Low Fantasy - Best Systems?

pming

Legend
Hiya!

HarnMaster
WHFRP1
Rolemaster
(just disallow non-Full spellcasters the ability to start with spells and make ALL interested find someone to teach it to them in-game).
Fantasy HERO (HERO system; just put restrictions/cost-increase on 'magic stuff').
Masterbook RPG
Silohuette RPG
Dominion Rules RPG
(free, btw; www.dominionrules.org).
Powers & Perils (old Avalon Hill RPG; now free and community updated...or at least we try: www.powersandperils.org ) <-- have to do some 'no casters unless...' stuff, or other tweaks, but the system models 'classical fantasy' very VERY well! :)

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

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Argyle King

Legend
This is a bit of thread necromancy, but I have been watching a few shows lately which had parts that emulated some of the feel I am going for. This is post is a quick recap. My thoughts are on the post after this one.


First, to prevent starting from a miscommunication: what do I mean by "low fantasy"?

The common literary definition does not quite fit what I want. I prefer something similar to the definitions found in GURPS Fantasy.

Regarding "High Fantasy"
"If fantasy occupies the middle
ground between myth and history,
high fantasy is closer to myth."
~GURPS Fantasy


With that sliding scale in mind, my desire is for something which is weighted more toward the "history" and reality end of the spectrum. That's not to say I want completely realistic; I still want dragons, magic, elves, or whatever, but I find that contemporary D&D (beyond about level 4) and Pathfinder both skew in a very different direction that what I want.

In my mind, if some manner of fantasy venn diagram could be draw from my own imagination, the following list would be among the circles involved: R. Howard's Conan; 80s movies such as Beastmaster, Dragonslayer, Legend, and Conan; early seasons of Game of Thrones; PC game Mount & Blade; the book version of confrontations with Smaug in The Hobbit; Arthurian fantasy and the knight on horseback trope; and heroic tier D&D.
(Honorable mention to Witcher, the first Dragon Age game, and some of the classic fairy tales with a bit of a darker underlying edge of realness.)

I'm not opposed to higher fantasy elements, but I'd like things like demon lords trying to destroy the planet or powerful wizards to be few and far between -typically special events and notable when they occur. I'd prefer a magic sword to be cool because it has some manner of cool special feature rather than simply being a progression from +1 to +2.

From a game standpoint, I'm more interested in high level heroes leading armies rather than fighting them. I mean, yeah, sure, someone like Conan might be able to fight several combatants and regularly win, but that's still below a memory I have of an old D&D 3.5 game in which I realized that taking the leadership feat lead to very different play than imagined. (An army of lower level followers was essentially useless on a battlefield; it was better to have a team of people making and crafting gear.)

I do believe PCs should be people who are far above the average common folk of the world in some way, but not so far above that a player could rampage through a village with impunity. I enjoy many of the tropes from tabletop fantasy games, but not the way in which they are mechanically presented and the style of narrative that tends to lean toward.

If my rambling lead to anything coherent...

What games do you feel produce this style of gaming experience?



I always get stuck in my craw that "high fantasy" and "low fantasy" already have technical definitions. So, pardon me if I chafe a little.

What you seem to be talking about is low magic, and perhaps low-power fantasy.



The problem is that listing what the sircles are is not terribly meaningful - we'd need to see the intersections, with a pointer to the segment labelled, "What I want here".



You realize you just described Lord of the Rings, commonly considered some of the highest high-fantasy there is? There's only one demon lord (Sauron). There's only two wizards worth discussing (Gandalf and Saruman). Their interactions are most certainly the special event of the Third Age of the world, having not really happened ever before. Swords are cool because they glow in the presence of orcs...



So, Aragorn does exactly this....



Well, you opened with GURPS. I'd put it in the list.

D&D, played E6-style, does a not-too-shabby job of it.

I daresay, the upcoming Swords of the Serpentine will probably also fit the bill.

I enjoyed the one session I got to play of Modiphius 2d20 Conan. It does that style well.
 

Argyle King

Legend
Honestly, this post is going to contain a lot of "feel," and that is not very helpful in discussions such as this, but I am hoping that some more specific examples may add context.


I started watching the show Knightfall. The second half of Season 2: Episode 1 contains what I would consider a good example of an rpg adventure. A group of Templar initiates need to sneak into what was formerly the Paris Templar stronghold through a secret passage, with the goal being to recover treasure. (As you might guess, things do not go as planned, and it turns into a fight to get out.)

A lot of how things play out is similar to what I imagine with a fantasy adventure. Granted, there is no magic or elves or other such things, but the general feel of how things play out is somewhere in the ballpark of what I want. To me, the ensuing fight (and indeed the entire setup of the scene) was cooler than (and sucked me into the story more than) how I imagine things would play out in the typical contemporary d20 fantasy session.

I am not in any way opposed to typical fantasy elements or tropes. It is also cool to hurl a fireball or play some big hulking beefcake of a warrior, but, if there's some way to find a middle ground between that and what I posted about Knightfall, I think I would be close to the experience I want from a game.

