Friday, October 14, 2011

LotFP: Made of Lies!

So Weird Fantasy Role-Playing is being discussed on the Forge (here!).

I feel like I should say something, but I don't speak Forguguese. So I'll comment here so I don't derail their conversation over there. (I post this here because much more people actually read the blog, but any actual discussion about my post here should probably take place on the LotFP forum).

First of all, I do not understand the connection between "consistent moral underpinning" and "horror." Nor do I understand how "ironic and cynical relativism" is "antithetical to straight-up gritty weird historical horror."

My mind keeps twisting towards Scream-esque "rules of horror," and thus shit-ass awful formulaic horror movies, when I try to think those through.

But I think my difficulty in understanding Baker comes from a fundamental conflict between game philosophies.

"What is this game about?" If the game strongly defines this for you, it's not a good RPG due to being too narrow in focus. "What do we do?" should be defined by the adventure or environment (and so it's the Ref who decides by either creating or choosing the adventures or placing the elements of a sandbox), not the game.

(how's that for a deciding "old school/new school" definition?)

(and yeah, never was a big fan of Pendragon for this reason)

LotFP campaigns could be about witch hunters whose terrorizing of the countryside is simply collateral damage in their quest to stamp out evil, it could be about those seeking knowledge and riches in order to gain influence and better society, it could be about some greedy fucks looking for gold, or it could be about honest-to-gosh do-gooders helping people and smashing evil.

But if the Ref and the players have different expectations, it could get interesting. If the players create a bunch of terrorizing witch hunters and the Ref presents adventures for do-gooders helping people, I think that's going to be one hell of a rip-roaring game provided everyone runs with it instead of running away from it.

James Nostack had an interesting comment: "The rules of the game directly reward getting rich and, if necessary, killing whoever gets in your way... These are shitty moral values if taken seriously: in the real world, they would be the values of a psychopath."

One frequent criticism I get is that my game needs some sort of insanity rules, because of course any horror game worth its salt requires them, right? I figure that PCs in RPGs are pretty much insane by definition, especially in the Lovecraft mold of their insanity being a result of seeing more of the true nature of the world than most people. When it's commonplace for a group of characters to all get one room at an inn in a peaceful countryside, and take turns keeping watch in that room... or insisting on wearing armor and weapons in town no matter what... or they're already completely crazy, no mechanic required. Adding rules for insanity to tell players how their character should behave strangely is completely redundant.

I do want to note that I consider "Weird Fantasy" to simply be a euphemism for "horror," and really the difference between "horror" and your favorite genre is simply one of presentation.

(for example, because of all the gore and sometimes raw violence on display, I often have trouble thinking of mystery shows like NCIS, the Las Vegas CSI, Silent Witness, and Waking the Dead as not-horror because of the presentation. I think it's why I like them more than the Poirot/Marple/Lewis/Frost softer-edged style mysteries)

(I digress again: They can't win when showing the autopsies in these shows. Silent Witness has no problem showing nude bodies on the autopsy table. My wife noted during one scene that the actress must have been cold on the set because of the goosebumps and erect nipples the body had while the pathologist actors are all stone-faced talking about the contents of her stomach or some such.

My reaction? "um, dear... why are you looking at a cadaver's tits? That's pretty sick."

But on NCIS, they can't show the naughty bits, which is an issue because just about every episode features a scene about the autopsy. Sometimes they just have bright light covering up the nads. But in one episode I saw last week they covered up a girl's nipples with a flap of skin from the y-cut that opened up the torso.

US broadcast standards: You can see the mutilated insides of a human being in detail... but no female nipples.)

And my view about the one of the original poster's games: I think I view Dogs in the Vineyard differently than its author. I see everything about The Faith and the setting given in the book and the rules for making towns to be pure flavor to push the players' buttons. The game seems to me (rather plainly so) to be about Player vs Player conflict, so you need to set that up in a group that's supposedly working together. In my experience a united party just romps through that game, and PvP conflict usually happens when one player takes the setting and fluff seriously and another uses their real-life sense of right and wrong to guide their decisions.


