Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Low-fantasy Gaming

I'm in the middle of writing another book, so I've been really preoccupied.  However, I'm stopping everything for a quick moment to write a review for a role-playing game.  Yep – that’s right: a role-playing game.   

It’s called Low-fantasy Gaming (LFG).  I'm not a game designer; I don't know all the eccentricities and math that goes into making a game.  What I do know is if it's fun to play, which is completely subjective, at best.  For the super pros out there: it’s a standard D20 and very similar to an OSR system.

Some things to keep in mind:

1. There might be some rambling involved.
2. I’m not proofreading this.
3. I like low-fantasy.
4. I don't want to flip through a mountain of books or be a role-playing constitutional lawyer in order to play.
5. I like freedom in my game.
6. The game and its modules don't force me to choose between buying them and feeding my family.

I should also disclose that I emailed the game designer, Stephen J. Grodzicki, telling him I enjoyed his game and that it was apparent he put a great amount effort and passion into it.  He asked if I would write a review, if I had time.  I understand this all too well.  Indie artists have a lot of trouble with exposure.  There is so much stuff out there, be it books, games, blogs, and on and on that a small gem can get lost in a pile of dirt clogs.  It happens all the time.  This is why I'm forcing myself to stop what I'm doing, let this cup of coffee get cold, and write this review.

Why low-fantasy?

I don't mind high fantasy, but it can get somewhat ridiculous at times.  I know a good game master can make any setting a fun environment - no need to post that comment.  To me, a long high fantasy campaign can sometimes feel like this:

  • Every 1000 acres there's a castle or liar with an evil necromancer set on enslaving the world.
  • Every other village is suffering from werewolf attacks, cultists, a troll, or a bandit king.
  • Taverns are full of elves, orcs, dwarves, humans, gnomes, halfings, half-orcs, half-elves, half-gnomes, and my personal favorite: half-halfings.  Now, the other half of these halves can be elves, orcs, dwarves, humans, gnomes, or halflings.  Then, there's the half-halves.  I don’t even want to get into it.
  • Every barkeep has rats in their cellar.
  •  Elves are pretentious, know-it-alls jerks.
  •  Dwarves are shrunken, hot-tempered Vikings.
  • Humans are all orphans that probably are somehow of royal blood and destined to do great things.  You are the chosen one!
  •  Orcs are either horribly bad OR just misunderstood.

I could go on, but you get the idea.  I know the above is WAY to the extreme, but sometimes that's how I see it.

In low-fantasy, when a village is being assaulted nightly by a hungry troll, the players don't have to ask which village.  It's generally known, just like the Grendel's attacks were legendary across the kingdom.  Some thought it was just a story, until Beowulf killed it.  Dun, Dun, Duuunnn!  Conversely, when there are 25 different necromancers in 25 different counties trying to take over the world, suddenly your quest doesn't seem so special. 

"Hey guys, where are you and your small warband heading?"
"We're off to stop a necromancer from dominating the world and unleashing a horde of demons."
"Hmmm, the necromancer in Alamance county, down from Haven Crest village?"
"What?  No, the necromancer just past the village in Raven Valley."
"Oh, Gotcha.  I see.  Good luck to you.  We're off to the stop the necromancer in Onslow county.”
“Wait a sec, hold on, be careful if you stop in Rhuneshire village.  There's a werewolf ... and what else ... oh, oh, cultists.  There's cultists."

This is why low-fantasy is so appealing to me, if done correctly.  LFG doesn't have a specific world, but it does have rules that rein in the world enough to keep it low-fantasy.  The predominate race is human and the author suggests sticking with humans.  However, he does give stats for dwarves and elves with the caveat that, if you play one of these races, the player should keep in mind that they are very rare and that most humans have probably never seen one.

The classes are barbarian, bard, fighter, and magic-user.  What? A magic class in a low-fantasy setting?  How does this make sense if there's tons of magic-users running around?  LFG gives a penalty every time a player uses any type of magic.  In the system, magic is inherently bad.  I like this approach.  Magic has the same context in my novels.  It’s not meant to be used and all magic springs forth from evil forces.  So, if you want to be a magic-user in LFG, you will be rolling on what Stephen Grodzicki has labeled the Dark & Dangerous Magic Table - nothing good comes that table.

The Game Book

The entire game is in one book.  You can download the PDF for free here or buy a printed version, which is very cheap.  I bought the print version for under $10 (including shipping).  The book is setup nicely and has an old-school feel to it.  There’s the standard What is a Role-playing Game section and one that explains dice.  There is a monster section that covers most everything you will need in any adventure (yes, even trolls and necromancers).

The best part of the book are the tables that he has put together.  There are encounter tables for every setting, treasure tables, magic item tables (which should be rare), and dungeon generating tables.  The cool part is that he doesn’t just write in plain text the encounter or square footage of the dungeon rooms.  Instead, he describes them like a game master would.  I really think these tables would make this system a great candidate for solo game playing with the Mythic GM Emulator, SoloRPG.com, or any other system of your choice.


One of the criticisms I’ve read online is the new ability granted at 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th level.  Basically, you get to create the ability yourself, so long as it’s not game-breaking.  I guess this seems like too much work for some people and I totally get that.  For me, I don’t mind because this gives me the freedom to hone the character exactly like I want him to be.  If you have trouble thinking of something, the book even suggests to check out other systems you might already have and borrow an ability from it.  Odds are, if you have one game system, you probably have another.  This rule works for me because I love the freedom of it.  Again, I understand how some game masters might hate it because they have to keep track of all these new abilities (or the player can just remind them, but whatever).


Like I mention above, you can’t beat the price.  If you find another game system cheaper than FREE, good for you.  Stephen Grodzicki has even made some adventure modules, which I believe are around $1.00.  C’mon … $1.00!

So there it is!  My take on the Low-fantasy Gaming system.  It’s really worth a look, even if you’re a super pro that chucks dice better than a bad guy in a Jim Croce song.

Ok, back to writing …

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