View Full Version : D&D 5e/Next Limits on what magic can do?

2018-02-26, 06:55 PM
Should there be limits on what magic can do in D&D 5e? What kinds of limits?

Obviously part of the fun (and power) of magic is that it's versatile and flexible, and can be applied in ways that you and the GM might not have anticipated. But if magic can do literally *anything* then some of the martial classes (Monk, Fighter) and utility classes (Ranger, Rogue) lose their appeal because literally all of their abilities can be duplicated with spells.

For example, the Battle Master Fighter can get superiority dice that allow you to perform some moderately useful combat tricks...but wizards and sorcerers and druids all have access to combat tricks. The Monk gets a pool of qi that allows him to dash around the map and hide in shadows and make multiple attacks per turn...but any spellcaster can also hide in shadows and boost her mobility, and any spellcaster with one level in sorcerer can also make multiple magical attacks per turn.

This is different from the ancient complaint that casters are over-powered...I think 5e has done a good job of balancing the classes in terms of raw power. Within reason, each class can dish out roughly the same amount of damage over, say, 10 rounds. The problem is that there's nothing that *only* martial classes can do. If you squint a little, a Fighter or a Rogue or a Monk is just a spellcaster with an unusually narrow list of spells and some better-than-average cantrips.

So if you wanted to homebrew a system where there were things that magic simply couldn't do...where would you start? Is it fun to put a limit on the amount of physical work that magic can do? E.g., maybe it's not cost-effective (mana-effective?) to build a brick house with magic, because magic isn't good at lifting hundreds of heavy bricks, one after another? Maybe there's a limit on how well magic can manipulate small objects like lockpicks and jewelers' lenses? Maybe cantrips should be notably weaker, so that one of the limits of magic is that significant magic can only be used a few times a day? What limitations make sense in terms of the underlying fluff of a standard D&D 5e setting? What would be entertaining for players?

2018-02-26, 07:13 PM
I'd add mundane solutions to magic. A circle, drawn on the ground and empowered by conscious effort (not magic, mind you-just focused thought) hedges out spirits and most mindless constructs or undead.

Salt is a weak anti-magic material, lead is a stronger one.

Overall, though, I'd say it's probably better to give people you don't think have enough options and tricks MORE, than giving casters and those you feel have enough/too many LESS.

2018-02-26, 08:14 PM
More options is always good.

And mundane solutions to magical problems are neat to play with. A few common ones that spring to mind are things like salt and various herbs (like garlic and wolfsbane, possibly explained as a severe allergy in highly magical creatures or spirits); running water (water could be highly conductive to magic, making it a fabulous choice to 'wash away' non-permanent illusions, enchantments and the like), cold iron (not alloyed into steel or anything but pure iron, possibly acting as a 'grounding' force for magic allowing it to dissipate back into whatever it comes from), lead (the poor man's divination blocker), or any number of other folktale defenses. If nothing else, allow actions to be readied to disrupt a spellcaster mid-cast by non-spellcaster (might be hard to finish casting that fireball when you take an arrow to the shoulder, make a concentration check to not flub the spell). And if you want to get creative, maybe someone discovered a substance that insulates against magic like rubber does for electricity. Plus, you can always set magic against magic by having a variety of abjuration trinkets meant to fend off magical assaults and creatures for sale all over the place.

And of course, never underestimate manpower. Let your more martial players get followers to their name that they can direct on larger scales as the spellcasters get higher level magic.

Edit: Not to mention that if you want to encourage mundane solutions to magical problems, you can remind your players that Detect Magic is a 1st-level spell available to all spellcasters. Seriously, it's on the Wizard, Cleric, Druid, Sorcerer, Bard, Ranger, Paladin, and Artificer spell lists and Warlocks can gain it as an Invocation option. Plus it's a ritual so literally any character that has access to ritual casting through class features or the Ritual Caster Feat may have access to it, no spell slot needed. Suddenly proficiency in the Disguise Kit is looking more attractive than that Disguise Self spell.

2018-02-26, 08:25 PM
You posted this in homebrew, so isn't this simply going to be whatever your wanting to run in your homebrew?

2018-02-26, 08:56 PM
A series of books I once read went with the theme that magic was caused entirely by summoning demons and having them do cool stuff. Silver was highly toxic to them and sapped their powers rapidly - even just by being near it - so was used to ward places against magic when casting your own spells wasn't an option.

Iron was significantly weaker than silver, but still had a similar effect. Lots of iron structures: not a lot of magic going on. Peasants would wear iron jewelry or similar trinkets to protect themselves.

Ever since then, that has always been my go to if stuck: silver for the 'high end' mundane answer and iron for the discount version.

2018-02-26, 09:37 PM
Thanks for the suggestions!

The anti-magic items are a really interesting twist, but they're not quite what I'm looking for. I am not trying to nerf casters. I'm trying to make a clearer distinction between what casters do and what warriors do. One way to do that is to add new things that martial classes can do that spellcasters can't. Letting martial classes (and only martial classes) accumulate followers is a great suggestion -- if anyone has example rules for how that might work level-by-level, I'd love to see a link.

Another way to make the distinction clearer is to pick some things that, currently, both casters and martial types can do -- and house-rule them so that now only one or the other can do that. Just as a silly example, all kinds of classes in RAW can get the ability to run quickly, and all kinds of classes in RAW can get the ability to inflict 1d8 of ranged damage. I'd like to split that up, and say "now only martial types can run faster than 30 feet per round, and now only caster types can deal 1d8 in a ranged attack." And I'd like a thematic or narrative explanation of why one type gets one ability, and the other type gets the other ability.

I realize this might be asking for quite a lot -- but I think it's important to give different types of classes a distinct mechanical feel.

2018-02-27, 12:57 AM
I don't think it's so much that casters would be nerfed as it is that, in a world where magic is prolific measures would be taken to prevent things like a disgruntle wizard waltzing into the palace disguised as one of the guards and offing the royal family. If characters and creatures have magic, it stands to reason that defenses are in place to counter that magic... even if such defenses are magical in nature themselves. And if defenses are being tailored to counter magic, well then they might be less prepared to counter more mundane threats like a Rogue with a disguise kit, some acting experience, and a good set of lockpicks.

Always remember: If your characters can do it, then so might their enemies.

As for followers, well I found something on Reddit about strongholds for 5e that might be interesting. It includes types of strongholds that would appeal to Wizards (like colleges) and Clerics (temples), but the biggest (forts, castles, palaces) sound very much right up the martial characters' alleys and are between 2x-10x as big as the Wizard and Cleric-friendly options.


Also, I recall hearing somewhere that the original rules of D&D had Fighters gain followers as part of their class, making them the 'King Arthur' to the Wizard's 'Merlin'. Didn't find those on a quick google search though.