Sunday, August 2, 2020

Alvida’s Window Content Update # 1



I wanted to give a quick blog update on my Polish age of sail hexcrawl, Alvida's Window. I am talking with some artists and setting up commissions, so I expect some of my first content posts for the setting to be showing up this month. I am interested in talking to some cartographers as well, if anybody is looking for some freelance work. First piece will be a long term magic item that can be dropped into any fantasy setting but that will work particularly well with LotFP or similar old school games.


I also have a new series launching in conjunction with this on my Youtube channel called ‘Easy Listening’, where I will be editing some of my live plays into radio dramas. This will include music, cut dead air, sound effects, and a cleaner narrative. My first video launched last week, ‘Compulsory Prayers 1’, which features locations from Alvida’s Window. Feedback and response to it has been very positive and heart warming. Here is a link for anybody interested who might have missed it:





I am currently editing the second part which will also feature the appearance of the long term magical item that I alluded to above.

Hope everybody is doing well and having some good sessions of old school gaming!

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Review: Jim Raggi’s The Deck of Weird Things (LotFP)



In this article I review The Deck of Weird Things, an RPG supplement published under the Lamentations of the Flame Princess label written and produced by James Raggi. I am not affiliated with Lamentations of the Flame Princess or Jim. This review is un-sponsored.

**Note, this is a review of the PDF product. Physical product information will be updated as I receive and inspect the physical item.**


Table of Contents
1: History of the Decks
2: The Deck of Weird Things
3: Conclusion
4. Links to Many Things


1. HISTORY OF THE DECK


The Deck of Many Things is a high risk, high reward magic item that appeared in the Greyhawk supplement for Od&d and has enjoyed a long tenure in the various editions, mags, and zines that have followed since. While we have seen many iterations of this item, the basic concept has remained the same: commit to drawing x amount of cards in some stated fashion and pray that you make off with exp, wishes, magic items, or other powerful boons before the deck nukes your poor PC from orbit. The interesting decision for the player character is deciding whether or not to partake in the gamble in the first place; for if you commit to draw, you draw, and a good or bad effect will assuredly occur.

The original item was simple in design, taking up half a page of the original Greyhawk booklet, which was digest-sized, and contained one or two lines of text for each card in the deck. The table consisted of 18 entries in total. Most successive decks followed a 22 card format with similar effects to the original item, functioning in a similar way. Some notable departures from this format were the fourth edition deck, which acted as an artifact outside of its draw mechanic, the Ravenloft Tarokka deck, which functioned like fortune telling cards which could be manipulated by the dealer, and the Dragon Magazine deck, also known as the Tarot of Many Things, which had 78 cards, each containing at least two effects which changed depending on the direction of the card's orientation, normal or upside down.

To be honest, the item REALLY hasn't changed that much over the last several decades and elements that I think were improvements were often accompanied by issues or problems. There really hasn't been a perfect deck, or even a really great deck.. but there have been great building blocks scattered throughout the various individual takes on the item.

For those gold panning for best practices, lessons could be learned. A deck could exist that combined the favorable and iconic elements of all these successive iterations:

-The classic card types: retainers, death, mutation, lobotomization, exp gains, exp loses, magic items, treasure maps, wishes, petrification, etc
-Larger randomization with sub randomization, like what was seen in the Tarot of Many Things from Dragon 77.
-Cards that caused interesting narrative complications.
-Draw rules that allowed for maximization of gambling and stayed neutral, moving away from Tarokka's and 4th Ed's manipulation elements.
-Effects that harnessed the style of a setting, like we saw in the Ravenloft version of the deck.
-Cards that effect how other cards are drawn or how the deck functions (meta deck elements).
-A deck that might be incomplete, as it has been used before being found.

Surely, this has existed in many games of D&D for many years. This is the nature of DIY and a testament to the skill and dedication of the people in this hobby. After all, in its very first incarnation, Gygax suggests the reader modify the entries to their taste using the listings as a template. However, today I look at publications of the deck produced for consumption...

I hunger for something new and delightful...

Something weird...

Enter James Raggi and Lamentations of the Flame Princess.


2. THE DECK OF WEIRD THINGS


Jim has spent some time promoting his new books that hit this July, holding some really interesting talks on his Youtube channel, making posts about the products on his blog, and on the official facebook group (links in the link section). Among the various topics covered, he spoke a bit about his experience with the traditional iterations of the decks. To summarize, he was a fan, and more-so, seemed to have some really good insights into how the deck should be used in a campaign.

