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Sep 9th 2017 at 4:47:07 AM •••

I take issue with the idea that Low Fantasy is inherently cynical. Dark Fantasy is, yes, but — like Soft Science Fiction — Low Fantasy doesn't have an inherent morality.

I'd like to entertain the idea of changing the main trope description to land more in the middle of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism, because the way it's written can be limiting to someone who's just passing through.

It's hard to have a genre that's defined by what it's not and then impose rules on it. Changes like these should help.

Edited by AwSamWeston
Mar 16th 2013 at 11:18:36 PM •••

Absolutely, completely wrong

This entire thing is completely nonsense. "High fantasy" refers to a setting in which only the elite have magic/power. "Low fantasy" refers to a setting where everyone has magic/power. Middle fantasy, obviously, is where it falls in between. Allow me to explain why the current asinine definition is worthless.

Consider Xanth. Xanth is unabashedly based on Florida, and is a world where everybody has magical abilities. By both the correct and the stupid definitions, this is low fantasy. But there is absolutely no reason why this needs to be the case. Xanth could just as easily have been based in a theoretical world that happens to have a large peninsula, and there would be no difference at all in the stories. By the stupid definition, this would mysteriously become high fantasy, a distinction which therefore would be absolutely worthless.

Similarly, consider the Lord of the Rings, which is often considered the epitome of high fantasy. Unfortunately, Middle Earth is England. (Valinor is the Isle of Wight.) Stupid people might never have realized that, but no proper Englishman would write about anything else. So by this retarded definition, Lot R is low fantasy, while by the proper definition, it is high fantasy. Again, arbitrarily changing this setting in insignificant ways would change the distinction. In what fucking way does that make any sense?

Now consider fantasy role playing. If you have a gaming session, and you say, "This is high fantasy" it should tell your players that magic is rare and special, and they shouldn't expect to find magic items in every dungeon and village they encounter. Likewise, if you specify that it is low fantasy, they know that magic is easy to find, and they shouldn't be surprised if the random farmhand they encounter has some magical ability. This is a useful thing to understand, and has a consistent and meaningful definition across settings.

I hope you will all consider this, and pull your collective heads out of your asses.

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Mar 17th 2013 at 3:36:18 PM •••

Copying from high fantasy discussion:

I apologize for my rude tone previously. However, simply changing a large, incorrect trope without discussion first is not appropriate, which is why I brought it up here for people to discuss. Consider the list of settings and how many of them just seem wrong by the current definition, and see how many would make far more sense using my definition. I think you'll agree that this change needs to be made.

Jan 29th 2013 at 5:10:02 PM •••

So is this like fictional medieval stuff?

Apr 19th 2011 at 1:05:06 AM •••

People don't understand low-fantasy it seems.

A very loose definition is the "amount of fantasy" in a setting. Many cited examples DO NOT QUALIFY. Final Fantasy VII is an egregious offender since the setting bleeds with impossible technologies and magic. Bluntly speaking, these are FANTASTIC elements. It also doesn't have anything to do with it being "dark" or "edgy." It isn't simply pessimistic for its own sake.

Along this vein, magic in low-fantasy isn't strictly of the black magic or Lovecraftian variety. And it's important to hammer home this distinction.

For example Vance's Dying Earth, doesn't treat magic as anything particularly vile so much as a lost technological legacy. This a big theme in Dying Earth as the whole point is that people have gotten complacent and largely don't care how the magic works anymore, they just know that it gives power. It's very much about vanished glories and mankind's sense of fatalism in the face of the end times.

Edited by Hide/Show Replies
Jun 1st 2011 at 9:12:26 PM •••

I agree (Final Fantasy VI is just as shoehorned, because magic is used on a large scale and there are Cosmic Keystones that warp the entire fabric of the world), and I'm going to move any examples listed that sound like they're just included for being cynical, dark and/or full of moral ambiguity instead of magic being a rarity. Quite a lot sound like they'd be better defined as Heroic Fantasy.

