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Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess
by Jim C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/10/2013 17:46:27
This is a well playable adventure that's tasty and filling, with the right amount of sourness. I'd definitely go for the Opportunist ending.

Incidentally, it makes good use of this variant's take on Law and Chaos, possibly offering source detail for fey regions.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess
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Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/04/2013 15:09:43
This adventure is dark, weird, bizarre and quite wonderful, very old school and wacky. If you do not mind letting something a little outre loose in your campaign world, then give Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess a try, I do not think you will be disappointed.

Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess is a short module for the Lamentations of the Flame Princess weird fantasy RPG but compatible with most OSR style games (or similar games, I ran it with Pathfinder).

The basic plot is straight forward, recover and rescue a group of displaced halflings for a reward of course (this is old school, people are not expected to do thing because they are nice). They must be tracked into the Dark Wood, which comes with a fantastic set of random encounters, to find out where the halflings have gone.

Where they have gone is a literal land of milk and honey with gingerbread houses and everyone is happy or else. Perfect poodles, animated teddy bears and impish cupids enforce mandatory happiness on the surviving halflings. To free them, an ivory tower must be stormed, a fairy queen defeated and, possibly, dark deals must be made.

While the structure of the adventure seems humorous, it is a very dark humor and the stakes can be very high. One of the best modules I have ever read and that it also plays well, just makes it perfect.

Note: Read more reviews and other gaming articles at my journal https://seaofstarsrpg.wordpress.com/

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Vornheim: The Complete City Kit
by Rob M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/17/2013 15:42:17
I purchased Vornheim after hearing about how great it is at helping GMs create a sprawling metropolis for their fantasy game. Little did I know that it would become the basis of my next campaign.

Zak S. has put together some of the most imaginative and interesting adventure hooks and tables I've ever seen. Everything in this book will cause a GM's mind to race with possibilities. I based four adventures on Vornheim and barely scratched the surface.

I highly recommend Vornheim as an essential sourcebook for any OSR gamemaster.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Vornheim: The Complete City Kit
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People of Pembrooktonshire
by Niles C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/12/2013 12:09:29
Sick, twisted and thoroughly despicable.

These words, and many like them, are well used to describe both the author Mr Raggi and the characters described in this book.

Given that I am running a game set in this horrid little backwater this very evening I leave it up to you, good reader, to decide how I feel about this product.

If you guessed "Heartily Recommended" then you are correct.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
People of Pembrooktonshire
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LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Grindhouse Edition
by Aaron H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/15/2013 21:30:41
The following review was originally posted at Roleplayers Chronicle and can be read in its entirety at http://roleplayerschronicle.com/?p=30658.

Dubbed as weird fantasy by the designer, Lamentations of the Flame Princess is an OSR product in the guise of Basic / Expert Dungeons & Dragons in a lighter version. The mechanics are designed with more simplicity in mind with what seems like an effort to move the game away from just combat and treasure hoards and into areas where the horror is turned up and the over-powering abilities of the Player Characters is turned down. Yes it contains the same core abilities as all OSR games and probably all the same spells, but skills are handled in a simplified manner (using a d6), alignments have more of a real meaning, there are no magical weapons, and characters don’t simply get stronger as they increase in level, they have to become better at what they specialize in.

Without looking at every single OSR game out there, and I’ve seen a few along with the originals, Lamentations of the Flame Princess has additional simplified mechanics over its equivalents such as static attack tables – there are no charts, just static target numbers according to armor. Saving throws are statically defined in the character class. Increasing melee attack bonuses only attack to Fighters (except for the simple +1 all others receive) again presented statically. There are no d% rolls when determining opposed checks, just simple target numbers. In other words, Lamentations of the Flame Princess takes out a lot of the fiddly mechanics from many OSR games to concentrate more on telling interesting (or weird) stories instead of just delving into random dungeons or clearing out the closest vanilla wizard’s tower (not that you couldn’t do it, but where’s the storyline?). This is an Indie game using OSR mechanics. The benefit there is that the amount of published material compatible with Lamentations of the Flame Princess is huge and thus can be incorporated into your games with little to no conversions necessary.

OVERALL

Before getting into the ratings, it should be made very clear that Lamentations of the Flame Princess is a game you have to want to play in order for it to be a desirable game. Why do I say that? Because if you’re a full-blown grognard and only play B/X or AD&D and their retro-clones, this may seem familiar and yet not familiar and not what you want. It’s not a traditional old-school system where you primarily delve into dungeons, castles, towers, or what-not and spend your time adventuring, collecting treasure, or just getting wealthy (or more powerful). This is an OSR game that tries harder to concentrate more on the story. This is an OSR game where player characters are extraordinary figures, but not epic fantasy almost-demi-god heroes. This is an OSR game where magical weapons may not exist and the creatures abroad are terrifying. This is an OSR game where you have to embrace the theme as much as you embrace the system.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess is not a retro-clone, it is a unique game powered by old-school mechanics utilizing a unique setting (loosely defined setting that is). It is fantasy horror (weird fantasy), not epic fantasy with high magic. At the same time, it is not horror as there are still standard fantasy tropes. Once you realize that, you’ll better understand what it’s about, and what it’s not about.

