Low Fantasy - Best Systems?

Johnny3D3D

Adventurer
edit: This meandered all over the place. I'm not sure if the end result was something which contains a coherent idea.

If this helps any, part of my "problem" with trying to do this style with D&D/d20 often boils down to how (for a lack of better words) the "world math" of the games work.

I'm pefectly fine with PCs being above and beyond average folk. They're heroes, so they should be. (Likewise, "named" villains should be above the common orc rabble.)

At the same time, it's a bit anticlimactic when scenes such as castle sieges or ship battles are regularly so easily short-circuited by readily available resources and built-in assumptions of how the game is designed. The key word there is "regularly." If the players come up with a cool way to solve a challenge or use a strategy that the GM hadn't considered, that's something I see as good; the fact that the players are that engaged to put that much thought into it should be applauded. However, when it becomes a problem is when the players are so above and beyond the world around them that it doesn't even make sense to buy into the scene from an in-game perspective. The type of narrative I would like to tell is still possible, but it suffers (likely in a similar way that trying to tell a 4-color Supers story is professed to not work for some people in GURPS; the game can do it, but the mechanical strengths of the game likely lend it to something else more readily).

I often compare my rpg tastes to professional wrestling (because I believe it's a good analogy). A pro-wrestling match contains a ton of things which likely would not work in an actual fight. (However, to be fair, some things certainly would.) That being said, when it's done well, I still have an ability to suspend my disbelief and enjoy it. The small details are often more important than the big details.

The idea that the Undertaker is some sort of undead mortician who can call lightning from the sky does not jar me out of enjoying the show. I can even buy that Hulk Hogan is essentially a paladin (or maybe barbarian) who can tap into the power of the fans to "hulk up" and recover from massive damage to come back and win. On the other hand, when someone does something like no-sells (shows no ill effects) from being kicked in testicles, it can be a bit tough to buy into it. If on the next show, if the ante is upped by no-selling a hit in the testicles with a flaming barbed-wire covered baseball bat, something about that isn't going to compute in my brain.

Maybe if it were a one-time thing and explained storywise as a burst of adrenaline or something... yeah, okay, maybe. But if it's happening every encounter? At that point, something isn't making sense... or, you run into the Superman problem: once everybody is at a power level to shrug stuff like that off, the only way to advance the story is by continuing to stack more and more ridiculousness and power onto the situation. That might be fun the first few times, but -for me- it starts to have diminishing returns.
 

Crusadius

Explorer
Not really. It has powerful casters, and lots of overt magic.
For starting characters WFRP is low fantasy. I played 1E for two years and only got to a 2nd career, and still no magic items, the wizard's apprentice fearful of casting spells and no healing. Our characters were at risk of random goblin with dagger getting a lucky blow in and ending our lives. 4E does make this less likely but the dearth of magic items and healing is still there.

Warhammer Fantasy Battles does, unfortunately, give people the impression that WFRP has characters involved in big magical battles every day since they're both using the same setting.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
For starting characters WFRP is low fantasy. I played 1E for two years and only got to a 2nd career, and still no magic items, the wizard's apprentice fearful of casting spells and no healing. Our characters were at risk of random goblin with dagger getting a lucky blow in and ending our lives. 4E does make this less likely but the dearth of magic items and healing is still there.

Warhammer Fantasy Battles does, unfortunately, give people the impression that WFRP has characters involved in big magical battles every day since they're both using the same setting.
So does TEW, and running TEW, I've never failed to have 2nd rank casters (3rd or 4th career characters) by the end of DotR. The suggested XP levels are plenty good for pushing up the levels. And not a one of those was over 1 year of weekly sessions.

It's only low fantasy if the GM isn't using the setting as written, and is stingy with XP.
 

Crusadius

Explorer
It's only low fantasy if the GM isn't using the setting as written, and is stingy with XP.
I think my opinion on what constitutes low fantasy is different to yours. I see D&D as high fantasy because you are expected to collect magic items as you advance levels, and you need magical healing and easily get it with a cleric.

Whereas WFRP doesn't give out magical weapons like candy (if at all) and magical healing is rare.

Disease in D&D is no threat with the aforementioned cleric whereas WFRP lists gruesome diseases that threaten the health of characters.

