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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    Selenir's Avatar

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    Default Making Magic Special - without going "Low Magic"

    I've been putting a lot of effort into making magic (and especially magic items) seem more significant in my homebrew campaign setting. In a typical D&D world, players are literally bedazzled with magic items, with enchanted rings, magic cloaks, and holy swords just spilling out of their pockets. While it's certainly fun to have a character with so many diverse powers and enhanced capabilities, it takes away from the "wonder" of finding a new magic item when the players can say "It's just a +2 orcbane shortsword" and toss Sting into a bag of holding until the next town.

    So far, I've made the following changes to the "default" set of assumptions that D&D uses about magic:

    • Enhancement Bonuses to weapons are not necessarily magical. You can have a +5 Longsword without it being enchanted - it's just a very, very well-made sword, the kind that inspires legends about its smith and its wielder. Even a nonmagical +5 sword will likely have a name and stories about its history, and will cost the same. It just doesn't detect as magic, and works just fine in an antimagic field. A flaming sword, on the other hand, is always magical (or divine), and would be remarkable and treasured.
    • Wizardry is rare, but not obscure - especially in human culture. In this world, Dwarves are the magically adept race, using ancient Giantish magic and the power of Runes. In Dwarven culture, the most talented forgers can attend a college to become a Runesmith - skilled smiths who combine forging skill and magic. In human society though, wizard schools are unheard of. Wizards take apprentices, one at a time, and are extremely selective of whom they allow to learn their secrets. Sorcery is extremely rare, except in one specific geographic region. Players may become wizards without restriction, but they are treated with awe by those they encounter.
    • There is a strong distinction between arcane "magic" and divine "miracles." Clerics don't cast spells, they say prayers - which work just fine in an antimagic field (but are negated by an equivalent "Intercession Zone"). A paladin who detests all magic might carry a +2 holy flaming longsword (a legendary relic once wielded by kings) and heal wounds with a touch of divine might.
    • "Folk Magic" known as Hexcraft, is common to all, especially peasants. A form of primitive "magic," heavily grounded in superstition (but it still works) is practiced by the common folk. Anything from shaking a rattle to frighten wind spirits to crossing oneself to ward off evil falls under this category. Hexcraft is disdained by all true spellcasters, but nevertheless does actually provide minor game benefits. Similarly, alchemy can allow one to create potions, without ever obtaining true spellcasting power.


    Another change that comes to mind relates to selling magical items. It's integrated pretty hard into the thought processes of D&D, but when in fantasy do characters ever sell their beloved magical items, except when completely desperate? You're far more likely to see an adventurer keeping every single magic trinket he gets his hands on until the end of his days. I'm not sure how to remedy/alter this, though.

    How do these changes sound to you? Any suggestions for other ideas/changes to make magic more "exciting" and special, without harming game balance?
    Last edited by Selenir; 2013-04-10 at 10:27 AM.
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  2. - Top - End - #2
    Halfling in the Playground
     
    DruidGuy

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    Default Re: Making Magic Special - without going "Low Magic"

    I like the idea. It certainly creates a world with a greater degree of awe and wonder at magic and magical effects than is common in most settings, which is one of my favourite things about Lord of the Rings.

    I presume that you're going to be limiting the classes in this campaign world? Your way of describing how hard it is for humans to learn magic, and how seemingly wiard-focused it is, makes it hard for me to imagine, say, hexblades or duskblades, not to mention any Martial Adept classes.

    Dragon Shamans could work, as could warlocks; both represent how rare and dangerous magic is, as they only gain their powers from forces far greater than humans (unless dragons don't exist in this world, obvious).

    Out of curiosity; do dwarves not have any 'wizards' or are they all Runesmiths?

    Edit: As a suggestion for making magic more special, reduce the number of classes that can use magic. You might want to perhaps rewrite the ranger so it has only quasi-magical abilities (but keeping it useful is hard, I guess) and I'm not sure about the druid; given they also wield divine magic I'm sure you can make them fit with a cleric.

    In addition, maybe you should think about creatures in the campaign setting? Have only two or three playable races, and have other 'monsters' be less intelligent, with few (or no) spellcasters of their own. Make magical creatures, and creatures with magical abilities, far rarer.

