Advice for Low(er)-Magic Golarion


Lost Omens Campaign Setting General Discussion


I love Golarion. I love the old civilizations, the eldritch abominations, everything that reminds me of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser and all the wonderful old pulp fiction sword and sorcery, I love the gunpowder and The Prince of Wolves and Tegresin.

However, I'm of the school of thought that most NPCs should be first level commoners and that as the limit of most human capabilities fifth-level NPCs are living legends. PCs are unusual very quickly, and while magic is manifest (I never limit classes that can be played) it's very rare and very far beyond human comprehension. The afterlife is not an open secret that can be diagramed out on maps, and there's really no reason to trust that 'angel' that manifests in your summoning circle. The Worldwound is the farthest that anyone that can still be considered part of humanity at large can get from their world, and that's terrifying. Sure there are different races, but they have their own mortal issues just as much as humans do. You can't buy minor miracles after a good adventuring job. You can't buy wondrous items. You're probably going to think of that powerful wizard who hired you in the same terms as you think of the demons who try and trick you in the weirder dungeons. You can't see the stuff you'll have seen at midlevel and go back to a normal life.

(One complaint I don't have is that monsters on Golarion are monsters; my drow are scheming my PCs deaths already.)

I'd like to preserve what canon I can, Absalom is still the delve that never runs dry, Geb is still lousy with undead and Jalmeray is still wondrous, but I'd like to put a bit of the fantastical back in the fantasy; the s#+@ that goes down is never every-day kind of s~~%. More smoke and mirrors, and beside that, stuff that'll really scare my players witless.

(By the way, there was a really awesome thread earlier theorizing about the gods being part of eldritch conspiracies, and it was glorious and could someone link it please?)


Some advice would be appreciated.


I love the idea, but a LOT of golarion falls apart without high end magic. I think you'd do better just picking a starting area that has that kind of feel and keep them in that region with role-playing reason.

The Land of the Linnorm Kings and parts of Varissa fit the bill quite nicely. That way when they do travel to Geb or Absalom its like traveling to another plane.

Although if its spooky misdirection you're looking for take Ustalav and remove the high plus equaling damage reduction or create a new template called "horror" that makes big bosses only killable in certain ways. Its not just any silver or magic weapon that can kill the ultra werewolf. You need blessed silver weapons made from the silver cross Ultrawolf wore when he was a good buy. Then hide all kinds of clues to how to kill a "Boss".

I know its not really what you asked for, but that's all that occurs to me at this time.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Pathfinder Accessories, Rulebook, Starfinder Accessories, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I have to agree with proftobe in that it's really difficult to excise the high-fantasy aspect of Golarion/Pathfinder.

I'm a fan of "grittier" fantasy myself and I've used various systems over the years. Of late, however, I've been taking a lot of cues from the Conan RPG (which I used prior to Pathfinder) and Videogame FRPGs to hit that stride.

Conan is often considered low-magic when it really isn't. Magic is present in almost every Conan story. It is, however, feared.

If you look at videogames like the Dragon Age series & the Witcher 2, all the high-fantasy elements are there. However, the tone is similar to what you're striving to achieve. Basically, you're reducing the number of spellcasters, utilizing NPC classes & non-casters in greater numbers, and treating monsters as monsters rather than a bag of alternate races.

For mechanical tweaks, if you can find a copy or PDF, Grim Tales by Bad Axe Games has some good suggestions for modifying d20/3.5 OGL games. Many of the subsystems could be applied to Pathfinder.


It sounds sort of like you want e6 to me. If the highest anyone gets is 6th, there's a lot less craziness running around and you don't have to have insane things lurking in the background to jump out in the mid-high levels.

I think you're honestly a lot of the way there already. So much of highfantasy/lowfantasy is tone. You can make an encounter with a level-appropriate bugbear ranger be a fun-filled wuxia romp through the woods, a harrowing experience scarring players and characters alike, or just another random encounter.

It sounds like you're already on track with the tone. Wizards are mysterious, there aren't magic item shops, monsters are monstrous, and nobody builds flying cities anymore. You shouldn't need to modify the setting at all, just your presentation of it.

Liberty's Edge

1 person marked this as a favorite.

This post kind of got away from me.

First of all, rules. I second using E6- if you haven't hear of it, it's rescaling the game so that anything beyond 6th is "epic" (PCs that continue past 6th gain only feats, etc). This does a great job at creating a low-magic atmosphere, as there's not much magic at these levels. These early levels are also some of the most balanced in the Pathfinder system, so PCs rarely become overwhelming overpowered.

If you do go down the E6 route, I strongly suggest using James Jacobs variant leveling homebrew rules. Hopefully someone more adapt at the forums than I can provide the link (In brief: No XP. Characters advance when the GM says so. Each level consists of four sub-levels. Each sub-level gains the PC an advancement of their choice in BAB, Saves, Skills and Feats, or Class Abilities). This way players get the rush of advancement, despite the low-level cap.

