Is a low magic-item campaign viable?


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So I am wanting to run a relatively low magic campaign. It's not that I want to abolish magic items, but that I want them to feel special. I'd rather shoot for "Sting, an enchanted blade of Elven steel" than "a +2 goblin bane short sword that you'll probably sell rather than use".

But my concern is how level progression, DCs, ACs and attack scores of monsters measures up to PCs without buckets of magic items.
Is this at all doable, or should I just try another way to get the feel I'm going for? Maybe a large discrepancy between 'enchanted' generic +x items, and True Magic items, with traits, wondrous items, etc?

My players have basically no dnd experience, and I'm building my own setting for the game, so if I can shoot for the flavour I'm after that'd be great. Otherwise I can keep it more traditional.


Personal opinion: No.

Common consensus: Possible, depends on group.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

It's absolutely viable.

The only thing is you have to nuance your judgements on what you throw your group against. And how their remaining resources such as spell slots etc. stack up.

Also "low-magic" is a pretty subjective term. For some people the standard WBL tables are "low-magic". It's also a difference whether you're just reducing amounts or eliminating certain aspects altogether. And you've really not given us any real data to divine what kind of "feel" you're trying to establish.

Perhaps you should look up Monte Cook's "Iron Heroes" works.


I'll do some reading on that.

Fair point, I just said some subjective buzzwords and left it at that.
As generic and pointless as it sounds, despite running 4e and pathfinder for years now, I've never felt like I was playing Tolkien styled fantasy. Corebook classes (no monk, and i still don't get Bards), 'plain' races (humans, dwarves, half elves, halfling. True elves left a long time ago), arcane magic in a recession (the elves are gone), only a handful of distant deities. All Detect spells are gone. Resurrection magic is the sole purview of one of the gods, and she's the least anthropomorphised. Maybe resurrection is in there as a 9th level spell.
That sort of thing.

A big thing is that I don't like is there being so many magic items around that most of them get sold. I've been running kingmaker and the players usually greet a new bundle of magic items by doing the sums to work out their worth, and all but converting them into cash on the spot.

Maybe that is a result of the particular AP giving the wizard time to craft the perfect items instead of merely working with what they find/acquire.

For a new game with players new to fantasy, I'd really like to have them excited over what they find, and not expecting that ill let them shop through the books for optimised gear.

So if I do need to keep a fair bit of gear in, I'll alter the question.

How easily could a campaign work where, by and large, the magic items are those that are made available, and not commissioned or self made?
I'm not looking to push the bleeding edge of CR, a big thing of the 'there's no Raise Dead' is that the PCs might fear death. That let's me play NPCs and monsters with enough fear of death to break or surrender.

Given all of that, how badly are optimised builds and their selected gear needed?


Viable? Yes for certain values of viable.

Fun for the whole family? Definitely debatable

The truth of the matter is that various classes definitely need gear at specific points of their adventuring careers in order to compete effectively against a certain threshold of threats.

If you are a warrior (fighter, ranger, etc) and you start fighting a bunch of DR/10 Magic foes you are going to be frustrated unless you can self-buff with magic weapon or greater magic weapon. While a friendly cleric can cover some of the need the game kinda presupposes certain gear by certain levels.

Another item that I generally find boring but necessary are the ever present cloaks of resistance. Because poor saves simply don't scale effectively with the median DC value of spells, spell-like abilities and other attacks (poison, etc) this can mean that in a low magic campaign the PCs are way more vulnerable than they would otherwise be. This can be adjusted for but it generally means that the PCs are going to struggle against higher CR encounters.

One of the things I like to do in terms of building a low magic world (which is an admirable goal) is to just assume that the core 6 items becomes effectively inherent bonuses added to the hero not his or her items.

Thus at third level you give a +1 inherent bonus to all saves to the PCs to reflect that they would've normally got a cloak of resistance at that level, etc. That way all the basic boring +X items that are needed to make the game math work correctly are there so you can save actual magic items for the important stuff.

Same with common consumables like wands. If you don't want to give out wands of CLW like candy then give people the ability to self-heal between encounters.