Anime and Manga

  • Berserk is a rare anime and manga example. It's a fairly human-dominated world with medieval levels of tech and relatively little magic — Schierke and Flora are the only known magic-users so far, and the only beings who can magically heal at all are the Elves, who, as far as we've seen, are more Fairy Companions than anything out of Tolkien. We also get major elements of supernatural horror in the form of the evil Godhand and its horrifying demonic servants, which show up in force when the Eclipse goes down and everything goes right straight to hell.
  • Another anime example is Claymore, also fairly medieval and human-dominated, but with supernatural horror elements as well in the form of the Yoma and the titular half-Yoma warriors whose task it is to kill them.
  • Aqua Knight, a manga by the author of Battle Angel Alita. Shows hints of High Fantasy, but is far lighter in spirit. High fantasy would not have knights in Magitek amphibious armour jousting on orcas, for instance.
  • Inuyasha has elements of both High Fantasy and Low Fantasy.


  • Thieves World is practically the epitome of Low Fantasy, peopled with Anti-Heroes and Heroic Sociopaths. Slavery and rape are common events; even some of the Anti-Hero protagonists think of rape as a pastime.
  • The Heroic Fantasy tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, aka. Adventures in Lankhmar, by Fritz Leiber. Lankhmar is probably the prototype for a lot of standard low fantasy elements (e.g., the Thieves' Guild).
  • The Witcher stories fit very much. There are non-human races, but they're dominated by the humans (who are not above the occasional pogrom or two). Magic exists, but it's functional instead of fireworks wizard or king's healing power, and its users seem to spend most of their time plotting, Eminence Grise-ing, or basking in vanity. The "good people" category is inhabited by protagonists and their friends, and almost none else (and the protagonists themselves have some Kick the Dog moments in their biographies).
  • Dragaera covers both High Fantasy and Low Fantasy: Paarfi is a historical romance writer, so he tends to treat everything in the most epic, sweeping terms possible, while Vlad is a very cynical Anti-Hero whose general attitude is that people of all species are a bunch of bastards. It's easy to guess who would be talking about the political situation leading up to the Interregnum and who would be saying that all Dragonlords are lunatics.
  • As space opera, the Star Wars Expanded Universe can count as fantasy. Most of it is pretty distinctly High Fantasy, but some books and series dip lower. Multiple sentient species, the existence of the Force, and relatively easy space travel are all givens, but scale and darkness veer all over the map. As a general rule, if the Big Three - Luke, Leia, and Han - are the protagonists, it's a bit higher than if the mains are original characters or Ascended Extras, though recent books are digging into Darker and Edgier. The X Wing Series, as the most prominent series to not have the Big Three as protagonists, deserves a mention. Its scale isn't small, but neither is it vast.
  • The Morgaine Chronicles initially seem very much High Fantasy, it soon turns out that the "magic" in their case - Changeling and the Gates - is in fact a form of archeotech that has already destroyed a galaxy-spanning race by tearing to shreds the very fabric of time itself (twice). Morgaine's task is to close each Gate in the universe; she's the last survivor of all of her kind, and takes on mostly humans but also the qual, the race responsible for the last Gate empire. She does gain a vowed bond-servant to help her later on, and she has a Cool Horse, Siptah. She might even be a subversion of the White-Haired Pretty Boy trope, being a female warrior who doesn't end up in a gold bikini, thank you very much. And the morality? Let's just say she's destroyed more than one large city.
  • Although a series about talking cats may sound like High Fantasy, Warrior Cats has some very distinct Low Fantasy qualities, with its dark tone, Gray and Grey Morality, increasingly dysfunctional characters, and minimal involvement of supernatural forces.
  • Stephen King's The Dark Tower series incorporates many Low Fantasy elements among many other genres set in a parallel reality.
  • Stephen King's The Stand is somewhere between Low Fantasy and Magical Realism in a contemporary disaster setting.
    • Both works tell a high-fantasy, Good vs. Evil Quest in a low-fantasy, After the End setting.