Feel free to modify both to your taste. Your campaign could be E7 or E12, or that each level could consist of two to five sublevels. Whatever works for you and your group!

Second of all, the world. You don't need to change as much as you think. The trick is to make the fantastic lore of Golarion just that - lore. I.E.

People say that Cheliax is ruled by devils, but we know they really mean sociopath bureaucrats (except that if you go high enough, you'll find the strings are pulled by something from Hell).

People say that Ustalav was ruled by an undead tyrant and now his minions stalk the night, but we know that the tyrant was just an old warlord and his minions ruthless mercenaries from the west (except for the horrible things that do lurk in the shadows).

People say that Irrisen is ruled by a witch-queen and populated by ice trolls, but we know their ruler is a xenophobic aristocrat, and those "trolls" are just very large, burly, fur-draped humans (except when those clothes conceal blue molted skin).

People say that the Worldwound is plagued with demons, but we know that it's actually serious seismic activity releasing underground caverns of toxic gas (except when those underground pockets erupt in a sentient pyroclasm of claws and death).

Magic exists, of course! But it's a rare thing. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who saw it once. The village probably knows of a few "witches" on the outskirts (hermits), or a local traveling wizard (charlatans), and maybe they even have a cleric (expert with ranks in alchemy and heal).

The gods exist, of course! Some followers gain supernatural powers (most don't), given quests from on high (never directly), and battle great evil (I think?). Oddly enough, two powerful priests may have claim to the same deity, but follow contradictory dogma - and both may ignore the dogma to pursue other goals.

Dragons? Those exist too! Well, they did once. There's hasn't been a confirmed sighting for decades. Perhaps dragons were never as smart as the legends say, and were driven to extinction by mages, for use as a source of magical material. Or perhaps they slumber in lairs deep and dark...

(This can be a good way to explain the great magical works of previous generations - perhaps it is common knowledge that magic is a diminishing resource. Whether or not that's true, it might be impossible to say)

The "facts" about Golarion that we know (as players) become the lost lore and legends of the world, and the "learned" civilized folks will tell you that they're just that. But that old guy, sitting in the corner of the tavern, they say he use to be a knight under the old king. Go on, buy him his next few rounds, and a tongue loosened by ale, might let slip of that time the archduke took the form of a wolf, or the caravan destroyed by malicious pixies, or of the crimson-scaled dragon that took flight and filled the sky with fire.

I could go on!

But, let's continue with the campaign. I like what you've said so far, The key is build up to the fantastic slowly. I'm going to make up three steps and say that's a good way to do it.

First, rumors and falsehoods: The players hear of monsters and strange forces, but never seem to encounter any (outside of themselves). The "manticore" lurking near the woods is a rabid bear. The necromancer in the tower is a a grave-robber who's taken up refuge in an abandoned lighthouse. A dragon-killing knight is a sellsword with several alligator pelts.

Second, pieces and remnants: Soon, the players encounter little bits of wonder. They chase bandits across the blasted landscape of a wizard's duel. Someone supplies the thieves guild with elixirs that turn men to mist and back again. Scrolls showing clockwork automatons in the shape of men found in a sealed chamber.

Third, the big stuff: When they least expect it, the truly awesome and awful of the world makes an appearance. An ally is devoured by a creature not from this world. The sky turns to fire and the city falls into a mad panic. Monsters and magic and dragons like they've never seen and gone before they have a chance to register as "normal".

A few final thoughts before I realize it's my bedtime:

You may want to remove alignment from the characters. It should still exist, but it should be known only to the GM (for mortals, it's almost always Neutral).

On that note, you may want to remove or up the level of the various Detect spells (evil, good, magic, etc.) - nothing makes magic more mundane than being able to ping for it at will.

n fact, if you check out the Gamemastery Guide, there's a whole section on what spells create a massive change to any campaign (Fly, Locate Object, etc).

Is this the link you were asking for?
http://paizo.com/forums/dmtz2tv5?Conspiracy-Theories-of-Golarion


I already homerule alignment out of the campaigns I run, my players assume it's the rule now. I keep an eye on how the paladin roleplays his holy code, and they have yet to ever reach a level where I'd consider in-world alignment to make sense.


For the link, that's awesome, but I was thinking of the one along the lines of all the gods are Lovecraftian abominations...

Owner - House of Books and Games LLC

I keep hearing that Golarion "falls apart" if it's not high magic. Can someone be specific about this? It seems to me that the GM is in control of what magic ends up in the world (other than what the PCs have or create), and thus in control of whether things fall apart or not.

I mean, what about Golarion requires all monsters and NPCs to be high-level christmas trees of gear? And if you're not talking about Wealth By Level (WBL) then what are you talking about when you say "high magic?"

I tend to run very very low WBL campaigns, and severely limit the magic and money available to the PCs, which obviously limits their power. This does not cause campaigns to implode, it simply means that many threats are harder to deal with - which isn't necessarily a bad thing.


First: It sounds like you want to Epic 6 houserule for your mechanics, I hope you know all about that already.

