View Full Version : Dying Magic- a setting between high and low magic

2007-09-03, 12:08 PM
As probably everyone here knows, D&D is a rather high fantasy setting. That's cool, sometimes, but sometimes I'd prefer a less... shiny access to magic and supernatural elements. I know, I could play a more grim and gritty system, but when I do so, then I tend to miss the more high magic/ high fantasy elements. Though often contradictory, I want it all: A setting, where magic is neither rare nor common, and rare and common at the same time. Where powerful magicians and exotic creatures have their place as well as dirty and gritty swordfighters.
Dying Magic (I haven't found a better name yet, so I stack with this one) should combine both. You could call it a mediocre magic setting, but that sounds incredible dull.

The Background of Dying Magic: Dying Magic takes place in Gricklaw, a formerly rather generic fantasy continent. Gricklaw bears all the elements a good and rather traditional fantasy setting should offer: Dwarven Clans in the mountains, elvish kingdoms in the dark woods, orc hordes and that entire normal fantasy inventory. I try to give the single elements a more unique spin, but in the core they are supposed to be the typical stereotypes. In this way, Gricklaw could be compared to Faerun or most other fantasy settings. There are unique elements, as well as the common stereotypes.
Now, what makes the main difference is, in the Dying Magic Setting, Magic is not constant. It changes constantly and it has its own tides and ebbs.
A millennia ago, the magic level of Gricklaw rapidly increased. Magic grew more powerful almost by the hour. Wizards could manage spells of unbelievable power or create powerful items without much hesitation. Everyone who tried hard enough could manage to master a handful of spells- a mere stable boy normally knew how to Charm or Calm Animals, most craftsmen knew how to magically improve and facilitate their work, and every warrior who was worth his salt knew how to strike true. It was an age of miracle and wonder.
Magical items were created by the hour, and everyone but the poorest and basest members of society owned something like a Coat of Endure Elements or a Self-animating Rope. The rich and powerful owned vast collections of fascinating magical artefacts and inhabited sentient buildings or kept swarms of elementals as servants. Powerful wizards or priests became naturally the rulers of their lands, and magocracies or theocracies were more common then not. Like everything good, it couldn't last.
Roughly three centuries ago, magic started to fade. Magicians found it harder to concentrate on their craft, spells failed, powerful enchantments disappeared over night. Less and less children who bared the gift to control the higher mysteries of magic were born, and those who weren’t rigorously trained in the use of magic lost their abilities. Whole societies crumbled and broke after their ruling magical castes lost their power to control the masses. The priests found it ever harder to invoke their gods. Uproar and chaos followed the bountiful times of high magic.
Now, magic users have become quite rare. Since almost ten years no "natural casters" (like sorcerers) were born, and it becomes harder and harder to control the magical powers. Magic is always fluctuating, and sometimes there are real storms, were magical energy piles up and lead to unpredictable side effects when magic is casted. Otherwise, there are days and places and times where magic does not work at all- at that can be the exact same location within a week. On the other hand, there are still huge piles of magic items left from a former age, some useless relics created for pure amusement as well as powerful weapons or relics from a time without sorrows (or so it seems).

The Role of PC's: Magic is fading away, and the old empires and social order are destroyed with it. The PC's are heroes of this new age, and much more potent then the rest of the world. Magic is less common then usual (or perhaps even recommendable) for a D&D Setting, and what a PC can actually do becomes more important than what gimmicks and equipment he or she has.
Standard D&D is prejudiced towards caster types. That's okay, I guess, for a lot of people, but I tend to be heavily prejudiced towards fighter-types. The whole dying magic setting is impregnated with this taste: Fighters and all those guys with the big blades are supposed to be the great heroes, and not the meat shields and mascots of the magicians they follow. I don't think that the even heavy changes I made actually renders the casters as useless as a standard fighter in a normal high level D&D campaign, but they are certainly not as powerful as usual.

