Back when I was still playing D&D regularly, I ran a mini-campaign for my brother and his friends based on Castlevania. It was a spur of the moment, on-the-fly thing, something to entertain us all for a weekend sleepover. I had no plan in place. All I really did was re-skin some stuff from the Ravenloft boxed sets, and run it with my usual, heavily house-ruled version of AD&D 2E.
Looking back, that weekend mini-campaign is still one of my all-time favorites. The off-the-cuff nature of the game, coupled with using someone else's established characters, gave it a kind of bootleg, punk-rock feel.
It also ended in a total party kill, which wasn't common for my AD&D groups at the time. The "Belmont" character ended up getting bitten by a vampire and turning on the other players, the thief ran off alone and got torn apart by zombies, and the cleric killed the Belmont just in time to be eaten by werewolves.
Needless to say, we had a blast.
What got me thinking about this campaign again is a recent request some friends made. They've never played a tabletop RPG before, and they've apparently been looking to find a D&D group without much success. As soon as they found out I used to DM, they conscripted me to the cause.
Not that they exactly had to twist my arm, mind you.
Anyway, having been out of the hobby for almost twenty years, I realized I had to do a little research. I tapped out of D&D around the same time I joined the Marines, back in 2001. The big switch to 3E was just coming to my old gaming group, and since I was going away I never bothered to buy the rulebooks or learn the system. Of course, 3E is coming up on its 19th anniversary, and Wizards of the Coast has churned out three more editions since then. Four, if you count Essentials.
I looked into all the various editions of D&D that have hit the market since I quit, including "kinda-D&D" games like Pathfinder and 13th Age. I was looking for a system that would be fairly light on rules and bookkeeping, easy for new players to pick up, and inexpensive. At the same time, I wanted something that definitely had that classic D&D feel. You know: the standard ability scores, the iconic character classes, d20 to attack, etc.
Long story short, I ended up settling on James Raggi's excellent Lamentations of the Flame Princess. While the game has a (somewhat exaggerated) reputation for gore and extreme horror, at its core LotFP is exactly what I need:
Now, with everyone at the table being new, I don't plan on running any LotFP's published adventures. While I happen to like the "Weird Fantasy" aesthetic of the game, I want to break everyone in by running some vanilla D&D to start off. If everyone likes it, and everyone else is game, then maybe I'll start taking things off in some bizarre, horror-inspired directions.
Which brings me back to the subject at hand. While familiarizing myself with the rules earlier today, it occurred to me that LotFP would be the ideal system to rerun that Castlevania mini-campaign with.
For one thing, it's just stupidly lethal. Even by OSR/original D&D standards, LotFP is an unforgiving game. If the party doesn't work together (and work smart), their characters are going to die. And as anyone who's been knocked off the stairs by those motherf*cking medusa heads can tell you, "frequent player death" is a running feature of the Castlevania franchise.
For another, LotFP has a baked-in grimdark feel. Maybe it's not as present in the core rules as in the adventure modules. But little things like the class descriptions and the slightly tweaked spells convey an overall sense of doom and darkness. If you wanted to run something that felt as violent and gritty as the recent Netflix series, this would do a better job of it than any of the other D&D retro-clones.
The other thing is that being as rules-light as it is, any tweaks and house rules would be easy to incorporate. LotFP, like any other OSR game, is built with the idea that it's easier to add something you need than it is to cut out something you don't.
Taking the mental experiment a little further, I decided to generate a sample character based on Trevor Belmont. For fun, I also wrote up some altered splat text for the Fighter class, to reflect the 1400's Transylvanian setting:
Most Wallachians live and die beneath Dracula's yoke, hollow, terrified souls too broken to look evil in the eye, much less stand against it. Better to die an ignoble death in obscurity, than to risk bringing that evil upon themselves. Fighters are different. Fighters are those who have seen the evil that Dracula's forces have brought to the land, and have vowed either to put it to the sword or to die trying.
Some fighters learned their bloody skills serving in armies or mercenary bands. Others learned through necessity, desperately protecting their homes from Dracula's nightmarish hordes. Then there are those who simply dedicated their lives to learning the ways of the warrior, sworn to hunt evil wherever they find it, as if it were some sort of divine calling.
Whatever their background, fighters are natural survivors. The rigors they've endured have toughened their bodies, so all first level fighters begin the game with a minimum of 8 hit points (roll 1d8 and add Constitution bonus, ignore any result lower than 8). Fighters start with an attack bonus of +2 at first level, and are the only class to gain an additional attack bonuses as they level up.
Fighter / Level 5 / Lawful
Hit Points: 42 (d8 Hit Dice) Melee Attack Bonus: +6 Ranged Attack Bonus: +8
Base Armor Class: 16 (Leather Armor 14, +DEX bonus)
Press Attack: +2 to hit, -4 to AC
Defensive Fighting: +2 to AC, -4 to Hit
Parry: +4 to AC
Charisma 7 ( -1 to Retainer Recruitment, Loyalty)
Constitution 16 ( +2 to Hit Points, Daily Travel Distance)
Dexterity 16 ( +2 to Armor Class, Ranged Attack Bonus, Initiative)
Intelligence 13 ( +1 to Saves vs Magic Effects, Languages)
Strength 11 ( +0 to Melee Attack Bonus, Open Doors)
Wisdom 13 ( +1 to Saves vs Non-magical Effects)
Architecture 1 in 6
Bushcraft 1 in 6
Climbing 1 in 6
Languages 2 in 6 (Base 1 in 6, plus INT bonus)
Open Doors 1 in 6
Search 1 in 6
Sleight of Hand 1 in 6
Sneak Attack damage x1
Stealth 1 in 6
Tinkering 1 in 6
Saving Throws: Paralyze Poison Breath Weapon Magical Device Magic
Base: 12 10 13 11 14
With bonuses: 11 9 12 10 13
Vampire Killer (Whip, +2)
The Vampire Killer is the Ancestral Weapon of the Belmont family. When used against humans or other natural creatures, the Vampire Killer is a standard whip, as described in the equipment section of the LotFP Rules & Magic book: It is capable of making melee attacks on enemies up to 10' away, but has no effect on creatures with an unadjusted Armor Class of 14 or greater. On a successful attack roll, it does 1d3 damage (no magical bonus).
When used against evil or supernatural creatures, however, the Vampire Killer takes on special properties. All successful attack rolls hit, regardless of unadjusted Armor Class. Damage is rolled as Great Weapon (1d10), with an additional +2 magical bonus.
OPTIONAL RULE (Lightweight Weapon): Some weapons don't require muscle. They require finesse. As such, fighters have the option of applying either their strength bonus OR their dexterity bonus when using a whip.
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