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An Interview with Steve Grodzicki, Creator of Low Fantasy Gaming

Over the past year or so, I’ve managed to reconnect with tabletop gaming, thanks to its rising popularity. I had dabbled with Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition back in the early 2000s, finally returning with D&D 5th Edition early last year. I was impressed with how 5th Edition has really streamlined a lot of rules, making the game far more approachable to a wider audience, while also dialing back a few of the more controversial changes in 4th Edition.

What eventually became apparent with 5th Edition, however, was that it all felt quite “safe” – there is a spell to get you out of most situations, all the classes have very extensive and powerful abilities, and the death roll mechanic meant that  your character could just keep getting up over and over. That’s not necessarily bad, and D&D has its place and appeal, but I was looking for something a little more “gritty.” I looked at a few custom rules from YouTubers like The Dungeon Dudes, and a friend soon introduced me to the Call of Cthulhu RPG. I was impressed by Call of Cthulhu’s dark setting and deadly mechanics. We even gave (pardon the profanity) GURPS a go, and I was impressed by its robust character creation and flexible mechanics. Both of these games are usually more gritty than D&D, but they weren’t quite hitting the mark – I wanted a low fantasy setting with deadly mechanics, flexible rules for role-playing, and a bit of combat to keep things exciting.

I think I literally searched Google for “low fantasy d&d alternative,” and one of the results was a Reddit post mentioning the Low Fantasy Gaming (LFG) system by Pickpocket Press.

Okay, sweet – I’ll check it out at the Low Fantasy Gaming site. Oh, double sweet – the basic rules are free! Suffice to say, I instantly fell in love with the system, as it had everything I was looking for – dangerous combat, simple and flexible rules, limited and dangerous magic use, and a very robust and diverse character creation system. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should.

I got in contact with Sydney-based creator, the super friendly Steve Grodzicki, to have a chat about his excellent system.

So, Steve – tell us a little bit about yourself.

Steve: I grew up in Glenbrook in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia. I’m the oldest of six siblings (two brothers, three sisters). I’ve been playing tabletop games since about 4th grade or so, if you include board games.

How did you find the Australian tabletop scene growing up?

Steve: I have to admit, I didn’t really engage with the wider tabletop scene as a child, I only played board games and RPGs with my close mates. When I was older and in university I went to a convention or two: RPGs and Warhammer 40K. The RPG conventions in particular were fun because we all got to play together with an independent GM.

Where did you first start with tabletop gaming? I started with Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! Books.

Steve: I started with Fighting Fantasy books too! A friend at school in about 4th or 5th grade had The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and Forest of Doom, and I borrowed them to read. Dad saw that I was actually reading something voluntarily at home, and went and bought more. I had the Sorcery! Books too which were also terrific.

What were your formative tabletop games? D&D is such an omnipresent game (of course), but how much of an influence was it for you? What about Call of Cthulhu, GURPS, etc?

Steve: So my first actual RPG (if you don’t count Fighting Fantasy) was actually Dragon Warriors, I think. It was a very cool little UK system released in novel sized paperbacks (eventually I believe there were six books; I had all six). Very deadly system, the magic had wonderful names (“Dishearten” literally made your heart explode), and I loved the assassin class (which came in book four). The art was of course all black and white, but really evocative.

Basic D&D was next, a friend of mine had the red boxed set in about Year 8 (1988) which again I borrowed. AD&D 2nd Edition came a few months later, and my friends and I played fairly regularly for the next ten years or so. I loved it, of course, and D&D is without doubt the game that has had the most impact on me, with Shadowrun 2e and Dragon Warriors running close behind. Talisman the board game was also huge for us. We played the hell out of that game! Space Hulk. Warhammer 40K. Necromunda was my favorite miniatures game of all time; I loved the little advances (and injuries, argh!) your characters accrued over time. Mordheim was a close second.

We branched out into quite a few other RPGs over that ten years; Cyberpunk 2020, Earthdawn, Werewolf, Immortal. I think those were the main ones. I obviously know about Call of Cthulhu now, but not at that time. I’ve never actually played it. Not even the boardgames! I need to remedy that one day soon. I had also heard about Warhammer FRP, GURPS, Rifts, etc, but never played them. So many games, so little time, right!

How much did other media influence you, such as books, games and film? Any favourites, or particularly influential ones?

Steve: I really loved the first six Dragonlance books and early Forgotten Realms novels. Later I read a lot of David Gemmell’s stuff, David Eddings, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit of course. Firefly is probably my favourite TV series of all time, although the four-season Avatar: The Last Air Bender cartoon is a close second. Movies, oh there’s so many but Willow, The Princess Bride, Big Trouble in Little China, Heat, Hellboy 2, and The Matrix (number 1) are standouts for me. I loved Game of Thrones Season 1-2 and more recently The Boys. Currently I’m watching The Expanse, and of course now I want to run a starship game, haha!

What inspired you to create your own tabletop system? Was it a dissatisfaction with other systems? Or were you just driven by a personal sense of creativity?

Steve: So, it all came about because I wanted to play a D&D game with the Primeval Thule setting by Sasquatch Game Studio (Sword & Sorcery, Conan-like setting, with rare and dangerous magic). We were playing D&D 5th Edition at the time. I tried to tweak 5e to accommodate, but in the end I was making so many changes I thought, well, if I’m going to change all of this I might as well change some other things I don’t like too… And LFG was the result!

For someone has never played your system before, how would you describe it? What are the main hooks?

Steve: I’ll rely on the sales blurb for this one! Low Fantasy Gaming is a tabletop RPG built for gritty adventures in low or moderate magic settings. It has simple rules, dangerous combat, flexible PC customization, and mysterious, unpredictable magic. Designed for short, episodic adventures in sandbox worlds, LFG provides the mechanics and tables needed for easy GM improvisation. It’s a heady mix of the best old school, modern, and new game design, wrapped around a familiar d20 core.

The tabletop RPG market is booming – how are you seeing this play out?

Steve: For Pickpocket Press, things are going well, but we’re a new, very small player in the market. There are lots of great games to compete with out there, but I think as long as you can differentiate your offering, and design for good gameplay, you’ll find an audience.

The RPG boom has brought in a lot of new players – what are players like these days? Have they got different expectations from tabletop gaming?

Steve: I can’t speak too much about new-generation players, as I mostly play with my old crew, but I feel like newer players prefer simpler rulesets that play quickly.

What’s the future for LFG? New editions? New settings (sci-fi, cyberpunk, etc.)?

Steve: We’re working on something right now, but it’s too early to announce anything just yet. We should have some news in May!

Thanks to speaking to ExclusivelyGames.com Steve! You can find more information about Low Fantasy Gaming at their website, and right now you can pick up the Low Fantasy Gaming Deluxe Edition Core Book (available with either stylish black & white or full color art)and the Low Fantasy Gaming Companion at DriveThruRPG.com. You can also pick up the Midlands Low Magic Sandbox Setting and the Adventure Framework Collection #1 to help you get started with your first game.

If you want to learn about LFG in more detail, I also recommend the multi-part review by Quest Wise on YouTube for a more detailed look at the system, as well as the Pickpocket Press channel for some tutorial videos, book showcases and other announcements. Have fun with Low Fantasy Gaming guys.

In about 1989, Gavin Annand played his first games on a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Thus, began a lifetime obsession with games. A gaming addict or connoisseur, depending on your perspective.