RATINGS

Publication Quality: 10 out of 10
The entire Lamentations of the Flame Princess package is beautiful. The writing is excellent, the layout and formatting and superb, and the weird artwork is creepy and terrific. If you pay close attention, in some of the sections, the headers change like a flip cartoon from page to page. I agree with the decision to break the system into three books, especially since not every player or GM needs to use every one of them. The fantasy horror of the setting definitely comes through vividly in the artwork.

Mechanics: 9 out of 10
Although based on previous versions of Dungeons & Dragons and slotting into the old school renaissance, the lightness of Lamentations of the Flame Princess is an excellent implementation of the retro mechanics, focusing more on the story instead of convoluted charts and fiddly bits. The absence of a bestiary can be a definite turn-off for many people, but I am within the camp that new systems and settings benefit from unique monsters that players have never seen before, or at least have never experienced in this way. It’s a matter of creating something new instead of rehashing everything old. I would prefer to have seen more guidance such as a bestiary creation toolkit, but there is no shortage of narrative to get you moving. If all else fails, there is an abundance of bestiary material out there that is compatible with Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

Desire to Play: 9 out of 10
As stated before, you have to want to play Lamentations of the Flame Princess to get the most out of it. You also have to embrace the flavor of the game presented within the content to understand the approach of the weird fantasy. You could very easily take Lamentations of the Flame Princess and play the same old dungeon crawls or campaigns seen for the past 35 years. The system presents a lighter version of those old mechanics, but you can easily play them and keep your epic fantasy experience. However, that’s not what the system and flavor is trying to promote. Everything within is attempting to explain and promote the horror of the setting above and beyond the high fantasy flavor and effects. The core mechanics keep the danger high, but you can overcome that. With that said, the desire to play a fantasy horror game is as much in the flavor of the game play as it is the mechanics of the system.

Knowing all this, I find Lamentations of the Flame Princess to be an excellent representation of fantasy horror and those ready to play weird fantasy will find the mechanics and flavor content embrace that to full effect.

Overall: 9 out of 10
I may be slightly biased here, but Lamentations of the Flame Princess is my favorite OSR game. Not because it allows you to play everything that you’ve played before, but because it presents a familiar system in a new light, with trimmed down mechanics and the removal of all those fiddly bits. I may also be slightly biased because the content truly embraces the weird fantasy flavor in every way possible, without forcing it through the mechanics. Published adventures and supplements can better demonstrate this, but the core mechanics are a perfect blend of familiarity, light rules, and opportunistic game play that brings out the storyline in the old school renaissance.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Grindhouse Edition
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Tales of the Scarecrow
by John C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/10/2013 23:40:25
First I have to say I really, really like the scenario that Tales of the Scarecrow provides. In essence this 'adventure' is a simple, yet elaborate trap that once sprung will challenge the players to problem solve if they want their characters to survive. Warning, this adventure can easily become a bloodbath for players who approach all situations with an attitude of hack and slash. The adventure/encounter is such that it can be easily dropped into any campaign in which the party finds themselves traveling.

The art is fantastic, especially the cover, conveying an atmosphere of dread and doom that should make players shudder and fear for their characters' lives.

In addition to the actual challenge of escaping the scenario, Raggi has come up with some truly unique items for the players to find and study. Several offer the players clear benefits to their characters but with a sometimes hefty price they may come to regret later. This easily lays the groundwork for further adventures and challenges.

My one criticism and the reason I subtracted a star from my rating is that I felt that Raggi had left some details out that I thought could have been helpful. First I was confused by the presence of the dead horses just outside the house, an area which I thought was safe from attack. At some point that area obviously ceased to be safe, yet it was unclear what caused that to happen. Second, the method by which the DM implements the player's scarecrow tale is ambiguous; does the GM merely apply this to the scarecrow standing in the field or is a whole new scarecrow created as the result of the exercise? Sure, as a GM I can come up with my own explanations to these questions, but it would be nice to know what Raggi actually was thinking. Even so, this is a minor quibble, that only barely detracts from what is otherwise an excellent product.

In summary, this is an excellent addition to the previous works that James Raggi has released. Anyone who enjoys the weird fantasy adventures that Raggi is known for will not be disappointed.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Tales of the Scarecrow
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The Magnificent Joop van Ooms
by Stuart R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/16/2012 10:40:12
I just finished James Raggi's The Magnificent Joop van Ooms.
The design, layout and artwork were very nice indeed.
And the writing made it an enjoyable read.
A mini sourcebook for DMs to make their own Death Art Dooms.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Magnificent Joop van Ooms
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Carcosa
by Thomas K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/29/2012 08:33:53
I was very excited to purchase Carcosa. I had read a great number of interesting things about the book and was sold by an interview done with the author several months back. My disappointment came when i tried to utilize to book for my game.

Here is a list of several problems I encountered with this book(much of which is my own opinion but there are some glaring problems):

- There is relatively little setting information in this book, which is strange seeing as it is a setting book.

- After mentioning that there are only two classes to play, only one of the classes is detailed in the book (ie. the sorcerer) with no information on the fighter or starting gear etc. for either of the classes. If this book is a supplement to another book it should probably reference that book. (I tried using Lamentations of the Flame Princess for this purpose, but several of the mechanics for hit points and gear are different with no explanation in Carcosa as how to convert such information.)

