View Full Version : A less magical D&D [3.5]

2013-08-27, 03:48 AM
Hey everyone. I've been designing my own homebrew campaign world for little over a year now and have recently decided to tackle the complexities of magic use. For a little bit more background I've also been binging on Game of Thrones over summer and fell in love with how they approach magic. For those unfamiliar with the show, magic is present in the contients of Westeros and Essos, however most people don't believe in magic. Furthermore, what I really like about it, is magic is a subtle art, not the flashy Dungeons & Dragons big fireballs and teleporting whole armies all over the place. For some examples on what I mean by subtle check the links below (may contain spoilers)

skip to 0:45 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52QsDDBvhRc)
Skip to 5:45 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmOVIiELbG8)
Skip to 1:55 and continue onto 2:35 MAJOR SPOILERS IN THIS ONE (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmW6Q5oWRSw)

So now my question is has anyone made their Dungeons & Dragons world with subtler magic? If so how? Any random thoughts or ideas on how to do this without taking too much away from the wizard and sorcerer classes?

Personally I've been playing with the idea of giving the entire material plane the Wild Magic trait so magic is just as common and flashy but only cast when it is absolutely necessary, because you never know what could happen. All ideas and support are welcome and thank you in advance.

Black Jester
2013-08-27, 04:45 AM
With the exception of special cases like a dedicated E6 game or something similar, D&D is usually not very well suited for a low magic game, particularly at higher levels. If you want a system to emulate the more gritty and realistic depiction of conflicts similar to ASOIAF; you are probably better off trying to find another system (but please just waste no money on the actual Song of Ice and Fire RPG; it is a horrible game utterly wasting the source material and the authors seriously don't deserve any encouragement for that product). Gurps does this style very well (of course, after all it is Gurps, and there aren't many setting it does NOT implement very well), but personally I would recommend Harnmaster as it comes very close to that mood and style, can very easily converted to fit a Westeros game and is a really good game in its own right with one of the best settings you will ever find.

If a change of system is not an option for any reasons, you probably have a lot of work to do. The first step is to find a decent way to nerf casters, and nerf them hard. That is at least recommendable for *any* D&D game if you care at least a little bit for balancing, but in this case, it is mandatory. Then, as a next step, you need to find a way to make non-magical heroes better to compensate for their magic-item dependence, so that these characters are more versatile and adaptable even without acid-breathing socks or codpieces of flying.
And get rid of the idea that you are using these rule adaptations to create a low magic environment; it's D&D, so it'll never be truly low magic. What you are doing is building a setting/system with a not insanely over the top level of magic.

2013-08-27, 05:08 AM
Have you read the Giant's articles under the "Gaming" heading on this website? He has some nice ideas about using the d20 Modern system as the basis for a low-magic campaign.

2013-08-27, 07:18 AM
One or two companies have published material for Game of Thrones table top games. I don't know if any of it has been done in d20, but it might be helpful to get ahold of something and see how it's been done.

A quick search is showing me a lot of results for one produced by Green Ronin. It looks like it was generally quite well received.

2013-08-27, 08:39 AM
Furthermore, what I really like about it, is magic is a subtle art, not the flashy Dungeons & Dragons big fireballs and teleporting whole armies all over the place.There's two issues here: high-magic and high-level. By the time a wizard can teleport an entire army, a barbarian can survive swimming in lava.

So if you want a Game of Thrones campaign, make it a low-level one. In other words, E6.

Just to Browse
2013-08-28, 09:28 PM
You need to write the abilities so they aren't flashy is all. Just like shooting a fireball is too flashy, so (most likely) is throwing a ball of gunpowder. You need to write a list of things you want to see come from magic, then write write abilities based off of those things.

Your examples appear to be very high-magic (teleportation, high-DC or no-save personal illusions, perfect clones) from a D&D standpoint, so you can't modify D&D to fit, while low-level effects (color spray, glitterdust, sleep) all break the "flashiness" threshold. You really do need an entirely new set of abilities.

As a warning: auto-succeed illusions and perfect clones need to be extraordinarily limited so they can't be abused, because players will abuse them. If you limit them too hard, then they become stale and uninteresting. Good luck.

2013-08-28, 11:22 PM
I think E6 is perfectly fine for a low-magic campaign. There's no reason you can't do low-magic DnD... I know everyone thinks about magic items, but you can refluff those.

2013-08-29, 06:43 AM
So I am working on the story details of my character, and I want to start moving into his gear as well as his stats and such.

2013-08-29, 08:01 AM
For Very Low Magic, Use a Spell point System, Where Spell points are Ability Damage that can only be healed Naturally. You'll Still be able to Fireball, But Not Often!
For Low Magic As Above, But Constitution Damage/Spell points, Negative No's, Count as 'Spell Burn'
Too Low? - Add a Staves/Wands, But on the Same Spell point system, so that (50) Charges Gets eaten up Quickly.

