Low Fantasy - Best Systems?

imagineGod

Legend
The Modiphius Conan game is very low fantasy, not totally devoid of magic, but a better game engine than The Witcher RPG.

However, if you open up your options and allow other game types, then "Band of Blades" by Evil Hat or "Ironsworn" are both good low-fantasy gritty role playing games with simple rules.
 

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Puggins

Explorer
I’m always amused when someone mentions Conan as being low fantasy. In fewer pages than a single LotR book he meets two dragons, at least three demons, a sorcerer that makes a dragon run the other way and a couple of what would be considered liches and a vampire queen. He also manages to kill a demonic gorilla with a dagger and walks away from a beating from that gorilla. A lich wrenches an ancient city from the past to exist in the present. Huge serpents slither through the streets of Stygia on the new moon looking for human prey. It makes Lord of the Rings feel like historical fiction.
 

JeffB

Legend
Check out Runequest- While the classic (and once again core) setting Glorantha in the current RQ is high magic/high mythology, the core systems from the RQ 3rd edition (Avalon Hill), the Mongoose versions (MRQ1 and MRQ2- now called Legend I believe), the Design Mechanism (RQ6 and Mythras) or even just heading over to Chaosium and picking up Basic RP are all good ways to go.

Also

Chivalry & Sorcery
 


innerdude

Legend
@Johnny3D3D -- Commenting on your reply to @Umbran upthread, my initial question would be, how is GURPS failing to provide the type of "low fantasy" feel that you want?

Because GURPS is certainly one of the go-to systems that comes to my mind when looking at playing a "low fantasy" campaign/system. In fact, it's probably one of the ONLY general game milieus to which I think I might enjoy GURPS at all.

Any and all of the Runequest/BRP spinoffs are in many ways going to give you the same feel as GURPS --- deadly combat, loads of tactical combat options, roll-under system (though Runequest's flat distribution versus GURPS normal distribution/bell curve will definitely feel more "swingy" at times).

I've read through the Legend PDF (the OGL version of Runequest 2) a few times---since it's free, after all---and my general impression is that it was very much tailored from the same basic cloth as GURPS, with the major differences being approaches to magic. So if you're just wanting to try something new without completely abandoning what you like about GURPS, this might not be a bad place to start.

Now, if you're really wanting to "break the mold" from GURPS entirely, there's definitely more stuff out there. Barbarians of Lemuria, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying, Harn, Zweihander, Burning Wheel . . . heck, even Genesys would probably do "low fantasy" very well, depending on how you wanted to handle healing.

If you wanted to do "high action / low fantasy", Savage Worlds would also work really well, if you were willing to do a little research on how to "tune" the system to get the proper grim/gritty feel you want from it. But I rarely recommend Savage Worlds to hardcore GURPS players, because on the surface Savage Worlds looks a lot like GURPS, but once an old GURPS player starts digging in, they generally feel that Savage Worlds isn't nearly crunchy enough for their taste.

But all of this is depending on what kind of game experience you want. Do you want more player narrative freedom? Do you like GURPS, but just want something slightly different? Do you want the players to feel more "heroic" than GURPS, but just want a low-fantasy setting to mill about in?

I also think @Puggins comment is relevant as well---don't mistakenly equate a "low tech" setting/system with a "low fantasy" setting/system.

If you're looking for some outstanding examples of what I'd consider "low fantasy" in fiction, I'd highly recommend reading any of Guy Gavriel Kay's pseudo-historical fantasy novels, particularly the Sarantium series, The Lions of Al-Rassan, and Under Heaven.

Thanks for being patient with my rambling thoughts, just throwing spaghetti against the wall here to see if anything is useful for sparking ideas.
 

B1okHead

Explorer
I have found Hackmaster 5e to be a refreshing take on D&D. A simple orc is stronger than a level 1 character and larger monsters like ogres can be truly terrifying. In general, the default setting is lowish magic with a heavy emphasis on verisimilitude.
 

aramis erak

Legend
WFRP 1E can do this easily... just don't allow magic users careers, and don't use the demons in the bestiary. 2E is a bit less suited to it, but still quite reasonable.

While I've not personally used the "D&D E6", I've run all editions except OE, Holmes, and 4E through 7th+ and I agree a low-level capped D&D may work quite well, if one handles the monster choices carefully.

GURPS can do it; whether it's a good choice or not depends upon GM self-control, and players agreeing to the limits... and everyone's tolerance for long skill lists. GURPS is a bit complex for even large skirmishes, but there's a mass combat mechanic in 3E (C I or C II) that allows that.

The Fantasy Trip is one I've used for this level/style, but only for minicampaigns (3-5 sessions) or one-shots (1-3 session single adventure); I have extensively played the solo modules. It's a far better fit than GURPS, IMO, in part because of the broader talents vs the narrow skills, and because the magic system is less convoluted, less potent, and closer to the swords-and-sorcery genre tone. Large (20 on a side) skirmishes can be played out with core mechanics, but are a bit slow. Mass battles are beyond scale, but the related "Lords of Underearth" is a related game.

Rolemaster is close to the best for this feel I've run/played, but I've not gotten past minicampaigns and 4th level.

