World homebrew that reduces the reliance on magic items--feedback wanted


Homebrew and House Rules

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32

I have started working on a new Pathfinder campaign setting and world. I’m starting with rules first, before working on anything world specific.

My main idea is to make the character matter more than gear. A world like that sounds fun to me; big-time heroes who rely on their own abilities to survive and thrive and simply have some unique magic items to add flavor and an extra option or two.

I have four ideas. All, some, or none may be usable. I’d like feedback on each idea to see if the ideas sound both usable and fun. None of the ideas are set in stone. I may not end up being able to use any of them.

Feedback, thoughts, and opinions are appreciated.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32

My first idea out of four is to change the big six magic items (weapons, armor/shields, and items that add bonuses to saving throws, ability scores, natural armor, and provide deflection bonuses) into automatically granted enhancement bonuses based on base attack bonus and level and drop magic items that usually provide those bonuses.

This change would free me up to provide unique and unusual magic items without sacrificing character ability. It would also reduce paperwork (ie dividing up magic items) by quite a bit.

Characters wouldn’t lose anything under this change, simply see current abilities shifted and more fairly and easily distributed. I’d likely hand out one magic item per character per adventure (in addition to the BAB/level based enhancement bonuses) valued at about half of normal character wealth.

My second idea to not use item creation feats. The magic of the world creates magic items.

Pathfinder Society already operates this way for player characters. The intent is again to cut down on the paperwork. It makes magic items more special as well as they have to be found not made.

In conjunction with this idea I’d like to do away with magic shops all together. Magic items wouldn’t be bought and sold but instead hoarded and perhaps carefully traded.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32

My third idea would be to not automatically award gold. Instead, the characters in game could indicate that they are looking for gold or gear and I’d then place locations to go to find it. In the same way, character could instead seek allies or land or a title or entering a prestige class etc.

At low levels, gold matters. At high levels, gold is a means to an end (whatever end the PCs decide). So we’d just abstract it to cut down on the paperwork.

Based on my final idea, my final question is, how would a world with no potions, scrolls, or wands still appeal to players? All of these magic items are a spell in a can. They aren’t unique. They add power to a caster and perhaps overshadow non-casters a bit.

In a world without potions, scrolls, or wands, casters would have to use more of their spells and use them carefully. Solutions other than waving a wand around would be needed.

To offset the lowered healing, I’d introduce reserve points (from Unearthed Arcana). Reserve points equal hit points and replenish hit points on a 1 to 1 basis each minute.

So in a fight, reserve points change nothing (fights are still dangerous). In between combats, characters heal on their own instead of using wands. Similar solution, but based on the character’s will to live and not just a wand.


I'm working on a low-magic adaptation for the Carrion Crown AP, so I'm toying with some similar ideas. Like you (I sense), I'm sick of PCs cutting open a dire wolf, extracting 3 potions and a wand, and selling them at the shop around the corner. It turns magic from a source of marvel into an economy.

Just to be clear: your world has no (or few) magic items, but your characters might still be wizards, clerics, druids etc.? I wonder if that might unbalance the game somewhat, giving non-magic-using classes a real disadvantage.

Even if they have innate bonuses that correspond to their levels, they would still end up very limited in their options. For instance, when battling trolls, fighter-types will want access to flaming weapons, or at least an elixir of fire breath.

The balanced solution might be to power down the spellcasters accordingly. Just like magic items, spells might be harder to come by.

Another idea I've been toying with: give each PC a Weapon of Legacy style item that bonds with them early on, and grows in power as they do. You can maintain the idea of magic items' rarity, but still give players some fun toys to play with.


On a related topic, something I was toying with a while back was level based caps on almost everything. somebody with a capped to hit would hit 50% of the time against someone with a capped AC.

Most of your ideas have been covered on the forums already, search and see.
I like reserve points (a lot of stuff from UA for that matter).
I +1 the weapons of legacy, it allows player to get something special and have it grow with them.
One thing you may want to consider, instead of replacing the big 6 with level based benefits, tone down the monsters and enemies. It would require more work, but in the long run it would make more sense for what you (appear to) want.

Grand Lodge

For an example of d20 fantasy rules with very little magic, check out the Iron Heroes rulebook...

