Low Fantasy - Best Systems?

3catcircus

Adventurer
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.
In this regard, HARP might be a better choice than MERP. Since the magic system in HARP is spells are learned skills, the GM can limit it as he sees fit, but it supposedly streamlines the Rolemaster rules even more and takes some design cues from d20 so it may be easier to grok.
 

Bilharzia

Villager
Mythras and Mythic Britain does this. You get a Bernard Cornwell-style depiction of Arthurian Britain, much closer to historical reality than you see in Excalibur for instance, but the spirits of Annwn Britain and the Saxon supernatural world are real, as well as a look-in from the early Christian church. The campaign supplement includes an adventure series that takes players across Britain searching for some of the treasures of Britain for Merlin, amongst other things and involves the PCs in larger scale battles against the Saxon invaders, using mass battle rules for the engagements.

For a smaller scale experience, the adventure and possible mini-campaign "Waterlands", uses the same Mythic Britain setting, to deliver a perfectly executed dark-age mystery-thriller, set in the fenlands of Lincolshire & Yorkshire and featuring a bit more of a 'local' Celtic supernatural experience.
 

pemerton

Legend
I also like the idea of castle sieges and ship-to-ship battles at sea feeling like fights and challenges rather than the PCs essentially being supers in comparison to the world around them.

I like the general vibe of some classic sword & sandal movies (Ben-Hur, Venus Meets the Son of Hercules, etc), but would like to add in more fantasy. I support (and enjoy) cinematic action and heroics, but I don't like how D&D and PF so quickly render certain challenges trivial; I believe something like a battle should be serious -regardless of level.

<snip>

and the army is able to participate in an encounter in a meaningful way.
Burning Wheel is good for what you're looking for, and no crunchier than GURPS. I would recommend it over Rolemaster, which (in my pretty extensive experience) pushes fairly strongly towards more widespread D&D-ish magic. HARP might be better in this respect, though without healing magic I suspect it might be pretty heavy going.

A system no one has mentioned yet is Prince Valiant. We've been playing that a lot lately - here's a link to an actual play report of our most recent session, which figured some skirmish-level resolution. (Two of the PCs lead a holy military order. And their participates in skirmish-type encounters in a meaningful way.)
 

BrokenTwin

Explorer
If you want something similar to D&D5e but lower on the player power scale, I'll second the suggestion for Shadow of the Demon Lord.

It has more of a horror fantasy vibe, rather than D&D's epic fantasy heroes feel. Easy to tweak to taste though.
 

Razjah

Explorer
A few people have mentioned some of the ones I would recommend:
Burning Wheel
Shadow of the Demon Lord
Forbidden Lands
Savage Worlds
E6 Style D&D/PF

Romance of the Perilous Land is very Authurian but would probably do what you are looking for as well.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
In this regard, HARP might be a better choice than MERP. Since the magic system in HARP is spells are learned skills, the GM can limit it as he sees fit, but it supposedly streamlines the Rolemaster rules even more and takes some design cues from d20 so it may be easier to grok.
It's not as well written, tho'. I've tried several times to read HARP, and found it just not up to the older quality.
 

Johnny3D3D

Adventurer
I had considered trying Genesys (the system which Edge of The Empire is based upon,) but I have not heard much about it.

Despite being constructed in a very different way than GURPS, I enjoy the Star Wars games. (In fact, I've actually borrowed a few mechanics from it that I've incorporated into GURPS when I GM.)

Now, with recent FFG woes, I'm on the fence about buying one of the books.
 

Johnny3D3D

Adventurer
Burning Wheel is good for what you're looking for, and no crunchier than GURPS. I would recommend it over Rolemaster, which (in my pretty extensive experience) pushes fairly strongly towards more widespread D&D-ish magic. HARP might be better in this respect, though without healing magic I suspect it might be pretty heavy going.

A system no one has mentioned yet is Prince Valiant. We've been playing that a lot lately - here's a link to an actual play report of our most recent session, which figured some skirmish-level resolution. (Two of the PCs lead a holy military order. And their participates in skirmish-type encounters in a meaningful way.)

I'll look into that. I'm reading some of your play report.


The stuff below isn't necessarily @ you. I just thought of it while reading.

Side note: I don't necessarily want to focus on mass combat, but that crops in a lot of my comments because it's a place where D&D tends to break down pretty badly for me. In my mind, I have a lot of cool things I imagine concerning a siege scene or two ships of the line blasting each other in a naval fight. However, those pieces of imagination (in the past) have played out at the d20 table as something along the lines of "I cast X, their whole ship dies." Which isn't necessarily bad in a vacuum, but -when it becomes the norm- I find that it is a little bit of an imagination buzzkill.

It's not limited to magic either; just being a knight on horseback becomes a lot less cool when you realize that the whole character concept is based around a creature which is woefully unprepared to survive things which are generally trivial encounters.

As a poster upthread said, yes, Conan does include crazy gonzo magic, necromancers, and etc, but I find that it's still presented in a way which ties into the world rather than being in a power bubble floating above the world. The powerful sorcerer still has concerns about being stabbed in the face and dying (as opposed to shrugging it off as "oh well, I lost a few HP, but I'm good." Additionally, that translates into the heroes being similarly tied to the world because they're not required to be involved in an arms race of vertical math or magic item Christmas trees.

I don't want to get stuck on a tangeant, but a lot of this captures previous conversations in which I have expressed having a love/hate relationship with D&D 4E. I actually really liked a lot of the game's concepts, but how those concepts were implemented went in a drastically different direction than my tastes.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
I'd like to give an honorable mention to my game, Modos RPG, for the following reasons (while the search for Best continues). . .