- There is no mention as to what makes the different coloured men in this setting unique other than their skin colour, there is nothing on culture or lifestyle, etc... ie. no setting information. This and the sparse information in the Addenda led me to believe that they were all the same, just different coloured. There is a similar problem regarding any relevance the monsters may have to the setting.

- In many instances the hyperlinks in the book link back to the front page and not to relevant content in the book. I thought that the ability to jump from page to relevant page by simply clicking was going to make this a great play aid, but it turned out to be frustrating and faulty.

-The details given to the hexes are usually irrelevant to the characters or the details of other hexes, they provide a small glimpse of sparse detail to what might be contained in that 100 mile square area.

-Lastly my biggest complaint is that the sample "adventure" "Fungoid Gardens of the Bone Sorcerer" is not an adventure at all, it's just more sparsely detailed hexes and encounter tables. There is no start point, there is no goal, there is no story arch.

I wish this game was playable, either that or there was someone who could show me how to make use of this book, the book itself fails in that aspect in every way.

On the plus side this book has some colourful descriptions of rituals, decent art work and a host of gear and monsters that are pretty cool. Unfortunately though, all considered, this book is only an idea for a setting and not a complete product. I'm disappointed to say that i regret spending my money on this book.

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Carcosa
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Carcosa
by Robert S. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/10/2012 10:12:43
Greetings from Hastur’s House of Hotcakes on Carcosa. They have good coffee and pecan pie here. The service is decent, considering the fact wait staff are slobbery monsters.
In this episode, we are reviewing Carcosa, the role-playing game supplement by Geoffrey McKinney.
McKinney first released Carcosa several years ago, employed a version of the original D&D rule set, and referred to the supplement at the time as Volume 5. This was a reference to the original booklets in the earliest versions of the Dungeons and Dragons game, including Volume 1: Men & Magic, Volume 2: Monsters & Treasure, Volume 3: Underworld & Wilderness Adventures and Volume 4: Electric Boogaloo.
Lamentations of the Flame Princess Publishing released the current version of the Carcosa RPG supplement and the PDF version of that is the one covered by this review.
First up, we examine the art and composition of the work. The PDF is full color, though McKinney mutes the colors and employs them sparingly throughout – except for the over-done campaign map in the back of the book. Text comes in a single column, featuring ample white space on all sides and White Wolf Publishing alum Rich Longmore provides the art, which ranges from decent to good. Longmore’s art is all line art, but sells the tone of the book well.
Text strikes a decent balance, conveying information without wasting space or time on superfluous descriptions and without being too jocular. It also appears to run at a 9th grade reading level.
The PDF possesses many bookmarks and hyperlinks, connecting one section with another in a good manner. It even has an index and while that is not hyperlinked, the overall solid execution of the rest of the work means that is not required.
So, Carcosa the RPG possesses good art, good writing in a technical sense and good PDF execution. Kudos to McKinney and the ulfire people at Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
Now we move on to the material. As a supplement, the work possesses two major elements – its take on mechanics and setting description of Carcosa.
In terms of game mechanics, there only race available is humans, though it is carefully color coordinated. More on them in a moment. The only classes are fighter and sorcerer…and the sorcerer class might also be called the fucking bastard class. They do not use magic in the traditional D&D sense of spells – often called the Vancian system, for author Jack Vance who developed it for his stories. Instead, the Carcosian sorcerer conducts human sacrifice rituals to coerce monsters to, temporarily at least, accomplish the impossible for the sorcerer. Every single ritual, except banishment ones, are difficult to perform and morally insane. Nice people would not be a sorcerer.
Additional rules cover psionic powers and advanced alien technology – more on the later in a moment. The end of the book provides well-executed tables for determining a random variation of a monster, robot or mutation a person might suffer.
All mechanics in this version are more or less compatible with the system employed by the Lamentation of the Flame Princess, or a variation of the simple version of the D&D rules from the early 1980s. There are some exceptions.
A variation of the rules is for combat, which is unfortunately were Carcosa takes a hard run at a nearby brick wall. Hit points are rerolled at the beginning of every single combat. Further, the hit die used to determine hit points changes with every single combat. Also, you keep track of hit point by keeping the dice in front of you on the table – which requires a lot of clear space and that no one bumps the table. This same principal is true for monsters and NPCs. So characters with a high level of hit points in one combat might have few in the next combat and a kobald might end up with more hit points than a great old one. While in theory this approach should make combat more perilous, but it feels like it would slow things down too much and make it all punitively complicated. However, this is a theoretical review – I’ve not played the game – so it might actually work. Yet it feels wrong.
As a setting, Carcosa of the supplement is a bleak and grim fantasy world, in orbit of a star in the Hyades Cluster, 153 light years from Earth, give or take a few light-days. It is a setting were pretty much everything is trying to kill you, a world where everyone hates everyone else, a place where human ascendance of any kind is a mistake and a place where the Jersey Shore will never be canceled.
My old game master used to have a summerhouse here. I know because I burned it down this morning. I don’t think he was home at the time.
Anyway, calling the world Carcosa is somewhat muddled, as name Carcosa in its original stories referred to a city, not an entire world.
Various authors, usually after their deaths, created inspiration for the thematic and aesthetic elements of Dungeons and Dragons. These include Jack Vance, Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft. The creative personalities that inspired them in turn, back in the day, receive too little attention currently.