Sovereign Court

Yes, totally viable, ... and totally compelling. Quality trumps quantity every time except in money and sex. hahahha


Restricting the number of magic items is feasible, although it may drive your players to make a bunch of spellcasting PCs.

However, I'm skeptical that you'll necessarily achieve your intended goal of making a +2 goblin bane short sword feel more special to your players. It's like the old joke says (paraphrased): "Why do I bang my head against the wall? Because I want it to feel special when I stop."


Low magic items supply calls for other adjustments to character strength. Most importantly AC, as that doesn't scale at all without magic items, except for monk, fighters and maybe a few archetypes, for whom it scales very slowly. If you dont have any system in place which scales up AC, it will eventually become obsolete (what good is a 24 AC from your full plate+armor training, if attacks regularly come at +20)


I tend to run games with a lower level of magic items than standard you just need to watch what monsters you put them up against
At lower lvls i also tend to use weapons that have charges like instead of a +1 sword I'll have a sword that has the ability to become magical for a number of rounds a day so that way players soon learn to pick and choose when the use the swords ability
And i also put in extra scrolls and potion so the casters can be more versatile


I'm doing something like this in my Kingmaker game for a number of reason - to keep magical items as 'special', as well as because we have something that our usual GM dosen't allow - Time to build things. Kingmaker can run months and years, so being able to craft items, armor, and weapons is something that is a bit different with the group. I also wanted masterwork items to be more special as well, since they've become pretty standard with loot tables over time.

What I did was remove the +1 and +2 tier of magic weapons and armor from the game, replacing it with masterwork quality items. Masterwork items represent an exceptional craftsmanship, and a great amount of time poured into the item's creation. Basicly, it takes a week to put a +1 masterwork onto either hit or damage for a weapon, and it can stack up to +2 in both hit and damage. Because of the time investment, masterwork items are much more rare as loot, and prized by my players. Thus far, it's working out fantastically.

As far as resources, I make sure to supplement with either coin or resources/goods (In Kingmaker, this can easily be converted to build points, a currency used to grow a kingdom) to the value of what the players would be missing out on.

When I place a magic item in the game, I make sure it is special - for example:
an amulet of natural armor +1 turns into an amulet of natural armor +1 that adds a passive +2 to the hide skill and is able to cast pulls strength on the wearer 4 times.
A shield +2 is now a masterwork shield +2, with a history tied to one of the houses in Brevoy, a lost heirloom. If the players make a knowledge history check they can identify the crest and return it for either a boon form the family in good or resources, or through the use of diplomacy forge an alliance with the family, allowing them an extra army of swordsmen, pikemen, or crossbowmen.
A bag of holding is intelligent. Perhaps it dosen't want to give up whatever it was that you put into it? Or perhaps you need to come to an agreement with it before it opens up?


Interesting. Yeah, I'd be quite down with inherent bonuses. It's basically instances like the cloak being mechanically mandated that I want to avoid.

Beyond +1 to all saves at 3rd level, what are some other general steps? Where abouts are they expected to have +1 armour?


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Are you asking for purely optimal numbers assuming that the PCs would be spending almost all cash on pumping the big six plus minimal investment in other items?

I'm not sure someone has done a real in-depth spinal analysis of the Pathfinder math but the following basically worked for 3.5.

Core 6 Items

Stat Booster
+2 at 6th
+4 at 12th
+6 at 18th

Weapon Enhancement
+1 at 3rd
+2 at 6th
+3 at 9th
+4 at 12th
+5 at 15th

Armor Enhancement
+1 at 3rd
+2 at 6th
+3 at 9th
+4 at 12th
+5 at 15th

Shield Enhancement (if applicable)
+1 at 3rd
+2 at 6th
+3 at 9th
+4 at 12th
+5 at 15th

Deflection
+1 at 3rd
+2 at 6th
etc.

Natural Armor
+1 at 3rd
+2 at 6th
etc.

Resistance
+1 at 3rd
+2 at 6th
etc.

This is basically the list for front-line martial characters (Fighters, etc). It also can be used for battle clerics but in general spellcasters don't need as many boosts to AC although they are helpful. Only giving them inherent bonuses to Deflection and Natural Armor and not Armor and Shield is fair though.

