The ‘Old School Renaissance’ movement is something that has largely passed me by. As I’ve mentioned before I didn’t start with D&D and by the time I did get to play D&D it had been spoiled for me by a bunch of other games with more progressive, fun or ‘realistic’ mechanics. Since D&D largely passed me by until late 2nd Edition and 3rd Edition, so the OSR hasn’t really drawn my attention before.
Legends of the Flame Princess changes that a little. Here’s a game that combines ‘old school gaming’ sensibilities without the ‘giving a fuck’ that has neutered so much of what the modern incarnations of many of these games have become in futile pursuit of becoming a family pasttime.
To me, at least, LofP doesn’t really feel like a D&D clone, despite its mechanics, in sensibility it’s much more like Howard than Vance and if anything is a ‘grown up version’ of Dragon Warriors with more blood, tits and death. That can’t be all bad now can it?
I’m reviewing the Grindhouse Edition which comes with a referee’s book, rules book, tutorial book, a few character sheets and a little packet of dinky dice. The only thing missing was a pencil really.
LofP, despite the evocative name and artwork, much of it depicting the eponymous ‘Flame Princess’ (how a hero can be ginger when they have no souls… I have no idea) doesn’t really have a background. It’s a late medieval/early renaissance feel from the illustrations getting on towards but not really reaching ‘Solomon Kane’ territory or the Early Modern German period that informs Warhammer. Overall it’s pretty nebulous which isn’t necessarily any bad thing at all, leaving you room to make up your own world and fill it out as you wish. The artwork and odd bits of writing and suggestions here and there are more pointers, ideas, not a game world. Still, I would have liked a little more meat on the bones and a peek behind the curtain a little more into the world as the author sees it and interprets it. The tutorial and adventure in the books are a little more whimsical than the art and presentation would make you think and a little at odds with the main thrust of the presentation.
If you know D&D in any of its pre 3.0 incarnations then you basically know what you’re getting into here. LofP does play with some of the sacred cows a little though and is a touch modernised. There are skills, of a sort, very simply organised on a 1-6 pip, roll a d6, basis. There’s no rogue class, rather a ‘specialist’ who can pick and choose skills to suit themselves. Only fighters are REALLY good at fighting. So you have wizards, clerics, fighters and specialists and it harks back, way back, with racial classes for elf, dwarf and halfling. It’s a mix of old and new sensibilities.
HP bloat has been pared back, way back, which means risk stays relatively high. XP is earned more for escaping with treasure than mass slaughter. All in all it’s a slimmer, deadlier version of the old way of doing things and coupled with the no-holds barred presentation that’s very suggestive of how you could, would or should play the game.
There’s one grand omission to the game, but that omission is by design so whether it should be called an omission or not is in question. There’s no bestiary, though there are structural rules for creating strange monsters. This is deliberate so that there’s no such thing as a standard monster in the game and that the monsters are unique, strange, weird and that there’s no commonality and nothing to fix upon, expect or predict. I appreciate the idea but some more examples of monsters would have been an excellent guide to creating one’s own.
The atmosphere is informed mostly by the art though I believe the choice of paper etc in the books is also an attempt to invoke the feel of the older games. This is a version that doesn’t pull its punches, breasts and guts and blood on show rather than hinted at. The ‘naughty’ promise of the old games that was never quite followed through on is here, in many ways more like a horror game than a fantasy game but given its key direction towards weird fantasy, that’s hardly surprising.
The artwork is uniformly excellent but also greatly varied. Much of it is simple line work but it gets across the feeling of the game extremely well, considering so much hangs on the artwork in this regard this is extremely important. I mentioned the paper before, it feels cheap, crinkly and while the colour plates are much more expensive and better quality paper I have a feeling that they might pull free of the binding over time. The cheapness of the paper is not necessarily a minus in my eyes, it does evoke the feeling of the old Corgi Dragon Warriors paperbacks and I have a feeling it will yellow nicely with time.
The box makes this look and feel like a starter game, but it isn’t. This is a grown up version of the game that so many of you started with but it leaves gaps, plenty of gaps, for you to make it your own. It encourages you to take risks, play dirty, play deadly and where the rules have been modernised its to the great advantage of the game as a whole, changed JUST enough. I can see some people getting upset at the adult tangent of the game but, frankly, fuck ’em.
On the Plus side
- Encouragement to play to the hilt.
- Evocative and inspirational artwork
- A complete approach to a game, even though I don’t think this will be anyone’s starter game.
On the Minus Side
- Somewhat flimsy books that won’t hold up to heavy use.
- Neither old style nor new style it falls in between the two.
- Not as helpful as it could be on the game/monster creation front.