2007-09-03, 12:13 PM
Are you planning on this being a 3.5 setting? If so you may want to add in some crunch that nerfs the casters as you indicated. Perhaps needing to pass a Spellcraft check to cast a spell.

2007-09-03, 12:19 PM
or, you could borrow a line from my setting, but make it more dangerous.

have a calender (I made it rotate on a 60 day basis), where some days magic works flawlessly, and other days, it doesn't work at all. In general, however, these days are known to the world. For this to make sense, there has to be some astrological event (such as the moon of magic fading behind the asteroid belt) that prevents magical energies from getting to your world

I don't like the spellcraft check, because, as we've noted before, on many occasions, skills are just too easy to increase

2007-09-03, 12:24 PM
I will post my crunch, as soon as I am sure what I really should take in and what not.

Perhaps needing to pass a Spellcraft check to cast a spell.
Spellcraft is somewhat unfair, since it is an intelligence based skill and therefore more favorable for wizards as for casters who base their spells on wisdom or charisma; threfore I prefer Concentration checks, which do the same thing, but as concentration is based on constitution it is equally unfair for all casters.
And yes, this is one of three or four (I'm not so sure yet over the fourth) arrangements to hit casters with the big mean nerf hammer.

2007-09-03, 06:37 PM
I'm sorry for the double post. And, when I'm already sorry: I'm sorry for the bad English too. It's not my native language and I know that I write pretty arkward sometimes.

Now, here are the three (or four) satyrian strikes with the nerf hammer against magicians.

1.: The Feat.
Every character gets an additional feat -and only one- from a special background feat list at 1st level. These background feats can only be taken at first level, and are more powerful than the usual feats. I hope, that this gives every character a more unique strength. Here are two examples of these feats.

Apt Supporter
You are at your best if you help other people. Whenever you have the possibility to help somebody, you have another chance to shine.
Prerequisites: none
Benefit: When you successfully perform the aid anotherr action for another character who is another PC or can be considered as an ally or friend, he or she gains a +4 bonus to the task rather than the usual +2. Furthermore, if he or she succeeds at the task, you gain a +1 bonus on all attack rolls, damage rolls, defence rolls, and Saving Throws you make in the following round against the same enemy.

(What are Defence Rolls you may ask. Well, they are AC, but instead of a DC for they Attack, Defence work like a saving throw against attacks. Defence increase with ongoing levels, according to your BAB, but is not increased by armor which gives damage reduction instead it is fairly easy and I think has a more… heroic feeling to it.)

Aristocratic Heritage
You were born and raised as a part of the ruling class. You were better educated than the rest of your people and perhaps, someday you will become an able ruler.
Prerequisites: CHA 11
Benefit: You are used to intrigue and manipulation, therefore you get a bonus of +1 to diplomacy, sense motive and bluff. You can treat Knowledge: Nobility and Royalty as a Class Skill. Further, your Starting Wealth is increased by 50%.

Most of these feats are completely uninteresting for spellcasters, though. It would be a major stupidity if they don’t take the “The Gift” feat. In the world of Dying Magic, magical aptitude is inborn - only those born with a spark of magic within their soul can hope to master the higher mysteries of magic, even though hard work and pure genius can compare this up to a point.

The Gift
The fire of magic burns strongly in your blood. You are one of the rare individuals who has access to the more powerful varieties of magic.
Prerequisites: Only 1st level
Benefits: To learn or cast a spell you only need a base ability of your magical school of 10+Spelllevel. (A Charisma 15 sorcerer with the Gift feat can cast and learn 5th level spells.)
The Gift also gives you a +1 bonus to Spellcraft and Use Magic Device.
Normal: Your maximum spell level is limited by your fitting ability bonus (A Charisma 15 sorcerer without the Gift feat can only cast and learn 2nd level spells.)

This a rather weak hit with the nerf hammer. Actually it means nothing but “Everyone gets a cool feat but the spellslingers”. If you want to prove, that your are the personified anti-munchkin, you can play a spellcaster without the Gift but it is not recommended. The normal NPC caster though is quite unlikely to have the Gift. On a side note, paladins and rangers who get other traits but their –limited- spell casting abilities are quite common (and a completely valid character choice).