Carcosa - as a name of a fever-dream type of place - originated in a short story by 19th century journalist and fiction author Ambrose Bierce. Weird fiction pioneer Robert W. Chambers, who wrote the King in Yellow anthology, later employed the name Carcosa in his stories. Writers like Lovecraft would emulate many of the elements, motifs and styles of Bierce and Chambers. For example, the false document idea of the Necronomicon owes much to the false document idea of the play, the King in Yellow, from the anthology of the same name by Chambers.
The original stories by Bierce and Chamber are well worth reading as they are some of the earliest works that can be called weird fiction, and sometimes outshines the works of the now better-known Lovecraft.
McKinney, with his Carcosa RPG work, moves past Vance, Howard and even Lovecraft to include the works of Bierce and Chambers. He is successful in this effort, which earns him points. Also, reading the supplement can be depressing but as I am a pessimistic bastard this is also something which wins my approval.
Though the book is Spartan in details, it conveys the idea Carcosa the world is desolate place. What descriptions there are remind me of a Heironious Bosch painting. A vanished serpent people created the Carcosian humans as a cattle-like race, fit only for sacrifice. The serpent people are gone and the various type of humans deal with Cthulianic monsters as best they can.
None humans are unavailable and the 13 races of humans come in colors. Nine of those colors are primary colors, such as black, white, red, green and so forth – and the colors are truly primary colors, so a green man has skin the color of well watered lawn of Saint Augustine. Three additional colors are ulfire, jale and dolm. “The sense impressions caused in [an observer] by these two additional primary colors can only be vaguely hinted at by analogy. Just as blue is delicate and mysterious, yellow clear and unsubtle, and red sanguine and passionate, so he felt ulfire to be wild and painful, and jale dreamlike, feverish, and voluptuous.” McKinney took these colors names and their descriptions from A Voyage to Arcturus, by David Lindsay. This helps ameliorate some of the more wonky aspects of these colors.
Anyway, in addition to the tentaticular horrors and impossible rainbow assortment of people, aliens – like they grays of the X-Files – also visit the world of Carcosa and use it as a kind of county dump… in space. As such, advanced alien technology litters the place.
The combination of primitive humans, monsters and advanced technology reminds me of all things, of Yor – Hunter from the Future, the classic Reb Brown movie where a dude paraglides to the rescue on the desiccated corpse of a pterodactyl. I do not think this is what McKinney had in mind, but I found myself thinking about that movie as I read the book.
That said, the movie Yor is goofy fun while the Carcosa the RPG carries all the joy of being slowly crushed by industrial machinery. It is also all an exercise in minimalism, parsing out only the barest facts about the setting. McKinney provides a hex map in the back of the book and each hex comes with a barebones description – aside from the information about the monsters, humans and magic that is it, so no elaborate histories or cosmologies to keep track of, except as devised at an individual gaming table.
As another reviewer has noted, Carcosa is ultraviolent. The stories of Howard and Vance were expressly violent and the stories of Lovecraft, Bierce and Chambers were violent by implication when they were not expressly violent. Under any kind of rational examination, none of the “cannon” D&D settings are good places – McKinney in Carcosa simply does not whitewash the issue to comfort the thin skinned. He also, to his credit, does not glorify it in any manner. Carcosa is not FATAL.
My principal problem with the Old School Renaissance phenomena in gaming circles is my own distrust of nostalgia and the way nostalgia lies. There is no age of glory in the past, when things worked they way they were supposed to work and everyone flew around on giant magic cupcakes. The actual earliest versions of D&D featured nearly impenetrable text, wonky mechanics and poor overall design… in addition to often possessing a grim tone. Further, the rules leant themselves to the game master getting away with rampant favoritism at the gaming table.
There are no new sins or virtues. Sometimes media producers talk about making something new, edgy and dark. The terminology might be relatively new, but the phenomena is not – writers and artists have always been producing dark and edgy material. Contemporary gaming and art owes more to the works of Bosch, Bierce and Chambers than it fans might be comfortable with acknowledging. As such, it is rooted in the so-called dark and edgy. Carcosa RPG succeeds in many ways by its elegant acknowledgement of the fact.
Any work must be judged of its own merits, on whether or not it reached its objectives and by the standards of its genre or field. I remain skeptical of the mechanics used by Lamentations of the Flame Princess, however here they are used well for the most part and I have no issue with the mood of the work.
In the end, I give Carcosa the RPG a 15 on a d20 roll. It is a good example of old school done right and as a game book is excellent in terms of PDF design, art and writing. The tone is perfectly bleak. The oddness of how dice are used in combat hold it back from a perfect score.
How useful is Carcosa over all? If you like Lamentation then it is pitch perfect and works quite well with Vornhiem as well. However, as many gaming groups in actual play turn into fart joke sessions, a game in Carcosa is unlikely to maintain the grim tone of the book. It could serve as a short campaign or a one-shot. Alternately, it might be a place the party visits periodically, even if they do not want to - a bad place to visit, a worse place to live, but sometimes they have to go there for some reason.
Personally, I might use it for a Gallifreyian campaign outside the citadel.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
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LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Grindhouse Edition
by Christopher S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/07/2012 05:08:36
I'd been wanting to check out LotFP for a while after hearing an interview with the author James Edward Raggi IV on a gaming podcast. "Weird fantasy role playing " sounded interesting, and the supposed graphic nature of the title peaked my interest. However after purchasing and reading through this product, I really wish that I had my $18 back so that I could purchase something else.

