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.