    If magic is only limited to a few races and isn't present in every monster you find, it certainly makes magic seem more special. Make fights against monsters not a struggle because of their magical abilities, make them a struggle because they're huge monsters who want to eat you. Make magic the most powerful weapon of sentient races against such creatures.
    Last edited by Kaurne; 2013-04-10 at 10:33 AM.

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Making Magic Special - without going "Low Magic"

    Quote Originally Posted by Kaurne View Post
    I like the idea. It certainly creates a world with a greater degree of awe and wonder at magic and magical effects than is common in most settings, which is one of my favourite things about Lord of the Rings.
    That is one of my primary inspirations, yes. :) Lord of the Rings, while not identical to my vision, shares much with it.

    I presume that you're going to be limiting the classes in this campaign world? Your way of describing how hard it is for humans to learn magic, and how seemingly wiard-focused it is, makes it hard for me to imagine, say, hexblades or duskblades, not to mention any Martial Adept classes.
    Players, being heroes, are the exception. It's perfectly alright for the "rare, special class" to be possessed by the player (who is, after all, destined for greatness and fame more often than not). Among NPCs, though, these classes are all but unheard of.

    Dragon Shamans could work, as could warlocks; both represent how rare and dangerous magic is, as they only gain their powers from forces far greater than humans (unless dragons don't exist in this world, obvious).
    There is a region where tribes of barbarians exist in the midst of ongoing draconic conflict - Dragon Shamans are very common here, as are warlocks/sorcerers (whose powers stem from the uncontrolled magic unleashed by these larger-than-life monsters).

    Out of curiosity; do dwarves not have any 'wizards' or are they all Runesmiths?
    Dwarves have wizards, but it's assumed in Dwarven culture that they will multiclass into the Runesmith Prestige Class when they can. Dwarves study magic to understand magical artifacts and crafting - a Dwarf who focused entirely on magical studies, for its own sake, would be considered strange.
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  4. - Top - End - #4
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    Selenir's Avatar

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    Default Re: Making Magic Special - without going "Low Magic"

    Quote Originally Posted by Kaurne View Post
    Edit: As a suggestion for making magic more special, reduce the number of classes that can use magic. You might want to perhaps rewrite the ranger so it has only quasi-magical abilities (but keeping it useful is hard, I guess) and I'm not sure about the druid; given they also wield divine magic I'm sure you can make them fit with a cleric.
    I forgot to mention - I've already done this. Druids are CRUCIAL to the world's story, but Rangers are all non-magical and get new, nonmagic abilities (Favored Enemy Sneak Attack, anyone?) to compensate. Same with Bards - their musical powers can still influence people, but they can't cast spells and have no magic. Just incredibly powerful music that does effects normally done with spells. Monks are entirely rebuilt from the ground up as anti-casters. They have no magic, and can never obtain magic (or they lose their powers), but are fantastic at resisting spells and defeating magic-using foes.

    In addition, maybe you should think about creatures in the campaign setting? Have only two or three playable races, and have other 'monsters' be less intelligent, with few (or no) spellcasters of their own. Make magical creatures, and creatures with magical abilities, far rarer.
    In a sense, that makes sense, but I like having magical enemies (at least, non-spellcasters) be common. There's something triumphant about overcoming a mighty, magical dragon using only bravery, cunning, and your legendary sword.

    If magic is only limited to a few races and isn't present in every monster you find, it certainly makes magic seem more special. Make fights against monsters not a struggle because of their magical abilities, make them a struggle because they're huge monsters who want to eat you. Make magic the most powerful weapon of sentient races against such creatures.
    Interesting take - increasing magic's importance while reducing its availability.

    What an interesting thought... imagine if, when the dragon came knocking at the castle's gates, the King knew he had to summon the Wizard of the White Tower if he wanted it vanquished.

