|Cover to the Low Fantast Gaming|
Companion; Art by Andreas Rocha
©️ 2019 Pickpocket Press
System: Low Fantasy Gaming
The Low Fantasy Gaming Companion is a source book for Low Fantasy Gaming. It is designed to be played with a baseline of the game, and doesn't include much in the way of new options for the expanded classes from the Deluxe Edition like a monk or artificer. It does, however, include references and material from The Midlands Campaign Setting. Although, it does so in a way that is not intrusive and easy to work around. The Companion is designed to offer a range of optional rules for tweaking your campaign, and additional rules to keep the campaign moving after characters have reached high level.
The first section of the book is a huge menu of downtime activities. It includes rules for making magic items, brewing potions, running a business, purchasing items on the black market, carousing, doing research, making and working contacts, hiring henchmen and hirelings, training to gain levels, learning new languages, gambling, or practicing a trade. It also has rules for making new enemies, and tracking the activities of enemies the PCS have made.
The second section of the book has a set of domain rules for use in low fantasy gaming. It assumes that the PCs will be working together to create one or two larger dominions, rather than each operating their own, although that can be done. Each dominion has a size class and a set of attributes to gauge its current situation: population loyalty, influence, wealth, and might.
Might is based on a combination of the size of the community and the relative size and training of the garrison, which is determined by how much gold the player characters are willing to expend. Gold itself is generated by tax revenues based on a combination of loyalty and size.
Every month there's a chance for randomly generated events that create a percentage chance of the local population morale to go up and down. They're also a set of listed actions player characters might want to try to boost loyalty, attract new settlers, or improve the revenue of the town in the future. Most of these activities can only be performed once per year. After a while, some of the random events and character activities will establish the traditions and culture of the settlement they have created.
The game also includes a section with examples of unique character abilities. These are abilities that give your character unusual skills or talents that are not covered under their class. In the base low fantasy gaming rules there aren't too many examples given to help you figure out what to do with these. One of the ways you could handle this was to allow player characters to import feats from Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition products. However, in the 'Companion there is a sizable selection of them to choose from, allowing players who don't feel like inventing their own feet chain the ability to just picked from a helpful menu.
The 'Companion also includes a series of optional rules. Two of these rules are dedicated to tweaking the dark and dangerous magic system. One, the perilous magic table, replaces the dark and dangerous table with one with slightly more variety, and fewer lethal effects. This section also includes a system for maiming injuries on critical hits, and permanent scarification for player characters after they hit zero hit points.
Finally, The Low Fantasy Gaming Companion includes a fairly generous selection of monsters, many of which really capture the signature feel of low fantasy gaming has been Pokey sword and sorcery with a lot of HP Lovecraft and dark fantasy action video gaming thrown in.
What I loved
The Dominion systemFor many years the main reason I hung on to my Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia is that it has the best Dominion rules for any edition of D&D. The passable mass combat system and rudimentary rules on immortality certainly help, too. Thus far in my years of playing multiple editions of Dungeons & Dragons and many other role-playing games the only place where I found a system that came remotely close to the quality of the Rules Cyclopedia system was in the Birthright campaign setting, which I didn't actually enjoy.
The LFG Companion's system is my new favorite. It takes everything I love about the BECMI system and simplifies it.
I do feel that the Dominion system for Low Fantasy Gaming is a little too dicey for me. I would consider trimming it down into creating a single heavily modified role to determine the ebb and flow of loyalty.
I am at the moment reading the Adventurer Conqueror King System, I am hoping I'll be able to do a comparative assessment of BECMI, AD&D, LFG & ACKS' handling of dominions in November.
World building EverywhereWhile the Low Fantasy Gaming Companion doesn't make the inclusion of Midlands material too intrusive, it does a great job of using what is there to build up the setting.
The monster descriptions help build up the prehistory and danger level of the setting. They also help build a sense of the relationship between humans and the monsters of the region.
The treasure tables include treasure maps, clues to ancient civilizations, evidence of the wrongdoing of nobles, and artifacts with flavor that helps build up a picture of the lost civilizations that built to the setting's dungeons.
Some of the special features chains, such as the Snake Man blooded one do an excellent job of giving you a picture of the insidious influence of the serpent men on the setting.
Consistently In Line with the LFG EthosThere are a lot of OSR games out there better serving a relatively small marketplace. There are certainly too many out there for anyone person to become familiar with them all. Most players pick one they really like, then stick to it. Very few OSR gamers are like me who collect different rules systems for the sake of having them. For that matter, I very much doubt that I would be collecting as many as I do if I didn't have this blog to create.
At the end of the day, tp stand out and be noticed, it needs to have an identity. Both a philosophy of the gameplay and in particular tone and aesthetic. Games that try to simply faithfully recreate the original rules have a place, of course, but if you are going to do any more than that, your game needs to have an identity of its own.
