Meditations on Lankhmar Gaming
I recently took my backer draft copy of the DCC Lankhmar set out for a few adventures. It's been fun - I find DCC to be a pretty good system for the setting.
This got me thinking of my own history with Lankhmar - an experience which, judging by articles and interviews, is similar to DCC Lankhmar author Michael Curtis'. I first encountered Nehwon, the world of Lankhmar, in the pages of AD&D's 1st edition Deities and Demigods. It gave stats for Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, the gods of Nehwon, various creatures, and gave an extremely high level overview of some of the organizations to be found there. It also mentioned the books these stories could be found in. Books I could not find.
A few years later TSR came out with a Lankhmar: City of Adventure supplement for AD&D. I loved it - a guide to Lankhmar and Nehwon. Lots of new rules for PCs. Looking back it did have the oddity of re-skinning white magic to be clerical magic and black magic to be standard magic-user magic. It greatly hobbled such characters with much longer casting times. But I really liked the idea of a low-magic setting for adventurers. Unfortunately I still couldn't find the darn books.
In the 1990s White Wolf began publishing hardcover editions of the Lankhmar novels. I was finally able to read the books. I did indeed enjoy them for the most part - they were uneven, with some fantastic stories and some that were... ok. Overall I really enjoyed them. I was pretty spoiled from having read the TSR sourcebooks but I still enjoyed the reading. I was a bit surprised by some heavy doses of BDSM in some of the stories. I think, overall, I enjoyed the fun the two had in their adventures - and misadventures. They messed up a lot - they lost their trueloves while they were making a drunken raid on the Thieves' Guild. There was an undercurrent of the protagonists doing what they wanted to be doing, something I didn't always find in swords and sorcery fiction.
Lankhmar has a bit of a mixed record in RPGs. I liked the AD&D Lankhmar, especially for non-magic characters. When Mongoose Publishing had the RuneQuest license they published some Lankhmar material. I think RuneQuest is a great fit for Lankhmar but I found the Mongoose lacking in quality. Pinnacle has done a series of Lankhmar books for Savage Worlds - I'm not intimately familiar with them but they seem to be of good quality.
Overall, I probably consider DCC and RuneQuest the best possible matches for Lankhmar. DCC is awfully close to what I'd consider the perfect system for Lankhmar out of the box - it doesn't require extensive modification. It does include rules for luckier and more bad-ass characters, dispensing with the zero-level funnel. It also makes it easier for characters to heal without the benefit of clerics. Adventures are designed for parties of varying sizes, including very small parties of two or three characters, very much in keeping with the setting.
There's a few things that I've found a bit rough with DCC Lankhmar. It's been a lot harder on PCs than I'd've expected. There's been no fatalities yet but some pretty major/permanent style injuries. The rules do have some options for a bit less deadly game. I'd glossed over them, deciding to try the rules as written, but I think should we do some more adventures I might try them out.