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OSR Low Fantasy Gaming Offers A Delicious Blend of Different D&D Editions

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Between retroclones, OSR-inspired games, used copies, PDF copies of earlier D&D editions and the wildly successful 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons, there are a lot of options for players who want to kick down some doors and slay some monsters. There is one option that brings together some of the best ideas in this class for a game that feels well-executed and has a taste of its own despite having elements recognizable from various editions of D&D. Low Fantasy Gaming from Pickpocket Press sent along some books in the line to me and they won me over to this positive review.

Making a character starts out in a familiar space by choosing a class and filling out the usual paperwork. The classes offer an old school sensibility; neither the bard or the ranger have spells and the magic-user is broadly named to allow players to choose how and where they get their magic.

Looking through the class features reveals the first interesting choice by designer Stephen J. Grodzicki. Each class offers a unique feature at 3rd, 6th, 9th and 12th level. The game explicitly calls out the idea that players should be allowed to create their own class features in these slots while also offering choices at the end of the chapter for those players who don’t want to unleash their inner Gygax. It puts the game in an interesting space between the set and forget it of Fifth Edition classes after 3rd edition and the customizable space that Pathfinder claims.

In play, the game hews to an OSR take of ability checks rolling low and attack checks rolling high. This is one of the few elements I found jarring, but my preferences lean toward unified dice mechanics in design. Skills and combat abilities come from a Reroll pool. Rather than worry about bonuses and penalties to rolls from luck, the game offers a small amount of rerolls (one per level) that players can spend to make sure they do something. I like this as a slightly different take on inspiration from Fifth Edition. It flows from character choices and offers the same feeling of a character being better at something that they should be without it being a sure thing.

Luck as an attribute plays into the game as well. Players who want to pull off flashy stunts in game, like aim for the dragon’s eye or jump in front of a poisoned arrow trap for a friend, can roll under their Luck score to do so. Success means they’ve pulled it off, but their Luck ticks down by one. This variation on the Deeds die from Dungeon Crawl Classics is a fast way to handle all the crazy actions players try to pull in a combat beyond just grinding down hit points.

Low Fantasy Gaming’s slogan is “Less Magic, More Grit” and while that is true, this game isn’t set up to be an old school slog where magic users hang onto their spells like railings in a rainstorm. Spell casters have the opportunity to regain spell slots during short rests, but without the reliable cantrips of 5th edition that never go away. But they also accrue Dark & Dangerous Magic points which, if triggered, can cause all sorts of problems. Yep, the magic users in this game are all chaos mages who might blow up on their next spell. Cultists, the game’s answer to clerics and warlocks, have their own issues to worry about. They gain favour by following the tenets of their god and can spend those points to cast their miracles. If they don’t have the points, they can still roll, but run the risk of a Divine Rebuke and a roll on a different chaos effect table. Psions, available in the Companion book, have their own bad mojo table. This process gives magic a dangerous feel that’s not quite as bad as “eventually you will be corrupt and evil” but still should make the party tense up when the mage says “I cast…”

Once the players have collected the scrapes and knocks of a day’s adventuring, it’s time to rest. It’s here that Low Fantasy Gaming makes things a bit more challenging and interesting as well. There’s the normal division into short rests and long rests. Short rests, however, are not a sure thing. It can be difficult to get comfortable taking a knee in a dungeon. Will checks allow the player to recover hit points, class abilities and rerolls.

Long rests clear everything up, of course, but they live up to the name. They can last anywhere from a day to a week depending on the circumstances and the GM’s read on a situation. The length of the rests should give players pause on whether it's worth it to push forward into the dungeon or pack it up and head back to town to resupply and rest up. Luckily, the game encourages those long rests to take place while players are doing all the stuff not about snooping around in a dungeon like hitting taverns for rumors or training up to the next level. The Low Fantasy Gaming Companion has a lot of examples of downtime. Not every GM will care about tracking the days until players are at 100% again, but the activities included in this books should give them plenty of ideas on how to keep players involved in storylines even if they aren’t ready to jump back into the dungeon.