    Hmm... might make the non-magic players feel less special though.
    Last edited by Selenir; 2013-04-10 at 10:53 AM.
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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: Making Magic Special - without going "Low Magic"

    Quote Originally Posted by Selenir View Post
    Hmm... might make the non-magic players feel less special though.
    I'm afraid that is unavoidable with what you're suggesting. The more you make magic special, the less those without it are going to feel. The only remedy would be to do away with the concept of spellcaster PCs entirely (you're practically there already). Wizards and druids are just too powerful to be fair: you wouldn't normally allow a player to play one for the same reason you wouldn't allow them to play a dragon.

    If you do that, it'll give you even more freedom to make magic what you want it to be, without having to worry about the PCs misusing it.

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  6. - Top - End - #6
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    Default Re: Making Magic Special - without going "Low Magic"

    Quote Originally Posted by Geordnet View Post
    I'm afraid that is unavoidable with what you're suggesting. The more you make magic special, the less those without it are going to feel. The only remedy would be to do away with the concept of spellcaster PCs entirely (you're practically there already). Wizards and druids are just too powerful to be fair: you wouldn't normally allow a player to play one for the same reason you wouldn't allow them to play a dragon.

    If you do that, it'll give you even more freedom to make magic what you want it to be, without having to worry about the PCs misusing it.
    That's what I'm trying to avoid, though. Magic is fun. It's not a lack of magic I want (if anything, Hexcraft makes low-level magic more common), it's an attitude toward magic in the campaign world. I want players to be excited when they find a magic weapon - I can accomplish this by reducing the amount of magical treasure they find, but I want to make sure the players don't suffer in balance terms by finding less loot.

    I don't have a problem with the players commanding powerful magic and spells (though, no resurrection - sorry guys), but I want the magic users to feel special about their powers, and for everyone to feel special about their items.
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    Default Re: Making Magic Special - without going "Low Magic"

    I like this idea, but abhor the suggestion of removing magic-users as PC classes (I love wizards), and disagree with the idea that you can't avoid "de-specialing" non-magic PC's. Instead, perhaps you could have each player with a different 'mythology'. Here's an few examples:

    Elf Wizard: he's a wizard

    Human Fighter: has slit-pupil eyes because of dragon descent

    Halfling Rogue: a halfling stone-skipping champion (there's a thread with this as an actual prestige class on the forums somewhere that I've read, but I can't find it )

    Dwarf Cleric: comes from a dwarf city notoriously intolerant of humans. Bears the ritual tattoos of that city, making him a target for both dwarves of his city and humans.

    Human Monk: has a strange bond with Air Elementals and Celestials; they often visit him simply to speak with him. He can call on their aid every so often. Has a talisman given to him by a very old and powerful Air Elemental that lets him summon it to his side in times of dire need.

    Or you could simply use it as a DMing device:

    Player A: "I'm a wizard and I'm so great"
    Player B: "I'm going to do something really awesome to show him that not only wizards can be amazing"

    Which could lead to some great roleplaying.

    Of course, this could also turn back on you and end up as:

    Player A: "Heal me!"
    Player B: "Just fighting this monster..."
    Player A: "I'm nearly dead! Heal me NOW!"
    Player B: "Just fighting this other monster..."
    Player A: "Oh great, I died!"
    Player B: "Oh dear! (snigger, that showed him)"

    So use that suggestion with caution.
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  8. - Top - End - #8
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    Selenir's Avatar

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    Default Re: Making Magic Special - without going "Low Magic"

    I think the Halfling Stone-Skipping champion (which I love) is one of Rich Burlew's classes, in an article. Not sure off the top of my head though.

    And as I said, I'm not restricting player classes - just that certain classes aren't magic anymore (ranger, bard).
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    Halfling in the Playground
     
    DruidGuy

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    Default Re: Making Magic Special - without going "Low Magic"

    Other suggestions:

    -Make magic consumables rarer, or weaker. Do what you did with weapons, and make them less magical. Perhaps adjust the rules for damage and healing so its more focused on any wounds needing someone to actually tend them (with divine magic or naturally) for them to heal? Maybe make healing potions more like massive shots of adrenaline that also make blood clot quicker temporarily.