You could also Try Wound Points/Vitality Points Where Spell Cost Vp's or Even Wp's as an Alternate to above

2013-08-29, 08:59 AM
The best attempt I've seen at a low-magic D&D are Midnight and the Conan d20 game. They do have spellcasting classes, but I think they have fewer spells, they are more complicated, and spellcasters are assumed to be very rare in the world.

2013-08-29, 11:16 AM
Your examples appear to be very high-magic (teleportation, high-DC or no-save personal illusions, perfect clones) from a D&D standpointThe first one was just Disguise Self, a level 1 spell. The second one was Shadow Jaunt, a level 2 maneuver. The 3rd one is ... I don't know ... Mirror Image on steroids? Trickery Devotion set to 11? Pretty high level, yes, but then again, he's the best Warlock in Qarth.

2013-08-29, 10:18 PM
I'm with Yora, the Conan RPG (http://www.amazon.com/Conan-RPG-2nd-Roleplaying-Game/dp/1905850069) is the best game system I've ever found for a low-magic D&D feel.

Also of use would be this toolkit of houserules (http://www.swordandsorcery.org/toolkit.asp) for a sword and sorcery game.

Just to Browse
2013-08-30, 12:34 AM
The first one was just Disguise Self, a level 1 spell. No one ever makes the save against that spell unless the caster dismisses it. That reeks of high-DC and some contingency effect.

The second one was Shadow Jaunt, a level 2 maneuver.There wasn't no black smoke. That was a very well-concealed maneuver, and I'm not sure how you suppress it.

he's the best Warlock in Qarth.That makes him high-level.

2013-08-30, 01:52 AM
My advice would be to completely gut the system and fill in the blanks by liberally stealing class abilities from D&D to create an entirely new set of classes specifically for your system. The reason for this is that most D&D classes have at least a little magic to them - even stuff like the Ranger and the Paladin which are 'primarily' non-magic, so you might as well just use all those classes for parts and keep the stuff that fits in with your system. It also will help players not come in with standard D&D expectations if instead of 'wizard' and 'cleric' and 'fighter' there's 'sage' and 'councilor' and 'soldier'.

The 'D&D doesn't do low magic well' thing is mostly for when people make magic items rare but leave all the casters with their stuff working as normal. I think it'd be fine so long as you aren't using Monster Manual stuff as-is, especially if you had mostly humanoid enemies who are playing with the same limited access to magic.

Now that that's out of the way, how to make magic subtle... Hm...

What if most magic is primarily divinatory, and actually changing the universe directly with magic is extremely difficult? You could still have magic that can be used in a fight, but it would all be themed around things like identifying the opponent's weakness, figuring out what their fate is, predicting the pattern of their next attack, etc.

Here's a side-track about how characters could get magic:

You could actually give most characters 'magic' of this sort, sort of like the knacks in the Alvin Maker series, but such that people don't generally think of it as magic. For example, maybe the Diplomat gets the supernatural power to tell if something is a lie if he himself has said nothing but the truth in this encounter as a class ability. If asked why he can't lie and use the ability, he might say something like 'well if deception is in my mind it clouds my perceptions of theirs - I'm too busy trying to hide my own lies' when its actually some supernatural restriction. Maybe every class has three of these that they get.

A 'mage' or 'wizard' then would be someone who is trying to understand the nature and origin of magic. They might be the equivalent of a cross-class character in Din's Curse - they can pick their abilities from any class, but they only advance two instead of three. Or maybe they get four but advance more slowly, I dunno.

The reason to do this would be to avoid the problem of 'the guy who has magic can also do mundane stuff, but the mundane guy can only do mundane stuff' and give everyone a little bit of nascent magic. You don't want the diplomat to be a worse diplomat than the wizard who uses a mind-reading spell, for example.

Anyhow, going up from divinatory magic you might have magic that slowly changes the direction of things in a large area. This would be hugely powerful ritual stuff, but slooow. For example, a three day ritual that lengthens the growing season in an entire valley for a year. A one day ritual that creates a dead copy of someone's body. This is the more plotty stuff, but the time/ritual limits prevent it from being too commonplace. Again, you could have it be like 4ed where anyone can do a ritual given the right skill checks, and different rituals take different skills.

If you want there to be aggressive combat magic, then maybe instead of just reading someone's fate, you can twist it. Instead of reading someone's mind, you can change it. There's no visual effect, stuff just plays out differently than it should have. A person is struck in the heart instead of the blow glancing off of the ribcage, that kind of thing. It might be neat if it really is a question 'did this guy magic us just now or was that just bad luck?'