James Edward Raggi IV, owner of Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP), helpfully explains the Old School Revival/Renaissance (OSR), his business model, living in Finland and the purpose of fiction! Towards the end are some bonus comments by co-author of the company’s recent supplement Towers Two, Jobe Bittman.
For those not in the know (like me): could you give the three-five sentence pitch about LotFP? It’s an “OSR” game compatible with most D&D retroclones? What does that mean?
LotFP Owner James Edward Raggi IV: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is my publishing company focusing on weird and/or horrific gaming material. Sometimes that involves high-concept projects that sell many thousands and win all the awards (A Red and Pleasant Land), and sometimes it involves scummy, degenerate projects that nobody will admit to liking and can only cause trouble for all involved (Towers Two). Absolutely anything goes because we’re all about interesting, strange stuff and not attempting to please the general gaming public.
It’s set up more like a creative studio than a traditional gaming publishing company, and every release is self-contained; there is no «game line» where you have to keep up on all the releases to know what’s going on.
LotFP also has a vibrant third party publishing scene, and we try to keep up with all that on the LotFP site so check that out. People really are playing this game in some numbers and they’re producing their own material, pro and semi-pro, for it.
It is an OSR game, which means LotFP rules are compatible with adventures written for over 100 different OSR games, and LotFP adventures are able to be run as-is with the rules for all of those different games.
«OSR» means players and publishers of games and supplementary material based on a rules skeleton created by pre-1984 versions of Dungeons & Dragons. Some of us in the OSR are all about pretending it’s 1981 in playstyle and tone and product aesthetics, and some of us just find the rules framework interesting and use it as a common base from which to develop our original and unique ideas that nobody would have wanted in 1981. We’re a varied bunch.
Could you say a little about the setting of LotFP, or isn’t there a default setting?
Raggi: There is an implied setting, but no real «official» setting. I set all my material in 17th century Europe, because I think of LotFP as a horror game. In no other time period have people been so horrible to one another, and combined with famine and disease it makes the perfect backdrop. Not to mention in that time period exploration and exploitation, two common RPG activities, were commonplace across many different cultures. It’s just a shit time to have been alive, and that makes for great gaming.
Some other LotFP authors embrace the real-world-as-setting idea, others don’t.
I’m getting a “metal” or even “punk” vibe from large parts of the OSR. Could you say something about the balance between provocation-for-provocations sake and the more profound themes in your games (oddly phrased question, but you might see what I’m getting at)?
Raggi: What you’re getting at seems completely irrelevant to me. «Is this fun? Is this interesting? Are there meaningful choices for the characters to make?» are the important bits. These games are fiction, completely unrealistic adventure fiction, designed for an audience that is instructed to do what they want and not just blindly cooperate with what they are «supposed» to do. «Profound themes» are simply authorial masturbation when «to hell with it, kill everyone and burn this place to the ground» is a valid player choice in any particular situation. Themes might make the material interesting, and intrigue a Referee enough to run it for their group, but even that in no way means the players are going to interact with those themes in a way the author might consider meaningful. You can’t force it.
«Provocation for provocation’s sake» makes no sense in terms of fictional media. Provocation is the entire purpose of fiction, whether you want to get an audience’s adrenaline pumping, or get them horny, or sadden them, or make them laugh, or disgust them, or whatever. The manner in which you do it is merely a matter of personal preference and style. And anyone who doesn’t like it can just stop watching/reading/listening to it and try something else. It’s not real life and doesn’t follow the rules of real life.
Personally, I enjoy creative work which comes across as reckless and/or irresponsible. Sure, «mature» and/or comfortable is OK sometimes, but the pure energy coming off of work that just doesn’t give a fuck is exciting and inspiring and more likely to confront me with ideas I would never have thought of myself, which is what I’m paying for when I buy things.
I think the OSR has shown itself to be accepting of people with less-restrained imaginations, people even more outside of the mainstream than all us dice-chuckers already are, and so that’s where they’ve hung their hats. It really upsets the other old-schoolers who internalized the criticism of the 80s Satanic Panic, haha!
What games do you play these days? Are you in a campaign?
Raggi: As far as tabletop gaming goes, I just play my own game, unfortunately. I’m not into gaming over Skype or G+ hangouts, I’m too stupid to pick up spoken Finnish so I’m not comfortable joining someone else’s game here and making them all speak my language, I don’t have the time or energy to run multiple campaigns in different systems, and when I visit conventions I’m working and after 8+ hours a day on the convention floor the last thing I want to do is spend more hours around gamers doing gaming things.
I do keep up with online conversation and several game lines so I’m not completely out in the wilderness, but these days my inspiration for creating stuff comes from outside gaming, and I’m comfortable with the mechanical base I’m working from already so I’m quite happy not playing every (any) fucking thing that people decide is the hot new thing in gaming.
For non-tabletop stuff, I play games like Banished and Elder Sign: Omens. Not so much adventure or RPG type games.
What other upcoming products interest you? What other games and ‘zines do you follow?
Raggi: I keep up with the Doctor Who and Trail of Cthulhu RPG lines, plus I try to keep up with the OSR releases. I collect first edition Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play stuff plus keeping up with Goodman Games’ more general products keeps me in good stuff. I just yesterday received their Grimtooth’s Traps reprint, and backing that was so expensive (worth it though, it’s a hell of a book!) that I volunteered to do something for the Monster Alphabet just so I could get a copy of that myself without forking over money.