Tabletop Games

Video Games

  • Strangely Suikoden II. While there is magic and runes and a high fantasy artstyle, the humans are the ones that drive the conflict, especially the Complete Monster Luca Blight. The runes basically are elements of symbolism of the aspects of conflict. The game also is not about the defeat of a great evil force, but about the reconciliation between two friends who end up being leaders of opposite sides. Plenty of Grey and Grey Morality as both sides, even after Luca's death (before, its Black and Gray Morality), engage in morally questionable practices.
  • The Witcher, you can see right away from the gray overtone of the game: dark, gritty, cruel, rotten and cynical. This is not your typical epic fantasy ride, people. As you can see, it stays true to its root(mentioned above), one of the few exceptional case that did not have The Problem with Licensed Games.
  • The world of Sanctuary in Diablo: Humans are the dominant race; the other sentient races are demons and angels; magic is highly regulated; the wildlife is very vicious (even before they became corrupted) like the typical low fantasy setting.
  • The Gothic RPG games are like this for most of the plot, with morally ambiguous factions that the player can support or hinder. It changes to Heroic Fantasy then the final boss appears though.
  • Dragon Age Origins walks the line between High Fantasy and Low Fantasy. Magic is treated as something dangerous and unnatural by pretty much everyone, including a few mages. Since magic comes with the risk of Demonic Possession this attitude is wholly justified. There is a church sponsored Knight Templar order dedicated to policing magic; most of whom are just as ruthless as the title "Knight Templar" would suggest. The church, by the way, controls the Templars with magic drugs. Humans are the dominant race in the setting; Elves having lost a war centuries ago are now treated like crap in addition to having lost their former immortality. Dwarves are all but extinct due to their Hopeless War against the Darkspawn. The closest thing to a truly good organization, the Grey Wardens, gain their powers by drinking Darkspawn blood, which consigns them to a slow death. Gray morality abounds as well. Despite all of this, it is still possible to Earn Your Happy Ending.
    • Dragon Age II, even more low fantasy than Origins, where the main conflicts arise from politics, racism, and social concerns, not an "orc" invasion.
  • Drakengard. The first game fulfills most of the requirements and adds Dysfunction Junction, Crapsack World, and a whole lot of nihilism to the mix. The sequel is considerably more upbeat — you can actually Earn Your Happy Ending instead of just a Bittersweet Ending.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics: Yes there are chocobos, there're white mages, black mages and other iconic Final Fantasy elements. There're also wars, lots of them, there are conflicts between religions, aristocrats, commoners and the church.
    • Its Spiritual Predecessor, Tactics Ogre qualifies as well.
    • Same goes for Vagrant Story, which takes place in the same verse as Final Fantasy Tactics.
    • Final Fantasy VI...the first Final Fantasy to put the sole blame on humanity for the forces of evil. Kefka Palazzo and The End of the World as We Know It later, and this game becomes really really low fantasy.
    • Final Fantasy XIII, despite its "we're in DA FUTCHA!" trappings, seems to squarely be in this genre. There are only three races: Humans, fal'Cie, and monsters, which unlike Final Fantasy XII are are not Petting Zoo People or part of the Five Races, and are truly bestial. Magic is largely unknown except for the artificial use of it through manadrives, and even then, it's largely weaponized and totally locked up by the army, and the world is in the current state it's in because the Big Bad insisted on fighting a perpetually pointless war with his own brethren for the chance to maybe call down his creator deity. It has a very pre-Tolkien feel to its fantastic mythos, which probably explains its insanely Broken Base.
    • Final Fantasy VII took place in a Magitek dystopia. The only races are humans, Ancients (extinct save for one, who dies), whatever Red XIII is (mostly extinct), and Jenova, an alien being. Magic is dependent on use of Materia, formed from the knowledge of dead Ancients. The main plot is about The Empire trying to fight Sephiroth (a nutcase), and most of the heroes's victories are earned by taking advantage of events in the war between Sephiroth and The Empire. The game even contains Cyberpunk themes.
  • Demon's Souls fits this to a T. A rotting world that is being threatened to be consumed by an Eldritch Abomination in the shape of a fog? Check. Mighty hero-wannabes dying by the thousands when foolishly trying to save Boletaria from it's doom? Check. Your character being nothing more than one of said dead wannabe heroes who was lucky enough to be revived as the new unwilling protector of the realm? Check. Your character being massively underpowered compared to other heroes? Check. Magic being powered by the previously mentioned Eldritch abominaton? Check. Miracles being nothing more than a subset of said evil-powered magic? Check. God wanting humanity dead really fast? Check. The only guys who can stop them being a bunch of unglorious bastards who are slowly going mad by consuming so many forsaken souls? Check. Demon's Souls definetly counts.