  1. I think two issues come into play in this discussion.

    1.) The author has a confused definition of horror and weird fantasy. Morality seems to have very little place in Lovecraft and Leiber stories. In the first, man is doom and insignificant, the Old Ones, Gods, Elders, or whatever do not share nor care about any human conception of morality. In Leiber, each person seems to have to establish their own moral code, one that is unique to them, and not to a city, sociey, or religion.

    2.) His players want to play a different game than he does. His hooks or clues did not capture their interest enough to warrant their game attention. Welcome to freedom of choice and sandbox play.

    It is a touch unfair to compare this LotFP to something like Dogs in the Vineyard - the two are radically different designs with very different points of view.

    The Vance comments lead me to believe that he also was unaware that your game is a reworking of oD&D.

  2. Sounds to me your game world is more Robert E. Howard Horror than H.P. Lovecraft Horror. Hence, no insanity rules needed... the hero's reaction (and therefore that of the PC) to something horrific is to kick its ass.

  3. That happens quite a bit in Lovecraft as well (Dunwich Horror, The Shunned House, etc).

  4. Mannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn

    I just spent 28 hours giving art students critiques and I feel like the Forge seems to have the same problem.

    They seem convinced they have to talk in an academic jargon that even they do not understand in order to get anything done. What really seems to be going on is it's taking 5 times as many posts as necessary to say anything because of a deep aversion on half the posters parts to speaking English.

    Like, isn't this all:

    "I expected a horror game, but instead it was an adventure romp"

    "Well whose fault is that, buddy?"

    "I don't know, maybe I was just reading the rules and looking at the PCs and was like 'Hey this looks like D&D' so I made the game more like D&D."


  5. As far as I can tell the fundamental disconnect between the Forge and what I do is that they seem to expect the rules to do the heavy lifting. I could run the same basic thing in any of several rulesets and get basically the same results. That seems to be the opposite of what they want. I speak tentatively here because I'm not sure I ever understood what was going on at the Forge.

  6. Reading their comments I really don't even know where to begin.. Especially the original authors second post, which Zak points out, "It didn't turn into the game I wanted because there are no mechanics for it." Which to me, makes his whole point moot.

    If you want a game that FORCES players to DO SOMETHING or have moral underpinnings, or what the hell ever, play FATE and compel their Aspects and force them down the road that you want.

    I personally don't mind games that have a "insanity" mechanic (as long as it's simple), but I agree that LotFP doesn't need one. I personally don't care for games much that have mechanics that tell me I have to act a certain way because of certain factors.

    I also think that it is slightly humorous that the author is blaming LotFP for his groups disinterest in his story hooks. HOW DARE YOU JIM! HOW DARE YOU NOT BE PREPARED FOR THIS MAN'S GAME! Sigh...

  7. That was a pretty interesting read; always a pleasure to getting confused amongst the self-referential forge-speak.

    I'm glad it worked out for the OP and the game turned out to be fun. I don't know how the idea of "moral outrage" and "horror themes" got conflated in the first place. Maybe he was expecting Vampire-style virtues and paths like "humanity ratings" to forcibly dictate player angst.

    Horror games don't need Sanity rules unless the objective of the game is a narrow form of literary genre emulation; Lovecraft is held up as the model, but how many protagonists actually suffer mental issues? I can think of only two off-hand (Danforth in At the Mountains of Madness and the sailor at the end of The call of Cthulhu) and both have god-like visions; those can be handled in D&D without a new subsystem, for instance. A larger problem is how sanity rules constrain player choice, but that's a complaint for another day. I'd throw system-dictated virtuous path angst right in the same garbage pail.

  8. Hello! I'm the OP in the Forge thread.

    Lamentations is right now one of my 3 favorite games. "Made of lies" is a giant compliment - I consider the game designer's work to be to tell fruitful lies to the game's eventual players.

    When I stopped daydreaming about the game and sat down to actually play it, it startled me, showed my daydreams to be naive, and pushed me into creating something much better. This is an exciting thing for a game to do. I'm impressed and quite happy.

    (I wasn't expecting anything stupid like humanity ratings or personality mechanics, no. I wasn't expecting the game's rules to enforce any kind of morality whatsoever. If anybody's actually interested in my stupid ideas about moral outrage's place in horror as a genre, ask me at my blog or somewhere, but I don't think it's important.)

    I didn't play D&D as a kid so I'm coming to these games pretty fresh, I think. Moldvay Basic D&D didn't startle and push me the way LotFP did, and consequently I found it fun but not exhilarating.