====

Upthread, Rolemaster was mentioned. I may give that a try through Roll20. A silver lining to most things being locked down is that the amount of games available through VTT services has increased.

Likewise, I have some of the 2d20 Conan materials. However, as of yet, I have not found a group with which to try the game.
 


Argyle King

Legend
Rolemaster might very well be the system for you. Word of warning: the onus on the GM to know the rules is much greater than, say, 5E, Pathfinder, or PF2.

I had thought that might be the case. I am not bothered by that. I don't know if this is the case for Rolemaster, but I have found that a lot of games with a reputation for being "clunky" or "rules heavy" aren't that bad in actual play. (For example, I play GURPS, and -in many ways- I think the rules are far more intuitive than some aspects of D&D or Pathfinder.)

Even so, I will likely try to join a game as a player first and get a feel for how things go.
 

pemerton

Legend
A lot of how things play out is similar to what I imagine with a fantasy adventure. Granted, there is no magic or elves or other such things, but the general feel of how things play out is somewhere in the ballpark of what I want. To me, the ensuing fight (and indeed the entire setup of the scene) was cooler than (and sucked me into the story more than) how I imagine things would play out in the typical contemporary d20 fantasy session.
For this, I would strongly recommend Prince Valiant.

Upthread, Rolemaster was mentioned. I may give that a try through Roll20.
I have nearly 20 years experience GMing RM - 1990-2008. It is not low fantasy. It is very high fantasy, and it's combat resoultion system tends to make healing magic pretty central. It is also very mechanically heavy in its resolution. GIven your stated aims, I would not recommend it.

Also, given your stated aims, if you are interested in a a mechancally heavy system I think that Burning Wheel would be a better fit than Rolemaster. Burning Wheel can easily toggle between low and high fantasy without affecting the workings of the system.
 

Argyle King

Legend
For this, I would strongly recommend Prince Valiant.

I have nearly 20 years experience GMing RM - 1990-2008. It is not low fantasy. It is very high fantasy, and it's combat resoultion system tends to make healing magic pretty central. It is also very mechanically heavy in its resolution. GIven your stated aims, I would not recommend it.

Also, given your stated aims, if you are interested in a a mechancally heavy system I think that Burning Wheel would be a better fit than Rolemaster.

I wouldn't say that I necessarily desire a game to be mechanically heavy. That is to say, I'm not opposed to lighter mechanics. But, I am also not opposed to more moving parts. Maybe my brain works differently, but I find that many games with a reputation for being difficult tend to be built around ideas that I find intuitive. In contrast, some games which are "rules light" are (to me) more difficult because they operate in a way which seems counterintuitive to how I imagine a situation should play out.
 

pemerton

Legend
I wouldn't say that I necessarily desire a game to be mechanically heavy. That is to say, I'm not opposed to lighter mechanics. But, I am also not opposed to more moving parts. Maybe my brain works differently, but I find that many games with a reputation for being difficult tend to be built around ideas that I find intuitive. In contrast, some games which are "rules light" are (to me) more difficult because they operate in a way which seems counterintuitive to how I imagine a situation should play out.
As I said, I GMed RM for 19 years. And I GM and play BW. I have nothing against mechanics.

But RM has lots of table look-ups (nearly all action resolution requires that, both combat and non-combat) and so is almost never going to run quickly. And RM defaults to D&D or higher levels of magic, and if you try to strip that out will not handle it all that well.

For a heavy game that can do low fantasy I would really recommend BW. But for the feel of the show you described I think Prince Valiant straight away!
 

Argyle King

Legend
As I said, I GMed RM for 19 years. And I GM and play BW. I have nothing against mechanics.

But RM has lots of table look-ups (nearly all action resolution requires that, both combat and non-combat) and so is almost never going to run quickly. And RM defaults to D&D or higher levels of magic, and if you try to strip that out will not handle it all that well.

For a heavy game that can do low fantasy I would really recommend BW. But for the feel of the show you described I think Prince Valiant straight away!

I'll check that out.

I was a fan of the old Prince Valiant cartoon.

I'm not necessarily married to being a templar or something of that nature. It's more the manner in which the scene played out that I enjoyed. It's clearly a scene of action and adventure, but there is an underlying sense of seriousness and urgency to the ensuing battle.

Similar examples would be the foray into the bear-people cave toward the end of 13th Warrior.

Fantasy examples would be the battle against the cave troll in LoTR: Fellowship of The Ring; earlier seasons of Game of Thrones; some of the mass army battles in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardobe. Magic and various fantasy tropes are obvious in these, but it's a very different feel from tossing spell slots around with ease or wading into battle and soaking damage via copious amounts of HP.
 

pemerton

Legend
@Johnny3D3D

I've got lots of Prnce Valiant actual play posts over the past couple of years. Here's the most recent, which also happens to have some mass combat and a grim confrontation with the angry spirit of a dead king.

I think it will give you a good sense of how the system works. Quite different from the GURPS (? have I remembered that right?) that you lean towards - but in that thread there is a discussion between me and another GURPS player that might be helpful for you.
 

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