Jim’s game, LotFP, is a clone of the B/E rules written by Frank Mentzer. It has been cleaned up and has its own innovations, but under the hood, it is a recognizable take on classic era D&D. It does differ though, two of the ways being pertinent to this product review.

Firstly, LotFP draws on a much different appendix n, and therefore, has a different style and aesthetic. I will talk about this more at some point, but for simplification sake, we will call it ‘weird fantasy,’ as he does. If that is confusing, think of it as body horror, Lovecraft, H R Giger, and grindhouse cinema.

Secondly, Lamentations also has one of the strengths and weaknesses of its classic d&d counterparts: low mechanical customization. This is a perspective thing of course. I prefer the old school method. There are many though that see the lack of character options as a drawback.

So Jim brought some much needed perspective and ingredients to the table with his new product: a history of using the decks in the various iterations, a stylistic lens to look at the deck through, and an opportunity to add a tool that could double as a way to give individual characters defining mechanical characteristics.

This brings us to the question of the hour: did Jim succeed?

My answer is a big old "Fuck Yes!" Is it perfect? No. Duh. But it is, in my humble opinion, the best form the deck has seen so far and the level of improvement over its predecessors is substantial.

Let’s start off by looking at some of its qualities:

Randomization - The deck took the ideas of the dragon magazine tarot and pushed it even further. The dragon tarot deck had 78 cards in total. Each card had a randomization of 2 possible effects. Therefore, the dragon tarot could be viewed as having 156 deck entries. Raggi’s Deck of Weird Things has 52 cards and 2 jokers. Each card has a randomization of 4 possible effects, giving the deck a total of 216 entries. Instead of doing randomization based on the orientation of the card, up or down, the randomization is done by a second card draw from a normal deck of playing cards and using the suit: spades, clubs, hearts, and diamonds.

Rules - The deck comes with guidelines for how it should be found and operated. These draw upon the better principles of how the deck has been used in past publications. The deck is a long term item, but when a card is drawn and its effect granted, the card disappears. There is a minimum amount of people who must draw and they must agree on how many cards to draw up front. There is a procedure for when the effects occur. Like we see in some previous iterations of the item, Raggi implemented cards that have meta effects, though I will keep the particulars a surprise. The deck also is suppose to be found in a used state, with guidelines for removing cards.

Effects - The Deck of Weird Things includes pretty much all of the classic archetypes mentioned in this article, in their more punitive and glorious forms, and really pushes some interesting narrative effects along with them. There is also an abundant amount of card effects with limited durations, which makes for an interesting middle ground in the range of how much the deck effects the game. The deck does, in my opinion, offer sprawling effects that make characters more unique, and based on some preliminary conversations with people I know who referee the game, it is likely to be used by some as a character creation tool and not a deck at all.

Style - The deck undeniably feels weird and has that certain quality Raggi is known for. I won't ruin the surprises, but expect it to feel like many of the iconic modules and their shenanigans. The art, however, is quite limited. There are a handful of card plates in the book, most depicting iconic characters, and of course, the wonderful cover illustration of the deck. Yannick Bouchard created all the art present and I have to say, it is a shame we didn't get to see him do something with body horror because his photo-realistic style is a home run and easily an industry standout.

Layout - The obvious observation here is that, well, it isn’t a deck but a book! I actually prefer that to be honest, though I have seen many people asking for an actual deck to use in their games. The book has a pretty functional way of presenting its information. Firstly, each page has a title at the top which tells what the theme of the card is. For example, "Mutations!" or "Hitpoints." Secondly, some cards have a short paragraph of text next to the title that gives the referee instructions or information that will apply to every result in the sub randomization. This preps the referee to know if they will be hiding some of the information from the player or giving it all up front. Lastly, each sub randomization occurs in a 2 by 2 grid with the suit nested behind the description transparently.The pages are numbered at the top corners and on the bottom center, showing a traditional page number at the bottom and a card numbering on the top. This will make it easy to flip to the desired card section without consulting an index. Speaking of which, the back of the book also has a nice card index, which will be beneficial for PDFs and people that prefer a traditional format. Overall, the layout is quite effective.


