First, to clarify: this is about Low Fantasy Gaming from Pickpocket Press, not low fantasy gaming as a concept, although a search for one led me to the other. I prefer low fantasy as an aesthetic; I adore Low Fantasy Gaming as a system.
I’ve been playing tabletop role playing games since I saw a flyer advertising Dungeons & Dragons on the bulletin board at the Pikes Peak Library in Colorado Springs in 1981. I showed up on a Saturday afternoon and a college kid slapped a piece of notebook paper down in front of me, started writing “STR, INT, WIS…” and baby, I was hooked.
My friends and I were fiends for role playing games – AD&D especially, but plenty of others. We’d run through various modules and maps and adventures – and in those pre-internet days, I’m sure we did almost everything wrong. One thing we didn’t do – much to my everlasting regret – was play a real campaign. Sure, we used the same characters over and over, and we’d level them up and fight bigger monsters, but that’s as far as it went. Nothing tied it all together. About the same time I came to understand that a richer experience was possible – well, I got a car and a girlfriend and I drifted away from the hobby for a very long time.
I dipped a toe back in every now and then – played in a Traveller game after being invited to join by some dude in a coffeeshop reading the Little Black Books. Didn’t last long. The third edition of D&D got released (I hadn’t even known there was a second edition), and I played a couple of sessions with a group at work. That fizzled. I tried to run Call of Cthulhu but that got derailed, too. Ditto Shadowrun. Nothing would stick.
I took a real run at returning to the hobby when my two sons were getting close to the age I’d been back in Colorado Springs and I thought they were a little too screen-obsessed. Everyone recommended Pathfinder, so we gave that a shot. They liked it okay1, but it left me unsatisfied. It wasn’t the same experience somehow. Too much like a video game; not enough like a book.
I truly wanted to get back into gaming. But after so many false starts, I was frustrated. What I wanted was the kind of campaign I kept reading about online: sprawling, years-long, complete, played by a committed group of friends who wanted to play as much as the GM wanted to run.
Then: COVID. Like everyone else, I found myself confined to quarters with nothing to do. I got invited by some guys I know to play in a fifth(!) edition D&D campaign. Of course I jumped at the chance. And of course it was not at all like the game I remembered. Everybody was some weird creature and there was magic stuff everywhere. Characters were superheroes and adventures were on a rail.
But that dissatisfaction was the catalyst I needed to Google “low fantasy role playing game.” The rest, as they say…
I found Low Fantasy Gaming, written by Stephen J. Grodzicki and buddy, that was it. I assembled some friends, bought Foundry, and pitched the game. Three sessions in, we’d already had two character deaths and everyone was hooked. Almost two years later, and that campaign is still going strong. This game – this system – this gaming philosophy – finally gave me that elusive experience I’d been chasing: an epic, enduring, complex campaign that unfolds around characters the players love in a world that constantly reveals new mysteries.
My players are a factor, of course. I got lucky with my group and their enthusiasm keeps everything moving. Tools like Foundry and LegendKeeper help for sure. But LFG gets most of the credit. The game itself just provides so many tools to build and nurture the campaign. It’s got modern mechanics but old school sensibility, which means random tables, published settings, adventure frameworks, and other stuff that encourages open-ended, unscripted, sandbox play. This game has given me the vocabulary I need to talk about games – surely old hat for those who didn’t fall away from the hobby like I did – but critical nonetheless.
Other, smarter people have written about the fundamentals of the system – where it’s d20 over and where it’s d20 under and the amazing luck mechanic and the martial exploits and Dark and Dangerous Magic and all of it. It all contributes to making the game sticky – my players keep coming back and they keep wanting more – but I’m not here for the nuts and bolts. I’m here to praise something more fundamental – this game’s ability to deliver on a promise – dare I say a campaign promise – made 40 years ago in the function room of a library on a Saturday afternoon.
1One son had no interest whatsoever, but the other has become a pretty hardcore tabletop role player himself: Shadowrun, D&D 5e, Monster of the Week, Death in Space…that’s m’boy!