Low Fantasy Gaming offers a flexible rules system for fans of d20 fantasy with space for customization both on and off the table. You don’t have to just take my word for it; they have a free edition that offers much of the game to sample.
 
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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland

Mannahnin

Adventurer
I downloaded and read most of the way through this earlier this year; I've adopted the miscast chart as one of the charts I use for my current Five Torches Deep game, and it's the coolest and most flavorful of the four charts I'm using.

I definitely have an eye toward playing this rules set itself at some point.
 
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Ringtail

World Traveller
I really like Low-Fantasy Gaming but I feel like it's been sidelined by stuff like Five Torches Deep and other OSR Hybrids. I like the rules for falling unconscious, as it feels more serious, like a proper OSR game, but isn't instant death like most original D&D clones.
 




jayoungr

Legend
Supporter
Luck as an attribute plays into the game as well. Players who want to pull off flashy stunts in game, like aim for the dragon’s eye or jump in front of a poisoned arrow trap for a friend, can roll under their Luck score to do so. Success means they’ve pulled it off, but their Luck ticks down by one. This variation on the Deeds die from Dungeon Crawl Classics is a fast way to handle all the crazy actions players try to pull in a combat beyond just grinding down hit points.
So I'm curious ... can someone explain this to me from a game design perspective? I can get that you want to give players a limited number of times to attempt crazy stunts, but what's the intended effect of making it harder and harder for them to pull off such stunts as the game progresses? What experience is that intended to create? Because it seems to me that you ideally want the big stuff to come at the climax of the adventure, not the beginning.
 

Mannahnin

Adventurer
Jay, I think the concept is of "pushing your luck". That the player chooses when to use it, so the more they expend early, the shorter their luck will run by the end.
 


Psikerlord#

Explorer
So I'm curious ... can someone explain this to me from a game design perspective? I can get that you want to give players a limited number of times to attempt crazy stunts, but what's the intended effect of making it harder and harder for them to pull off such stunts as the game progresses? What experience is that intended to create? Because it seems to me that you ideally want the big stuff to come at the climax of the adventure, not the beginning.
From the book:
Designer’s Thoughts
Although hit points, spells and other abilities tend to replenish regularly, relying on Luck gets riskier the longer an adventure goes on. Diminishing Luck is intended to serve several purposes. Firstly, players must make choices about when to use their Luck. Secondly, it ratchets up the danger as the adventure progresses. Thirdly, in conjunction with short rests (p.81) and random encounters, it incentivizes pressing on with an adventure rather than looking for a place to camp.
 


Jiggawatts

Explorer
This sounds interesting, I might have to check it out, it sounds kind of like a 1E/5E hybrid with some DCC thrown in. That mix intrigues me.

As a sidenote, can we please get a 2E retroclone, I would love a properly done new coat of paint on 2E and its feel. The only one that came close was the ill fated Myth & Magic.
 

jayoungr

Legend
Supporter
Although hit points, spells and other abilities tend to replenish regularly, relying on Luck gets riskier the longer an adventure goes on. Diminishing Luck is intended to serve several purposes. Firstly, players must make choices about when to use their Luck. Secondly, it ratchets up the danger as the adventure progresses. Thirdly, in conjunction with short rests (p.81) and random encounters, it incentivizes pressing on with an adventure rather than looking for a place to camp.
So, I'm prepared to concede that this is just a difference in playstyles, so please don't take this as any kind of slight on what other people like, but ... can someone explain to me why this is fun for you?

Personally, I absolutely hate games that have mechanics where the moment you use them, you're automatically weaker, and there's no way to get them back. All it does is stress me out. I don't enjoy it.

But this kind of mechanic is common enough that there must be people for whom it actually enhances the game, so could someone who does enjoy it as a player explain to me what you get out of that experience? Assume I'm clueless, because when it comes to this, I really am.

