I enjoy the stories of high adventure, huge magic and exotic locations. They're fun, fast and exciting, and I get plenty of entertainment from a plethora of creatures threatening the heroes in alien landscapes as wizards blast a multitude of fireworks from their fingertips while chanting and gesticulating, and warriors wear impossible suits of armour and wield their two-handed swords one-handed.
But this isn't the kind of fantasy world I would like to live in.
In the 1980s I had two fantasy loves; the television show 'Robin of Sherwood' and the books and radio play of JRR Tolkien.
Robin of Sherwood was a low-fantasy take on the classic legend, with Herne the Hunter, and ancient pagan God of the forests, proclaiming that Robin was his son and that he was here to protect the innocent. There was very low-key magic, mysticism and adventure, a heady mix of pseudo history and fantasy, like the 'one God had come to drive out the many' (as Merlin in the movie 'Excalibur' quite correctly put it). It was quite excellent and the adventures that Robin and his companions had were complemented by the excellent characters in the ensemble and the great writing of Richard Carpenter. This was my kind of fantasy, and my kind of gaming setup; a small band of connected friends fighting against the odds.
Then there was my favourite thing in the world; Middle-earth. The stories of Tolkien, in particular The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings and the tale of the Children of Hurin, was exactly the kind of stuff I liked best about the fantasy genre. The history of Middle-earth is an explosion of high fantasy, with Gods at war in heaven and tragic high adventure on the surface of the world, but I was more interested in the events of the second and third ages, where the action was centered around a smaller selections of heroes and the grand exploits of history were stories and myths. This gave the setting depth and a realism I have never come across in any other fantasy work. I wanted my own creations to adventure in the low-magic world of the Third and Fourth ages as this felt like a place I could explore and learn about, and old ruins existed for much more involved reasons than simply a place for characters to have a bit of an adventure in.
As with Robin of Sherwood, Middle-earth had a reality to it that was tangible and this was primarily thanks to the movies of Peter Jackson, which gave it a look and atmosphere so real that everything had a place. Robin of Sherwood had the reality of history to frame it.
This is my kind of fantasy. Low-magic, character-driven adventure in which the story and the decisions the characters make drives the fun and frolics. High fantasy magical fireworks and improbable armour is window dressing. When you can tell a superb story with a sword, a run-down castle and a few curious friends then you've got real substance.