    -Limit spell lists significantly. Make it so there are fewer magical effects; and in particular, fewer damaging one. You don't have to use core spells, you could take ones from other books to make things more interesting (I prefer most spells in the supplementary material because they seem more flavorful), but make it so magic spells are much harder to acquire; perhaps a mage must learn the spells on their own before they can use them, instead of simply picking them up?

    It should be possible to learn the spell before the wizard is high enough level to cast it, so you won't gain a new spell level without being able to use it, but it might make magic a more interesting, without making wizards actually weaker if you DM it right. It'll give more loot for the wizards, in that sense, and also make the master-apprentice relationship feel more important; apprentices can only learn spells their master has taught them before they start to research their own.

    On that note, maybe you could make it so that if players want spells that exist in different books but aren't on your list, they have to research them; the means can be left up to you, due to the needs of the story. For example:

    The players need to return to a specific demiplane to thwart the villains plan; they were there once before, but only because a planar portal was opened by a NPC wizard who is now dead. The PCs have two options; they can try and track down the NPC wizards old master (and hope that he taught the wizard the spell, rather than it being researched) which could be an entire sidequest, or the party wizard could attempt to research a similar spell themselves; this might require venturing into an ancient mage-kings tomb to try and discover his lost knowledge on such spells.

    By making acquiring such a spell a great challenge, you not only expand the adventure possibilities but also make magic a much more mysterious and valuable object, which is what you want for this campaign. The players will feel a real sense of accomplishment for having acquired something which they usually gain automatically when they level.
    Last edited by Kaurne; 2013-04-10 at 01:33 PM.

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    Selenir's Avatar

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    Default Re: Making Magic Special - without going "Low Magic"

    Quote Originally Posted by Kaurne View Post
    Other suggestions:

    -Make magic consumables rarer, or weaker. Do what you did with weapons, and make them less magical. Perhaps adjust the rules for damage and healing so its more focused on any wounds needing someone to actually tend them (with divine magic or naturally) for them to heal? Maybe make healing potions more like massive shots of adrenaline that also make blood clot quicker temporarily.

    -Limit spell lists significantly. Make it so there are fewer magical effects; and in particular, fewer damaging one. You don't have to use core spells, you could take ones from other books to make things more interesting (I prefer most spells in the supplementary material because they seem more flavorful), but make it so magic spells are much harder to acquire;
    Unfortunately, this all falls under the category of "low magic."

    perhaps a mage must learn the spells on their own before they can use them, instead of simply picking them up?

    It should be possible to learn the spell before the wizard is high enough level to cast it, so you won't gain a new spell level without being able to use it, but it might make magic a more interesting, without making wizards actually weaker if you DM it right.
    This is a solid idea, and one I think I'll implement. The player will need to find a specific spell to learn it at all, rather than just going "ding!" and gaining 12 new spells known when he levels up.

    And of course I'll work with him to ensure he gets the kind of spells he's interested in. No need to deny him the abilities he'd like to have.

    It'll give more loot for the wizards, in that sense, and also make the master-apprentice relationship feel more important; apprentices can only learn spells their master has taught them before they start to research their own.
    Now I regret that our Wizard is a Dwarf - imagine if the Wizard had to trek back to his Master to learn new spells? (And our Dwarf is in exile, he can't return to his college. Maybe he must find a human wizard to study with.)
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    DwarfBarbarianGuy

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    Default Re: Making Magic Special - without going "Low Magic"

    Well, the dwarves apparently have a monopoly on magic weapons and armor. (Higher prices for non-dwarves?) Potions can be created by herbalists, witches etc. You should even be able to buy scrolls. Most other things you won't find in a shop. You might have to locate a buyer who can actually afford to own a magic item instead.

    There are ways to deal with players who want to sell and buy at magic shops.
    - Scam the players. If they want to buy a specific item, convince them of the fact that a item is magical when it's not. (Nystul's Magic Aura) A cursed item is also fun, especially when they pay a lot of money for it.
    - It's entirely possible they will never find the magic item they need in a shop. Ofcourse, you could always place an order. (Except for Dwarfbane Swords. Dwarves are not very like to make these for you. I wonder why...)


