Grindhouse Edition of Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing and it's proving a little harder than I thought, mostly because my overall feelings about the game haven't changed much since my original five-part review of the Deluxe Edition from last year. However, there are some subtle differences in my reaction to the Grindhouse Edition that I think are worth exploring and a large component of that reaction centers on the game's new artwork.
I had expected, given the build-up, to be quite taken aback by some of the new illustrations, perhaps even repulsed, but the truth is I wasn't. Yes, there were a couple of "Ewww"-inducing pieces, as well as a couple that made me palpably feel my 41 years, as I looked with disinterest at puerile attempts to be shocking. But I was never offended or revolted or felt as if I were viewing something forbidden. Indeed, I often found myself surprised at how much worse I had imagined the Grindhouse art would be than it actually is.
Now, maybe that speaks volumes at how jaded and depraved I am, no doubt a testament to how much damage 30+ years of association with this hobby has done to my psyche. Or maybe it speaks to the fact that Jim Raggi's imagination isn't as depraved as my own. More likely, though, I think it says more about how difficult it actually is to scandalize 21st century Westerners, even when you're trying to do so. I mean, I'm a self-described stick-in-the-mud, nigh-Puritanical when it comes to certain topics, and I found it hard to muster any kind of strong reaction to most of the supposedly shocking pieces in the Grindhouse Edition, let alone outrage. Am I really that difficult to shock?
In thinking about this, I found myself recalling discussions over the last few years about how supposedly "shocking" D&D was in the early days of the hobby and how this played a contributing role in the game's runaway popularity. According to this narrative, it was precisely because D&D made use of images and ideas that, in the late 1970s, were "dangerous" that the game attracted so much attention. What's funny is that I don't remember it that way at all. If D&D had a "gimmick," it was that it allowed suburban kids like me to enter into those fantasy worlds that were becoming so prevalent in the popular imagination at the time. And if there was anything "forbidden" about D&D, it was that it was seen as a "grown-up" pastime, or at least not a childish one. That had a far bigger impact on me in my wanting to be part of this weird hobby of ours than pictures of succubi or Satanic efreeti.
But, to me, it seems quite apparent that what was going on is that those early gaming artists were drawing inspiration from their predecessors in the pulps, whose artwork was genuinely shocking back in the 1920s and 30s but was positively tame by the 1970s. At the time, though, the covers of magazines like Weird Tales were often so shocking that laws were eventually enacted in many jurisdictions that forced a change in what they put on their covers by the 1940s. Nothing like that ever happened with D&D that I can remember, even at the height of the so-called "Satanic Panic" in the 1980s. If being "transgressive" played a big role in feeding the popularity of roleplaying. I must have missed out on it.
As with so many things, it might just be that my experiences weren't the norm. Throughout the entirety of my elementary and high school years while roleplaying (1979-1987), I only ever once encountered someone who genuinely considered D&D "dangerous" and she was widely regarded as a crank by most other adults I knew. When I was in college, I did finally meet people who'd had gotten into trouble with parents, teachers, and other adults because of their involvement in the hobby, so I recognize that there were folks who took seriously the notion that D&D had an adverse affect on young minds. The question is how many of them thought that because they saw and were shocked by the covers of the Dungeon Masters Guide or Eldritch Wizardry? Likewise, I'm sure there were some people who were drawn to the hobby because they considered its artwork shocking and, therefore, rebellious, but I never knew any who did and I'd be amazed if such individuals were ever more than a minority of a minority.
once-in-a-lifetime faddishness of yore. Indeed, I think there's something faintly, well, pathetic about such efforts, like a geriatric actor still trying to take on the same roles he did when he was in his 20s. Vowing to restore the nipple to its pride of place in gaming art or adding more graphic disembowelings isn't going to make one whit of difference in terms of the hobby's mainstream popularity, for good or for ill, which I think says a lot about how much such efforts fail to grasp the current state of things.
I'm certain I'll have more to say on this topic, both in my upcoming review and in other posts. It's something I've been thinking about for a while now and I hope others find it a worthy topic for continued discussion.