Honestly, I didn't see anything in the rules to differentiate LotFP from any of the other OSR game already out there. The same classes and races, the same list of spells, the same way to handle skills, the same way to handle combat, etc. I realize that OSR games are all fairly similar as they are all trying to capture a specific tone and feel (especially when it comes to the rules), but I really don't feel that LotFP provided anything new or innovative. This title really could have simply been an essay, system-neutral modifications, or just advice on how to turn any OSR game into a "weird fantasy" setting. It did not really need the included rules, which felt very cut and paste.

Speaking of the rules, only after purchasing this product did I discover that the author provides the full, 171 page rulebook for free. It just doesn't have any of the artwork. This really irritates me, as I now feel as if I paid $18 just for the artwork. Which is essentially what I did. Now it's true that some of the artwork in the book is pretty good, but the artwork alone was not worth $18. There are at least four different artists represented in the book which gives the product something of a random appearance in my opinion. I really wish that someone had created a style guide for the artists so that the images would all have had a similar look and feel. The layout of the book is decent for the most part, though the font used for section headers can be difficult to read at times. There is also a large graphic header that takes up the top fifth of each page, doesn't really add anything, and really only serves to waste space.

Someone who really loves OSR games might enjoy this product, but as I said before, I'd like my $18 back please.

Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Grindhouse Edition
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks for the review. I was just about to buy it, but your review convinced me otherwise.
Isle of the Unknown
by Jukka S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/15/2012 05:11:10
Review originally posted at http://nitessine.wordpress.com/2011/12/18/review-isle-of-the-
-unknown/

Along with Carcosa, last Thursday saw the release of Isle of the Unknown, a 125-page full-colour hardcover setting book. Like Carcosa, it is written by Geoffrey McKinney and published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and it is a sandbox setting.

The pages of Isle of the Unknown are liberally sprinkled with art, from small monster pieces by Amos Orion Sterns to the full-page magic user illustrations by Jason Rainville. It is laid out in a clear, readable fashion and is nice to look at. Unfortunately, the full-page pieces have printed out rather dark, which is clear when comparing them to the PDF version, which looks much nicer.

The PDF is not as nifty as Carcosa, in that there are no hyperlinks in the text or the map, but what it does do better than Carcosa is pagination. While Carcosa’s page numbers do not match up from page to PDF due to each page spread being counted as a single page, this has somehow been fixed in Isle of the Unknown. I have no comprehension of the wizardry required for such feats, but evidently it can be done. This is the one thing that Isle of the Unknown does better than Carcosa. Mind you, the lack of hyperlinks in Isle of the Unknown is not as bad a thing as it might be in another type of book, because the only thing you would want hyperlinked is the hex descriptions, all of which are easily accessible via bookmarks.

The two books are good examples of how PDF publishing should be done in general. You have all these interesting options to increase usability that the dead tree edition is lacking, so why not use them? I think the bare minimum should be an option to turn off background art so stuff can be printed without wasting any printer ink, a liquid that, by weight, is more expensive than human blood, crude oil, or gold. At least nobody is trying to peddle us files without bookmarks anymore, though I own a few examples like that as well.

Ruleswise, it’s old-school D&D and ought to be compatible with pretty much whatever version you want. Armour Class is expressed in terms like “as leather”, so you won’t even need to figure out whether it’s counting up or down or where the starting point is.
The Lay of the Land

Isle of the Unknown is a sandbox setting. We have an island, slightly under 35,000 square miles in size, divided up into 330 hexes, each of which covers the area of some 86 square miles. Each hex has something of interest. Broadly speaking, these can be divided up into monsters, magic-users, statues and towns. The latter are of the least interest, at least to the writer, and we’re only given population figures and perhaps a plot hook for each.

The book’s setting defaults to a sort of medieval Mediterranean. Architecture and statues are described as Greek or Roman, a few NPCs referred to as Turkish or Arabic and references to the real world are abundant. However, as the preface explains, everything can be changed easily, which is also why no proper names are given. Nearly all of the clerics on the island are described as wearing red surcoats with white crosses, which is how the Knight Hospitallers used to dress at one point in their history. Incidentally, the introduction also mentions that “the societies, flora, and fauna of this predominantly mountainous and wooded isle resemble those of the French territory of Auvergne circa A.D. 1311,” where the Hospitallers controlled a grand priory. While I am not certain and there’s a woeful gap in my education here, I suspect that McKinney is trying to work in a reference to Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne. I wonder if reading the stories would give some sort of context to the isle and its weirdness.