HERE


Sadly, the Iron Heroes system wasn't properly playtested before being released and as a result it is pretty horribly broken and unbalanced. I don't know whether anyone is currently working on a PF conversion of it, but I would love to see such a thing. I thought its basic approach was fantastic (it's not the sword, but the hand that wields it and all that), but I wish it had been implemented somewhat better.


I like the ideas but you should check how this affects non spellcasters. Martial classes rely somewhat on diverse magic items to be more efficient. Eliminating magic items might hurt them more than it does spellcasters.

Also if spells are harder to obtain, it will impact wizards the most of all casting classes. That means that divine casters will pull ahead and sorcerer might be a better choice than a wizard.


If you want to limit spells you might want to eliminate the wizard and cleric, and only allow the sorcerer and oracle. And for that matter you might want to require spell-less versions of the ranger and/or paladin, although the spell-less paladins archetypes took a harder hit than the ranger ones. The witch is easier to handle, as one must find scrolls, trade services with another witch, or spend feats/favored class points in order to learn more than 5 spells per spell level.

No potions is a harder hit than no wands. One of the things healing potions do is allow non-casters to have some healing if the need is desperate enough. Eliminating them also effectively eliminates the alchemist, who might actually be a good fit for a lower magic world. I'd make them more rare than doing away with them altogether.


Jason Ellis 350 wrote:

No potions is a harder hit than no wands. One of the things healing potions do is allow non-casters to have some healing if the need is desperate enough. Eliminating them also effectively eliminates the alchemist, who might actually be a good fit for a lower magic world. I'd make them more rare than doing away with them altogether.

I second that. Wands are your default "spell-in-a-can" items, which are not only bland in terms of "uniqueness" and item dependency, but wholly dependent on casters to function.

Potions (and other spells-in-a-bottle) have the advantage of being usable by all characters and of being 1-shot consumable items. This means that you can drop them in your games without fear of the effect(s) being used over and over until there are no charges left.

'findel


I have for years toyed with and experimented with rules variations which make the game more "fantasy" oriented, and less of an exercise in magic item collection. The biggest problem I have found is that my gaming groups tend to be pretty variable as people move, have kids, develop other interests, etc. The available pool of replacement players is somewhat reduced when you stray too far from the commercially available published material. Which is not surprising, I would be a little apprehensive about joining a group with a home developed system myself, unless I knew something about the person who developed it. So in the end I've ended up using the published rules just out of pure necessity.

Here are some things I've tried and thought worked pretty well:

1. Replaced the Vancian magic system with a mana-based system where spells essentially channel energy and the damage or effects they have are based on how much of your available mana you choose to use. Mana regenerates at a steady pace, so you don't have to wait 24 hours for spells, but if you use up all your mana in one big blowout, you have to wait to "recharge". In once case I also had mana be environment dependent (meaning all magic users pull from the same mana pool) but that proved to be unworkable for several reasons.

2. Made magic items "scalable" so that their power grew as characters leveled up. In one case I had slot-based magic items (rings, bracers, armor, amulets, etc...) which the player could choose new effects as they leveled up, so their +1 natural armor amulet could become a +2 natural armor amulet or could become a +1 natural armor amulet which also functioned as a pearl of power. Magic items were much, much rarer in those games

3. Adopted a BAB progression that replaced the +X to weapon attack and damage. Magic weapons instead had special powers, such as flaming, keen, etc, but were not + anything.

4. Greatly reduced the availability and power of wands and potions. Especially wands.

In a sense all of these ended up being "low magic" campaigns in the D&D and PF sense because magic items and spells were greatly reduced. In the mana system there were only a few basic energy-based spells, but they grew in power if you devoted more mana to them. How much mana you could devote to one spell was level-limited, so at level 3 you couldn't pump all of your mana into a fire based ray attack. I think the basic types of spell attacks were ray, blast, burst and targeted. Targeted meant the target got a saving throw to negate, ray meant an attack roll and blast and burst had a reflex save for 1/2 damage. You could use fire, cold, sound, lightning and maybe some more, it's been a long time. This was back in 2e days.

