View Full Version : The Ultimate in Low-Magic Campaigns

2006-12-19, 02:00 PM
So, as I perennially do, I've been toying with ideas for low-magic campaigns...that is, campaigns where magic is so rare and wonderful that it brings a wild air of mystery, a world where a magic sword, or a magic creature, is truly a source of awe. Here's a new thought. It's probably the most radical one yet, that I'm aware of.

Ban caster classes. I don't mean *full* caster classes, but *all* caster classes. PCs, and the *vast* majority of the rest of the adventuring population, choose their class from:


And the PrCs:
Dwarven Defender
Horizon Walker
(Possibly) Shadowdancer

Plus, of course, any non-core things the DM allows that are in a similar vein.

Some NPC casters would exist, but they would be rare and either idolized (a Paladin would be regarded as a saint performing miracles) or feared (the old wizard in the hills would be assumed to be a diabolist). Even monks and shadowdancers (though allowed for PCs) would be looked at with some suspicion because of their "mystical" powers.

Now, of course, you could make magic items much rarer without worrying about PC-to-PC balance (except perhaps for monks; remove them too if they become too much of a problem). Magic item price would be 3 times normal, and rolls for magic items in treasure hordes would be as if the CR were 3 levels lower.

Obviously, this campaign would look *very* different from the standard campaign. You'd need to make some big CR adjustments. Here are my thoughts there:

b) +1 CR with particular vulnerability to energy types (such as creatures with regeneration/something) or with attacks that can be neutralized by clerical medicine (such as poison)
c) +2 CR for creatures with powerful magical or supernatural abilities
d) Groups are more challenging without a Batman, so CR for gropus is calculated differently:
-The EL for two creatures of CR x is 2*x or x+3, whichever is lower
-The EL for two creatures of CR x and x-1 or 2, respectively, is the sum of their CRs or x+2, whichever is lower
-The EL for two creatures of CR x and x-3 or 4, respectively, is the sum of their CRs or x+1, whichever is lower
-Handle larger groupings as normal.

So 16 gnolls, instead of being CR 8, would be CR 10 (does that sound right)?

The characters would probably spend more than the usual amount of time at low levels fighting humanoids, animals, and simple magical beasts; supernatural creatures would be things of legend, and would generally be the purview of higher-level parties.

2006-12-19, 02:12 PM
In a world where the PCs have no access to magic horizon walker probably isn't a very good idea. Also, I'd recommend creating a variant of ranger, not dumping the class completely.

2006-12-19, 02:22 PM
Sounds terribly difficult. Without any healing magic, adventuring parties are in for a world of hurt.

When the CR for a monster is set, it is assumed that 4 adventurers of that level would have 1/4 of their resources taken away by that creature, including all those nice healing spells. I think the application of this idea would be frustrating for players, who would probably end up so hurt after one encounter they would have to go back to the Inn.

Have you looked at Iron Heroes? Magic is amazingly rare and unpredictable in it, and they found a unique workaround the healing system in 'normal' D&D.

Not exactly a homebrew solution, though... perhaps just taking the healing system from it would work.

Amount of ReserveHP=same as normal HP
Use ReserveHP to 'fill up' normal HP at a transfer rate of 1 per minute.
Heal skill (DC 15) adds the bandagers' ranks in heal to reserveHP, 1/day
Resting for a day restores HP and reserveHP equally at normal rate.

The idea is that the transfer rate is too slow to be used in battle, so max HP is still important, but you don't need magical healing to encounter four groups of nasties in a day. Oh, and you need to be conscious to transfer the HPs.

2006-12-19, 03:15 PM
Then use a Vitality healer.

1> Half of a player's HP is Wounds, the other half is Vitality. Round up for Wounds, down for Vitality.

2> Vitality completely refreshes itself if the players have a breather. If the players are doing something like "chasing after a gnoll" between fights, they only get back half of their lost Vitality.

3> Damage is applied to your Vitality first, but every 10 points or fraction thereof of Vitality taken from a blow also does a point of Wound damage.

If you are out of Vitality, you take damage directly to Wounds.

If you are out of Wounds, you take damage directly to Con (this does not cause further damage, as a special case).

If you run out of Con, you die.

4> Use "1/2 max HP+con bonus" per level, including L 1, and give everyone bonus HP equal to their Con.

Ie, L 1 fighter with 16 con:
16 + 5 + 3 = 24 HP.

