I had the opportunity to sit down with Lamentations of the Flame Princess publisher extraordinaire, James Raggi, at this year's UK Games Expo. We chatted about Free RPG Day, historical settings, and what's next for an outfit that has put out the highest production value gaming books for the last few years.
All illustrations are copyright Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and used with permission. All photos were swiped from various social media, by photographers of mysterious identity, but I thank them for the contribution.
Mottokrosh: I don't know if you've been asked before, but where does the name come from, Lamentations of the Flame Princess?
James: Oh god, this is the creepy thing. Back in the 90s I started a metal zine. And I used the name Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I needed a name that would fit into the more melodic, progressive thing that I was into, that european Opeth, My Dying Bride, poetic, flowery, bla bla, kind of stuff. So something to differentiate it from all the brutal, death metal zines and black metal stuff that was popular at the time.
But as far as, why that name, back in the early days of the world wide web, where a band could link to a web page of every fan they had that had a website. One of them was a Finnish girl. I'd never seen anyone dressed in period clothing and do their own photoshoot kind of thing, and oh my god, long red hair, period clothing, out in the woods and stuff, and yeah, that's where the name comes from.
That's great, and "Lamentations" because that's kind of like...
Yeah, the kind of stuff I'm into has always been more doomy than happy, you know. Had I been more into the happy, power metal side of things, it probably would have been the Trials of the Flame Princess, or Victory of the Flame Princess.
So you've been putting out, by now, an awful lot of games. Do you play any yourself? Do you get time?
Well, I've got my home campaign; it's Lamentations. The thing is, I live in Finland, but I've never really learned Finnish, so it's difficult for me to go to someone else's game, and go "hey, everyone speak my language!" But in my home game I can say, yeah, it's my home game...
…so it's going to be in English, damn it.
So you play Lamentations with English speaking players. Do you have anything on your shelf that you'd really like to try, but can't, for whatever reason?
It's difficult, because I wouldn't want to be the one running it. I would want someone else to run it, for the same reason I never get to play anything. What would I like to play? Something, … more light hearted games. What are the ones out there…?
Heh—like Paranoia. I'd like to play something like Paranoia.
I've played the new edition of Paranoia, it's quite funny. I think there are more in jokes than I get. I know that Grant said he was trying to get rid of those, but I think there's still a bunch of them.
Yeah, well Paranoia gone serious doesn't sound right at all, does it?
Well, no. Obviously it's full of jokes but if you don't know the first edition you might not get them all.
Yeah, and things like simply superhero games. I would love to be playing in an old school Faserip game, you know the Marvel superheroes game.
And you're not into playing over Roll20 or something like that?
No, god, no. No, 'cause it never works exactly right. There's always one person whose webcam isn't working, so you've got four people you're talking to in real time, and one person that's got like a fish eye cog. It's just like so artificial, and it's so easy to just flip over to another window and not realize what's going on. I like face to face, actual real people. If I'm going to be on the computer, I'm going to be playing a computer game.
Yeah, so if you're doing a lot of face to face stuff, is there anything you've wanted to do—because you've got very tactile and amazing looking books—is there something you've wanted to produce, like that isn't a book format or something, that you're really interested in?
Something that's not a book format?
Yes, so you've got the book format down. Ever thought, "oh if only I could do—I don't know—a box set", but that's pretty pedestrian as well, "if only I could… something crazy, new..."
Yeah, there's certain interactive things, oh god, it's going to kill me… the woman that's done the world of Greyhawk, the really detailed maps. [—we were thinking of Anna B Meyer, aren't brains great, ed.]
No, but that rings a bell. But getting her to do 17th century, first Europe, and then world maps, that level of detail, really make an interactive atlas. Because I've hired some people and I've got like historical supplements that are in the pipeline that'll be coming out hopefully sooner than later. And having a really comprehensive atlas to go with that, that people could use online, that would be great. But again that is a level of research that I don't have the capacity for, nor the time, but to get something like that… You see it all the time: here's the Roman empire trade routes, and there's one going around now detailing all the medieval trade routes, but something for my time period that I like the most, why can't that exist?
I don't know, but I listen to the Ken and Robin talk about stuff, and they were talking about an atlas recently that was full of random maps. Don't know what periods it covers...
Yeah, and the whole period of the 1630s there's a lot of stuff on the thirty years war that's out there, but as far as, you know, if I was doing the Elizabethan times: hundreds and hundreds of books. You can recreate what was life like back then, but move to the 1630s and there is a lot less. And for some reason I like that time period, because it's a time of political upheaval within England but it hasn't turned into a war yet. The thirty year war is going on, but not everywhere at once. And there's so many different things, and there's something about the 17th century—as far as I can tell it's the shittiest time to ever have been alive as a human being.
I mean, no matter how horrible things have gotten in the 20th century, there was always somewhere where it wasn't horrible. But the 17th century: everywhere was just awful. You know, if it wasn't the plague, then it was religious violence, or, you know, colonization and then suppression. I mean there was nowhere you could go where life was stable at that point because it was just total societal churn worldwide.
Which is perfect for a horror game!
You talk about research, you would want it to be as close to reality as we know it. You wouldn't be happy with just making stuff up?
Because you might imagine people looking at these books 30 years from now and say "that's what happened, this is the best resource we've got." Well, a hundred years from now maybe.
Maybe for Greyhawk or the Forgotten Realms, or however many made up worlds, Middle Earth, Westeros, … there's so much detail. For all these fake worlds, people are very comfortable running a game in, and there are so many resources available, for all of these different fake places. But you say, "ah, I want to do something on earth", Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu, the mid 20s and 30s, people don't seem to have a problem with that, but you move backwards in time a little, to, say, the 17th century, everyone gets paralyzed. They don't know anything about it.
