Low Fantasy - Best Systems?

Doug McCrae

Legend
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​
 

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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.
 

Tony Vargas

Legend
~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.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
@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.
 

Argyle King

Legend
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

Legend
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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