12 Vitality, 12 Wounds.


5> Healing Wounds.
A character naturally heals (3 + Con bonus) Wounds over 6 hours of bed rest or 12 hours of normal activity.

A heal check can be used to boost this. DC 20 gives x2 healing, DC 30 gives x3 healing, DC 40 gives x4 healing, etc.


L 15 Fighter, 18 con.
153 HP. 76 Vitality 77 Wounds.

Per day of sleeping 6 hours at night and 18 hours of activity he heals 17 damage.

An equal-level healer can boost this to about 51 points on average.

(I'm assuming fantasy healing poltices are availiable to skilled healers).

Basically, Wounds prevent the warrior from fighting forever, while Vitality lets them fight more than 1 challenging fight per day.

2006-12-19, 04:01 PM
Yakk's idea would certainly work.

Healing, in general, is a sticking point for a system like this, though. I'm aware of one system in which healing is quite hard to come by--Ars Magica. That's certainly not a low-magic system, but *healing* magic is tough--permanently healing wounds requires consuming a valuable resource, "raw wis" (you can temporarily close wounds without it, but you'd better make it permanent by sunrise/sundown or they'll all open again). But the spirit of Ars Magica is much lower-combat than that of a typical D&D game.

Part of me likes this, though and thinks it might be interesting to adapt a D&D campaign to it. That would be:

1) Standard rules for healing (with healing potions and NPC healing spellcasters existent, but hard to find and expensive)
2) CRs of *all* monsters increased by 2, in addition to increases above (fractional CRs increase 2 "slots", so that 1/4 -> 1/2 and 1/3 -> 1)
3) Stories written so that little combat is necessary--often only for the climactic scene. Other "combat" encounters (the wizard's tower guards) for example, have ways to be defeated by stealth, trickery, etc. When multiple combat is required, stories should allow for retreat-and-rest tactics.
4) More non-combat XP available, so that characters can progress even though they're not fighting nearly as much. Strictly use the broader definition of "defeating" an encounter to include skillfully avoiding or defusing it.

OTOH, maybe D&D just isn't the system for this. It's just a random thought.

(And yes, a non-spellcasting ranger variant would make a lot of sense.)

[edit: adding a sample reality check for the CR system. A 10th-level wizard villain, normally CR 10, would get +2 general CR, +2 for "powerful magical abilities", meaning CR 14. So a good climactic battle for, say, a L. 12 party. Wonder how that would work? 3 L. 12 meatshields and a sneak, with magical items normally appropriate to L.9 characters and no casters, probably a little beaten up (but not too much), vs. a L.10 wizard at full strength and with all his spells (which would be much more focused than usual on physical defense spells like mirror image and stoneskin than usual, due to the rarity of magical threats) and a bit of time to prepare? Sounds like a fine climactic battle. Challenging, not impossible.]

2006-12-19, 09:13 PM
You could potentially wrench the magic out of the Cleric class, and turn him into a warrior priest for his or her god. Let them only have Domain powers, and it's pretty balanced still.

On the other side of the coin, you could create a spell-less Ranger/Druid like so:

Hedgewizard (Natural Healer, Wise(person), Woodsman)

A Hedgewizard is skilled in the arts of herbal medicine, and potion making. Hedgewizards gain bonuses to Brew Potion, and Heal by applying Knowledge (Herbs) as a DC modifier to the appropriate checks.

Hedgewizards are also effecient trackers and gain a bonus to spot checks to detect tracks of monsters/animals.

Hedgewizards also innately have knowledge of their surroundings, and how to blend in like a rogue.

Hedgewizards typically carry clubs, staves, and axes, and treat them as martial weapons.

2006-12-19, 09:26 PM
Rangers, Just take away spells and the abilaty to hold two-handed weapons in one hand later on.

Shadow of the Sun
2006-12-20, 04:15 AM
Well, I am trying to make a campaign where the gods decided to remove arcane magic from the world after a Pun-Pun like character got hyper powerful. I switched the focus to psionics instead.

2006-12-20, 04:15 PM
Rangers, Just take away spells and the abilaty to hold two-handed weapons in one hand later on.

Shouldn't they get something in return? Or do you think they're unbalanced vs. other melee classes currently? If they're properly balanced as-is, I don't want to take something away without giving them something in return. Maybe a fighter bonus feat at each level divisible by 4?