You have probably found the one weakness in this rule by now. It’s the bard. Bards aren’t very powerful, even with full spellcasting abilities (or I haven’t seen their full potential yet). With nerfed spellcasting abilities they are as crappy as an unarmed fighter in an epic campaign (only slightly exaggerated). I haven’t found a valid solution for this yet, but probably bards will get some kind of bonus feat to make up for the loss. Then again, a bard who actually gets the Gift feat could become a rather imbalanced character. Only time and probably game test will tell.

2. The Skill.
So, let’s rise the hammer for another blow. Every time a spell is casted, the magician must make a Concentration check with a DC of 12+Spelllevel of the used spell. If the check fails, the spell is not casted. If the check fails by 5 or more, the spell is wasted without any effect ( apart from some nice optical effects. Colourful, but useless). On a natural 1, the spell backfires (I’m not yet sure what happens then, but it is likely to hurt. On a natural 20, the caster has done something right without knowing- he can add one metamagical effect of his choice to the spell’s effect . He does not need to know the adequate metamagical feat to do this.
Concentration Checks for Arcane (and arcane only) spellcasting suffer from the Armor Check Penalty. An additional chance of arcane spell failure is not needed.
Whenever a character can take ten /take twenty in a skill, he or she could take 10/20 in a spell.

This is some limit to spellcasting, but also a great chance: An arcane spellcaster with a lot constitution and a pile of ranks in Concentration is more likely to cast in armor than he is now (blabla proficiency, blabla). But, with feats like combat casting and a certain skill focus, this is not that much of a limitation as I hoped for. A 1st level wizard with 4 ranks in concentration, no constitution bonus or armour and a skillfocus; concentration (a must have now for every serious spellcaster) has a 30% chance to fail with a 1st level spell (as long as he doesn’t take any damage; damage increase the difficulty of spellcasting as usual). A tenth level wizard with 10 ranks in concentration and said skillfocus has a 20% chance to fail a 5th level, and will automatically succeed in casting 1st level spells. A 20th level wizard with 20 ranks in concentration, a chain shirt and the skill focus can’t fail to cast spells of any level.
I like this from the fluff perspective, though. The more experienced the magician gets, the less likely is he or she to fail. An inexperienced caster is more likely to make mistakes as the veteran.

Now, this makes a little difference. But only a little. It takes only more time for the magicians to achieve their usual superiority.

3. The pain.
But I still have my nerf hammer, and an additional strike, or two (I’m still not sure about the last one yet.)

It takes a lot of concentration and willpower to collect the fading threads of magic and weave the patterns known as spells from it. This kind of concentration is exhausting, and its only normal that nobody can adhere this concentration endlessly. To simulate the blistering headache and physical exhausting side effects of spellweaving every time you a spell is casted the caster must make a spell fatigue roll. This is a will saving throw against DC 10 + the level of the spell he or she is casting. If he or she fails this saving throw, the caster is fatigued. If he or she fails the saving throw while being fatigued he or she becomes exhausted. Exhausted characters cannot cast spells. Fatigue and exhaustion are recovered from in the usual manner. If you fumble a spell fatigue roll, and are not fatigued you become fatigued and must immediately make another spell fatigue roll at the same DC as the first. The Endurance feat does NOT give you a bonus to spell fatigue rolls and Casting spells counts as a strenuous action for purposes of feats such as diehard.

Actually, I like this best. It somewhat bites with the skill check above, because I don’t like to make two different checks for the same action. That’s some kind of dilemma. Any one of these both ideas alone is to weak, together they could slow the game down.