The designer's goals make no sense to me. First, limiting the amount of luck already forces players to make choices about when to use it, without adding the part about how it becomes weaker as you go. Second, why do you want to make the adventure artificially more dangerous as you go along? Do you not trust the DM to be able to escalate the tension? Is it a goal to have adventurers fail? Does the designer think people won't enjoy their victories unless they feel like the deck was stacked against them? As for the third reason, I once again don't see how reducing the effectiveness of luck works better for that than simply limiting the total quantity.
 
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Stacie GmrGrl

Adventurer
This sounds interesting, I might have to check it out, it sounds kind of like a 1E/5E hybrid with some DCC thrown in. That mix intrigues me.

As a sidenote, can we please get a 2E retroclone, I would love a properly done new coat of paint on 2E and its feel. The only one that came close was the ill fated Myth & Magic.
Idk if it's a AD&D2e clone but I think Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea could be one with the fantasy of the game inspired from Conan, Weird Tales, Clark Ashton Smith, and even some H.P. Lovecraft instead of Tolkien.
 

Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
Idk if it's a AD&D2e clone but I think Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea could be one with the fantasy of the game inspired from Conan, Weird Tales, Clark Ashton Smith, and even some H.P. Lovecraft instead of Tolkien.
ASSH is one of my favorite RPGs ever, and systems that use "subclasses" can learn a lot from its design.

But it bears no resemblance to AD&D2e whatsoever beyond the same very basic mechanics that allow all retroclones to exist.
 
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Dr. Bull

Explorer
This sounds interesting, I might have to check it out, it sounds kind of like a 1E/5E hybrid with some DCC thrown in. That mix intrigues me.

As a sidenote, can we please get a 2E retroclone, I would love a properly done new coat of paint on 2E and its feel. The only one that came close was the ill fated Myth & Magic.
Dear Jiggawatts:

I think that Swords and Wizardry fits that bill quite nicely, but I bet that you are looking for the 2e proficiency elements and THACO? In that regard, S&W is more of a 1e or 0e clone.

The DM's Guild has reprints of 2e available... The quality is quite good.

You probably knew all this already.

- Dr. Bull
 

Jiggawatts

Explorer
Dear Jiggawatts:

I think that Swords and Wizardry fits that bill quite nicely, but I bet that you are looking for the 2e proficiency elements and THACO? In that regard, S&W is more of a 1e or 0e clone.

The DM's Guild has reprints of 2e available... The quality is quite good.

You probably knew all this already.

- Dr. Bull
Thank you for your reply, but you were indeed correct in your assertation. S&W, like 80% of retroclones is a Basic D&D clone. And should I wish to play actual 2E I can pull the books off my shelf. No I what I want doesn't exist sadly, Myth & Magic could have been it but its creator flaked hard and absconded with much of the Kickstarter money. Cest la vie, perhaps one day such a new product line will exist.
 

R_Chance

Adventurer
Thank you for your reply, but you were indeed correct in your assertation. S&W, like 80% of retroclones is a Basic D&D clone. And should I wish to play actual 2E I can pull the books off my shelf. No I what I want doesn't exist sadly, Myth & Magic could have been it but its creator flaked hard and absconded with much of the Kickstarter money. Cest la vie, perhaps one day such a new product line will exist.
I'm curious, what part of 2E do you miss? Most people saw it as a continuation of 1E with a couple of fixes and a dose of political correctness. Oh, and higher level limits for demi-humans and arguably worse art in the core books. I played it after 1E (kept the Assassin, didn't rename Demons, etc.) and didn't find any really significant differences. Is this just my memory? Did I miss something big? It has been quite a while... and you have me worried . Is senility setting in early for me? Well ,a bit early :D

edit Or did you just want to continue that trajectory of fixes / minor changes to the basic AD&D system?
 

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