Beyond that I think most people assume a haversack by about 3rd level.

The main question is how to handle secondary stat boosting items.

Personally I would gauge how heroic of a game you want and then either boost all physical stats at the same time as the primary or at a -1 progression.

A minus -1 progression might mean that when the fighter would get an inherent bonus of +4 to strength he would also have a bonus of +2 to dex and con.

I would probably also assume a -1 progression for a wisdom booster (for non divine casters) so that when the fighter or rogue is at 12th level they have a +2 to wisdom.

I'll make a second post about spellcasters who generally are alot less gear dependent.


In my game masterwork armour is +1 to ac also in my game mithral gives damage reduction


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Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Ive been running a low magic item game in my latest campaign. I am running my players through slumbering tsar a rather unforgiving adventure, that I had to do very little adjustment to (I actually have scaled it up not down due to number of players). The reason I can do this is I developed a set of house rules to give the players inherent bonuses that replace most of what they get from magic items. My players at level 9 have only one or two magic items each, and are able to handle some fairly difficult challenges effectively. Those house rules are outlined here - please note there is an updated set of heroic distinctions later on in the thread.

Basically I completely believe that you can run a low magic item game. But you have to do one of two things. Scale down encounters, and be very careful at mid to high levels even with scaled down crs. Remember, without magic items after you get to the best armor you can afford (3rd level or so) AC stops scaling. Saving throws go up much slower on the player side, but remain high when dealing with monster saves. Basically all the math that makes things a hard or easy challenge gets really wonky.

Or you can replace the abilities players would normally get with inherent ones that they get when the level, which is my preference.


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Yes!

All it requires is an experienced GM, trial and error, and a willingness to work outside the game's encounter balance assumptions.


Spell caster progression

The core items for Spellcasters are slightly modified.

I personally think clerics should have invested in armor, weapon, shield, natural armor, deflection, etc in addition the resistance and stat boosters but wizards generally don't need magic weapons, magic armor or shields.

I'd consider giving Clerics physical stat boosters at a -1 rate so when wisdom has +4 then clerics have the equivalent of a +2 physical perfection belt. I'd also consider giving them a -1 rate boost to int or charisma (player choice).

Wizards/Sorcerers would probably get a -1 rate boost to con/dex (strength being pretty unimportant) and a -1 rate boost to wisdom.

Personally I don't really care for the metamagic rods but you might compensate the spellcasters with the equivalent of virtual metamagic rods.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Tim Hunt 103 wrote:

I'll do some reading on that.

Fair point, I just said some subjective buzzwords and left it at that.
As generic and pointless as it sounds, despite running 4e and pathfinder for years now, I've never felt like I was playing Tolkien styled fantasy.

You still won't. Gygax and his crew came from wargaming roots, and the setting and storylines that ran Greyhawk and run Golarion and are the main inspiration for Pathfinder are more along the gritty and darker edged themes with a bit of punk, scifi, and Lovecraftian horror thrown in for spice. At most certain elements are inspired by Tolkien, but not the overall theme.


Kolokotroni wrote:
Remember, without magic items after you get to the best armor you can afford (3rd level or so) AC stops scaling.

Except for spellcasters, of course. (Barkskin, Magic Vestment, etc.)

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Threeshades wrote:
Low magic items supply calls for other adjustments to character strength. Most importantly AC, as that doesn't scale at all without magic items, except for monk, fighters and maybe a few archetypes, for whom it scales very slowly. If you dont have any system in place which scales up AC, it will eventually become obsolete (what good is a 24 AC from your full plate+armor training, if attacks regularly come at +20)

Living Death was a campaign where AC for all intents and purposes never scaled up, since you were restricted to Victorian era clothing and an extremely low magic and magic impeded world. That still allowed for some truly nasty encounters, but the impact becomes that much more greater. Midlevel beasties become truly epic encounters.


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You know, we see this a lot. “I want to run a low magic campaign’ , but we rarely see “I want to play in a low magic campaign”. Why do you think that is?