4. What I’m not sure about: Slow Spells.
Spellcasting is cumbersome. Spellcasting takes longer than usual. Every Spell which normally affords a standard action becomes a full action. Every spell which takes already a full action or longer (like most summoning spells, IIRC) takes the double amount of rounds. Featherfall and all other spells which only takes an immediate action and would be rendered useless by a prolonged casting time are unaffected.
In the round I use to play we rarely use any spell which aren’t in the two player handbooks and I can’t think of another immediate action spell right now.
On the one hand,
There will be additional changes per class (e.g. all Wizards are specialists, the Natural Spell feat is banned into the deepest pits of hell). I’ll write about that in the near future.

2007-09-04, 03:00 PM
Some General words to rules and character creation:

The whole Dying Magic story should be the stage for a quite heroic campaign, where the characters are quite powerful and less dependant from their equipment. Therefore, most classes (those, who don't use much magic; the casters will be hit ith the infamous nerf hammer again), will be beefed up, as well as all races.
Every PC race in the Dying Earth setting would probably be level adjusted. But since everyone would need that adjustment, it can be ignored as well.
Player characters are created as Gestalt characters, as described in Unearthed Arcana.The characters are powerful all by themselves, but they tend to have much less magical equipment.

Abilities are generated with 3D6+6, drop the lowest (average ability scores should be around 14). That provides the campaign with the fitting hero raw materials.

Alignment is more or less ignored. I don't like it much, and I hate it to decide what is "evil" and what is good. Honestly, I don't know, and I don't want to decide. The world is usually morally grey, and I don't like to judge.

For game purposes, alignment does not exist the same way as it does in a conventional D&D world. The only good and evil are more 'cosmic'. These are supernatural forces of good and evil, the forces of cosmic evil include the undead and evil outsiders, for example. Yeah, when it's undead, it's evil. No whiny vampires. Demons, Devils, fiends- those are evil. Orcish brutes? Not so much. These examples are the things that show up on detect evil spells and falls down when smited. It's these things that protection from evil works against.

For most characters, there is only one alignment, let's call it neutral or humane or natural. Most humans and other living things fit into this alignment, including most of the extremes of human behavior from the worst to the best. A normal human have to be a very vicious sadist or a real saint to fall out ofd this category. This does not mean a character can't behave in a manner that can be described as good or evil. If you like to use the alignment system as a help to get a feel for your character, feel free to do so. But I found the alignment system too often more of a restriction than a help. Play yourr character the way xyou like and call it what you like, but don't expect that the character will show up on any spells that register or affect alignments.

Evil exists but it should be judged on its actions instead of a spell (which forces me to judge what kind of behavior or mindset is evil or good), therefore, normal "evil" rarely shows up on a detect evil spell. The players should judge for themselves what's good and what's evil.

Besides, I don't think that the game is severely hurt by law-abiding bards. And I think a wandering knight/bard is an archetypical example of romantic fantasy.

Since the chances to find some magical armor is rather small, there should be an alternative way to improve the character's protection and saving throws. Therefore, there is the Defense score. Defense works a Saving Throw against normal attacks, where the DC is the total attack throw. Like the Attack Bonus, a Defense Bonus increase when a haracter's level rises. The actual Basic Defense Bonus is dependent from the normal Attack Bonus- better fighters (like fighters) have a better Defense bonus than bookworms like wizards.
The actual height of the bonus is therefore dependant from the BAB.

{table=head]BAB|BDB (Basic Defense Bonus)

Full BAB|
increase like 3/4 BAB|

3/4 BAB|
increase like 1/2 BAB|

1/2 BAB|
increase like a poor save|

A level-4 Full BAB Character (e.g. a fighter or paladin) has a +3 Defense Bonus. A level-4 3/4 BAB Character (e.g. a cleric or rogue) has a +2 Defense Bonus, and a level-4 1/2 BAB character (e.g. a wizard or sorceror) has a +1 Defense Bonus.
The Dexterity Bonus (if any) is added to the Defense, as long as the character isn't flatfooted. Shields and most magical equipment increase the Defense as well.
Example: a level 4 fighter (+3 'BDB') with Bracers of Armor +1 , a heavy wooden shield and a +2 dexterity bonus would have a total Defense Bonus of +8.
Perhaps it would make sense to double the Defense Bonus for shields, except bucklers.