You can tell which ones do it best because they have big followings of people who talk about what they like about them.
Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG for example, has a crazy, over the top, high intensity action feel that is full of weirdness and Gonzo adventures. Along with a distinctly retro 1970s feel.
Lamentations of The Flame Princess is dark, gory, but also intelligent, and artistic. You know when you buy a Lamentations of The flame princess product, you're going to have something with some body horror, some shocking imagery, all published in an extremely deluxe product.
Basic Fantasy RPG has a DIY community aesthetic. It's a bunch of guys who tap deep into their 1980s childhood to recreate The Dungeons & Dragons they loved from that time period, complete with their own amateur artwork and covers, and affordable, self-published books. It is fandom personified as an RPG.
Low Fantasy Gaming stands out because it, too, has an identity. LFG is an unpretentious game of sword and sorcery comic book action. It's a game that captures The Savage Sword of Conan or Red Sonja: She Devil with a Sword. It's rules are designed to speed up action, while giving player characters simple, robust rules to handle swashbuckling moves that can't be captured with just an attack roll
When a game creates a collection of optional rules, there is a danger that they will forget their identity. I'll try and add options for other genres, or options to build characters who don't fit into the implied setting. In the case of LFG, more character races, or more magic would have been a strong temptation, but neither would feel right for Low Fantasy Gaming.
Adding options to low fantasy gaming that attempt to make a more general D&D experience would defeat the point. If players wanted that, they could simply go to Labyrinth Lord or Old School Essentials.
In this case, The Low Fantasy Gaming Companion avoids adding any rules that don't reinforce the kind of action and the kind of gameplay that fits LFG's identity. In fact, every optional rule that is proposed would simply make the game more like the source material. Nothing in the low fantasy gaming companion sticks out as not fitting with the kind of play you were already expecting after playing the game at your table for 2 years.
Badass MonstersThe monsters offered at the end of the Companion only help build up the LFG aesthetic, and also add depths to the Midlands specifically if you're using it, they are also just generally interesting designs. In some cases, it takes the familiar and dads totally different vibes to it. For example the N'tarc takes the familiar design of the Grell and makes it way more frightening than just a floating tentacled brain.
The Colossus creates a monster that has to be defeated in multiple phases as player characters battle something so immensely big compared to themselves that it is impossible for them to take it out with a standard hand to hand encounter. It feels rather like the Titan battle sequences in the God of War games, which fits LFG's brand perfectly.
Not one monster included in the LFG Companion misses an opportunity to either reinforce the game's brand, expand on the Midlands, or give your players an encounter they will really remember.
A lot of the downtime tables in the low fantasy gaming companion have as many crazy, unexpected, or disasterous outcomes. The carousing tables, black marketeering tables, and pit fighting tables have some hilarious outcomes. The player characters can find themselves arrested, in possession of stolen contraband and on the run from organized crime, taken for a crime lord, unexpectedly married, on a holy quest, or swimming to shore after being press ganged onto a ship. Trying to get yourself involved in shady business or looking for a really good time can land your character and unbelievable number of crazy Hollywood situations
Too Many Rolls in Dominion
The Dominion system in the lfg companion is, as I said above, needlessly the GM both rolls of percentile chance of the loyalty and happiness of the population going up, and going down. Along with random events to modify those rules.
No rolling system in Low Fantasy Gaming is particularly complex. There is rarely a mountain of math to do. But, these two rolls are some of the most mathematically complicated in the system, and modified by the events rolled n another table. And there two of them to do every month that the player characters rule a Dominion. It seems to me they could be compressed into a single roll with high results leaving to an increase in prosperity, low results leading to a decrease, and middlung rolls keeping the status quo. It would be easier to track.
Tables Heavy on Undesirable Outcomes
A lot of the downtime tables, such as working the black market and carousing have been waited towards bad or tragicomical results. Well they certainly add depth to the game, I worry that after a while player characters would feel discouraged from stealing, carousing, or trying to buy contraband.
Magical research in The LFG Companion is a very short section on the cost and effort required to invent magic items and research spells. It includes a table of magical resources a character might have to collect to perform the rituals in the research
While it is a pretty solid start, I feel that it is pretty underdeveloped compared to some of the similar entries like alchemy. Given how dramatic magical research can affect the game, it could use some more depth and attention.
The Low Fantasy Gaming Companion adds an incredible range of options to LFG, fleshes out some of the material left vague (such as Dominion and unique abilities), and includes a huge selection of monsters and additional content that enriches the Midlands or any other game played using its content loooking for a Howard-esque vibe.
Most of these systems are not so bound up in LFG's rules or setting that they can't be hacked into almost any other OSR game.
Nothing in this book is wasted space or filler. All of the material adds something to low fantasy gaming, whether that is flavor, mechanics, or resources. And none of it would feel out of place alongside other LFG material.