Anyway, the three other things this island has in abundance. Weird monsters! I haven’t counted, but I think there are over a hundred different monsters on the isle. These range from giant parrots that are on fireand humanoid swans with human faces on their chests that shoot strength-draining feathers to a vaguely lizardlike creature that “looks like a slightly elongated raspberry”, and koalas with suction cups. All of them are illustrated, which is nice, since some of them (like the raspberry thing) would be really difficult to visualize otherwise. They don’t have much in the way of context or ecology or any sort of explanation. That’s all up to the GM. What matters is that they’re there, they’re weird, and most of them are hostile.

Then there are magic users. Here and there, scattered across the isle, are secluded magic users with strange and unique powers. They are mostly not hostile, and indeed, fighting them is almost certainly a losing proposition. Not all of them are illustrated, but thirteen of them are illustrated in a series of zodiac-themed, full-page art pieces that I like very much. They are also weird.

Finally, there are statues. Scattered across the isle are mysterious magical statues with strange properties. Some of them are hot to the touch, some of them grant blessings, some of them stand a good chance of killing you. The only illustrated statue is the one on the cover.

There isn’t much in the way of history or background to the isle and its high strangeness, just a list of legends that may or may not be true. The hexes do not exist in vacuums, though, and construct small implied stories of their own. For instance, the villagers in this hex consider the forest in that hex a taboo and may get cross if the PCs go there. Such detail is sparse, however.

In conclusion, Isle of the Unknown is a very good-looking book. It’s an interesting sandbox setting, though the weirdness wanders into the realm of absurd comedy a bit too often to remain effective. The cartoonish art style of the monsters does not exactly help. Still, a capable GM knows what to keep, what to drop and what to adjust, and though it is not explicitly mentioned anywhere, I get the feeling that the setting isn’t even meant to be used straight out of the book.

For a full disclosure, I received my copy from the publisher as thanks for helping him unload the pallets of Carcosa and Isle of the Unknown, and am probably strongly biased.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Isle of the Unknown
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Carcosa
by Jukka S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/15/2012 05:10:05
Review originally posted at http://nitessine.wordpress.com/2011/12/16/review-carcosa/

So, it’s finally here. The anticipated reprint of Geoffrey McKinney’s Carcosa, published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess, finally came out yesterday, after all sorts of printing and delivery delays.

The wait was worth it.

What we’ve got here is a 288-page, A5-sized hardcover. The art by Rich Longmore is black and white, but the maps of Robert Altbauer are in glorious (and a bit garish) colour. In addition, the pages themselves are subtly coloured, with faded hues of green and purple playing in the margins and behind the text. It does not, I should hasten to add, hamper readability, but makes the whole book seem more like some sort of alien grimoire. The layout is clean, the art is good, and the book is overall a very stylish package. It also has a lovely smell.

There’s also a PDF version available, and it’s one of the best gaming PDFs I’ve seen. It’s layered for printer-friendliness, bookmarked, and linked up the wazoo. Even the map hexes are linked to the pages where they are described. This is excellent work, and I’d like to see it become the industry standard, though I don’t have much hope of that happening. Neither Posthuman Studios nor Paizo, who otherwise know their PDF work, have gone quite this far with their stuff (Posthuman doesn’t have links, Paizo doesn’t have layers). This is how you take advantage of the electronic format, kids. The only complaint I have is that since in the PDF a single page spread counts as a single page, the page numbers on the book and the PDF no longer match up.
What Is It?

Carcosa is a setting and rules supplement for your old D&D game or retroclone. Its native system is LotFP’s house system, Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing, but pretty much all retroclones are more or less mutually compatible anyway and there’s no reason this wouldn’t work in your campaign of Labyrinth Lord or Mentzer’s Red Box D&D (though like all most retroclone stuff, this one uses the ascending Armour Class [starting at 12, as LotFP's does]).

The genres of the work would be the weird tale and sword & planet. The influences it names or suggests include Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, Howard’s Worms of the Earth and David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus, and, of course, Robert W. Chambers’ King in Yellow. I am also reminded of other things – Jack Vance, August Derleth, Lord Dunsany, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Otso Ilmari – though I’m pretty sure that last one is not numbered among McKinney’s inspirations, no matter how unconscious or indirect.

It is like Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, if Expedition to the Barrier Peaks had been horror. There are no demihumans in the world of Carcosa, just 13 races of men, each a different colour, from green to white to black to new colours like dolm, jale and ulfire, from A Voyage to Arcturus, though also evoking The Colour out of Space. There’s a very good reason this book doesn’t have colour art outside of the maps. It’s gonna make painting miniatures tricky. There are no magic items, just the technological armaments of the Space Aliens. There is no magic missile or sleep, there are the Blasphemous Glyphs of the Night Ocean and the Ninety-Six Chants of the Leprous One.

The book starts with a few unconventional dice conventions. Under the Carcosa rules, whenever combat begins, everyone first rolls from a chart what their hit dice type will be for this combat and then uses dice of that type to roll their hit points. Your hit dice might be d12s in one fight and d4s in the next. The same is true for Shub-Niggurath. Damage is determined every round in a similar fashion. This is rather quirky, and there’s also a suggestion on how to handle things if you elect not to use these rules. It seems like combat in Carcosa is unpredictable and deadly business.

