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Since my previous answer might involve time travel to help someone, let me give another. And this one is serious: play an RPG that does not have levels or classes or XP based on anything but playing the role. All of those things contribute heavily to the D&D feeling, levels especially. Players become more focused on leveling up than on being in the narrative.
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pdzoch wrote:
How do you make a fantasy adventure have more of a mythic, legendary, or fairy tale feel, as opposed to standard D&D-type adventures?


That's easy. Just do the opposite of what I do in my D&D games.

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enduran wrote:
Benevolentgamemaster wrote:
A lot of good advise here, I'd like to add. No.Combat.Grid.Maps.

Please elaborate on that. Surely the grid maps themselves don't have bearing on how mythic or legendary or fairy tale something is, but rather what the maps tend to be used to facilitate, in which case just removing the maps won't substantially change anything except perhaps complicating what they were being used to simplify.


In my experience, the use of combat grids tends to put players in a Boardgame/strict rules frame of mind, which seems counterproductive for the fairy tale feel aimed for. I think it needs to be more TOME, wispy and fluid. YOMV, obviously.
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sos1 wrote:
Since my previous answer might involve time travel to help someone, let me give another. And this one is serious: play an RPG that does not have levels or classes or XP based on anything but playing the role. All of those things contribute heavily to the D&D feeling, levels especially. Players become more focused on leveling up than on being in the narrative.


Also: this. Combat grids and all...
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Benevolentgamemaster wrote:
In my experience, the use of combat grids tends to put players in a Boardgame/strict rules frame of mind.

Yes, that's my experience too, but it obviously doesn't arise from the combat grids themselves. If we considered why that frame of mind seems to accompany them, we might be able to find ways to retain the usefulness of the tool (be it a board, minis, dice, or anything else) and still get the theme and tone we want.
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Don't fight the desire of the players to "win." Work with it, because it's not likely to go away and it's a powerful force. But change what "win" means. Plenty of games do it, and those methods can, in whole or in part, be ported over to plenty of other games. Edit: This can work even if one prefers to keep leveling and treasure mechanics.
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I'm guessing bigger badder monsters isn't the correct answer

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pdzoch wrote:

How do you make a fantasy adventure have more of a mythic, legendary, or fairy tale feel, as opposed to standard D&D-type adventures?


Fairy Tale?

Step 1: Don't use D&D, Pathfinder, or any of the OSR pseudoclones or retroclones based upon them

Step 2: use of magic restricted to NPCs, and preferably, species unavailable to players. Players may have "Magic items" but never get told the bonuses.

Step 3: conceal the mechanical resolutions from the player (but not the mechanics themselves) - that is, GM rolls the dice behind the screen, even for player actions, but the players know what the values of the dice are.

Step 4: describe, describe, describe.

Mythic is easier.
With D&D - Cyclopaedia: Start at 1,000,000. XP. Give everyone a single magic item. Set a quest that requires using all the various high level abilities, as the classes are modeled after a mix of novel protagonists and mythic figures. Use big puzzles AND hard fights. Have some folk who are invulnerable, and must be negotiated with. Have their patron Immortals lead them into further parts of the quest. No badguy repeats on a given quest. Until the right weakness, no boss can be defeated.
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What a nice thread. It started off really well with the donkey heads, and only got more helpful.
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Too often we use our 21st century consumerist mindsets when playing our characters in a standard rpg setting, and this is often hardcoded into the rules as well. Character development is about acquiring new levels or skills, we collect gold pieces to buy new things in a shop, magic items are listed in equipment lists etc. Most rpg's are framed as the equivalent of "earning money and spending it for own pleasure", rather than contributing to a quest, a belief, a mission, which could take an entire life.

I think to elevate an rpg to the mythic or fairy level, it would require characters who believe that e.g. treading through the enchanted woods is a misdemeanor, not because otherwise you will get punished in the form of loot or hit points lost, but because it's truly upsetting the fabric of the universe, and you'll have to pay your dues perhaps several years from now or even in the afterlife. That's an attitude very difficult to achieve for players, precisely because we are so used to thinking in 21st century values (immediate gratification, entitlement, earn and spend-as-I-wish-because-its-my-money-and-no-one-can-tell-me-what-to-do).

