What does low fantasy bring to the RPG table? This is the question I want to wrap up this little overview with. To put it briefly, it brings a lot.
Why? Because the “lack” necessary for low fantasy to be what it is requires other things to make up the difference. I frankly am really drawn to the idea that magic isn’t everywhere. It exists, and its powerful, but its limited. When I think about novels I’ve read powerful magic is mostly tied to rituals, not run of the mill combat. This is something I think most fantasy gaming gets wrong. It makes to easy to step in battle and just start blasting anything and everything with powerful spells. It also cuts down on the need for creativity.
If all you need to do to solve a problem is cast a spell that deals damage, then you can kill your way to success. That’s lame. Feel free to disagree, but I think that approach is one-dimensional and not fun.
However, making your character take a lot of time, and invest the PC in something really powerful, that’s cool. It then means you can make every day magic weaker, without really ruining magic’s prominent place in the game. Also, it makes powerful magic items more valuable.
The major point though, at least for me, is that in low fantasy the stakes feel higher. Not everything has a quick fix. I don’t know that I think this is realistic, or gritty, just a qualifier for the type of game that is being played. Frankly, this makes the game a bit more tense. Those decisions matter. Skills people might completely disregard take on new significance.
For all these reasons and more, low fantasy can make a game great. Simple first-aid skills become important in a way that they didn’t use to be. The effects of taking on a low fantasy setting are actually fairly significant, but all in all, its best to try it. Not everyone will like taking on the ramifications of this kind of game. Some people like the magical safety nets, and that’s cool to. Low fantasy is just one option on the gaming menu, but a cool one.