I'm also not quite sure why, for a campaign like this, one would need to take away the two-handed weapon ability. It's not marked, but I'd definitely call it Ex, not Su.

Well, I am trying to make a campaign where the gods decided to remove arcane magic from the world after a Pun-Pun like character got hyper powerful. I switched the focus to psionics instead.

Well, I doubt that will save you from Pun-Pun; I think one of the Pun-Pun varients is a Psionic build. I do know a lot of people prefer Psionics to the D&D magic system. But anyway, my idea for a "low magic" campaign would really be a "low spooky stuff" campaign; psionics for PCs would be out. (And full-blown psionic NPCs/monsters would be treated like full casters/highly magical monsters; rare, generally feared/revered, and with an extra bonus to CR.)

Ooh, here's a flavor idea: In this campaign world, magic (both arcane and divine) and psionics are considered, by an large, lost arts. The sorcerous and psionic genes have disappeared, the good and neutral gods, if they're still there, no longer answer most mortals, and the art of wizardry is taught in no schools.

So the only magic comes from one of these sources:

Evil gods are still active in the world (this would be a grim campaign world). They're much weaker than normal, and can only grant powers to a selected few. They only choose those who share their alignment, and even then, they annoint far fewer clerics than they used to.
Infernal creatures still know the art of wizardry, and will teach it to those few they think show aptitude and potential...eeevil potential.:sabine:
Naturally magical creatures are dying out, but a few still exist. Creatures over 350 years old (around the time of whatever disaster wiped out magic) may remember the arcane arts, though they're loath to teach them (need to think of a reason why), and there just plain aren't a lot of them (the disaster wiped out a substantial portion of the world's population, and of course 350 is pretty old for most creatures). They are also very reluctant to create magical items (perhaps it takes a great toll on them), although they may do this in time of great need.
Relics from the pre-disaster era still exist, although they're rare and very valuable Restrict PCs to non-evil alignments, and you've got your fluff.

2006-12-22, 07:46 AM
There are many different simple ways to look at healing for an extremely low magic campaign.

#1. :smallsmile:There isn't any:smallsmile:. This is more workable than you think. You have to write your adventures with that in mind though. Concentrate on humanoid opponents, and avoid creatures with high damage output for anything other than climax encounters. Magic healing spells might be a staple of D&D (and all the fantasy RPGs that came after), but it doesn't really seem to be a staple of the actual fantasy genre. It almost never occurs in the movies, and doesn't seem to exist in a lot of author's fantasy worlds. I see wounded characters being carted around 10 times for every time I see a magic healing spell, and when they DO show up they don't ever seem to be the mid-fight healing that D&D has.

#2. :smallamused:Healing skill can heal damage:smallamused:. There are a lot of ways to do this, but the important thing is that it has to have a limit, and it can't be done in combat. One way might be that the heal skill heals the skill result -10, with a limit of the the characters CON score in total daily healing. This can at least get characters active again.

#3. :smallconfused:Various Vitality systems:smallconfused:. Lots of way to do this too. Quick way is no CON bonus to hit points at all. When you run out of hit points you use con. Crits go straight to CON, and you get all your hit points back after the fight is over. Crits become REALLY deadly using this variant, although low magic games should be more deadly. This variant also makes the rogue particularly deadly, because of a combination of the weapons favored by rogues, sneak attack, and the fact that unsneakable opponents would be VERY RARE in a low magic campaign.

#4. :smallredface:Healing potions:smallredface:. No variant rules at all here, other than the fact that some NPC herbalists and such can make potions of cure light wounds.

2006-12-22, 11:24 AM
#1. :smallsmile:There isn't any:smallsmile:. This is more workable than you think. You have to write your adventures with that in mind though. Concentrate on humanoid opponents, and avoid creatures with high damage output for anything other than climax encounters. Magic healing spells might be a staple of D&D (and all the fantasy RPGs that came after), but it doesn't really seem to be a staple of the actual fantasy genre. It almost never occurs in the movies, and doesn't seem to exist in a lot of author's fantasy worlds. I see wounded characters being carted around 10 times for every time I see a magic healing spell, and when they DO show up they don't ever seem to be the mid-fight healing that D&D has.

Remember that D&D was done that way, because carting around injured friends isn't actually all that fun. But being able to heal them so they can walk, is considerably more fun.

