We played our first session of LotFP and I have to admit it was not very interesting compared to our first session of our West Marches campaign using Labyrinth Lord. At the end of the session we all wondered why, because LotFP is very close to LL. I have the feeling that our setup is the main problem here.
(I have posted about this issue and a short actual play on the LotFP forum).
I will try here to clear my thoughts about what din't work with my setup. But note that I am not a super experienced Referee, so don't take this as somekind of prescriptions.
Using the real world as our setup & points of darkness:
My main reason for this was to avoid to have to come up with pseudo real world name for city and country, but now I think this is a very minor issue and that I should have simply dared to have fun with names. Anyway, I ended up doing some historical and geographical research, I searched old maps online, etc. It was a lot of work that din't really paid. Even if my researches gave me some ideas, I feel like that using real world historical and geographical information restrain my imagination more then it inspire it. Also I ended up with a ready made world already defined and mapped, there was no canvas left to project our imagination on it.
Also the real world Europe leave few place for truly uncivilized and unfamiliar territory, we end up with pockets of them surrounded by familiar names and places. Our map is mostly composed of known and civilized area, so we try to use Point of Darkness instead of Point of Light to setup our campaign. (check here about Points of Darkness & Light). I feel that there is maybe a trap here, because we kind of end up preparing our campaign like a Call of Cthulhu or a World of Darkness campaign and this have some consequence on the exploration gameplay.
The main consequence I think is that you don't need to Level up to be able to explore the sea of light that mainly compose the map (as in a Call of Cthulhu campaign). I observe that in my Labyrinth Lord campaign you want to level up to be able to venture deeper into the darkness, far away from your starting point of light.
In a point of light setup, the sea of darkness is interesting to explore and the points of light are attractive harbor and useful base camp to reach. But in a point of darkness campaign, the sea of light is not interesting to explore.
If I look at my actual play, what I observe is that in our LL campaign random encounters are great because they are not just obstacles they are also potential opportunity of exploration (& adventure). But in my current point of darkness setup, since I wanted to keep the darkness away from the sea of light, the random encounters have a mundane origin. So they are just obstacles, delay or mere dressing instead of being exploration opportunity.
If Weird (darkness) encounters are exploration opportunity, maybe that non-Weird (light) encounter are resources opportunity since points of light serve as base camps. Maybe my error was that, while using our real world for setting, I created a sea of light and I tried too much to keep the Weird (& exploration opportunity) away, confined in the points of darkness (or weirdness). I guess that in a point of darkness setup, if you want to play in the sea of light, the point of darkness have to irradiate darkness and to contaminate the light. So your interesting encounters have to be a mix of contamination trails to potentially explore and light resources to use or gain. (with I guess some mundane encounter that are just obstacles).
With a real world setup, I feel like the darkness contamination is especially a useful tool because since a real world setting lack or try to keep very rare the fantasy. And the fantasy is very fun to encounter. But there is also the issue of risking to make the Weird mundane or too common. I guess that there is balance to have between random weird contamination (fun because they are unexpected) and themed weird contamination spreading from the points of darkness (fun because they give clues about their point of darkness and underline it influence, dread , etc).
I think that as I prepared it my real world setup encounters were not very interesting: bandits, criminals, travelers, natural predators, etc. (they are just obstacles or stuff you can ignore instead of potential trails to explore). I know those mundane elements can be made interesting, but they just don't strike my imagination as much as fantasy encounters. What I liked when reading the Vornheim city kit is that the fantasy is present and fun and the Weird is still weird and dreadful. This is maybe what I want.
The presence of both the fantasy and the weird is maybe one of the fun difference that separate LotFP from Call of Cthulhu Dark Ages. For me, it just seem more fun to be able to apply twists to fantasy and mundane elements instead of having to always apply them to mundane ones. I mean discovering that a group of brigands hide something weird is interesting, but discovering a weird twist about a fantasy element is just more exiting (like unicorns worshiping a eldritch entity). (And sometime adding a mundane twist to a fantasy element can also be very interesting). The point is that it simply fun to work with fantasy elements.
I think one of my reflection is that I don't want to end up playing Call of Cthulhu with Lamentations of the Flame Princess (even If I appreciate CoC).
So what will I do with my campaign setup? I don't know right now, I wont scrap it, but I need to rethink some part of it or how I want to use some of those parts. But before working on it I want to change my mind with non-gaming stuff (like drawing).