The old MERP is a streamlined version of Rolemaster - lousy for Tolkien, but great for that pervasive yet low powered magic and larger than life zero-to-hero. Plus, MERP can use the wider RM monsters, as it's pretty compatible. MERP also much reduces the table load: weapons tables are 2 pages (vs over 20+ for RM), crits another 4 pages (vs about 15 in RM), and attack spells another page (vs 15+ for RM). Moving maneuver and static maneuver tables 1 page each (same as RM). Still, second best.

Which brings me to The One Ring. With Rivendell and the Corebook, one has probably the best for the lots of minor magic, no big magics in play, exotic critters, and slow growth with great thematic combat.
 

I’m always amused when someone mentions Conan as being low fantasy. In fewer pages than a single LotR book he meets two dragons, at least three demons, a sorcerer that makes a dragon run the other way and a couple of what would be considered liches and a vampire queen. He also manages to kill a demonic gorilla with a dagger and walks away from a beating from that gorilla. A lich wrenches an ancient city from the past to exist in the present. Huge serpents slither through the streets of Stygia on the new moon looking for human prey. It makes Lord of the Rings feel like historical fiction.
I guess because the protagonist doesn't use magic, only NPCs - just like LoTR with Gandalf the DMPC or Bad Guys. TO me that is a big part of Low Fantasy, what magic is available to the protagonist/player - if there is magic about they don't get much of it!
 

Argyle King

Legend
I’m always amused when someone mentions Conan as being low fantasy. In fewer pages than a single LotR book he meets two dragons, at least three demons, a sorcerer that makes a dragon run the other way and a couple of what would be considered liches and a vampire queen. He also manages to kill a demonic gorilla with a dagger and walks away from a beating from that gorilla. A lich wrenches an ancient city from the past to exist in the present. Huge serpents slither through the streets of Stygia on the new moon looking for human prey. It makes Lord of the Rings feel like historical fiction.

Even so, all of those things are presented in a way which is very different than a D&D party ROFL-stomping an encounter, magic items on every corner, and etc.

It's also worth mentioning that Conan is effectively a high-powered PC. He is capable of things beyond the normal folk of the setting. Yet, he's still vulnerable to mundane things in many circumstances -rather than becoming immune to the world around him. The world around him is a big part of what I consider as well, not just one character.

It's less about the content and more about how the content is presented. As such, it fits, and -even if I were doing just a Conan game- I would find (and have found) most d20 games (with D&D-style HP, levels, and etc) to very poorly fit what I want out of the experience.


@Johnny3D3D -- Commenting on your reply to @Umbran upthread, my initial question would be, how is GURPS failing to provide the type of "low fantasy" feel that you want?

Because GURPS is certainly one of the go-to systems that comes to my mind when looking at playing a "low fantasy" campaign/system. In fact, it's probably one of the ONLY general game milieus to which I think I might enjoy GURPS at all.

I don't find it to be failing.

I wanted to ask a question of others, to see what else may be out there. I'm curious to hear what others may recommend.

Having more options doesn't hurt. I may find other games which I enjoy or maybe I'll find a mechanic which I can import into a GURPS session.

I noticed Hackmaster mentioned. I do have one of the books from that system. I've never played it, but reading through it has been enjoyable.
 

Argyle King

Legend
WFRP 1E can do this easily... just don't allow magic users careers, and don't use the demons in the bestiary. 2E is a bit less suited to it, but still quite reasonable.

While I've not personally used the "D&D E6", I've run all editions except OE, Holmes, and 4E through 7th+ and I agree a low-level capped D&D may work quite well, if one handles the monster choices carefully.

GURPS can do it; whether it's a good choice or not depends upon GM self-control, and players agreeing to the limits... and everyone's tolerance for long skill lists. GURPS is a bit complex for even large skirmishes, but there's a mass combat mechanic in 3E (C I or C II) that allows that.

The Fantasy Trip is one I've used for this level/style, but only for minicampaigns (3-5 sessions) or one-shots (1-3 session single adventure); I have extensively played the solo modules. It's a far better fit than GURPS, IMO, in part because of the broader talents vs the narrow skills, and because the magic system is less convoluted, less potent, and closer to the swords-and-sorcery genre tone. Large (20 on a side) skirmishes can be played out with core mechanics, but are a bit slow. Mass battles are beyond scale, but the related "Lords of Underearth" is a related game.

Rolemaster is close to the best for this feel I've run/played, but I've not gotten past minicampaigns and 4th level.

The old MERP is a streamlined version of Rolemaster - lousy for Tolkien, but great for that pervasive yet low powered magic and larger than life zero-to-hero. Plus, MERP can use the wider RM monsters, as it's pretty compatible. MERP also much reduces the table load: weapons tables are 2 pages (vs over 20+ for RM), crits another 4 pages (vs about 15 in RM), and attack spells another page (vs 15+ for RM). Moving maneuver and static maneuver tables 1 page each (same as RM). Still, second best.

Which brings me to The One Ring. With Rivendell and the Corebook, one has probably the best for the lots of minor magic, no big magics in play, exotic critters, and slow growth with great thematic combat.


I'm mostly familiar with GURPS 4th Edition.

I have considered the new edition of The Fantasy Trip.
 

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