If you look at well-known epic stories from Greek or Norse or other mythologies, they often play out over several years. The hero sets out on a quest to make good/revenge/... something that happened years before. Rewards or punishments sometimes also only comes years later, when the hero has a child himself, etc. Such things are very hard to achieve a classic rpg setup.

The only rpg I played which had some of that potential was Ars Magica, in which the wizards's life is projected for a decade, and a single adventure could revolve about acquiring a single new spell. But then, I never got it to work for my gaming group at the time.
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I love Eric's list. I would add two extra considerations.

There should be no "mundane monsters". A prime example of a mundane monster is a D&D orc/kobold/goblin. A monster that on one level is just an excuse to have something to fight, and on another level is just people who haven't bathed recently with big teeth. These are poison to a fairy-tale feel, I think.

There can be terrors. A terror is a being that is incredibly fearsome and nearly impossible to fight in straight on battle. It can only be defeated by cunning, forethought, questing, and courage. An example would be the Cyclops from the Odyssey.

You can also have faeries. I don't necessarily mean literally faeries, but they are a good place to start. Faeries are beings that are truly magical, and who live by rules and ethics that may be nonsensical to human beings. A great example here would be Cornish knockers; small magical men that live in tin mines, and might be helpful to miners, but also are deadly dangerous if crossed according to their own viewpoint. As with terrors, you can't really fight them in the D&D sense. But they also are not necessarily antagonistic; they might be helpful, mischievous, aloof, or deadly depending on how they are dealt with.

But you should never have antagonists that are both monstrous and common (both in the numerical and in the British sense).
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skalchemist wrote:
There should be no "mundane monsters". A prime example of a mundane monster is a D&D orc/kobold/goblin. A monster that on one level is just an excuse to have something to fight, and on another level is just people who haven't bathed recently with big teeth. These are poison to a fairy-tale feel, I think.


I thought of these, and imagined that they can still be used as npc. For example, instead of an ugly hag, a greedy old man, or a stupid guy, you get a goblin instead. Kind of like Bilbo with Gollum.

As already said, the key is not fighting. The key is tricking the monster just like you would a human - but with the added bonus that monsters exist to be foiled.
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Just wanted to say I am writing an answer up for this, but it is a veritable novel... and will be done in oh, say... a day or two...
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adularia25 wrote:
Just wanted to say I am writing an answer up for this, but it is a veritable novel... and will be done in oh, say... a day or two...
You could also offer that as an essay for Behind the Screen...
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fubfubfub wrote:
adularia25 wrote:
Just wanted to say I am writing an answer up for this, but it is a veritable novel... and will be done in oh, say... a day or two...
You could also offer that as an essay for Behind the Screen...
This is a great idea!
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I think about this a lot. I've come to the conclusion that it's a careful combination of abstraction and precision, and about studying myth enough that you know when to use one or the other.

Hex grids and faerie tales are pretty unfriendly to each other, but on the other hand, faerie tales depend on absurd specificities like national borders being hard, often visible, lines.

I realize that's not super helpful, but I genuinely don't think there's a single easy answer to this question. At the end of the day it's about the play, not the design. The gamemaster's soft touch, not what's written down.

You can carefully create a faerie tale and end up running a die-crunching dungeon crawl through it (I've done this, much to my regret). Similarly, you can create a very 'hard-fantasy' sword & sorcery setting, and end up with a story that would not feel out of place in a book of myths and legends (I've also done this).

cosine wrote:

Giving It The Fairy Tale Touch


This is a hell of a post. Thank you, Eric. It's worth noting, though, that I could turn every one of these points on its head and generate a compelling mythical concept. It's all about focus.

quozl wrote:
Don't use D&D terms. Don't call anyone a fighter. Call them noble warriors. There are no bugbears or gnolls, only misshapen monsters combining attributes of both man and beast. No fireballs, use waves of flame instead.


