High v. Low Fantasy (game mechanics)

I know the definition of high fantasy and low fantasy, and can recognise it when I see it; but in terms of game mechanics what brings out high fantasy in a story game? I'm particularly fond of Danger Patrol Pocket Edition, which is a pulp (low fantasy) game, based on its colour text (unless I've misunderstood it). But could it be used for the basis of a high fantasy or even epic fantasy? Is there something about the game mechanics there that prevent it.

Seemingly D&D trends towards low fantasy and I can recognise some of the features that make that so, but what features propel a game towards high fantasy or even epic fantasy?



  • I'd say D&D trends towards high fantasy, not low. Don't know about Danger Patrol.
  • Okay, my D&D comment aside (I don't want to get side-tracked), how about high fantasy? What game mechanics simulate its mythic proportions?
  • I'm not sure there needs to be a huge mechanical difference - wouldn't a lot of it depend on the types of characters you play?
  • From my experience, it can be just about everyone at the table being on the right frame of mind, though mechanics can help a lot.

    About the right frame of mind, I mean using the same system but describing things in a bit more exaggerated fashion and giving the players more agency in the world, mostly because the world is a lot bigger and things that would be really difficult in low fantasy are mundane here. Like, how a wound in low level D&D feels when there's no cleric nor magic potions, compared to how easy characters get healed or even resurrected in the endgame.

    Changing the frame of mind can be quite tricky. If you and your group have been playing on low fantasy a lot of time you could probably fall back to it subconsciously. This is where mechanics help a lot more. High fantasy geared mechanics come with descriptions about distances, effects, timing, etc that enforce player agency, setting higher the bar that indicates what should be a challenge for the character and what not.

    So, if you're comfortable with a system, by all means, use it. But I'd recommend you to read any high-fantasy game themed with the genre you're looking for, get the gist of how powerful player abilities are in the game and how challenges escalate correspondingly. Also, any high fantasy material you can find like games, novels, comics, movies will help a lot to get in the right frame of mind. Best luck!
  • edited May 2017
    I'd say the key mechanical aspect is survivability.

    Any game where I can casually slay hordes of enemies while their attacks don't significantly damage me seems high-fantasy to me.

    Any game where any opponent with a sharp weapon could theoretically kill me with a single hit seems low-fantasy to me.

    Then there's magic: can you achieve effects that render regular people non-threats (high fantasy), or can't you (low fantasy)?

    Advancement often takes a game from low to high. Low-level D&D: few hit points, wimpy spells. High-level D&D: tons of hit points, godlike spells.
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