  • Errant Story: There were dwarves, but they were sterile, and died out. There are elves, but they destroyed most of their population and civilization in a pointless centuries-long genocide against their own children. Most humans live in an expansionist theocracy. The main characters include an assassin, a violent teenaged mage, and a very bitter elf soldier. And then there's the plot...

Web Original

Other notes on examples I know about:

  • I think most of the Berserk Golden Age arc counts as Low Fantasy (there's demons but it's mostly about the members of a band of mercenaries, including one's attempts to climb politically) but the rest of what happens with Guts is Heroic Fantasy (he's constantly hunting and being attacked by demons) and it seems some more recent stuff might be High Fantasy (I think something Griffith is doing affects the world as a whole; haven't read that far).
  • Aqua Knight: "knights in Magitek amphibious armour jousting on orcas" sounds like something that might be in High Fantasy or Heroic Fantasy, but not Low Fantasy.
  • Inuyasha would probably qualify as Heroic Fantasy with maybe some High Fantasy: there's monsters everywhere, but even that Big Bad's plans were never shown to endanger even the country as a whole.
  • I question Final Fantasy Tactics, because even if there's a lot of focus on politics, war, and religion magic is literally something half the units you use can perform and that religion is being controlled by ancient demons that you end up fighting.

There also seem to be some examples that are listed just because of a small plot scale, even if fantasy elements are common (Spice And Wolf, Discworld, )

Edited by thatother1dude
Aug 12th 2011 at 10:28:25 AM •••

I'm going to make a case for Final Fantasy Tactics to be added back as an example, since I think it fits all the criteria on the front page, and it's one of the most-cited examples of Low Fantasy, especially compared to the mainline FF's:

Mundane Settings: It's War Of The Roses England with the serial numbers filed off. Check.

Cynicism: Ramza is pretty much the only one still on the idealistic side by the end of the game, and even he knows that No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. Check.

Human Dominance: This and Vagrant Story are pretty much the only Ivalice games this applies to, so Check.

Plot Scope: A bit iffy. Sure, Ramza ends up saving the world by eliminating the Lucavi (or at least keeping it from getting a lot worse), but the primary focus of the story is how someone can have their worldview completely blown apart and still keep their faith in humanity. Sounds pretty personal to me. Check.

Heroism: Like I said earlier, Ramza is a classic hero, but he's pretty much the only one, and he doesn't end up changing the world that much despite all his efforts. The game also provides a contrast with Delita, who is a Byronic Hero at best and a full-fledged Anti-Hero at worst. Check.

Methods: Considering non-Lucavi magic only seems to happen in gameplay, I'm willing to give this one a Check. The biggest thing Ramza's group did to stop the war was flood that battleground, and that was explicitly done through mundane means.

Tone: War, classism, manipulation, exploitation. And by the end of the game, the hero barely makes a dent in any of it. Sounds pretty grimdark to me. Check.

Sorcery: Again, if you pretend the gameplay sections are non-canon, magic in this game is extremely rare and tends to be of the eldritch nature. Check.

War: There's a clear good/evil conflict between Ramza and the Lucavi, but it's small-scale. The large-scale fighting occurs between three factions that are clearly either Gray or Black Morality, with Ramza being the only one who is unambiguously good. Check.

Edited by MrUnderhill
May 13th 2012 at 2:30:55 AM •••

I would agree with the, Final Fantasy Tactics being low magic if you take game play story segregation into effect.

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