Instead of giving a bonus to armor class, armor acts as DR/- equal to its armor bonus. Armor doesn't make you harder to hit, but you can take more hits.

To make things a little bit more exciting, let's reduce the hitpoints. Why? Because it shortens fights and has a more gritty and heroic feeling to it, and, to be honest, I think that a halfling with more hitpoints than an elephant is ridiculous. On 1st level, everyone has as many hitpoints as usual for his class. But, when leveling, instead of roling a dice, everyone gets a fixed amount of hitpoints (+ Constitution Bonus). On average, the total hiptpoints will be lower, and a high constitution will be much more useful.

{table=head]Hit Dice|Hit Points per Level






Yeah, a dwarven barbarian easily gets four or five times as many hitpoints per level as a narrow-chested wizard- and that is good, because it makes it much more important that the spellcasters are protected, so they are more dependant from their protecting warrior-types, as those are dependant from their spellcasters.

2007-09-04, 07:05 PM
Magical items are much rarer in the world of Dying Magic than in Vanilla D&D. Most of them aren’t created anymore but are relics from the time, were magic was stockpiling.
All kinds of magical items exists, though, they are just remarkably rarer. With some exceptions, the costs for magical items are tripled. A handy haversack would cost 6000 instead of 2000 gp. It takes twenty times as long to create any magical items.
There are no magical shops. Every magic item which is created now is unique and only created on direct commission (and it is usual that you pay at least half the price before the artificer does anything for you).
There are two noticeable exception, though: Runeforged weapons and magical potions.
Magical potions and oils costs the same as usual. They are just not changed.
Runeforging is an ancient dwarven art to create powerful weapons, and the rune smithies have not lost their abilities. Runeforged weapons are not nearly as versatile as the traditional magical weapons. They could only get a straight bonus (like +1, +2 etc.), no extra features and they are bound to one specific user. Runeforged weapons cost only one and a half times as many gold and XP (or the half of regular magical weapons). To bind a runeforged weapon to you, you have to participate in a long ritual and sacrifice a quarter of the XP which are necessary to create the specific weapon. Every runeforged weapon is per default bound to its creator, until it is bound to another person. Without the binding, a runeforged weapon uses the stats of a masterwork weapon of the same type. A runeforged weapon can’t be enchanted, nor can a magical weapon be improved through runeforging.
Runeforging is an own item creation feat. It is most common among dwarves, but every creature who is able to use a smithy can learn how to create runeforged weapons.

Runeforging weapons bear semi magical runes, and therefore they are pretty easy to recognize. They are not really “magical” and do not lose their enhancements in a antimagical field or the magic drain.

Prerequisite Craft (weaponsmithing) 12 ranks or Craft (weaponsmithing) 8 ranks and create magical arms and armor
Benefit: You can create runeforged weapons, which are more powerful than usual weapons but not as versatile as magical armaments. Runeforged weapons are not enchanted, they are forged and their extra bonus is added during the production process. Creating an enhanced weapon takes as double as long for each 1,000 gp in the price of its magical features. To enhance a weapon, suit of armor, or shield, you must spend 1.5 percent of its features’ total price in XP and use up raw materials costing one-half of this total price.

A runeforged longsword +1 would cost 3525 gp and 423 XP to create or 108 XP to bind. A magically enhanced longsword +1 would cost 7050 GP and 846 XP.

Runeforged weaponry is somewhat of a break with the "low magical item" idea. But, I hink it is still a good idea. They are much straighter and less flashy than real magical weapons, and comparitively, I think a Fighter suffers more from the loss of magical equipment. Weapons decorated with a lot of runes look good, and I think the cool sword is one of the most elemental of all quintessential fantasy elements. Everyone who earns his place in a questing group should have one (or an axe, or a bow, etc.)