2006-12-22, 02:58 PM
I think the key is: "You have to write your adventures with that in mind though." If you're not going to make healing readily available to characters, you want the vast majority of "carrying wounded allies around" to occur *after* the climactic scene. Some HP loss before that is fine, of course, but you really want to minimize someone getting reduced to 0hp before the final battle, and you want to pitch your final battle with the assumption that your characters may not be going into it full up on HP.

Also, since characters are going to need downtime for natural healing more frequently, one might want to shorten that time. Here's my suggestion for natural healing in a world where it's as good as it gets: Add con bonus to your normal 1HP/level heal. While we're at that, subtract a con penalty, but leave a minimum of 1HP/night (con penalties are pretty rare, and those with them don't have that many HP to recover anyway). *After* adding in the bonus, double for successful long-term Heal check or complete bed rest, or quadruple for both.

2006-12-22, 04:13 PM
You've also got to be very careful about creatures which predicate their challenge rating on their ability to do massive damage; some end up being much more powerful. Like the time our DM sent a leveled troll at us and dealt 150+ damage to the barbarian in a single round. I don't remember precisely how much it was, but I had to cast Heal (for 150) two rounds in a row and he still wasn't full. Thank heaven for the sorceror and my plate-fighter cohort; if not for them and for the first Heal poor old Roger (the Rager) would have been a goner. But when a troll with improved crits gets two criticals and a rend on somebody (with gear and feats to enhance things, of course), that's nasty. Especially given he's got regeneration to boot.

In a low-magic environment, you may want to adjust the degree of regeneration and fast healing such creatures get, in order to reduce their disproportionate impact in a magic-poor world. If you don't, a standard troll will be far more of a challenge than normal, possibly even 2-3 CRs' worth. Have I mentioned lately how the Tarrasque isn't even fair? :smallbiggrin:

You might want to consider incorporating some kind of feat to emulate a weak LoH to compensate a bit and allow for more flexibility in terms of monsters, like so:

Reiki (General)
Prerequisites: 5 ranks in Healing, Wisdom 13
Benefit: A character skilled in Reiki healing is able to channel their spirit to aid the healing of another. By spending a minute in preparation and making a successful DC 15 Healing check, this character is able to lay their hands on another in order to heal. One hit point is healed per minute, per point of the healer's Wisdom modifier. Reiki may be performed for a maximum number of minutes equal to the character's level per day, including any preparation time spent.

This way you allow a much slower version of the lay on hands ability paladins get, in a way which seems to make more sense for a low-magic environment. Just a thought. Still doesn't eliminate the problem with trolls and other regeneration-pigs, but it helps a bit with the 'between-combat' healing issue.

It'd be way harsh in my campaigns though... I'll occasionally opt to commute a 20 to a 1 when I'm DMing, but I pull very few punches, and will invariably take it back later, so low-magic would mean one fight every week for my party. One fight, then a week of healing in bed.

mabriss lethe
2006-12-22, 06:18 PM
The ranger variant:

You don't have to leave the ranger out of the list at all.
Saw one in the Rokugan sourcebook that Alderac put out a few years ago .
the non magic using ranger was simple.

Remove their spellcasting ability. In its place, give them a bonus feat from the fighter's list every time they'd learn a new spell level. It's not perfect, but it's an elegant fix nonetheless. I've even played non-mage rangers in higher magic campaigns and had a blast doing it.

If you don't like that, then make a ranger-esque fighter or rogue. Both can be turned into pretty handy wilderness scouts. They'll be even less perfect, but perfection is sorely overrated

2006-12-22, 07:31 PM
I like the idea of Reiki, but why not move it in another direction.

Reiki (General)
Prereq: 6 Ranks in Healing, 13 Wis 7 Con
Sacrificing of himself, a character with the Reiki Ability can channel spirit energy to increase the natural healing rate of his allies. Reiki may be used in two ways.

1:The healer may sacrifice his own HP to restore that of his allies, though if he is below 10hp, he may not give more.

2:The healer may enter a Reiki trance, and sacrifice his own resting to rapidly heal his allies, with any time spent resting for the rest of the party healing at a rate of 1hp/minute regeneration. The healer is completely unable to rest, even if all allies are healed before the end of the rest cycle. The healer is treated as fatigued for 24 hours.

The Black Prince
2006-12-22, 07:43 PM
While your own Ideas are just as good, have you never seen the Complete Warrior It has Rules fo Variant Rangers and Paladins.