I really liked the system, and until my regular gaming group broke up, so did they. Magic items became questable items themselves. Wizards in that system were more like sorcerers in 3.5 and PF. If they knew a spell, they could use mana to cast it, no daily memorization was needed. Spells were not level-based, they were mana-based. There were ways to temporarily increase your mana too, including items which granted mana bonuses.

Anyway, I like that system a lot better. It felt much more "magical" and wizards felt much more wizardly. I won't claim it was the most balanced system, I've never been greatly interested in "balance" for balance's sake. Spellcasters could do almost anything they could describe that felt reasonable. For example, spells which controlled a type of energy could be used to make walls, cages, illusions.... whatever the player described within reason. It did require a large amount of GM ruling on effects.

As much as I enjoy playing these games, the Vancian magic system, the profusion of cheap, disposable magic items, the strict limitations of spells, and the explosion of feats are the things I find most irritating in the game today.


Most of the exhaustion you seem to be experiencing is due to how these magic item resources are being controlled in your game, not their existence proper.

"I'm sick of PCs cutting open a dire wolf, extracting 3 potions and a wand, and selling them at the shop around the corner"

Not a comment by op, but if this is the type of thing you are trying to avoid, it has nothing to do with campaign world magic resources and everything to do with player access to them. I recognize the quote above is hyperbole, but at no place in any of my games would a dire wolf be broken down for anything but a few pelts and maybe a couple pints of blood, or some bones to carve some crude flutes from... and characters wandering back to town with hacked-up pelts & poorly-stored plasma would be laughed out of most shops, or low-balled like the amateurs they are.

And now by "shop" I assume you are referring to "magic shop" which from what I understand is apparently a standard in other peoples games. For real... cute... a magic shop... this would be the first place to get robbed, arson, infiltrated with enemy agents, blasted from the face of the earth...by ANY of the rival power factions in any of the games I run.
Next time your characters want to visit the magic shop, choose from one of the above ---
-robbed: have it get held up as they are in the middle of their pawning.
-arson: describe a pillar of smoke coming from town as they venture to sell their recently acquired magic, only to discover the shop was recently burned to the ground by unknown rivals.
-infiltrated: toss in a new shopkeeper that is an enemy spy, able to gain all sorts of info on pc movements by querying pcs and augury-reading their items.

It is one thing to have magic item fences, or a blacksmith weapons trader who keeps a secret stash of swords in his attic...but for ex in Kill Bill vol.1, Beatrice has to 1) travel to Japan, 2) endure a skill challenge full of diplomacy, bluff, sense, rinse, repeat, and then 3) Hatori Hanzo shows her some swords, telling her in no uncertain terms that he "no longer makes swords"...
-->She is only able to get a hh sword by one last diplo/intim where she scrawls "Bill" into the glass fog.
Sooo if, in a game, Beatrice would just be able to cash in the PussyWagon at a used horse dealer and walk around the block to the magic weapon shop to buy her short sword+4, so be it...the finales will suffer accordingly by this sort of story design.

Here are some things I have done to keep my players magic-item lite in our game...
-the villains all fight to win/live; this means they don't fail to run when reduced to dangerous levels, and when they do run and survive, they earn a bunch of xp for yet another near-death experience at the hands of the pc heroes. This keeps their equipment from being cycled into pc hands, and it keeps our game in exquisite dynamic tension besides.
-many items have insignias, etchings, brands, and standards that have been sworn to & consecrated for various nefarious and anti-aligned purposes: does anyone actually want to put on that armor chased with scenes of elves being mass-murdered by priests of EvilgodX? I once had a lv12 pc in our game march into a nearby field and destroy a keen smoking greataxe +3 "because he thought it was cursed"; it wasn't, but he was so convinced from the enemy wielding it that it was a cursed weapon, that he didn't even wait for the axe to be properly identified.

On another occasion, players found "belts" of giant-strength, but although they formally functioned as a belt-slot item, they were worn as dirty and uncomfortable scrotum wraps by the recently-defeated enemies; no pc could be bothered to go through the distasteful task of un-equipping the items from the enemy corpse let alone think about putting it on themselves; they buried the corpses w/ items still left on untouched. I don't blame them.

