I generally try to avoid doing multi-part reviews, but, sometime, there are products that demand such an extensive treatment. James Raggi's Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing (hereafter WF) is such a product, which is why I'll be devoting five days to discuss it, one to each of its integral books -- I've already covered its intro adventures here and here -- and a final day to discuss other components of the boxed Deluxe Edition and to sum up my feelings about the entire thing. I will be providing ratings for each book of the game, as well as for the complete product, since there are likely to be some people who are interested in only the Rules Book or only the Magic Book. In a similar fashion, I'll be discussing the physical and esthetic qualities of each book separately in each post.
I start with the 48-pages Rules Book rather than the Tutorial Book, mostly because I thought it a better book overall and wanted to start positively but also because I think discussion of the Tutorial Book makes more sense once the rules of WF are better understood. The Rules Book's layout consists of two columns of dense text, broken up with black and white artwork by a variety of artists. I was pleased to see Laura Jalo's artwork in the Rules Book, though there's too little of it for my tastes. Newcomer Amos Orion Sterns is a welcome addition; many of his pieces are excellent. Cynthia Sheppard's cover is very striking, though a little stiff. All in all, the Rule Book looks good and is easy to read. I noticed few editorial or typographical errors in the text, which is another point in its favor.
WF uses 3d6 roll in order for ability score generation, but the abilities are listed in alphabetical order rather than something more traditional. It's a defensible decision, particularly as Raggi has dispensed with any notion of Prime Requisites or XP bonuses based on high Prime Requisites. Still, it's a bit jarring to see Charisma top the list of abilities. WF uses a standard set of modifiers for abilities that's identical to that in Moldvay/Cook (or Labyrinth Lord). Interestingly, Raggi has made Intelligence and Wisdom mirrors of one another in terms of the mechanical utility, with the former affecting magic-user spells and the latter affecting cleric spells.
There are seven character classes in WF, four human and three demihuman. The cleric is much like his OD&D counterpart, except that he gets a spell at 1st level and turning is no longer an inherent ability but instead a spell. Fighters are likewise as in OD&D. Unlike OD&D, they are the only characters whose ability to engage in combat improves with level. All other classes fight as well at 1st level as they do at 15th. It's a bold design decision on Raggi's part and one that certainly makes fighters much more formidable, but it's also sufficiently divergent from D&D tradition that many may not approve it (I'm not sure that I do, for example). Magic-users are more or less the same as in OD&D. Specialists (aka thieves), on the other hand, are quite different than their OD&D counterparts and are better for it. Aside from the name, which I strongly dislike, I consider the specialist the best implementation of this class I've yet to see and will likely adopt it in Dwimmermount campaign. The class is so brilliant because its special abilities -- climbing, searching, finding traps, etc. -- use the same mechanics as other classes when attempting those same actions. The difference is that the specialist is better at these activities, increasing his chance of success as he advances in level while other classes cannot. This is the approach I've long preferred and one that I feel is much more in line with the way the pre-thief OD&D rules worked.
The demihuman classes are dwarf, elf, and halfling. They're not notably different from their OD&D counterparts other than the fact that their racial abilities are tied into the same "skill" system as the specialist. I have to admit that, on one level, I half-expected Raggi to drop demihumans from WF entirely. I won't say they "don't fit" the game, but they do feel mildly out of place nevertheless, not that I'm complaining about their inclusion. It's worth noting here that nearly all 1st-level characters start with 1d6 hit points + Constitution bonus, even if at 2nd level they use a different hit die. This puts all 1st-level characters, PC or NPC, on an equal footing and ensures that even a 1st-level fighter is potentially quite vulnerable.
WF retains five saving throws, which I appreciate, the lack of such being one of my primary beef's with Swords & Wizardry, although Raggi has simplified and rationalized them somewhat. There are three alignments, as in OD&D, but WF assumes that most non-supernatural beings are Neutral, with the exception of elves and magic-users, who must be Chaotic, owing to their use of magic. WF's equipment list is extensive, with lots of specific gear, vehicles, services, food, and lodging in its pages. Interestingly, weapons are mostly schematized, according to the categories of small, minor, medium, and great. I can appreciate the desire not to distinguish overly much between, say, varieties of maces or axes but something doesn't completely sit well with me about this approach, even if that something is likely purely irrational on my part.
WF provides a large but easy to use section detailing the rules for "adventuring." Everything from opening doors to gaining XP (by defeating monsters and recovering treasure, of course!) to dealing with traps is covered, along with some unusual topics like foraging, sleep deprivation, and tinkering. WF's encumbrance rules are elegant and I'll likely be swiping them for my own campaign. Rather than keeping track of specific weights, WF instead tallies the number of items, adding points for wearing certain types of armor, carrying oversized items, and so forth in order to determine a character's "encumbrance points" and thus his movement rate. It's probably not the most realistic system but experience has taught me that undue realism results in encumbrance simply being ignored entirely, which is even less realistic than what Raggi has provided here.
There's a surprisingly extensive set of rules (3 pages) dealing with maritime adventures. Rules for retainers are even longer (4 pages) and there's also a section about "property and finance." Taken together, you can see that WF is very much in line with OD&D, arguably even going farther than its predecessor by providing clear, complete rules for these important activities. Combat is well covered, with elements such as reactions and morale given appropriate coverage. WF also introduces a few simple attack and defense strategies (such as "press" and "defensive fighting") in order to make combat less of an I-roll-you-roll sequence. Disappointingly, WF uses ascending armor class but more perplexing is that its version of it is different than any others of its kind, with an unarmored character possessing AC 12. There are rules for a wide variety of common combat circumstances, but these rules are far from exhaustive, so there's plenty of scope for house rules. Concluding the book is a keyed character record sheet in order to make it easy to understand how to fill it out.
The WF Rules Book is an impressive package -- a cleanly written, well presented set of rules that are at once very familiar and yet fresh. Consequently, WF feels doesn't really feel as it's a "new" game but, at the same time, it also doesn't feel like a rehash of stuff we've seen a dozen times before. In this age of a retro-clone-a-minute, that's an impressive achievement. Even if you don't intend to use WF in its entirety, as I do not, there's enough here, such as the specialist and the encumbrance rules to cite but two examples, that one might be interested in picking it up for ideas to adapt to other rules sets. And, of course, as a rules set in its own right, WF is remarkable as well, far moreso than I'd expected. It's well worth a look, even if you already have a set of old school rules you like.
Presentation: 7 out of 10
Creativity: 9 out of 10
Utility: 9 out of 10
Buy This If: You're looking for an original yet familiar take on old school class-and-level fantasy.
Don't Buy This If: You've got no interest in seeing yet another iteration of the OD&D rules, no matter how clever or well-presented.