Tuesday, December 27, 2022

What Would It Take?

I had a wonderful holiday weekend, spending quality time with my Mom (eating The BEST Dim Sum in all of New York's Chinatown) and got to see some of my old Art & Design High School buddies (whom long time readers of the blog will know from many of my Champions, Ghostbusters, and Star Trek posts).

Not only that but I found out I somehow missed an announcement I've literally been checking for every week for a while now...my favorite Manga, Dungeon Meshi, is finally going to be made into an Anime series and by none other than the amazing Studio Trigger! 

DUNGEON MESHI (aka Delicious in Dungeon)
The Animated Series!


This news, combined with a conversation with my friend David, and some thoughts I have and initially ignored last week have lead me to ask myself a question...

What would it take for me to run a Medieval Fantasy game for my Sunday group?

No, no, I'm feeling fine. Thank you for your concern. No, I haven't been replaced by a Parallel Earth Doppleganger or been infected with Mind Control Parasites. I'm just wondering and asking a question here. What would I need to do and/or have in order to run a game of Dungeons and Dragons-esque Fantasy on a weekly basis for three players? 

It is quite the quandary. 

It's no secret that the Fantasy genre, especially of a D&D bent, is not really my thing. I actively dislike the kind of RPGs that are usually used to portray the genre as well; clunky things with Classes, Levels, and lots of crunch that rarely fits the setting and takes away any sense or feeling of magic. Still...

What if it wasn't like that? What if I ran a different sort of Medieval Fantasy with a different set of rules? Now I've technically already done that with my homebrew world of Aerth and The Order of The Winghorn Guard. There I am usually running a Fantasy game with the structure of a Superhero RPG, just applied to a High Fantasy setting. Here I want to run something more 'traditional'. Kinda. Sort of.

The conundrum in this instance could be looked at as, "How can I come as close as possible to running D&D, while making sure I am absolutely not running D&D?" Like a Medieval Fantasy RPG game of Blackjack. Somehow I need to get as close as I can to 21 without over. 

So what is it I want and need? Hmmm... 

  • A Medieval Fantasy world that feels like it takes place in another place and time. 
  • I need an Open World where the players/PCs can go where they want and do what they want.
  • At the same time, I need people for them to meet, things for them to do, monsters for them to slay, etc. These guys don't self-motivate that often. 
  • Player Characters should each has their own specialty but also everyone should have the basic skills needed to be Medieval Fantasy adventurers.*
  • I want an interesting Magic System. Magic should be uncommon, powerful, dangerous, but also cinematic in an Anime/Manga sort of way. 
  • I need scary, mythic/folklore monsters, not piles of hit points and predictable abilities.**
  • I want dungeons but only if I can do something really interesting and different with them
  • I'd like day-in-the-life moments where not every second is an 'adventure'. 
  • I'd also like fast paced, exciting, dynamic, kinetic, and possibly brutal, in-your-face combat; not a take-our-time, large scale military tactical approach to a small group suddenly fighting another small group. That never made sense or felt right to me.***

*I've discussed this before. The idea is that every D&D character should start out as an 'Adventurer', a kind of Fighter/Thief hybrid. That way they have the basic skills needed to be a D&D character. Add any additional, more specialized skills or talents on top of that.

**This shouldn't be difficult. My monsters rarely feel like traditional Fantasy RPG monsters.

***As The Real John Wick recently noted in one of his Youtube videoes (paraphrasing), 'It feels like the people who design most RPG combat rules have never actually been in a fight.'

Inspired by my good friend Tim Knight from Heropress who was in turn inspired by me...so...inspired by myself?, here is my 'Inspiration Board' for this campaign at this time...

Although a bit of Mörk Borg and Elden Ring are creeping in at the corners of my mind's eye.

I am sure there is a lot more I could add but these are my initial thoughts. That thing is, so far I've searched around quite a bit and I have a 45 year history in the hobby. No game seems to exist in the Medieval Fantasy genre that does what I want in the want that I want it except for Ars Magica and I am trying to run something different from that, something new (new to me or to the group).

Comments and thoughts are always welcome.

Barking Alien


  1. Thank you for the nod there ;-) Surely Mork Borg is too dark and death metal for your style? Also the characters seem as fragile as Paranoia clones.

    Seeing Ryuutama (a more different game than Mork Bork I couldn't imagine) on your mood board makes me very happy. I loved reading those rules (right up until the combat section, that is), with their beautiful emphasis on the importance of dealing with travel, seasons, culture etc

    I would also stress that these days a "Dungeons & Dragons" world is not a "Medieval fantasy world". D&D has become its own thing, way overpowered (IMHO) compared to ye olden days and the games original swords-and-sorcery roots.

    It also only really pays lip service to the whole "pseudoMedieval" ethos, resembling more a Marvel movie or a video game where 99 per cent of the world's inhabitants have access to magic.

    1. Mork Borg is most definitely too dark for my usual tastes but I am considering options outside my comfort zone. It isn't really about running Mork Borg but adding a sense of tragic grimness to an otherwise 'classic' D&D type setting in order to give it a distinct flavor that is different from my past efforts.

      True, D&D isn't actually Medieval, which has always been one of my many issues with it. It isn't thematically Middle Ages enough to have a historic feel but not fantastic enough to be a completely wild, psychedelic experience. It is by default neither realistic enough nor wonderous enough to inspire me.

      *Sigh* The more I think about this the more I'm wondering if I am chasing the Questing Beast and a Barking Alien classic Fantasy campaign is more than illusive, it is unobtainable.

  2. The One Ring deserves mention. I think it fulfills almost everything in your list, particularly in the open world and folklore monsters side (when you go past the orcs and trolls, you enter unknown territory). Combat is also quite fast and dangerous, although it relies on the GM not taking some terms too literally. All in all, my favorite fantasy game.

    Of course, it does not have a magic system at all, so it may be missing a key element.

    1. Does One Ring stand on its own without the Tolkien mythology? From everything I've heard its a very 'Lord of The Rings' game and I am not trying to emulate Lord of the Rings per se. The Magic, or lack there of as the case may be, is a good example of this.

      I admit to not having really looked into it however, giving its very first edition only a passing glance. Perhaps I have been missing something.

    2. I think it can work very well if your game features two things from LOTR: spiritual corruption as a tangible force and lots of travels. I think you can actually improve it by setting it somewhere more populated that Middle Earth. You may have to homebrew or reskin cultures and creatures, but, as Tolkien tends to be the baseline for much of modern fantasy, it isn't entirely necessary. There are "magical" abilities (being supernaturally good at some things, speaking to birds, etc), but there are no spells.

      The setting material, at least for first edition was very much "The Hobbit" and less "War of the Ring", more children's tale that epic saga, if that serves you.