You can also have success taking this in the other direction, and carving these terms deeply into the bedrock of your setting. There's nothing particularly mythical about being a 'fighter,' but being a Fighter, heir to an ancient tradition of Fighting, taught at Fighting academies throughout the land, and belonging to a Fighter's Guild with chapters in all of the realm's towns, wraps around behind the game and becomes its own mythos.

A better example of class (or job) mythos is the Final Fantasy video games. The core concept of the spear-wielding, dragon-armored, stratospherically jumping Dragoon has become so mythologized that many fantasy fans below a certain age become quite confused when confronted with French handgunners on horseback.

sos1 wrote:
Start with a different RPG and never play D&D.


If the system a player is using constrains the stories they are able to tell, it is the player who is weak, not the game.
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skalchemist wrote:
fubfubfub wrote:
adularia25 wrote:
Just wanted to say I am writing an answer up for this, but it is a veritable novel... and will be done in oh, say... a day or two...
You could also offer that as an essay for Behind the Screen...
This is a great idea!

Well, if that's what you all would prefer...

I'll write something up for Behind the Screen and then link that post here once it's done...
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Laurence Gillespie

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To me, a key first step is screening out elements that are inconsistent with the literature one is trying to simulate/use as a setting. Most of my experience in this area relates to trying to simulate the sagas, but I would hold the same principles likely apply to fairy tale/myth/legend-based games too. So if you can’t find it in a fairy/folktale, what is it doing in your game? This particularly applies to magic and monsters. At the very least one should try to avoid magical effects and monsters that are inconsistent with folktales, etc.

Sometimes more is less. D&D and its derivatives have created hundreds (thousands?) of spells that work very well to advance the kind of gameplay contemplated for those games but which tend to undercut the kinds of stories fairy tales, etc. attempt to tell. So much action in the fairy tales arises from dearth, you have to take shelter with that sketchy type because otherwise you’ll freeze/starve to death. If you are able to meet your mundane physical needs with a whole arsenal of D&D-type spells, your incentive to engage with the fairy tale world and its inhabitants will be vastly reduced. All those truth serums detect evil, finding and illumination spells also tend to eliminate the kinds of dilemmas that fairy tales thrive on.

Second, there should be powerful in-game motivations for characters to act the way they do in folktales/legends/myths, etc., within reason. In my game there are very real consequences for stepping into that fairy ring, being mean to that homeless wandering elfwoman, profaning that sacred fetter grove, turning down that dead guy’s request for assistance, etc. My players don’t have to fake it. They know that breaching those fairy tale, etc. conventions can be fatal. Of course it is nice if you can use both carrot and stick to encourage this.

Maybe I am just reading the wrong folktales, but I can find little precedent for the traditional dungeon crawl there. Going into the occasional cave or barrow, fine, wandering through an entire underground city/shopping mall loaded with traps, not so much. The folktales I am most familiar with tend to involve low level characters on overland journeys in rural settings. I would recommend avoiding cities (and dungeons) if at all possible, unless they are essential to the fairy tales you’re trying to simulate.

It helps if you know a lot of folktales and what conditions were like in the places they’re set in. Haldane’s line about the universe being stranger than we can imagine applies double to the folktale universe. The challenges of overland travel in the pre-modern world in particular are so hard for us to imagine, far better to read accounts by people who really did it, if one can. The advantage is that this can inspire all kinds of scenarios more or less consistent with a folktale setting as well.

I find it also helps, when trying to simulate a literature, to have a good sense of what the main characters/monster types in that literature actually did. Every monster description in my game includes a list of the ways that monster was used in the sagas, myths, etc. This can guide you when setting up fairy tale, etc. based scenarios. If you are throwing together a scenario on short notice and suddenly wonder would a dwarf ever do that, well, that list could be your answer. If nothing else it might give you a sense of how far you are straying from the fairy tale/mythic pattern. Hmm, can I have my dwarf playing chess, can’t find a precise example, but shucks, the list says one famous dwarf taught his foster son how to play, that’s good enough for me.