    Jim! Good fucking game.

  9. @Vincent: I'm interested in new or alternate takes on using the horror genre in RPGs; you didn't include a link to your blog and its not listed in your profile.

  10. They seem convinced they have to talk in an academic jargon that even they do not understand in order to get anything done.

    This sounds like a lot of the work I have to mark as well. :)

    I think we generally have better discussions if we're not simultaneously trying to role-play being old fashioned professors. Unless it's a CoC LARP or something.

  11. Oh! My mistake: my blog.

    For my thoughts on horror in particular, this might be a fun intro: 2010-11-03: Horror Flick Pies.

  12. "I figure that PCs in RPGs are pretty much insane by definition... When it's commonplace for a group of characters to all get one room at an inn in a peaceful countryside, and take turns keeping watch in that room... or insisting on wearing armor and weapons in town no matter what..."

    I agree. Anyone who would go on a D&D-style adventure would have to be some sort of maniac. A sane person would respond: "Crawl down into a dark, dank hole full of monsters and traps and who-knows-what for the chance of getting some treasure? Forget it. I'll either get a job or go alley-bashing."

  13. I'm going kind of the opposite way, Geoffrey. I'm taking my lead here from Howard, Leiber and Vance: in my game, if you're easily cowed, you can look forward to a short life of grueling labor and ignominious danger, whether you get a job or go alley-bashing or what. If you're in any way imaginative or bold, like the PCs are, the "sane" life is unappealing! The adventuring life is risky, but the common life is guaranteed miserable.

  14. Tangent: You're harshing unnecessarily on Pendragon. Our table definitely strays from the written campaign and the game can be less narrowly used than it appears on the surface. We've had pretty strong "weird fantasy" or "horror" types of adventures using the Pendragon rule set.

    I guess this just reinforces your point that in a good RPG ruleset, there's enough room for the referee and players to determine their own gaming themes.

  15. Jim, I think Dogs in the Vineyard and your Princess have almost exactly the same focus on what the game is "about." The language around the rules, the flavour text, and what people say about the game that says one game is wide open and the other is insanely specific, not the rules.

  16. JeffRients wrote:
    "the fundamental disconnect between the Forge and what I do is that they seem to expect the rules to do the heavy lifting. I could run the same basic thing in any of several rulesets and get basically the same results. That seems to be the opposite of what they want."

    Jeff, you know how in D&D there's this crazy feedback loop between Gold-for-XP, encumbrance, and wandering monsters? (I blogged about some other emergent effects here.)

    So that D&D feedback loop exists by design and shapes play in interesting ways. One of the principles of Forge-type games is that rules of a game can have interesting emergent effects that reinforce particular genres in fiction.

    Saying that a good GM could achieve the same effects without highfalutin', is like saying, "Eh, let's get rid of 1 GP = 1 XP - I can get the same effects out of my players through good GM'ing." It's totally true! But I think a lot of the OSR loves 1 GP = 1 XP, though, precisely because of those emergent effects: certainly there's a lot of criticism directed at 2e because it only includes it as an optional rule.

    Anyway, that's a digression.

    --James Nostack

  17. I spent too much time reading the thread on the Forge. They seemed to have missed some things that I think are pretty important. At least I think they have, it's difficult to tell.

    The whole point of the OSR is that the best parts of the original gaming experience happened in the spaces not covered by the rules. That's where anything was possible. OSR style games like LotFP returned to rules with space for fun because people love what happens in those holes.

    Now I don't know what rules Vince (the guy that started all this) read, but James spent the better part of the Referee's Book giving advice on how to play in those spaces the framework of the rules supports so that the weird fantasy experience could happen.

    When I read Vince's post it looked like he was describing a problem. His problem was that he wanted to have a vaguely historical fantasy game with elements of moral ambiguity, horror and weird fantasy. His players decided to ignore his hooks and take off into the woods to convert the natives to the cleric's god and when he wasn't prepared for that he defaulted to regular D&D style play.

    Vince, if you are still tracking this thread, your players handed you a goldmine for weird fantasy! You need to read a couple of accounts of the French Jesuit missionaries who tried to convert the natives in Canada and get inspired! Natives, specially the Iriquois, commonly captured and tortured foreign priests. Your party's cleric is attempting something far more dangerous than a dungeon crawl.