Zines are fun but I like more substantial works better. Yoon-Suin, Fire on the Velvet Horizon, the Grimtooth book, things that really feel like the creators had to persevere and probably freaked out and maybe cried putting the thing together but still pushed through to finish a larger project, those end up impressing me more. Then again, a zine with a couple dozen pages are full of more fire and «this is a great idea WHAM it’s down!» kind of expressiveness, so it’s not like they suck or anything.
What’s it like to do your business from Finland? How do you like it there? How does it compare to the US? Why are you based there?
Raggi: I moved to Finland because Finnish women are pretty and much more willing to let me touch their genitals than American women were. I had been stuck in the American South all of my adult life and between the hot weather and all the Guns n Jesus rednecks I just wanted out. Vermont might have worked just as well but I ended up in Finland instead. There’s a lot less hot weather here, nobody goes on about their guns, and there’s very little concern about Jesus. But still, Finnish rednecks exist (just drive about 20 minutes outside any of the 3 cities in this country and you’ll find them!), they just go on about different stupid shit than guns and Jesus.
I haven’t been to the US in ten years and I swear everything I hear about it these days sounds like Mad Max. Should be fun going back this year for GenCon.
There seems to be a great energy to the OSR scene, but I have mainly been paying attention to other style indie/DIY games. How would you describe the difference between the communities? Is there a conflict?
Raggi: Conflicts are between people, not scenes. No thinking human being attacks other people because of the games they play, and there’s a lot of crossover between the two scenes anyway. Internecine OSR internet slapfights happen too, nobody intelligent decides to be buddy buddy with a stranger just because they both roll 3d6 down the line for their characters’ ability scores.
But the main difference between the OSR and «indie» communities would be that OSR people work new ideas around familiar mechanics so everyone keeps the same common ground, and the indie/DIY community until recently reinvented the wheel from scratch for every new idea they had. FATE- and Apocalypse-based stuff seems to have changed that recently. While that may work for them with well-established genres (every system has its own version of dungeoncrawling, right?), I’m not sure it serves their more niche or high-concept ideas well, but they’re not my projects so what do I really care?
Where would you recommend someone interested in checking out the OSR get started, besides LotFP? The cross-game compatibility seems like one “killer app” of this tradition.
First let me plug my stuff. If you’re into print products, head over to the LotFP store for all the current releases and T-shirts and all that. We’ve got Towers Two, World of the Lost, and reprints of the Rules & Magic and Red & Pleasant Land books at the printer now and those should be delivered within a couple weeks. You can also order LotFP books through your local game store but TT and WotL will take a little while to filter through the distribution chain (there are still some R&M and RPLs out there in stores currently).
If you want your game books in PDF form, we’ve got a bundle with every release from LotFP ever for 60% off, or pick and choose what releases you want from the RPGNow storefront. We’ve got free versions of the rules and two free adventures for download there, including the 100+ page Better Than Any Man, one of the better things LotFP has ever done. (Make sure your Adult Filter is turned off to see everything).
Now if the whole heavy metal attitude isn’t your thing, there are a ton of choices and most of them have free PDF downloads. I’d recommend Labyrinth Lord or Basic Fantasy RPG for rules, and for free supplements I’d track down the annual Secret Santacore and One Page Dungeon projects. And get yourself Narcosa.
If you’re wanting some cool projects that aren’t free, off the top of my head I’d recommend An Echo, Resounding (all of Sine Nomine’s projects are cool), Yoon-Suin, and the Cthonic Codex.
One recent supplement for LotFP is «Towers Two». Co-author Jobe Bittman also took the time to answer some questions for Imagonem:
Towers Two co-author Jobe Bittman: «Towers Two» was a tabletop roleplaying game adventure being written by former GWAR frontman, Dave Brockie, (aka Oderus Urungus) for the Lamentations of the Flame Princess game system. Unfortunately, Brockie died in 2014 before completing the adventure so I was brought in to finish it. Good thing too! Raggi wanted to take the adventure into a high-minded sci-fi direction. I put the brakes on that shit and steered Brockie’s aborted fetus right back into the gutter and pissed on its rotting face. In «Towers Two», the characters measure dick size with squabbling twin princes, Zal and Razak, that fight over control of the land from the safety of their towered strongholds. The adventurers can choose to side with one of the brothers or carve their own path in the land of Mlag. I usually try to avoid spoilers, but if any players out there are reading this: /Search the rectum of every last corpse!/
What is Deathfuck magic?
Bittman: Deathfuck is new power source for magic discovered by the evil necromancer, Razak. The strange magic is fueled by the brain juice and spinal fluid of living creatures. Practitioners of the dark art use a host of weaponized sex toys to puncture the skull and spinal column and forcefully extract this magic nectar. The victim is fucked by sex weapons into chunks of bloody meat.
Other interesting nuggets about the supplement?
Bittman: As submitted by Dave Brockie, one of the most frequently encountered monsters are Urukhai black orcs. Obviously, off-the-shelf orcs don’t fit with the design aesthetic of the LotFP game system; and the Tolkien estate would probably have issues with the fellatio and scatological interests of Brockie’s breed. The orcs were recast as Pig-men and have an origin that may be discovered within the adventure. In the interest of preserving Brockie’s legacy, his entire unedited manuscript is included at the end of the book. I think Brockie would have been happy with the way the adventure turned out. It’s visceral and raw, but at the same time has a sense of humor.