Then there are a few new rules for characters, including the sorcerer class, which is basically same as fighter, except they can use rituals. Incidentally, Carcosa uses only two character classes – the fighter and the sorcerer. No clerics, no magic-users, no demihuman races. The book doesn’t even use specialists (LotFP’s name for the thief class), but mentions that they will not violate the tone. There are also a couple of pages of psionics rules. Characters with high enough mental stats have a chance of being psionic, which is rolled at character generation.

What there is not is a lot on the setting itself. There are no historical timelines, just mentions here and there that Space Aliens (described like they Greys) have a colony on the planet, the human races were created by Snake-Men untold millennia ago and that the Primordial Ones (Lovecraft’s elder things) manipulated the civilization of Carcosa until someone let the shoggoths out and everything went to hell. There is also very little on the human races, though it’s mentioned that the natives in Peter Jackson’s King Kong are at about the proper level of sophistication.

Oh, and alignment determines only how you stand in relation to the Great Old Ones. Lawful is against, chaotic is for, neutrals try to avoid the whole business.

Then there’s the magic of Carcosa. Spellcasting takes the form of rituals, and all rituals are for summoning or controlling the gods and monsters of the world. There are 96 different rituals in the book, all with names that drip purple prose, such as The Sixth Undulation of the Tentacled One or Serpentine Whispers of the Blue-Litten Pillars.

So, magic in Carcosa applies to the Great Old Ones, and was developed by the Snake-Men. This means it’s Bad Stuff. Pretty much everything that is not a banishment ritual will require human sacrifice, all described in a clinical and detailed fashion, like this: “The Sorcerer must find or dig a large pit with walls and floor of coal. The sacrifices—101 Dolm children—must then be bound and flung into the pit. The two-hour ritual requires the Sorcerer to don the above-mentioned armor and climb into the pit and slay each sacrifice with an obsidian axe. Afterwards he fires the pit.” (The Primal Formula of the Dweller) And there are worse rituals. Like, Josef Fritzl kind of worse. “We could illustrate this ritual but it’d then become illegal to sell or possess under obscenity laws in several major markets” kind of worse. The cover sleeve for the book says “Warning: For Adults Only! Contains explicit descriptions and illustrations of black magic and violence.” It’s not kidding.

The rituals are surprisingly uncomfortable reading, and really drive home the point that people who deal with the tentacled stuff are evil. They are to be opposed. Then there are the banishment rituals for putting down that which (hopefully) someone else has called up and for the most part require no sacrifice whatsoever, though Banishment of the Lightless Chasm, for driving off the Squamous Worm of the Pit, requires you to kill a snake.

It’s charming how naturally you can get a campaign concept and a motivation for your characters just from the spell list. There’s nothing in the book about how adventurers fit in the world or the society (as far as it exists), or what sort of adventures they should or could have, but such things flow naturally from the spell list. I mean, unlike in most D&D settings, where adventurers are outsiders from society and regarded as strange and dangerous people, in Carcosa going out to kill sorcerers is actually a sane and rational reaction. This, to me, is the strongest horror element in the setting.

After the rituals, we get monster stats and descriptions. Carcosa has its own interpretation of the Cthulhu Mythos. Here, Azathoth dwells in the centre of the planet and the races of B’yakhee, Deep Ones, the Great Race, Mi-Go, Primordial Ones and Shoggoths are all spawned by Shub-Niggurath. Cthulhu is still imprisoned in sunken R’lyeh, though. This section also features long, descriptive quotations from H.P. Lovecraft, which I approve of. Yes, you can fight Azathoth. No, you’re not likely to win.

The largest section of the book is the sandbox itself, 400 hexes’ worth of the planet of Carcosa. One of the hexes being ten miles across, this translates to 86 square miles per hex and a total of 34,880 square miles, or slightly larger than the country of Jordan. Each of the hexes has two points of interest described. For an example, let’s take hex 0115. It contains the following two points of interest: “Castle of 6 Jale Men led by a chaotic 7th-level Sorcerer” and “A handful of curious and ancient roadways crisscross the withered heaths of this hex. The roads appear to be made of huge slabs of granite skillfully pounded into the earth. They glow with a soft light in darkness. Any attempts to remove the slabs will fail.”

There’s loads of stuff the PCs can run across and that the GM can build their own plots around. Who is that sorcerer in the castle and what’s his agenda? No idea, it’s the GM’s job to make something up.

Carcosa has a presentation I feel is very typical of old school D&D. You’re presented with a lot of stuff, but very little in the way of advice on how to use it or what to do with it. While it works for your normal Tolkien and Howard fantasy since everyone already knows that stuff, I think that more outré material such as Carcosa could have a bit more hand-holding. Fortunately, the writing is good and positively dripping with atmosphere and inspiration, which eases the Game Master’s job in this respect – and, well, you don’t need to specify that the people who are sacrificing children to call up tentacled abominations from beyond the stars are the bad guys.

We are also given an introductory adventure called “The Fungoid Gardens of the Bone Sorcerer”, which details, over 20 pages, some of the points of interest in hex 2005. The titular Gardens, of course, are a dungeon.