So to me WFRP is low fantasy despite having wizards who can blast the heavens. But as you say, it can also come down to the GM running it.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
I think my opinion on what constitutes low fantasy is different to yours. I see D&D as high fantasy because you are expected to collect magic items as you advance levels, and you need magical healing and easily get it with a cleric.

Whereas WFRP doesn't give out magical weapons like candy (if at all) and magical healing is rare.

Disease in D&D is no threat with the aforementioned cleric whereas WFRP lists gruesome diseases that threaten the health of characters.

So to me WFRP is low fantasy despite having wizards who can blast the heavens. But as you say, it can also come down to the GM running it.
If you have a wizard per city who can take out an entire company of troops with one spell, it's NOT low-fantasy.
If you have threats that require that power level to solve, again, not Low Fantasy.
If you have the ability to generate PC's with that power level, again, not Low Fantasy.
If a wizard can cast a spell in under a minute, not low fantasy.

WFRP is neither high fantasy, nor low, but in between. Or more accurately, it falls in a different subgenre... Dark Fantasy.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
edit: This meandered all over the place. I'm not sure if the end result was something which contains a coherent idea. . .

Maybe if it were a one-time thing and explained storywise as a burst of adrenaline or something... yeah, okay, maybe. But if it's happening every encounter? At that point, something isn't making sense... or, you run into the Superman problem: once everybody is at a power level to shrug stuff like that off, the only way to advance the story is by continuing to stack more and more ridiculousness and power onto the situation. That might be fun the first few times, but -for me- it starts to have diminishing returns.
I think you made it to "coherent" at the end here. Congrats!

So what you're saying is that you'd like to run a professional wrestling RPG in a medieval-low-fantasy setting? :geek:

Since you mentioned D&D again, out here on page 4 after so many other games have been proffered, I'd say you have a slight addiction. I recommend hiding the books, watching five back-to-back episodes of the Dark Crystal (AoR) on Netflix, and then decide what you want more: to watch the remaining five episodes, or open your D&D books again. If you choose Dark Crystal, there is hope for you!
 

Aldarc

Hero
Reading through some of the discussion of the thread, I get the feeling that people are talking past each other regarding the meaning of terms. It seems that are multiple gradients of a setting that are getting conflated: low/high fantasy with low/high magic. I don't necessarily think that these things are necessarily synonymous.
 

Johnny3D3D

Adventurer
I think you made it to "coherent" at the end here. Congrats!

So what you're saying is that you'd like to run a professional wrestling RPG in a medieval-low-fantasy setting? :geek:

Since you mentioned D&D again, out here on page 4 after so many other games have been proffered, I'd say you have a slight addiction. I recommend hiding the books, watching five back-to-back episodes of the Dark Crystal (AoR) on Netflix, and then decide what you want more: to watch the remaining five episodes, or open your D&D books again. If you choose Dark Crystal, there is hope for you!

I only mentioned it to address more-recent comments which had mentioned it.

I would likely not pick Dark Crystal, but that's because I've already watched all of the available episodes. I might fire up a new game of Mount & Blade though; I'm anxiously awaiting the newer game.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
I would likely not pick Dark Crystal, but that's because I've already watched all of the available episodes. I might fire up a new game of Mount & Blade though; I'm anxiously awaiting the newer game.
Me too, but I need to watch them again!

Dark Crystal's a good palette cleanser from D&D because it's low magic (the Skeksis, who look like lizard-illithid, use iron weapons instead of spells for Pete's sake) and you can't find any of the given races in a Monster Manual.

Game of Thrones might be a better choice, since someone designed a game for it, and it's thoroughly low-fantasy. Until the horde of undead show up.

Mount & Blade looks like a good choice as well!
 
It’s simple to make d&d more medieval... don’t have court magicians.
There were court magicians in medieval Europe, mostly astrologers and other kinds of diviner.

Within courtly society itself, diviners seem to have been very much in demand... we know there were often astrologers at court, and they gained special popularity there in the twelfth century.
- Magic in the Middle Ages (1989) Richard Kieckhefer​
 

Anoth

Adventurer
There were court magicians in medieval Europe, mostly astrologers and other kinds of diviner.