2006-12-26, 09:03 AM
Use some things from d20 Modern like allow DnD's Heal to be used like treat injury in d20 modern. Another neccesity is class defence bonuses since armour class is mostly magic in dnd. 2 lvl 20 fighters with str 18, weapon focus and masterwork weapons giving them +26 attack v.s. a maximum armour class of 23 with full plate and tower shield. Without class defence bonuses everyone's going to be spending a lot of time maxing out Improved Combat Expertise.

2006-12-29, 12:27 AM
Low magic games are usually very short on monsters as well. Every monster encounter should be hand picked, as they should be very rare beasties.

Armor class needs no boosting, most of your foes will be humanoid and operating under the same limitations as the characters. Equal limitations are balanced. Also, honestly MOST characters I have seen never really seem to go past the mid 20s in armor class. I am not talking about armor class builds, I am just talking about the actual characters I actually see playing. Full plate and tower shield makes 23 AC, and that would probably be a popular combo in a non-magical world.

2006-12-29, 10:01 AM
It's an interesting idea. I remember reading ways of making low level campaings, and here's some ideas:

Caster classes: You said no caster class is allowed, right? Then you can't have bards, clerics, drudis, paladings, hight level rangers, wizards and sorcerors. The ranger could be worked with more Ex features to be usable at higher levels.
IF you allow low level characters, some ideas:
Paladin: Without clerics, paladins would be in charge or turning undead and healing. Just think of the Diablo II's paladin. He is the only class there with healing skills.
Bards: He could work as normal, using non-flashy magic to aid the group.
Adept: This NPC class would be interesting, as it's not a strong battler class.

Okay, healing is the big problem here. Some suggestions.
* Healing Save: I believe it's in the Sword & Fist. It's a lotion that is rubbed on wounds (ouch) and heals 1d8 Hit Points. It has no other effect, is not magic, and is usable only once a day for each character.
* Vitality System: This system is based on a system a RPG magazine here posted once. Here's how it works:
Vitality Points: Every character has Vitality Points equal to half his Constitution score, usually hanging from 4 to 9-10. There represent a character's physical health.
The Hit Points represents the character's survival abilities, and is rised with experience. Just roll the Hit Dies as normal for each class and level.
In battles, traps, or anything else, a character loses Hit Points as normal. Subdual damage reduces HP as well. When he reaches 0 HP, staing normal and subdual damage, he is disabled, and can only move slowly. If he is attacked again, any Subdual damage starts to change into normal damage, until he is reduced to 0 HP counting only normal damage. Then he loses councience starts losing 1 HP each round, till he stabilises, is healed, or reach -10 HP. Finally he starts to lose 1 Vitality Point each round, till they are reduced to 0, then he dies.

How to heal HP and VP
Healing magic heals HP as normal. VP is restored with the following table:
Cure Minor Wounds: None
Cure Light Wounds: 1 VP
Cure Moderate Wounds: 2 VP
Cure Serious Wounds: 3 VP
Cure Critical Wounds: 4 VP
Heal: 10 VP
A paladin's lay on hands ability doesn't heal VPs

To heal without magic is slower and works like that:
8 hours of rest heals 1 HP for each level a character has. 2 HP if he is being tended by someone with healing skills (DC 15, every day of rest)
Healing salves heals 1d8 HPs each day.
A character being tended by someone with healing skills, and using healing salves can heal VPs, 1 point each week.

This system works in the following way: Hit Points are the character's resistence, and is easily recoverable with mundane methods. Vitality Points are his health, and these can take weeks or months to heal properly.
Magic healing can quickly restore HP, and heal VP, but they are rare
It also gives 1st level characters a few more "Hit Points" to survive the first levels of campain, though some monsters will have a lot of VP. (Constructs and Undead, of course, havingno VP at all)

Something interesting would have big cities with adepts, the "local holy people" that can cast spells for characters. Make it cost double the PHB's base cost, and demand that only famous characters will be allowed to use the services (no 1st levels here)

2006-12-29, 11:36 AM
Also remember that most encounters are going to take longer than average. Why? Because without the rapid damage dealing abilities of wizards, you're going to have to wittle down the enemies manually.

On the healing front, you might consider adding 'miracles'. So that instead of having a temple you go to faith healers, who have a variety of possible outcomes. They might restore a few HP, or they might do nothing at all.