    You could instead let the players create magic items through battle. If they want a dragonbane sword, they'd either have to find a sword that was used to slay a dragon or use a sword to slay a dragon. That Flaming Sword they need? They have to forge it themselves from starmetal. And when the heroic heroes go after that freshly fallen meteorite they just happen to run into the Ice Demon that was imprisoned inside the meteor.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: Making Magic Special - without going "Low Magic"

    Quote Originally Posted by Selenir View Post
    That's what I'm trying to avoid, though. Magic is fun. It's not a lack of magic I want (if anything, Hexcraft makes low-level magic more common), it's an attitude toward magic in the campaign world. I want players to be excited when they find a magic weapon - I can accomplish this by reducing the amount of magical treasure they find, but I want to make sure the players don't suffer in balance terms by finding less loot.

    I don't have a problem with the players commanding powerful magic and spells (though, no resurrection - sorry guys), but I want the magic users to feel special about their powers, and for everyone to feel special about their items.
    The problem is that if one player has the power to reshape reality at a whim, a sword (no matter how sharp) sort of pales in comparison.

    Think of it like this: playing a hard FPS is fun. So is turning on invincibility and unlimited ammo and wading through hordes of enemies. But playing on hard mode while your co-op partner's using cheats... Not so fun.

    So, you need to put everyone on the same level somehow. One option is to keep the nukes out of the hands of your players. Another would be to give it to all of them.

    A third option would be to add small-but-significant limits to magic. For instance, perhaps the shortest casting time for a spell is thirty seconds. That isn't much, but it means that now wizards absolutely need a non-magic user to protect them, or else they'll be cut down mid-chant.

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    Default Re: Making Magic Special - without going "Low Magic"

    Another way you could perhaps make magic special is to make it slightly whimsical and random. For, magic is not a tame thing, and it should always work kinda quirky.

    You could create a table of effects to add to spells that players roll on every time they cast, with some results being good, some bad, most neutral and somewhat fanciful.

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    Troll in the Playground
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    Default Re: Making Magic Special - without going "Low Magic"

    Fluff Matters: One of the best games in this respect is Unknown Armies. In Unknown Armies, magic isn't shorthanded technology. The player characters do not control magic, but magic doesn't quite control them. It's a living thing; it's also a side effect of the karmic reincarnation of the cosmos. They build a relationship with it and learn to channel it.

    The point is that magic shouldn't just be a set of abstract powers. It should mean something in the context of the fluff. Are you going to play a wizard, or are you going to play a Seeker of the Sacred Truth, a scholar dedicated to finding and exploiting the eight hundred and nine fragments of the shattered god Azzel?

    Mechanics Matter: In D&D, "Roleplaying game" is a bit of a misleading term. The mechanics are the primary way a player interacts with the game, but D&D 3.5's mechanics try to be so comprehensive that very few meaningful results can be left to the imagination. Unless you're playing a game that explicitly accounts for roleplay in the rules (like FATE) or have a particularly sensible GM, roleplay doesn't count for anything when it comes down to rollplay*, and in D&D, rollplay is what counts at the end of the session.

    With this in mind, the mechanics should strive to reflect the fluff.

    *You might say that I'm recommending that players play the game "wrong". It's not so much "wrong" as it is "not as intended" or "of inverted priorities". Let's face it. While D&D doesn't actively discourage the concept of acting in character (or "roleplay"), it does very little to encourage it (with the exception of the paladin's code of conduct).
    Last edited by Grinner; 2013-04-10 at 03:47 PM.

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    Troll in the Playground
     
    BardGuy

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    Default Re: Making Magic Special - without going "Low Magic"

    An idea for boosting non-magic PCs or letting them feel special: have some system so that non-spellcasters get hexcraft.

    For whatever reason (disdain, it interfering with their channels of power), actual spellcasters like wizards or miracle-workers like clerics cannot use hexcraft.

    I don't know what system would work best. Maybe one hex/charm per level? Some fluff to justify: NPCs know more hexcraft at level 1 than a PC since they can devote energy to learning it, while a Fighter has to train as a Fighter and therefore doesn't also have time to master all the stuff his mom and dad could have taught him.