Second: These kinds of things are best handled on a campaign level.

Rather than trying to lay out a framework and veto the things you don't like in the entire campaign setting before starting, just start and veto as you go along. Give your players a generalized warning, or pick a part of the world that they know little about and set the campaign there.

If you have "canon-lawyers" in the group, just specify that this is Faux-larion and although the place names and the gods may be the same, you are cutting a lot of material. Maybe compile a short list of changes with a focus on character creation, just to give them an example of the ambiance you're going for.

I'm doing the same with my Burning Wheel/Kingmaker campaign, and it's working out great so far!


brreitz wrote:
If you do go down the E6 route, I strongly suggest using James Jacobs variant leveling homebrew rules. Hopefully someone more adapt at the forums than I can provide the link (In brief: No XP. Characters advance when the GM says so. Each level consists of four sub-levels. Each sub-level gains the PC an advancement of their choice in BAB, Saves, Skills and Feats, or Class Abilities). This way players get the rush of advancement, despite the low-level cap.

You mean Sean Reynolds' Step Leveling variant

IIRC, James is a huge fan of XP and full levels. :)

Owner - House of Books and Games LLC

Evil Lincoln wrote:
I'm doing the same with my Burning Wheel/Kingmaker campaign, and it's working out great so far!

Whoa.

Burning Wheel, eh? I have a buddy who's in love with that system and has been dying to find a game of it. I have zero interest (just like I'll never play Diplomacy again), but for his sake, how has it been working out?


gbonehead wrote:
Evil Lincoln wrote:
I'm doing the same with my Burning Wheel/Kingmaker campaign, and it's working out great so far!

Whoa.

Burning Wheel, eh? I have a buddy who's in love with that system and has been dying to find a game of it. I have zero interest (just like I'll never play Diplomacy again), but for his sake, how has it been working out?

It's crunchy, but has completely different priorities than Pathfinder. Combat is very much like Soul Calibur. I've been enjoying it. Do yourself and give it an honest shot, it's about as different from PF as I can imagine. Pathfinder's still there for me to do what Pathfinder does best.

It says a lot about the content design that I'm willing to drop the Pathfinder rules but not the Pathfinder setting!


gbonehead wrote:

I keep hearing that Golarion "falls apart" if it's not high magic. Can someone be specific about this? It seems to me that the GM is in control of what magic ends up in the world (other than what the PCs have or create), and thus in control of whether things fall apart or not.

I mean, what about Golarion requires all monsters and NPCs to be high-level christmas trees of gear? And if you're not talking about Wealth By Level (WBL) then what are you talking about when you say "high magic?"

I tend to run very very low WBL campaigns, and severely limit the magic and money available to the PCs, which obviously limits their power. This does not cause campaigns to implode, it simply means that many threats are harder to deal with - which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Agreed on that last. I let my players munchkin to their hearts content, but don't give them magic items at all except once in a blue moon, they have to make them themselves, and even masterwork or exotic material items take some finding. I've never once looked at the WBL chart.

When I say High Magic, I'm talking more about feel than mechanics. As in Forgotten Realsm or Eberron versus Westeros.


Evil Lincoln wrote:
brreitz wrote:
If you do go down the E6 route, I strongly suggest using James Jacobs variant leveling homebrew rules. Hopefully someone more adapt at the forums than I can provide the link (In brief: No XP. Characters advance when the GM says so. Each level consists of four sub-levels. Each sub-level gains the PC an advancement of their choice in BAB, Saves, Skills and Feats, or Class Abilities). This way players get the rush of advancement, despite the low-level cap.

You mean Sean Reynolds' Step Leveling variant

IIRC, James is a huge fan of XP and full levels. :)

Thanks.

I'm keeping E6 and the essay 'Calibrating your Expectations' in mind for the campaign as a whole. I don't necessarily have a level cap set in stone- there probably will be epic-level stuff out there, for when the characters work hard enough to be tough enough to fight the Tarrasque, or understand what things like Baba Yaga are and exactly how out of their league they'll always be, but that's for the future.


It occurred to me, how would I handle Aroden's death, keeping the resulting events without blatant divine magic existing?

Grand Lodge

brreitz wrote:
Awesome stuff including "This can be a good way to explain the great magical works of previous generations - perhaps it is common knowledge that magic is a diminishing resource. Whether or not that's true, it might be impossible to say"

This is pretty much how I do Golarion with E7.

How do I tie it to Arodens death? Almost directly.

The loremasters have recorded a steady decline in magic for centuries as high level practioners become fewer and fewer and this was accelerated with Arodens death 100 years ago... the best most manage is to scratch the surface of the abilities of those before that time.

There are evil whispers of rites and fell sources of power that can drive beyond this but these stories make strong men blanch in fear.


Nice idea, but as far as most of the world knows magic never existed.

Community / Forums / Pathfinder / Lost Omens Campaign Setting / General Discussion / Advice for Low(er)-Magic Golarion All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.