Tuesday, August 18, 2015

RPGaDay Challenge 2015 - Day 17 (Belated)


What kind of question is that to ask Adam 'Barking Alien' Dickstein?

"Hey, of the foods you find unpalatable, which one do you like the best? If you could be poisoned by any venomous insect, which one would you most like to get bitten, or stung by?"

Bleh. Fantasy RPGs.

OK, ok, let me pull it back a notch. I've got my Snark Meter turned up pretty high this month, don't I? My apologies. I don't hate Fantasy as a subject as much as I sometimes make it seem. It's not my preferred genre is all. I do like a certain kind of Fantasy, but I rarely find games that cover the subject the way I want it to be approached.

Fantasy RPGs though, I do not tend to like them.

Let me clarify. Anyone who's been reading this blog regularly, or even somewhat irregularly, knows that I don't much care for D&D/Pathfinder style Fantasy. This means, I don't care for those games that are in the same category. What category is that? Whatever one contains all those Sword and Sorcery meets Weird Fantasy meets mock-Medieval Fantasy that is typified by D&D.

The vast field of Fantasy RPGs contains a lot of games that have the same mindset when it comes to the genre. The majority tend to be too complicated, too technical, and do nothing to create, or instill a sense of wonder, and magic. As a matter of fact, many feel like they're going for a scientific approach. They strive for a 'realistic simulation' of what combat, trade, and such were like in the Medieval era of Eastern Europe. Complete with a dozen intelligent species, spells, and wizardry, magical treasures, and of course, numerous, ferocious monsters. Because, you know, 'realism'.

Now D&D itself doesn't do that as much, far more focused on a sort of abstraction of how things work. Unfortunately, at least for me, the abstraction creates a huge disconnect between the genre, and the rules.

Elves are long lived, and magical, but possess no magical abilities, and PC Elves have no more knowledge, or experience then any other character.

Wizards can't use swords because, um, reasons. Meanwhile the archetypal mages, Gandalf, and Merlin, both used swords. So, huh?

My favorite Fantasy RPG would be the one that doesn't pretend it's something it isn't. If it's going to be Medieval European Fantasy, it should be that. No Elves, no dwarves running around, at least not where they can be viewed by prying, and judgmental eyes of man.

Magic may be studied as a science, but it is not truly understood, nor can it be completely mastered.

Monsters are what you tell children about to get them to behave, or to entertain them. Beasts on the other hand are real, and they roam the untamed parts of the land, which is most of it. The wolf knows the way through the woods, but his price may be high. Still, if he gives his word he keeps it. Hunt not the stag in evening, the last you've seen of the day, for he is the guardian of the green places. If he dies, if you killed him, things will not bode well for you. The sea serpent is not more, or less real than these, or the fish, just less often seen.

The game that does this, and has rules to match this atmosphere, that is my favorite Fantasy RPG.

Ars Magica is, for me, the perfect Medieval Fantasy RPG, as it not only accomplishes what I need it to as far as atmosphere, and mechanics, but it also enables you to easily create interesting characters, and has the cool 'troupe play' aspect where you play multiple PCs in different positions for different adventures. I also love that it's a Medieval European Fantasy game set in Medieval Europe. WOW! What a concept!

No, no, please, let's go back to having a million different, far off worlds that could be anything at all, but instead all freaking look just like 12th century England, and Germany. That's much better than actually being in 12th century England, or Germany. Never understood the appeal.

The next runner up to Ars Magica would have to be Pendragon for very similar reasons, especially how the mechanics actually work with, and are reflective of the subject matter.

After that, probably Faery's Tale Deluxe. Simple, easy, no fuss, no muss, but brilliantly playable.

There you go. Next up, 'Favorite Type of Wood to Get a Splinter From' I assume.

Barking Alien


  1. With unashamed chauvinism, I can direct you to Aquelarre, a long-lived Spanish RPG (the first one, actually) which supposedly will be translated into English soon. It is set in a 14th-15th Century Spain where folklore is real: legends, monsters, sorcery and, of course, Hell and Heaven all exist. It is often described as "Call of Cthulhu in the Middle Ages" because it uses the BRP system as a basis and because of the low life expectancy of the characters, specially when facing the supernatural. While it focuses on the "dirty" side of medieval life, it is interesting that magic and monsters are often ruled by traditional beliefs, so you may need the "tears for a loved one" as an ingredient for a spell, for example.

    Truth is folks around here seem very interested in gritty realism and historical settings, or are least those who do are very outspoken.

    Aquelarre (which means "(Witches') Sabbat") is not my cup of tea, and I don't think it would be yours, either, but it demostrates that there are medieval fantasy games over there that are closer to what you want.

    PD: Now I think I have written about this before...