What kind of fantasy works best?

There are many ways to play Dungeons & Dragons, and the storytelling possibilities are endless. Players can go on epic adventures across the world to defeat a universe-shattering evil, or they can play as hardworking, underpaid franchisees in an adventure company. No matter what kind of story the DM and players decide to tell, J&D can be used to say. However, there are many subgenres of fantasy storytelling, and even though J&D can be used to say anything, right? East J&D better at telling one type of fantasy adventure than another?


Two of the major fantasy subgenres are the “High Fantasy” and “Sword and Sorcery” genres. If there are other subgenres, “Dark Fantasy” being one of them, in the context of J&D, it can overlap the other two and be a bit more aesthetically focused. The difference between High Fantasy and Sword and Sorcery stories is mainly in the orientation. In High Fantasy, the focus is often on an epic conflict between good and evil where the heroes are unequivocally good and heroic. With Sword and Sorcery, on the other hand, the focus is on the personal battles of the heroes, whether it’s their struggle to survive or a conflict with personal morality.


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Both subgenera have been part of J&D since its creation. Many campaigns may start out as a Sword and Sorcery campaign but end up being High Fantasy. Each genre has resources to run a two-way campaign. While each way of playing has its advantages and disadvantages when it comes to telling a story, the mechanics of J&Dwhen followed to the letter, can often encourage a Sword and Sorcery approach.

In High Fantasy, heroes are powerful, heroic, and undeniably good agents who fight a great evil that threatens their world. For this reason, a High Fantasy campaign can give players a sense of excitement and agency. They are the ones doing amazing things and changing the world for the better. Players are the ones who stop the bad guys and save the world from great and terrible evils – they feel powerful as if what they are doing makes a difference.


Mechanically, J&D supports High Fantasy through both core systems, the alignment system and high-level class features and spells. High-level class traits and spells are often the most groundbreaking and groundbreaking, and they make players feel like epic, larger-than-life heroes. The alignment system, on the other hand, has been decoupled from most mechanics in Fifth Edition and rather acts as a guide to a character’s morality and in-game actions more than anything else.

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In Sword and Sorcery, heroes aren’t usually perfect, and their battles are much more personal and close to home. They do not defeat a great evil but rather battle their own personal demons. This gives players a closer connection to their characters and a goal to pursue outside of the main quest or adventure. Sword and Sorcery also allows more focus on adventure for money. Even if players don’t play explicitly greedy characters, they must find a way to survive and pay for their place in society.


J&D supports a Sword and Sorcery style of play through many mechanics. The background mechanics and accompanying features encourage multi-faceted and flawed characters. Additionally, the equipment rules in the Player’s Handbook include plenty of rules that push the game towards Sword and Sorcery – with the Wealth, Currency and Spending rules ensuring players keep their financial situation in mind. Finally, the downtime mechanics also encourage focus on the player character’s personal goals and achievements.

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High level game in J&D will naturally relate to High Fantasy, as the characters have the power to change the world and their villains will often threaten said world. Low-level play also approximates a sword and sorcery adventure, as players are weaker and just beginning their adventuring careers. Apart from that, there are so many other mechanisms in J&D which bring it closer to Sword and Sorcery.

When considering the benefits that a Sword and Sorcery approach brings to a campaign, one thing is clear: J&D is best when played as a sword and sorcery adventure. There are just more paths to explore, stories to tell, and room for character development. While starting a high-level High Fantasy game can be a wonderful power fantasy for players, the most memorable campaigns will often be those where players start from scratch. These are the campaigns where players can explore what is most personal for their characters and overcome their difficulties while defeating bad guys along the way. The best part of this is that there’s nothing stopping the game from taking a detour into High Fantasy from time to time.


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