. . .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.

. . .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 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.
First, the magic rules are in a module. Pull out the module and the remainder is, basically by default, low-fantasy.

Magic swords don't get damage or attack bonuses. Actually, they don't exist in the book, except for the suggestion that a sword with increased damage has that feature by virtue of being on fire.

There aren't mass combat rules, but you can use the Engage skill to captivate your troops, Persuade to make them risk their lives, and Detect to decide how combat-ready they are. The extended conflict rules support mass combat in the abstract.

Rampaging through a village is a bad idea; unopposed attacks (pitchforks) deal a minimum of one point of damage. A tenth-level rampager, for example, with about 22 physical health, would come very close to a draw in a fight against six villagers in three rounds of combat. Provided the villagers don't have much respect for their own lives :devilish:
 

Nebulous

Hero
If you want something similar to D&D5e but lower on the player power scale, I'll second the suggestion for Shadow of the Demon Lord.

It has more of a horror fantasy vibe, rather than D&D's epic fantasy heroes feel. Easy to tweak to taste though.
I thought about running Shadow of the Demon Lord and overlay it with some classic 1e adventures. How would that work? Low to mid level, not high level.
 

Crusadius

Explorer
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.
Even with magic user careers, I would consider WFRP 1E (or any edition) low fantasy (in comparison to D&D). I remember looking at the 1E wizard careers and the spell casting rules and thinking how hard it is to be a spell caster and as a consequence my first WFRP character was a Dwarf Pit Fighter-turned Troll Slayer (despite my favored choice of character type usually is magic user).
 

pemerton

Legend
As a poster upthread said, yes, Conan does include crazy gonzo magic, necromancers, and etc, but I find that it's still presented in a way which ties into the world rather than being in a power bubble floating above the world. The powerful sorcerer still has concerns about being stabbed in the face and dying (as opposed to shrugging it off as "oh well, I lost a few HP, but I'm good."
The closest I've ever felt to REH Conan in play is Burning Wheel - here's an actual play report.
 

Anoth

Adventurer
It’s simple to make d&d more medieval. Most wizards are evil. Most kingdoms are evil. Evil doesn’t have to be snidely whiplash for kingdoms, it can be nobles more worried about their own positions and titles. Good wizards would not neccessarily be offering their services

don’t have court magicians. That is a big one. Or if you do have sorcerer Kings. Wizards don’t like to serve Kings they would much rather be the king. And with their power they could do it at high levels. Have wizards a little fearful of being known because sorcerer Kings or any king may want them killed for casting magic. Go back to only allowing good clerics or spellcasters to heal.

the Big one is superstition. Have the general populace fearful of spellcasters. Even a 20th level wizards can be destroyed in a mob of peasants fighting one that is in league with Lucifer.

make your clerics more like real world clerics. Limit their spells more like in early editions with less offensive magic. That may be more difficult in 5E.

That’s just a few and expect the last one that is kinda optional it really doesn’t affect mechanics.

another one would be to actually research the history of how people lived in that era. The mechanics are not what is making d&d anti-medieval.
 

pemerton

Legend
just being a knight on horseback becomes a lot less cool when you realize that the whole character concept is based around a creature which is woefully unprepared to survive things which are generally trivial encounters.

<snip>

The powerful sorcerer still has concerns about being stabbed in the face and dying (as opposed to shrugging it off as "oh well, I lost a few HP, but I'm good." ically different direction than my tastes.
It’s simple to make d&d more medieval. Most wizards are evil. Most kingdoms are evil.

<snip>

Have the general populace fearful of spellcasters. Even a 20th level wizards can be destroyed in a mob of peasants fighting one that is in league with Lucifer.

make your clerics more like real world clerics. Limit their spells more like in early editions with less offensive magic. That may be more difficult in 5E.

<snip>

The mechanics are not what is making d&d anti-medieval.
I think that the things I've quoted are @Johnny3D3D's main concerns about D&D. And they are mechanical issues. Changing cleric spell lists (itself a mechanical change) won't deal with them.

I think heroic tier 4e can deal with some of them but Johnny3D3D isn't looking to go down that pathway. But many of the various non-D&D systems mentioned in this thread can provide the sort of experience that is being looked for.
 

S'mon

Legend
I'm using Mini Six RPG (free pdf at Mini Six: Bare Bones Edition - AntiPaladin Games | DriveThruRPG.com ) for a cinematic low fantasy swords & sorcery campaign. Not Game of Thrones gritty, but Conan/Kull/Beastmaster sort of level. Mini Six derives from the d6 System used for stuff like 1987's d6 Star Wars from West End Games, and does Hollywood style action very well.

My campaign page, including some rules extracts Primeval Thule
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
I had considered trying Genesys (the system which Edge of The Empire is based upon,) but I have not heard much about it.
Genesys is the child, not the parent... Genesys is based upon Edge.

If you like FFG star wars, you're not going to be making a horrible choice to pick up genesys, and maybe the setting books.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
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!
Actually, from certain points of view, LoTR is inundated with magics everywhere. Just most of them minor.

Such as Aragorn packing Frodo's wound with Athelas...
Elven Cloaks - rare, but not artifact level rare.
Sting.
Mithril mail.

None of them are surprised that Sting is magical; Bilbo seems surprised they let him keep it. If magic were rare, the greed of the dwarves would have rendered it an object of great desire.
 

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