    In-between classes like hexblade, duskblade, and dragon shaman should probably count as spellcasters for this purpose.

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    Default Re: Making Magic Special - without going "Low Magic"

    Quote Originally Posted by the_david View Post
    Well, the dwarves apparently have a monopoly on magic weapons and armor. (Higher prices for non-dwarves?) Potions can be created by herbalists, witches etc. You should even be able to buy scrolls. Most other things you won't find in a shop. You might have to locate a buyer who can actually afford to own a magic item instead.
    Not quite a "monopoly," but it's well-known that no one can make magical arms and armor like a dwarf.

    Unfortunately, the city-sized Runeforge responsible for the greatest and most powerful items was recently destroyed by the agents of a new and militant church. So production of these items has declined sharply in recent years.

    There are ways to deal with players who want to sell and buy at magic shops.
    - Scam the players. If they want to buy a specific item, convince them of the fact that a item is magical when it's not. (Nystul's Magic Aura) A cursed item is also fun, especially when they pay a lot of money for it.
    I've done this now so often I'm amazed they still visit markets.

    - It's entirely possible they will never find the magic item they need in a shop. Ofcourse, you could always place an order. (Except for Dwarfbane Swords. Dwarves are not very like to make these for you. I wonder why...)
    Hehe.

    You could instead let the players create magic items through battle. If they want a dragonbane sword, they'd either have to find a sword that was used to slay a dragon or use a sword to slay a dragon. That Flaming Sword they need? They have to forge it themselves from starmetal. And when the heroic heroes go after that freshly fallen meteorite they just happen to run into the Ice Demon that was imprisoned inside the meteor.
    Oh yeah, I'm definitely feeling this angle. You can't just cast a few spells, you need to acquire rare ingredients/perform dangerous tasks to forge unique weapons.

    As far as starmetal, that's this world's stand-in for Mithral. It only comes from meteorites and is stronger, but lighter, than steel.

    Adamantine is replaced by blood iron, whose origin is just about as horrible as it sounds and comes from blood sacrifices made by the gnomes of Quetzatlan. Not inherently evil, though - just its creation. So, if you're squeamish... not for you.

    Quote Originally Posted by Grinner View Post
    While D&D doesn't actively discourage the concept of acting in character (or "roleplay"), it does very little to encourage it (with the exception of the paladin's code of conduct).
    This is true if you play the game in a vacuum and don't allow creativity in it - which is a good thing. If players don't want to roleplay, the game allows them. But a good DM can use those dry, calculating rules and infuse them with a lot of life through roleplaying. My players get circumstance bonuses (and penalties) for roleplaying, even in combat. Clever choices are rewarded, with just as harsh punishments for silly or unwise ideas. No one in my campaign ever rolls a d20 for Diplomacy and waits to see what happens - they roll and then they get talking.

    Quote Originally Posted by JeenLeen View Post
    An idea for boosting non-magic PCs or letting them feel special: have some system so that non-spellcasters get hexcraft.

    For whatever reason (disdain, it interfering with their channels of power), actual spellcasters like wizards or miracle-workers like clerics cannot use hexcraft.
    This is exactly how it works. Hexcraft is blasphemous to the Deities (no clerics), anathema to nature spirits/lesser gods (no druids), and disdainful "fake magic" (no wizards/sorcerers).

    A witch, on the other hand, is a primary spellcaster whose powers are ENTIRELY driven by Hexcraft. She can use Hexcraft to rival the powers of a wizard... if she's clever, and subtle.

    I don't know what system would work best. Maybe one hex/charm per level? Some fluff to justify: NPCs know more hexcraft at level 1 than a PC since they can devote energy to learning it, while a Fighter has to train as a Fighter and therefore doesn't also have time to master all the stuff his mom and dad could have taught him.

    In-between classes like hexblade, duskblade, and dragon shaman should probably count as spellcasters for this purpose.
    Hexcraft is a skill (a class skill only for Witches, Bards and Hexblades), whose effects are relatively minor - until one takes Hex Feats or levels of Witch (or Hexblade) to gain additional abilities.
    Last edited by Selenir; 2013-04-11 at 10:26 AM.
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