Controlling the inputs might seem limiting, but it leads to a certain element of predictability that can help players with their roleplaying. If they know that a dwarf in the game is going to act like a dwarf in the folktales/myths (at least most of the time) it will encourage the players to act in character too. You think that girl by the bar is really a mermaid? Get that bard up here on the double, and tell him to bring his chessboard with him just in case! It doesn’t mean every mermaid has to be a poetry groupie or every dwarf a gamer, but it should help keep exceptions like that from overrunning the game and ruining the fairy tale/mythic ecosystem you are trying to create.

To me, success in simulating a literature or using it as a setting largely boils down to controlling the inputs. If you limit what goes into your game to what can be found in a folktale, myth, etc. your odds of creating a game that will emulate a folktale are greatly increased. If you reinforce that environment with incentives for characters to adhere to the norms of the folktale/mythic/legendary world, that’s even better.
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Laurence Gillespie

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philip.dutre wrote:

I think to elevate an rpg to the mythic or fairy level, it would require characters who believe that e.g. treading through the enchanted woods is a misdemeanor, not because otherwise you will get punished in the form of loot or hit points lost,


With deepest respect, I believe there are other ways to punish tabu-violating characters and this I think is key. It really helps if you can give them other in-game incentives to treat that enchanted wood or fairy ring with respect (although nothing says incentive like being attacked by angry supernatural beings, I suppose). And burning your bridges with the only creatures that might be able to guide/magically heal/remove curses from you might be more than just a misdemeanour.
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aramis wrote:
pdzoch wrote:

How do you make a fantasy adventure have more of a mythic, legendary, or fairy tale feel, as opposed to standard D&D-type adventures?


Step 2: use of magic restricted to NPCs, and preferably, species unavailable to players. Players may have "Magic items" but never get told the bonuses.



I can certainly sympathize with the "no magic use by PCs" approach in a fairy tale campaign but in fairness there are Icelandic folktales that star wizards and sorcerer's apprentice types. They are certainly the exception rather than the rule, I'll admit.
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Laurence Gillespie wrote:
aramis wrote:
pdzoch wrote:

How do you make a fantasy adventure have more of a mythic, legendary, or fairy tale feel, as opposed to standard D&D-type adventures?


Step 2: use of magic restricted to NPCs, and preferably, species unavailable to players. Players may have "Magic items" but never get told the bonuses.



I can certainly sympathize with the "no magic use by PCs" approach in a fairy tale campaign but in fairness there are Icelandic folktales that star wizards and sorcerer's apprentice types. They are certainly the exception rather than the rule, I'll admit.


Player use requires codification to some degree. Codifications remove the fantastic nature required for a fairy tail feel.

Mythic and saga are, to me, quite different from fairy tales..
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sos1 wrote:
All of those things contribute heavily to the D&D feeling, levels especially. Players become more focused on leveling up than on being in the narrative.

I'm not saying you're wrong, but levels don't have to do that.

First, yes, I see your point. The pursuit of levels often becomes an end in and of itself. Certainly one of the main goals of nearly every D&D/Pathfinder game is the pursuit of experience to gain levels. This obviously will tend to channel the game into the area that yields the most experience for the least effort.

However, levels also serve a useful shorthand function in those games that informs the type of play that will be going on. At low levels, the play will focus on survival and making lots of defensive moves. At mid levels, the play will focus on local heroism. At high levels, the play will focus on regional heroism. At epic levels, the play will focus on global heroism. This idea of bracketing levels dates clear back to Mentzer D&D's various colored boxed sets. I find it quite useful and after you've played in level games for a long time you sort of develop an inherent feel for the (slowly) evolving play style in a campaign.

Second, back to the experience points. If you gain experience by combat/loot then that will inform the play style and generate murderhoboism. It's endemic in level systems because the rules of the common level systems award experience for those things and don't aware experience for much else(*). That does not mean the level mechanic, based on experience accumulation, is inherently flawed or inextricably linked to kill-'em style play. The mechanic can be linked to anything and you could, for example, have a system in which killing or looting actually cause the loss of experience points. Perhaps a system where peaceful negotiation yields experience, or honest interaction yields experience - these would lead to different play styles based on the mechanics.

