I’ve never been big on fantasy (as opposed to science fiction, not fantasizing) but there is one fantasy world that sticks with me still, that of Steve Jackson’s Sorcery!
Partially it’s because it was a series of choose-your-own adventure style books and I always like getting to direct the path of a story….but most of the appeal to me as an adult is the way the world is fantastic, not so much the protagonist.
So much of capital F Fantasy feels to me like a fat greasy load of wish fulfillment being hershey-squirted around the room and/or just superheroes with swords and a pile of magical items that basically take the place of being bitten by a radioactive spider.
In Sorcery! the world was very unforgiving and even if you played the magician you were handicapped by whatever spells you could remember after getting to read through the spellbook before starting (AND NEVER AGAIN) as well as whatever spell components you could find (No goblin teeth? NO SUMMONING GOBLINS). It punished you for cheating and sometimes even when you won a Luck roll you’d die in an ironic or unexpected way.
And the puzzles? ACTUAL PUZZLES. Not “Get an item and then rub it against the door until the door opens” non-puzzles. Some of them are still tricky as an adult…
Naturally, this made it far more rewarding when you accomplished something and created an atmosphere where you didn’t need to find the Mithril Crotch Shield of Alcazar (which gives +30 against fire, -30 against ice and +20 against giving a shit) in order to feel satisfied with that accomplishment.
In a world that hostile, just finding a few gold pieces and some left over mutton was enough to make you feel like you’d scored a small victory against a massive ecosystem designed to trick and eventually kill you.