Within courtly society itself, diviners seem to have been very much in demand... we know there were often astrologers at court, and they gained special popularity there in the twelfth century.​
- Magic in the Middle Ages (1989) Richard Kieckhefer​
very good point. And something to take into consideration. They also weren’t throwing fireballs and teleporting all over creation that I know of. They may have just been someone with the 2E proficiency in astrology. But thanks for the reference. That will be the next book I order. Greatly appreciated.
 
~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.
Since you mentioned it, why not GURPS Fantasy? Maybe crossed with High Tech?

RuneQuest always struck me as fairly 'low fantasy' in the sense you're using, too - but, though it doesn't have levels, per se, I only ever played at the equivalent of low level. At 'Rune' levels it might be more high-fantasy.

D&D - including PF, 13A, &c - is obviously right out.

hmm.... while it's more cinematic, 7th Sea might not be entirely off base.
 

Anoth

Adventurer
Since you mentioned it, why not GURPS Fantasy? Maybe crossed with High Tech?

RuneQuest always struck me as fairly 'low fantasy' in the sense you're using, too - but, though it doesn't have levels, per se, I only ever played at the equivalent of low level. At 'Rune' levels it might be more high-fantasy.

D&D - including PF, 13A, &c - is obviously right out.

hmm.... while it's more cinematic, 7th Sea might not be entirely off base.
runequest can get way complicated if you let it. And the spells and armor rules real get clunky any interesting. Much prefer playing COC. But i still steal ideas from runequest and it’s relatives.
 
@Anoth I should add that magic was also popular amongst the common people, I think in much the same way alternative medicine, palmistry, spirit mediums, and astrology are popular today (but even more so). It blended with Christianity. Spells made use of Bible passages or invoked God, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, etc. Consecrated communion wafers were believed to have magical powers, and were sometimes stolen for this purpose.

We find various types of people involved in diverse magical activities: monks, parish priests, physicians, surgeon-barbers, midwives, folk healers and diviners with no formal training, and even ordinary women and men who, without claiming special knowledge or competence, used whatever magic they happened to know
- Kieckhefer, as above​
 

DeanP

Explorer
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?
Forbidden Lands.
 

pemerton

Legend
part of my "problem" with trying to do this style with D&D/d20 often boils down to how (for a lack of better words) the "world math" of the games work.

<snip>

At the same time, it's a bit anticlimactic when scenes such as castle sieges or ship battles are regularly so easily short-circuited by readily available resources and built-in assumptions of how the game is designed.
Have you considered running a system which is "fiction first" rather than "mechanics first"?

By that, I mean a system where the mechanics establish success or failure, but what this means in the fiction is much more about how the GM has framed things, and how the GM and players have established what is at stake in resolution, rather than (wargame-style) reading a fictional result of a numerical outcome of the resolution process. Or in other words, roughly the opposite of GURPS!

There are a lot of systems like this. Dungeon World is one, and it isn't quite low fantasy, but it might be low enough for your purposes. And there's plenty of good advice (on this board and elsewhere) for helping to run it.
 

Johnny3D3D

Adventurer
Have you considered running a system which is "fiction first" rather than "mechanics first"?

By that, I mean a system where the mechanics establish success or failure, but what this means in the fiction is much more about how the GM has framed things, and how the GM and players have established what is at stake in resolution, rather than (wargame-style) reading a fictional result of a numerical outcome of the resolution process. Or in other words, roughly the opposite of GURPS!

There are a lot of systems like this. Dungeon World is one, and it isn't quite low fantasy, but it might be low enough for your purposes. And there's plenty of good advice (on this board and elsewhere) for helping to run it.
I have.

I find that (for me) I think the two go hand-in-hand. I'm somebody for whom the mechanics and narrative have a relationship.

That being said, the narrative approach of Edge of The Empire is something I highly enjoyed (and I have liberally borrowed some of the game's concepts when running GURPS). I'm aware that Genysis is derived from EoTE, but haven't heard much concerning how well it works for what I have in mind.
 

TheSword

Explorer
I have tried Adventures in Middle Earth and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4e.

I enjoyed both and they capture what I would consider low fantasy. Magic and magic items are rare and martial classes dominate.
 

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