am deeply disappointed that the Lamentations rulebook does not have descriptive tables and other game mechanics concerning feces. I needed those!

Ron, you've identified an intentional lacuna in the game text.  The OSR gives you the power to customize the game rules by filling in this hole!

(It's a busy week, but I'll try to create a d12 table for you on the blog.  The world needs this.)

Callan S.

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Re: [Lamentations of the Flame Princess] Mother's coming
« Reply #7 on: June 12, 2014, 06:05:05 AM »
So britches down, squat over that hole, start straining and fill it in!

THAT is creativity!

Ron Edwards

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Re: [Lamentations of the Flame Princess] Mother's coming
« Reply #8 on: June 12, 2014, 07:49:21 AM »
James and Callan, I have no idea what your posts mean. I can guess, e.g. based on our "Hot damn" email conversation last year, James, but I don't want to guess. Please explain, as if I were attentive but not very bright and as if I understood humor but not sarcasm.