After that it’s some helpful tables for random encounters, random robots, Space Alien armaments, spawn of Shub-Niggurath and so forth, as well as reference tables for rituals.
My Thoughts

Carcosa is a very good book. Apart from being extremely well put together, it is written in an evocative manner and brings the setting to life despite not really detailing it much. It conjures up images from films like 10,000 B.C. and Salute of the Jugger. It’s a primitive, post-apocalyptic world, where people are preoccupied with survival and appeasing gods whose existence leaves no room for doubt. And they hate you, personally.

It is a weird and terrible place. A bit of Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, a bit of Vance’s Dying Earth, a bit of Burroughs’ Barsoom, perhaps shades of Gor in the mixture of high technology and Stone Age culture. Unlike the modern man of Lovecraft’s tales, the mankind of Carcosa is acutely aware of their cosmic insignificance, though probably unable to articulate it.

This is excellent work. If you have an interest in old school D&D and aren’t put off by the more extreme material in the rituals section, you really have no reason not to buy this. I can’t really find anything I could consider an error or mistake or a bad idea. Even the lack of real setting information kinda works to the book’s advantage. It really is an alien, unknown, perhaps unknowable world. There is a sense of mystery and wonder. I am usually not a fan of such bare bones sandboxes, preferring something more akin to Paizo’s Kingmaker adventure path, but damn if this isn’t good enough for me to make an exception. And seriously, that PDF is a thing of beauty.

In the interests of full disclosure, I know James Edward Raggi IV, the publisher, and received my copy of the book (As well as Isle of the Unknown. And pizza.) from him as thanks for helping him unload the four cargo pallets of Carcosa and Isle of the Unknown (I feel like Satan’s little helper). In other words, I’m probably biased as all hell.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Carcosa
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LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Grindhouse Edition
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/20/2012 07:52:49
I know I am going against the grain here, and I waited till this product had been out a while before I put this review up.

I don't like "Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing".

It tries, oh so hard, to be edgy, but really all I see is like watching a little kid dress up in their mother's or father's clothes and pretending to be big. It is like the author (James Raggi) feels the need to prove to whomever that if they thought AD&D was edgy or "evil" then they haven't seen anything yet.

Let's start with the suggested reading. This is now nearly boilerplate text in any RPG these days. Not just to include it, but to include these exact same authors. There is a reason though, the works of Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, Poe, Howard and Tolkien are all fantastic as sources for a game. Each had a level of storytelling that was sublime. LotFP is not sublime and I wonder truthfully if the author actually read those books.

The idea, as I take it, is that LotFP is supposed to be "wierd", but outside of the splatter-porn art and questionable abundance of violence on women, there is nothing in the game that I don't have already in Swords and Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord or Basic Fantasy. Except with those games I get monsters.

Now the author claims there are no monsters because monsters should be unique.
Frankly that is not only lazy, it's BS as well. The game has an introduction book aimed at new players, yet goes on to tell these new players to make monsters without ever giving them anything to work from? That's also just bad design. This of course is the bias of an author who has not seemed to have played many games outside of AD&D; I am not sure what games Raggi has played, but venture outside of AD&D and there are a lot of ways to have monsters and make each and every encounter with them unique and fearful.

Let's compare this to Call of Cthulhu the pinnacle of horror gaming for most. There is a whole chapter on monsters, right there in front of everyone. In fact there is even a skill in the game so characters can know something, maybe a lot of something, about each and every one. It still does not do them a bit of good. Raggi quotes Lovecraft and Smith, but his depiction of what you do with those elements are almost antithetical to what those authors were actually doing. Browsing through the art (which is fantastic by the way, when it is not over doing it with the violence on women) there is nothing here that would actually have appeared in any Lovecraft or Smith book. Yeah, there is the vague Nyarlathotep-looking creature on the back cover of one of the books, but that was the exception rather than the rule. He took the time (and use that phrasing rather loosely) to not include monsters, but didn't bother to say much at all about mood, tone and how to generate a sense of horror that doesn't involve a disemboweling.

Let's be 100% honest here.
There is nothing in this game that is not in all the other Retro-Clones. I see all sorts of blog postings and reviews talking about new ideas and mechanics, but it is also stuff I saw when the d20 deluge was going on. Thieves as "specialists" or "experts", that is found in True20. Only fighters getting better at fighting, I can think a half-a-dozen games that do that. Wizards/Magic Users as chaotic, possibly using tainted magic, try every grim-dark supernatural game of the 90s.

Plus I am not sure what the "Weird" is in this? I have read everything by Lovecraft, Poe and Ashton Smith. Those guys knew weird. Weird was evident even in their works that were not horror. I don't see weird here. I see the SRD, streamlined like a clone and then some other house rules and some art.

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Grindhouse Edition
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Vornheim: The Complete City Kit
by todd l. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/03/2012 09:19:47
This is a very clever tool box for adding an aura of size and menace to an urban campaign. My players prefer Legend of Anglerre for their dungeon crawls. So, the systemless approach was much appreciated. The art is entertainingly different from the usual rpg style and gives a "Judge's Guild" feel to the book.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Vornheim: The Complete City Kit
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Vornheim: The Complete City Kit
by Eric K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/28/2012 17:28:57
Super cool, and unlike anything I've had before. This book really got my brain working!
If you ever thought running an adventure or even an entire campaign in a city would be too hard, you need this book

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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