And finding a buyer wasn't always easy for their loot they did manage to extract from ruins here and there... sure a suit of armor might be worth 25,000gp, but does the merchant really have that much gold on hand? If so, does he really want to spend all his liquid assets on one such investment? (at the full market price, no less). These contingencies often have my pc's burying treasure, to try to liquidate later, or venturing to this-or-that large metropolis or church to try to bargain off. Occasionally, evil items were even ransomed back to the creating faction for info or hostages. In one of our last sessions, a +5 holy avenger sword was awarded to a lv9 npc tagging along in the party, because it was consecrated to the sun god he worshiped.

My players have griped along the way about the impoverished state their characters are often in: having been robbed of ALL their items numerous times from dying or capture, having their vaults looted by master thieves they foiled in the past, and having been price-gouged for resurrections by third-party foreign churches who know they are in a tight spot & just hit it rich...but these things move the game forward and the pcs are truly known for their character's abilities in deeds, not wealth, which is I think what you are trying to get the focus back on.


Charles Dunwoody wrote:


Based on my final idea, my final question is, how would a world with no potions, scrolls, or wands still appeal to players? All of these magic items are a spell in a can. They aren’t unique. They add power to a caster and perhaps overshadow non-casters a bit.

In a world without potions, scrolls, or wands, casters would have to use more of their spells and use them carefully. Solutions other than waving a wand around would be needed.

To offset the lowered healing, I’d introduce reserve points (from Unearthed Arcana). Reserve points equal hit points and replenish hit points on a 1 to 1 basis each minute.

So in a fight, reserve points change nothing (fights are still dangerous). In between combats, characters heal on their own instead of using wands. Similar solution, but based on the character’s will to live and not just a wand.

For low-magic and controlled magic settings, potions and 1-shot items can actually enhance the feel of the rarity of magic. They're equally useful to casters and non-casters alike, but they're limited in quantity and power. Removing wands is a good way to make magic resources more limited.

Midnight is a setting where magic is illegal. A dark god has taken over the world and his priests have a familiar style animal that can sniff out magic items, they hunt down anyone who possesses magic items. In that setting they added Charms, single use items similar to potions but often just bonuses to attribute or skill rolls.

In general, I would look at the Midnight setting, it's pretty cool to begin with and has some ideas on "buffing" player characters in a low magic setting. Creation of permanent items is rare, dangerous and requires certain magical locations to achieve, which greatly limits how many items are made (since if the priests of the dark god find them, they kill anyone who visits while they drain away it's magic).

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32

mozgriken wrote:
And now by "shop" I assume you are referring to "magic shop" which from what I understand is apparently a standard in other peoples games.

Just a quick note, the magic shop is standard in PF (and was in 3.5 as well). Every settlement has several magic items for sale by the RAW.

And I hate the magic shop. So I'm going to have an uphill battle trying to get rid of it (if I decide to try to get rid of it). Players reading the Core Rulebook will be confused when they can't buy and sell magic items.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32

Lots of good info in all of these posts. Thanks.

Just some clarity:
The only thing I'm considering removing for sure is the big six magic items (magic weapon--just the bonuses, magic armor/shield, save boosts, ability scores boosts, natural armor boosts, and deflection boosts).

Everything else (spells and other magic items) would stay.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Elrostar wrote:
Sadly, the Iron Heroes system wasn't properly playtested before being released and as a result it is pretty horribly broken and unbalanced. I don't know whether anyone is currently working on a PF conversion of it, but I would love to see such a thing. I thought its basic approach was fantastic (it's not the sword, but the hand that wields it and all that), but I wish it had been implemented somewhat better.

Broken in what sense? Remember that Iron Heroes was not intended to be used along standard characters or in a standard setting.


LazarX wrote:
Elrostar wrote:
Sadly, the Iron Heroes system wasn't properly playtested before being released and as a result it is pretty horribly broken and unbalanced. I don't know whether anyone is currently working on a PF conversion of it, but I would love to see such a thing. I thought its basic approach was fantastic (it's not the sword, but the hand that wields it and all that), but I wish it had been implemented somewhat better.
Broken in what sense? Remember that Iron Heroes was not intended to be used along standard characters or in a standard setting.