However, yes, you can certainly slow down the “ye Olde Magik Shoppe’ meme by handing out more unique items, aimed particularly at the PC’s. So, yeah “Sting, an enchanted blade of Elven steel" will work. Make the items a little bit more powerful but perhaps add quirks that reduce the sales price. So, if you have a halfling rogue , and you plan the sword for him, then maybe add that in the hands of a Halfling it gains the gobbling bane bonus, but not for other racers, thus selling it gets only ½ of the base price for a +1, not ½ for a +1 Bane.

BUT the game is set so that the PC’s can handle certain encounters at certain levels, and that includes certain bonuses. Warrior types will NEED a decent magic weapon, and stuff that boosts their AC, and so forth. You can cut down on the magic xmas tree’ a bit by starting with a 25 pt buy (but if so I’d suggest that no stat buy below 10) or various inherent bonuses thru traits, magic pools , “gifts’ from quest-givers upon completion etc. Hmm, maybe give out a trait every even numbered level? From three traits you can get +1 to all three saves.

Something that gives healing between combats. I gave out “honey from enchanted bees’ that gave double overnite healing and also 1 pt per hour – IF they made a heal check.

Remember also that the Fellowship of the Ring was positively LOADED with high power magic items, including 2 or 3 artifacts, etc.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
Tim Hunt 103 wrote:
My players have basically no dnd experience, and I'm building my own setting for the game, so if I can shoot for the flavour I'm after that'd be great. Otherwise I can keep it more traditional.

It is possible if you are willing to tweak the enemy opposition to match the lower power of the PCs. Consider the party to be one level behind in power once they get up in the 5+ range. You'll be able to use lesser enemies as the normal opposition and save the regular CRs for increased challenges.


LazarX wrote:
Tim Hunt 103 wrote:

I'll do some reading on that.

Fair point, I just said some subjective buzzwords and left it at that.
As generic and pointless as it sounds, despite running 4e and pathfinder for years now, I've never felt like I was playing Tolkien styled fantasy.

You still won't. Gygax and his crew came from wargaming roots, and the setting and storylines that ran Greyhawk and run Golarion and are the main inspiration for Pathfinder are more along the gritty and darker edged themes with a bit of punk, scifi, and Lovecraftian horror thrown in for spice. At most certain elements are inspired by Tolkien, but not the overall theme.

Well that just makes it a challenge worth pursuing...


YES! It is a viable idea. You will have to do your own encounter balancing, but I don't understand GMs who think they can just read the CR and throw it at ANY party of the "appropriate level". In my 25 years of D&D/PF, 12 working with the CR system, I have always had to balance my encounters by the seat of my pants. It is a lot easier in 3.x/PF, but it still requires GM skill.

As to your specific campaign goal, I say "Bravo, and don't let anyone tell you that you can't run that type of game and make if fun".

Here is (broadly) what I would do:

-give all Heroics (PCs, and special NPCs) +1 per 4 character levels....to everything. Attack, damage, AC, saves, skill checks. Excluding DCs and level checks.

-reduce "automatic" treasure amounts by 90% (change gold for silver, this will enhance your setting). It also means that you could let players buy or make whatever they want, because it would come much later and weaker. Or you could just say no bonuses stack at all with the level bonus. Oh, massively reduce the cost of masterwork.

-use some form of Armor as DR (I personally don't like any current incarnation "as is"). If you use the PF version form UC, I would add a Dodge bonus (stacking with the level bonus) to the Defense score equal to the creature's base Reflex save bonus.

-use a form of Wounds and Vigor. Be sure to allow healing of "vigor" at 1 per level per hour. Possibly more with aid.

-drop specific, cool, but not necessarily powerful magic items as you see fit.

-be conservative in the extreme with spell availability. You could make all casters spontaneous (with accompanying limited spells known). Indeed, I would probably limit spell casting progression to the Bard table for full casters (with reductions or eliminations for lesser casters). Alternatively, if that doesn't seem "fair" to you, you could limit levels in caster classes to 2/3 (or even 1/2) character level. The wounds and vigor, depending on the version, will keep casters powerful.