    Your PCs have just landed in the New World and wandered into the forest! You should describing the unfamiliar elements like strange bird calls, weird vegetation, and the weird tracks left by god knows what. Once they discover some human tracks (that begin and inexplicably end for no reason) they might even start getting the impression that some of the strange bird calls are being made by men in the forest around them, communicating to each other.

    A flash of a painted face in the undergrowth that disappears. Arrows that come out of nowhere to harass the party and get them running. Whether they are chasing or fleeing it makes no difference. They can't map and run at the same time. Once they are lost you can really mess with them.

    When the group is captured history provides plenty of inspiration for ways to mess with your PCs, but the fact that the natives would cut off random fingers of missionaries can be milked to really scare your mage. If you have the bad guys cut off a middle or ring finger of one of the other PCs it won't end their careers but how do you cast spells without all your fingers? How do you make those intricate gestures? Food for thought while you describe the scene, for sure.

    Your players should escape the woods with a healthy respect for the new world. They should learn to plan where they are going next time and hire guides, interpreters and other retainers to help make sure that they get there. They might even stay in town for a bit to make some contacts and see if there is anything they can do in more familiar surroundings.

    Just an idea.

  18. Oh! Yeah, I don't know where "Vincent was unhappy because his players ignored his hooks" came from. They didn't! I'm delighted with what's happening.

    I gave them more hooks than they could possibly pursue, so they pursued the ones that interested them, and what they've chosen to do with them is fantastic. I couldn't be happier.

  19. Really? I guess I don't have a clue what anyone on that thread was talking about then.

  20. Vincent, for somebody who was delighted, you chose a funny way to express it! "Gah!" says the imaginary Vincent in my head as I read his Forge post, "this book lied to me! I thought it would be like this and instead it's like this."

    I mean, I realize that you're happier with the way it turned out. But the thing is, you're claiming that you were justified coming up with your original expectations. So that's a communication issue, maybe on your part (misreading something) or maybe on James's part (for seeming to promise something the game's rules or advice didn't deliver).

    The fact that what you got is better than what you expected, isn't really the point of your OP, which seems to boil down to: "Gee, there was a communication problem here." (I'm not saying that's what you meant to write: just that's how I think everyone, including Ron, was reading it. And that's not to say the text was unclear, at least to the implied audience of long-time D&D heads.)

    --James Nostack

  21. James: "Gah" is what I said after character creation, before I figured out what play would really be like. By the time we sat down to play the session I've described, I'd gotten over it and figured out how to really play, and the game flew.

  22. Alas, this thread is now a week old, but it's important to remember that Vincent was critical but enthusiastic toward LotFP - justly so, I think - and his basic problem seems to have been twofold:

    (1) he wanted to play one kind of game and hoped to try it with LotFP, but it didn't support that playstyle;

    (2) more worryingly, from James's perspective, LotFP dresses like a horror/'weird fantasy' game but is basically 'let's try and do horror with a gritty D&D ruleset,' mechanically. Nothing about the rules enforce horror. That's a gigantic fucking deal.

    The biggest annoyance in the Forge thread, as usual, is Ron Edwards, who evidently has no control at all over his autistically** affectless discussion style there, and who has the Critical Theorist's lamentable(!) habit of seeing every little bit of tension in an aesthetic experience as a Rupture or an Aporia or an [overheated metaphor for, basically, an imaginative step that neurotypicals and halfway-generous readers/players can make without difficulty].

    ** I use 'autistically' here as a neutral term, not a pejorative, meant to specify one form of affectless, artless discussion style.

  23. But wait! Insanity rules are easy and practically there already!
    Here I just made up a set that works for many genres:

    Paralysis save: Fail and stand transfixed for 1d6 rounds.
    Poison save: Fail and lose 3d6 Int. If INT goes to 0 you are permanently insane, otherwise, regain INT at a rate of one per month.

    I think people forget how much heavy lifting saving throws can do in these kinds of games.

    Many times Conan was stopped in his tracks for a moment while some eldritch horror poured out.
    Also, when people went insane, they often did it quickly (mind snapped) as opposed to a gradual attrition.

    My 2c anyway.