Now, I don't know that linking levels to certain behaviors is necessarily useful to drive certain play styles. I'm not really saying that it would be an effective method to create a "mythic, legendary, or fairy tale feel". But I think your inference that the mechanics of leveling prevents certain types of play is not necessarily correct (though I concede almost all level game play is not particularly mythic, legendary, or fairy tale in tone).

(*)For the rules lawyers who will argue that experience point bonuses can be handed out for "good roleplay", I agree that's possible. But the samples suggest hundreds or thousands of experience points for a session as an award, and anybody familiar with the game knows that amount of experience is puny - you get that in a single 5-minute combat. I've never played in a campaign, or even seen one, where "roleplaying rewards" experience points even approach a significant amount on a consistent basis. Especially as the characters move beyond low level.
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ctimmins wrote:

(*)For the rules lawyers who will argue that experience point bonuses can be handed out for "good roleplay", I agree that's possible. But the samples suggest hundreds or thousands of experience points for a session as an award, and anybody familiar with the game knows that amount of experience is puny - you get that in a single 5-minute combat. I've never played in a campaign, or even seen one, where "roleplaying rewards" experience points even approach a significant amount on a consistent basis. Especially as the characters move beyond low level.


D&D Cyclopedia lists 1/20th of a level as the award for good RP, with similar for exceptional actions, for saving other PC's, and for excellent skill use.

That has often resulted in about 1/3 to 1/2 the XP awards in many sessions. Not a few, it was 2/3 to 3/4 of the session's awards.
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Yeah, yeah, the famous non-combat experience point.

Yes, in the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia the rule is "about one-twentieth the points it takes him to get from his current level to the next" but then goes on to say "A character should not receive more than one such bonus in a single play session, even if he role-plays well throughout the session".

And at least 1/3 of the specific examples offered are for character behavior during combat situations. A great way to double-dip.

And, yes, it also goes on to say "Defeating a monster doesn't necessarily mean killing it; defeating an opponent can mean killing it, capturing it, tricking it into destroying itself, trapping it forever so that it can't menace the rest of the world, and so forth" (e.g. either kill it or functionally kill it). And if you fight but don't defeat it, you get only 1/4 of the experience points.

Too, this is (easily) the most generous amount in any of the D&D versions/editions/flavors.

In any event, a routine combat in the same system will yield (roughly) 2% of the experience needed to go to the next level. So two combat encounters and a maximum non-combat award are about equivalent.
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ctimmins wrote:
Yeah, yeah, the famous non-combat experience point.

Yes, in the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia the rule is "about one-twentieth the points it takes him to get from his current level to the next" but then goes on to say "A character should not receive more than one such bonus in a single play session, even if he role-plays well throughout the session".

And at least 1/3 of the specific examples offered are for character behavior during combat situations. A great way to double-dip.

And, yes, it also goes on to say "Defeating a monster doesn't necessarily mean killing it; defeating an opponent can mean killing it, capturing it, tricking it into destroying itself, trapping it forever so that it can't menace the rest of the world, and so forth" (e.g. either kill it or functionally kill it). And if you fight but don't defeat it, you get only 1/4 of the experience points.

Too, this is (easily) the most generous amount in any of the D&D versions/editions/flavors.

In any event, a routine combat in the same system will yield (roughly) 2% of the experience needed to go to the next level. So two combat encounters and a maximum non-combat award are about equivalent.


Each of the bonus awards is a SEPARATE 1/20 level. It was not uncommon for players to hit 2-3 of the 4 "1/20 level" categories.
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...124 to run fleeing from the mountain. ...125 to use a rope to climb the cliff. ...126 to quickly cast "summon stairs." ...127 to dodge under the falling rocks.
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adularia25 wrote:
skalchemist wrote:
fubfubfub wrote:
adularia25 wrote:
Just wanted to say I am writing an answer up for this, but it is a veritable novel... and will be done in oh, say... a day or two...
You could also offer that as an essay for Behind the Screen...
This is a great idea!

Well, if that's what you all would prefer...

I'll write something up for Behind the Screen and then link that post here once it's done...

And up!

Behind the Screen 48: Fairy Tales, Legends, and Myths
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