6. CONCLUSION


So, where does this leave my overall impression? Somewhere around a 9 out of 10. This is a product I expect will be an early attachment for people who buy the game. Additionally, I suspect it will get heavy play across other versions of D&D, as it is hands down the best iteration of the deck to emerge yet. I have already experienced the deck as a player in a Blueholme game ran by Ignacio Bergkamp, who also has an awesome blog and youtube channel (links you know where). The results were deliciously game altering. Three characters agreed to three draws. We ended up with half the deck burnt from a meta effect, an adversary who had become immortal, and a halfling who has a pocketed ability to duplicate any single item he can see, a single time. Yikes.

The only thing really holding this book back from a 9.5 is the lack of art. This is a utility item, but LotFP has such an impressive stable of talent that it is a shame we didnt get to see some unique horror pieces plastered about this thing. We can still hope though. Maybe Jim will put out a set of tarot sized cards at some point with full art. That I would kill for. I also have a creeping suspicion that the art cost was kept down because the physical copy of the book was meant to act as a fundraiser to save the operation.

Which brings me to an important point. The price is going to be contentious for people who want the physical edition of the book. It currently sits at 110 Euro (100 Euro without VAT) on the EU store. Jim readily admits the book isn't worth this amount, but LotFP needs a fundraiser to recover from recent financial and controversial woes and this is the flagship publication he has chosen to do it with. If you order it now, you can get free shipping on your order with the code WEIRD, which is really valuable if you have other books you want to purchase (I can recommend several if you want to talk). For those of you that are put off by the price tag or concept, Jim is also releasing a PDF only version later this week (confirmed).

Circumstances aside, Jim made an excellent product here and contributed to a storied piece of D&D history. For LoFP fans and old school adjacents, I recommend this as a must buy. For 5th edition D&D fans, throw out the generic deck and bring in this third party item. I suspect there will be a lot of "draws" in the future.


7. LINKS OF MANY THINGS


Buy the Deck of Weird Things:

Lamentations of the Flame Princess Euro Store:

Lamentations of the Flame Princess US Store:

Jim's Blog:

Jim's Youtube:

The Official LotFP Facebook:

Ignacio's Blog:

Ignacio's Youtube:




Friday, July 17, 2020

The Matchlock FAQ

Welcome to Matchlock!

THE MATCHLOCK FAQs

Who are you?

My name is Andrew Knapp and I run and play tabletop RPGs. I am also a large tabletop RPG collector and an online seller. My preferred niche is old school style fantasy games and my current drugs of choice are Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and Blueholme. I have been around in the online community since 2012 and am active on Youtube (sr2joker) and on Facebook. You might have also seen me around the acaeum forums, bazaar of the bizarre, goblin emporium, or some of the other buy/sell/trade sites. Feel free to contact me with opportunities or solicitations.

https://www.youtube.com/user/sr2joker

https://www.facebook.com/binarysunset

sr2joker@gmail.com

What is Lamentations of the Flame Princess?

LotFP is a fever pitched dream of the historic age of sail, heavy metal, H P Lovecraft, M R James, Clive Barker, H R Giger, hammer horror, satanism, old school D&D, and most importantly, a dedication and integrity to artistic vision.

Simply put, it is raw and un-tethered weird fantasy.

What is Dungeon Crawl Classics?

DCC is Goodman Game's OGL fantasy system that channels the spirit of old school D&D. It has neo-d&d concepts mixed with old school sensibilities which are exemplified by an extremely well executed non-vancian magic system. Its published setting through the Leiber estate, Lankhmar, is one of my favorite settings of all time.

What is Blueholme?

Blueholme is an OSR clone of Holmes D&D that gives options for playing monsters as classes.

What is your game of choice and why?

Lamentations of the Flame Princess. At its core, it is based on my favorite iteration of my favorite game; b/e and b/x d&d, but honestly, there are a lot of options on the market when it comes to this particular kind of experience. Some quick examples being the original games by Mentzer, Moldvay, and Cook, Labyrinth Lord, and Basic Fantasy Role-playing Game. These games are wonderful in their own rights, but LotFP is particularly excellent and here are a few reasons why:

The quality of the art, construction of the books, and layout are far above the industry standard.

James Raggi, the publisher, consistently creates the most interesting, entertaining, and usable materials on the market and collaborates with some of the biggest names in old school gaming.