The classes weren't balanced against each other. I fully realize that the system wasn't meant to work in combination with normal rules, but the differences between classes was a major problem. The Armiger was way weaker than the other classes, for instance. The token system was also... sub-optimal. Basically, the system wasn't play-tested properly, which is unfortunate given how good so much of the stuff in there was.


Irontruth wrote:

Midnight is a setting where magic is illegal. A dark god has taken over the world and his priests have a familiar style animal that can sniff out magic items, they hunt down anyone who possesses magic items. In that setting they added Charms, single use items similar to potions but often just bonuses to attribute or skill rolls.

In general, I would look at the Midnight setting, it's pretty cool to begin with and has some ideas on "buffing" player characters in a low magic setting. Creation of permanent items is rare, dangerous and requires certain magical locations to achieve, which greatly limits how many items are made (since if the priests of the dark god find them, they kill anyone who visits while they drain away it's magic).

I second this. Midnight is a great setting that does some things to tone down magic and make it more rare and special. It also has a simple, easy magic system to replace Vancian slots.


You know, I'm always left scratching my head whenever someone tries to reduce reliance on magic items by giving mysterious innate bonii and trying to replace said items with other items that just do more. If you want to reduce the "need", either real or perceived, for magic items, why not reduce or eliminate the practical reasons why people feel the need to have them.

For example, there is nothing wrong with only including the types of monsters that can be reliably defeated with just regular old mundane weapons. If anyone feels like they are struggling, masterwork equipment is always an option.

Also, you might consider challenges that only require a skill level that the characters would reasonably have without magical enhancement.


Daisuke1133 wrote:

You know, I'm always left scratching my head whenever someone tries to reduce reliance on magic items by giving mysterious innate bonii and trying to replace said items with other items that just do more. If you want to reduce the "need", either real or perceived, for magic items, why not reduce or eliminate the practical reasons why people feel the need to have them.

For example, there is nothing wrong with only including the types of monsters that can be reliably defeated with just regular old mundane weapons. If anyone feels like they are struggling, masterwork equipment is always an option.

Also, you might consider challenges that only require a skill level that the characters would reasonably have without magical enhancement.

Opponents which require magical items to hit them can be hit with temporarily enchanted weapons as well. So not having magic items doesn't mean you can't use those creatures, it just means your casters better be prepared to reserve some slots for enhancing weapons.

Liberty's Edge

Daisuke1133 wrote:

You know, I'm always left scratching my head whenever someone tries to reduce reliance on magic items by giving mysterious innate bonii and trying to replace said items with other items that just do more. If you want to reduce the "need", either real or perceived, for magic items, why not reduce or eliminate the practical reasons why people feel the need to have them.

For example, there is nothing wrong with only including the types of monsters that can be reliably defeated with just regular old mundane weapons. If anyone feels like they are struggling, masterwork equipment is always an option.

Also, you might consider challenges that only require a skill level that the characters would reasonably have without magical enhancement.

In addition to all the good things mentioned above, Midnight also had very interesting guidelines in adapting Monsters (and their special abilities) to a setting where magic (especially powerful curative/restorative magic) is really rare.


HawaiianWarrior wrote:
Irontruth wrote:

Midnight is a setting where magic is illegal. A dark god has taken over the world and his priests have a familiar style animal that can sniff out magic items, they hunt down anyone who possesses magic items. In that setting they added Charms, single use items similar to potions but often just bonuses to attribute or skill rolls.

In general, I would look at the Midnight setting, it's pretty cool to begin with and has some ideas on "buffing" player characters in a low magic setting. Creation of permanent items is rare, dangerous and requires certain magical locations to achieve, which greatly limits how many items are made (since if the priests of the dark god find them, they kill anyone who visits while they drain away it's magic).

I second this. Midnight is a great setting that does some things to tone down magic and make it more rare and special. It also has a simple, easy magic system to replace Vancian slots.

It also includes my favorite image of a burial ever. Since 0-level commoners had like a 60% of becoming undead after dieing, dwarves had the custom of using a giant stone slab to weigh the body down with, carved with runes like a headstone. Odds were, if you came to visit, you'd hear your departed family member scratching at the stone trying to get out.


Midnight is a great setting, no question about it.
I always wanted to run a combined Midnight/Iron Heroes game, but the amount of conversion and work involved always put me off it.

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