That is a lot to consider and implement, but no one said it would be easy. Indeed, many think it's "impossible". Yes, numerous niggling little rules cascades will erupt from this version of the game. But after some adjusting, I think it would be a hell of a lotta of fun....now to convince my group to give it a go....

Good luck with your campaign.


Low magic item campaigns work if at least one of the following are true, otherwise, in my experience, they fizzle.

1. Several of your players have no issue with being the sidekicks---like AM grogs---to your casters, who are relatively speaking far less impacted by such campaign rules, especially if you have the absurd situation of having RAW crafting rules and letting them take item creation feats.

2. You don't run a traditional Gamist/Narrativist game. Because of this you don't give a damn about CR or the like for any purpose other than how many XP you get and the likely mean of treasure available. You and your players expect that they'll do their due dilligence searching for appropriate targets and decide on the estimated risk they're willing to accept. This makes encounter planning and balance much much less of a pain. It also gives your world verisimilitude in a way that gamists and narrativists very rarely achieve.

3. You're unconcerned with simulationist concerns enough that you're going to give each player a few 'legendary' items with bonuses enough to emulate the standard Christmas tree. You probably hate magic markets but you give your players through manipulation of the treasure found what they'd probably have bought in a Wealth by level, magic mart game.

4. You're willing to do major surgery on the game to avoid (1) and fudge your way around (2). Honestly in this case I suggest that you use one of the earlier versions of D&D. 1st edition low magic works well enough if you'll cough up a few magical weapons, the rest of the Christmas tree in 1st edition is just nice to have, not essential to the way the game is designed.

5. You're willing to fudge the hell out of the rolls and encounters to avoid TPK when your estimations and the reality of the dice clash egregiously. I hate this but those of a more narrativist bent often consider this SOP.

Just know what you're getting into.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
EWHM wrote:

Low magic item campaigns work if at least one of the following are true, otherwise, in my experience, they fizzle.

1. Several of your players have no issue with being the sidekicks---like AM grogs---to your casters, who are relatively speaking far less impacted by such campaign rules, especially if you have the absurd situation of having RAW crafting rules and letting them take item creation feats.

If you don't eliminate the bulk of player item crafting, essentially nothing more than potions, scrolls, and maybe some one use fetishes, than you really can't call a campaign "low magic".

You also have to be all around consistent in your low magic approach, this means wizards have to struggle to get access to spells beyond the free two per level, spellbooks are hidden, trapped, cursed, and access to them is jealously guarded.


As many have already stated, low magic campaigns generally increase the discrepancy in power that already exists between casters and non-casters.

There are ways to provide non-casters with non-magical enhancements to maintain the general progression of power associated with magic items.

If you don't provide some way to maintain the power curve, then you will have to adjust your encounters to deal with martial characters who are not as powerful as the CR system expects.

Magic crafting can actually help to adjust the power curve, but then casters can complain that they are spending all their time making stuff for the rest of the party.

When I've run low magic campaigns I've normally found ways to boost the martial characters, usually by adjusting things on the fly.


We play this way, magic is limited to what you find in the module as written. You can sell it for full price in gold but there isn't " inventory" to buy new ones. If you find something for sale, they are x3 the normal cost, and there is not necessarily what you are looking for ( stuff is rolled randomly) with the exception of things with charges like potions or wands that can be had for normal prices.

Specific stuff is only available through in game questing, with real time role plying and beeseeching a crafter, costing x2 of what it would normally.

The effect is caster classes have more "specialness" spells like magic weapon are more useful, as is magus and paladin abilities.

What you find is more interesting and rare and if you get rewarded something it's even more special, this prevents things from breaking down into a swap meet.

Most characters never fill all their slots, so no Christmas trees.

Draw back, some bbegs are neigh impossible to beat, so takes more story line and work on the dm to provide other ways (specially crafted dark wood arrows that must be harvested in a certain way to peirce the dragons dr... Or what have you)


BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARG, post got eaten by taking forever to upload and then crashing. So, you know, ninja'd pretty badly. Ugh. So much editing and clarifcation lost, and I don't have the time or energy right now.