I think that's it. They don't have that in their mind so much.
So my idea is to treat real world earth as a roleplaying setting. If people can be made to be comfortable with the Forgotten Realms, they can be made comfortable with earth. And the reason I would want them to be historically accurate, and that's what I mean by historical: no magic, no weird 17th century, but the books actually as 17th century earth. People can have their own weirdness, that's not a problem. The problem is the actual "how's life in this time, as it was?" I prefer the approach of, like, Lovecraft. His stuff happened in the real world, but all the weirdness is kind of at the edges. As opposed to, here's Europe, and the dwarves really live in the Norwegian mountains...
Talking about dwarves, and how you want it to be in the real world—currently in the rulebook you do have dwarves and elves, don't you? And clerics and stuff.
Realistically, a lot of people don't follow my wishes for settings, and how to runs things, so to make it cross-compatible, that's why that stuff's there.
Right, and you're not planning a new edition where you just gloss through that?
At some point, yes, but everything is so slow, but there's some playtest rules in this year's Free RPG Day book. Eldritch Cock, yes. But actually putting those rules into a new rulebook, that's still years in the future. I just printed another edition of this current rulebook; thousands of copies, and sent them to distribution, so this current ruleset is still going to be around for quite some time still.
Talking about the Free RPG Day one, so we've had, relatively inoffensive Better than Any Man, ...
Even that, people freaked out about.
Well ok, if you read it. The title's pretty fine. If you read it, or flicked through it, then fair enough. Then we had Vaginas are Magic!, which is awesome, I love it. Now we've got Eldritch Cock, which is coming out soon. [—it's out now, ed.]
We had Slügs, and The Doom-Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children.
Oh yeah, can't forget Slügs! So what's next? What's after Eldritch Cock, where do you go from there?
Well, I was hoping to dial it back, and hoping that some of the historical stuff was ready to come out, so I can do something historical for Free RPG Day. We'll see how that works out!
Do you remember—this is not so related to the interview—I think it might have been at Essen, when I presented you with the Eldritch Cock fan art that my wife did; were you ever tempted to use it anywhere?
Oh yeah, that... well, it was funny, but I don't know...
Yeah, fair enough...
No, whenever I do open calls for materials, monsters or magic items, everyone just sends me penis stuff, and on the one hand I see why, on the other hand, come on guys, can we also have more normal weird stuff?
Yes, when you actually read the stuff, there's immensive craziness in there, you know, there is nudity and gore, and everything like that, but these are incredibly clever books.
That's the intent, anyway. You know, something like Fish Fuckers, it's an attention grabber, but there's an actual, solid adventure in there. Same with Towers Two, ...
Yes, Towers Two is crazy as.
It's crazy as, it's got the most insane, profane things, but it works as a roleplaying supplement, a mini sandbox with things to do, and players can make a difference. It's not just a bunch of crap with a penis on it.
We've quality penis.
I heard a rumor—just moving away from the penises briefly—that you might be in talks with acquiring the rights to reprint Maze of the Blue Medusa, is that true?
Yeah, I was talking to the publisher, Satyr Press, about that. Problem is, I got very quickly swamped with things, that all started to get backed up. That—how do I say that—that project I had originally passed on in the first place, because that was Patrick and Zak, they were doing a lot of stuff with more standard D&D tropes, and playing with those more, and I'm trying to leave that out of my stuff, but after that sold out, and everyone thought I'd published that anyway, I thought "why not, that seems like a sure bet as far as making some money, and I don't have to do any work now." But when things started getting backed up, you know the thing that would be just for the money, that's the one that's got to go to the end of the line.
I'm not saying it will never happen, and there were talks, but I'm so far behind on the thing, on my things, to do it right, I would have to give it my full attention for a period of time, and right now there's just so many things that need my attention first.
So then I just have one last question: are you writing any more stuff personally? I know you've got the Random Esoteric Creature Generator, which is an anniversary reprint, and it's been a while since Dead Frost Doom. [—of course James also wrote all the latest Free RPG Day books, ed.]
Yeah, what I've got, there's the perpetually late, forever… referee book. And again, the stuff that happened this spring got so crazy. I was really hoping to show up at RopeCon and GenCon this year with at least the full draft, that I can plomp down in front of people, and say "the production stuff, you know, we're still doing that, but look, the content's there." I'm still hoping to get that done, unless this is going to be another schedule failure when this goes out. But yeah, that really clogs everything else, because I can't really be releasing full other books. I mean things like, Vaginas are Magic! and Eldritch Cock, those are piecemeal. It's basically twenty pages of writing, but individual "here's one spell, here's another spell".
But you've also designed another whole new magic system for Lamentations for it.
That's just a write-up of the system I've been doing in my home game for years though, so I didn't invent that for that.
So, it's very easy to just do things piecemeal, but as far… I've got a whole bunch of adventures outlined that I want to do but I can't do them before the referee book is out, and that's a bit maddening, and that has to get done, and that's a big albatross around my neck. I cannot wait to get that done, and never do it again, print ten thousand copies of it, and just, you know, have half of them sitting in a warehouse for eternity, but at least I don't have to do this shit anymore, and, hehe, get onto the other stuff.
Mottokrosh: Well, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me. I, for one, am very much looking forward to my copy of Eldritch Cock, and I wish you all the best of the rest of the… conventation! That's the word, that's where we are! [—I since got it of course, here's my review of it, ed.]
James: Thank you very much.