The 'appendix n' that influences these works is much more horror and historical oriented, the writing of the modules and supplements are written in a humorous underground way, and the adventures have given me 100s of hours of quality entertainment.

As a collector, the model James has used for the limited editions of the books has created an interesting and endearing market for the product. LotFP books aren't just game materials, they are curiosities and totems of old school power; like a coveted vinyl record to a metalhead.

And most importantly, it is just damn good D&D.

Do you think LotFP is controversial?

By any interesting definition of the term, yes, because it is surrounded by controversy, but I don't think people should be trying to de-platform it, censor it, financially damage it, or strip it of its accolades.

An edgy game for edge lords and ladies?

What is too spicy? Ask 100 people, get 100 different answers. Not every game needs to be tailored to the widest possible audience.

What type of content will this blog be putting out?

Game material for LotFP or B/X B/E of a similar style, DCC material, Blueholme material, OSR reviews, and community commentary. While I don't aim to make any of this political, it unavoidably will be. There are a lot of ways to define politics but I personally define it as who gets what, when, where, and why. It is pretty pervasive by its nature. When we talk about what should be published, where it should be published, who should work with whom, what topics should be taboo, and a long list of other things, we are engaging in political talk. At the end of the day, I must have the conversation that will undoubtedly anger some people who disagree with me because I enjoy this game and I know there are others out there who would enjoy it too if they could see it through the eyes of the fans.

LotFP badly needs goodwill ambassadors. The reader has my commitment to hold myself to a goodwill standard.

What type of game material will we see?

The focus will initially be on a hexcrawl I am building for LotFP called 'Alvida's Window,' named after the famous Jon Bauer painting. This setting takes place during the Thirty Years' War (1624) in the rural Polish countryside, near Krakow. Think Slavic weird fantasy with black powder guns. This will manifest itself in the form of a zine which will appear in pieces on this blog. At some point in the future, I want to combine the content into a digest sized physical print. This would ideally include articles and collaboration with other writers and an artist.

What about Dungeon Crawl Classics & Blueholme?

Look for reviews on DCC Lankhmar in the near future. Announcements to come on Blueholme.

How often will you blog?

I want to focus on quality over quantity. That said, I'd like to have a post of substantial content at least once a month and perhaps sometimes as often as once a week.

Is your blog sponsored?

No. The opinions on this blog are my own.

Will you do content on 5E D&D?

Not specifically, but feel free to use any of my settings, adventures, tables, or magic items in your game of 5E.

What are your feelings on Wizards of the Coast and 5E D&D?

I collect vintage magic cards so I am invested in one of their products as a collector. As far as their handling of the D&D property, I have mixed views which range from tepid to disappointed. I am not a fan of 5E though I readily accept its benefit to the hobby. It is easy to convert gamers from one type of D&D to another and WotC has far reach. I believe old school games are the best experience to be had but that is largely moot if nobody sees the damn things in the first place.

I have a live and let live philosophy. For me personally though, when it comes to their products, WotC is far removed from the creative powerhouse that was TSR and has failed to innovate with noteworthy settings or adventures. Having money to buy things is a power though, just ask batman.

Can you modify 5E D&D to be closer to how you like to play?


Absolutely. The problem is that B/E and B/X are better fits out of the box. OD&D, Holmes, and AD&D happen to be better fits as well. DCC's magic system could be used to replace the 5e magic system and I would highly recommend it if you are feeling like experimenting but not yet ready to take the plunge into old school d&d.

What are your political and religious views?

Moderate Atheist. I would say it doesn't matter but that would be disingenuous. Instead I will say that as long as you have some common interest with me, we can share a community space, even if I vehemently disagree with you about some particular issue or issues. That doesn't mean we will be best friends, but we can throw dice and have fun, and I certainly won't write you off unless you do something personally egregious to me.

All things said, politics are far less important to me than people.

Do you believe in social justice?

I am against censorship, deplatforming, manipulating language, discrimination, science denial, and faith based positions. I define faith as belief without evidence. I do accept that there is inequality and racism in both America and abroad. Most of my solutions are based in class reductionism. I whole-cloth reject intersectionality.

As for objectionable content in games, I am unconvinced that fictional media has real negative consequences. It reminds me too much of the satanic panic or watching people like Hillary Clinton or Tipper Gore blame school shootings on DOOM and Marylin Manson.