Check for Traps
Learning from the Masters

Alexander Macris | 17 Aug 2010 21:00
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Yet for all that it changes, LotFP remains very close to D&D. It still has fighters, magic-users, clerics, thieves ("specialists"), the standard six attributes, hit points, and all the other trappings. Indeed, one can argue that it doesn't go far enough - elves and dwarves are virtually never present in weird tales, but they are both available as player races in Lamentations, and it's rare to see a wizard blasting fireballs or lightning bolts in Lovecraft or Howard, but both spells remain in easy reach of PC magic-users. This is almost certainly because players in RPGs like dwarves, elves, and fireballs. And this too, is illustrative: In adapting rules and making them your own, you sometimes need to be willing to compromise the purity of your setting in order to make a game that's fun for your players.

In general, if you've enjoyed my columns, you'll almost certainly enjoy what Raggi has done. His philosophy of game-mastering is even close kin to my own. For instance, in his introduction to Lamentations, he writes "player characters must have agency. They cannot be puppets or mere observers to events. The Referee is not telling a story, but presenting an environment and situations within that environment. The story is the summation of what happens during play." The whole work is peppered with such gems; the three booklets that make up LoftFP probably include more and better advice on campaign creation and gamemastering than I've seen anywhere else in print. Anyone interested in weird fantasy, and any student of gamemastering in general, would be well advised to pick up a copy of Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing. It's almost like a magic item that offers a +3 bonus to gamemastering skill checks.

Check Out All His Majesty

The second product we'll look at is The Majestic Wilderlands, published by Goodman Games and written by Rob Conley. (You might remember Mr. Conley from having graciously provided our readers with a free PDF of his Southland setting last column.)

The Majestic Wilderlands (TMW) is billed as "a supplement compatible with the Swords & Wizardry rules and all editions based on the original 1974 roleplaying game," i.e. Dungeons & Dragons. TMW is an expansion of the Judges Guild's Wilderlands of High Fantasy, which was the first campaign setting ever published for a fantasy RPG, and represents all the additions, modifications, and updates written by Conley over the course of 28 years of continuous play.

TMW includes about 85 pages of new rules, classes, spells, ritual magic, monsters, and magic items, and about 50 pages of setting, backstory, and maps. It serves as an excellent illustration of how you can start with a very simple set of rules (classic D&D is less than 100 pages long!) and over time build up a literal encyclopedia of material. Moreover, because the material in TMW has grown organically from actual play, it provides answers to common problems that real GMs face when running campaigns. Where do high-level NPC spellcasters come from, if they don't adventure? How do all the spellcasters come together in guilds without magically charming each other? Why don't the evil gods have paladins to champion evil causes? Why in 10,000 years of magical learning hasn't anyone figured out how to cast simple spells without having to memorize them a day in advance? In short, "how do you make sense of all the nonsense?" TMW provides answers.

For starters, TMW adds ritual magic to the repertoire of all its spellcasters. D&D normally requires casters to prepare their spells in advance, but ritual magic lets the caster use any known spell at will by spending ten minutes and some material components. In the Wilderlands, most utility spells, like detecting magic and opening doors, are cast via rituals, while "prepared" spells and magic items represent an advanced form of magic used for battle. It's a deceptively simple change, but it cascades throughout the setting. It provides a reasonable explanation as to why all those scrolls and magic items get made in the first place, for one thing, and it enables the introduction of several specialized spellcasting classes, such as Artificers and Rune Casters, which lack the ability to cast any spells at all - all their magic is ritual magic.

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