I hope you could give me some good answers to these questions which torture me in my sleep:

1.Should there be runeforged armor as well?
2. Magicians (meaning all spellcasters) have some additional difficulties in this setting- like skill checks every time a spell is casted, fortitude saving throws to resist the spell’s drain, one feat less than everyone else and probably very few hitpoints). Do you think that is sufficient to balance them better with the typical meat shield classes, or is this too much or too less?
3. Do you think “more powerful characters with only a fraction of the the usual amount and power of magic items” can be a cool setting premise?
4. How would you design the five core classes to be actually LA+1, but still recognizable?
5. How much would randomly appearing antimagic fields (with quite a low chance to appear) hamper the game? How would you, rule-like create the opposite, a "Mana Storm" were magic is more powerfull (and perhaps more unpredictable)?

2007-09-07, 06:24 PM
Okay, one and a half days of brainstorming and discussing, I have to admit; That's all to complex.

I still think that a "mediocre-magic" D&D would be fun, but it probably shouldn't be more complex than it already is.
Therefore, everything in a simpler form:

A: items/item creation/item purchase

There are no magical shops or easily to purchase magical items. Magical items are all considered to be custom-made remittance works. Commissions can be made at atificer academies, powerful wizards etc., but that takes it's time (roughly a week per 1,000 gp) and most of the time, you have to provide the "exotic materials".

Most items aren't bought or sold. Items are exchanged. If you want a powerful item, you should offer another, similar powerful item.

Prices of magical items are the same. Runesmithed weapons and armors (see abough) costs the half of the equal nonmagical item. As do all nonmagical equipment, lifestock, etc.

The average treasure and wealth per character in general should be cut in half. Without many high market value items to purchase, there is rarely a need for a PC to have more than a few thousands gp at hand. The gold in a monster's treasure is halfed. The chance to get magical equipment though, is the same.

If a monster has a magical item, it will probably use against you. Or it is quite stupid.

Item creation costs the double amount of XP.

So to speak: PC's have half the money, but the same chance to find a *random* magical item.

B: Spells, spellcasting, spellcasters

No special rules fort spellcasting. It works exactly the same way as usual, with one exception: casting a spell is considered a full-round action.

Spells aren't to purchase, as well as artefacts. If you want to learn an interesting new spell, you should have somethinmg to offer (as a rule, something like a spell, the other magician doesn't know).

All Spellcaster Classes apart from the weak ones like Eangers or Paladins have more limitations:

Clerics: Clerics have to stick to their religion and its laws. This includes alignment changes and similar things. Clerics who violates the code of conduct of their gods lose all spellcasting or other supernatural abilities and cannot thereafter gain levels as a cleric of that god until they atone. The atonement costs for clerics are doubled.

Druids: No wildshape ability. Instead, there shall be another class, who does little else but wildshaping and has the magical potential of a ranger.

Favored Soul: The Favored Soul loses all special abilities except the Weapon Focus. Even with a normal mana level, this class is ridiculous powerful.

Sorceror I don't know. Actually, sorcerers doesn't seem that powerful to me.

wizards There are no universial wizards. Every wizard has to specialise.

C: Other Classes, Situations, etc.

Classes, which are not primary spellcasters get some nice extras. I don't know exactly what yet, but they will be boosted. For Example, a Paladin could get some Fighter Bonus Feats on his numerous deads levels.

The Tome of Battle Classes are available.

There will be measures to agravate the danger of melee and the importance of good physical abilites, like a Con Score threshold for damage: More damage and than your Con, and you drop.

Monsters with a lot of spells or spelllike abilities are easiliy considered to have +1 CR.

I'll probably relocate the setting into a distant futureFearun. I'll introduce some of my own ideas, but it should be easily to recognize. The Basic Idea "One day, magic started to fade and the gods are distant" will stay. But hopefully most the annoying epic characters have already died.

2007-09-08, 08:53 AM
May I advise not having open Gesalts? Instead, have pre-built Gesalts of pairs of classes.

Because generic Gesalts lead to really strange class choices for little reason other than mechanics.