Here's the stuff I'd saved before the crash, which includes bonuses on equipment but lacks any information about ability score boosts (which has been ninja'd anyway):

me before the rest of the post got eaten wrote:


Relevant similar thread from October.
... as a radical suggestion, perhaps you could take a page from 4E's book and boil things down based on levels and just make class bonuses (similar to how 4E just mandates "half level plus class-specific bonus, but with PF rules).

In general, here are a few of the most necessary magic items for every class:

  • Weapon Enhancement Bonus
  • Armor Enhancement Bonus
  • Cloak of Resistance
  • Ring of Protection
  • Amulet of Natural Armor

Attack bonus
Best = level
Intermediate = 3/4 level
Worst = 1/2 level
Weapon increases: a +1 weapon grants attack and damage, and maxes out at +5 over 20 levels (though it's presumed that you get +5 earlier). Looking at magic weapon creation rules, the CL must be at least three times the CL. So let's say that you get a +1 bonus every third level for best attack bonus (maxing out at +5 at 15th level), every fourth level for intermediate (maxing out at +5 at 20th level), and every fifth level for worst (maxing out at +4 at 20th level). In some ways that's less than ideal (as the intermediate classes need the +s to attack the most), but that's one possible suggestion that allows you to ignore +s to weapons. If you want to make non-magic masterwork something special, reduce all the bonuses by 1 point, but masterwork stacks with it (and presumably adds to both attack and damage).

Armor bonus
There are many different methods of increasing armor. I was taught by Aylryinth a little while back the DISMAL armor acronym:

  • (D)eflection
  • (I)nsight
  • (S)acred
  • (M)orale
    (a)nd
  • (L)uck

That said, the predominant two you'd be looking at (as "essential elements") are armor, shield, natural armor (looking at the amulet up there), deflection armor (looking at the rings), and enhancement bonuses to armor. For armor, you've got the physical armors and shields people wear and mage armor and shield. Again, the magic armor creation rules indicate, as before, the caster must have a level equal to three times the enhancement bonus. With these things in mind, it becomes a little more difficult to determine who gets what bonuses, exactly. According to the general pricing guidelines, deflection and natural armor bonuses cost the same, although they don't both apply to all attacks, based off the armor class and deflection and natural descriptions. I would suggest carefully examining how valuable these things are, and whether or not they should be given away "for free". If you do, the value a creature gets from natural AC might be tied to how large its hit dice is (d6s get low nAC, d8s get moderate, d10s get great, d12 may get slightly better than d10, but I don't know). Also, granting natural armor deflates the value of many spells (expect those spells to be basically disappear, at least at higher levels).
Over all, I might recommend sticking with the enhancement bonuses as "automatic" bonuses (possibly at a similar rate to the weapon bonuses, though I'm unsure, especially with the intermediate BAB classes), though if you add those two, looking at the rings of protection, and amulets of natural armor for pricing and power guidelines. Note that they both stop at +5, like the enhancement bonuses, so I would tend to recommend a similar-growth-rate for those bonuses as to the enhancement (but possibly flattening it out). Also tending to suggest outright deducting the value of these items from the PCs over-all loot, as they're basically getting to wear a "free" ring and amulet anyway, without actually having to take up that item slot (I'd recommend that to an extent in general, but I strongly recommend it in this case even if you ignore the others due to all the benefits they're already getting).

Saves
Similarly, Aylryinth noted to me the LIMPS save acronym:

  • (L)uck
  • (I)nsight
  • (M)orale
  • (P)rofane
  • (S)acred

However, we're talking about Cloaks of Resistance, so looking at it, again, it maxes out at +5, meaning approximately the same increases as the armor and weapon enhancements.

Anyway, implementing these changes has some heavy implications on the value of certain spells and abilities, and also effectively makes the HD value much more significant:

d6 gets worst BAB, and lesser bonuses on everything.
d8 gets intermediate BAB and slightly slower bonus growth rates on attack and damage
d10 gets best BAB and best bonus growth rates on everything.

Guh. Looking and thinking more later, possibly adding more. I'll have to read how much I was ninja'd.


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I've had the most success with a low-magic campaign that is ALSO a "low-monster" campaign, i.e., your opposition is made up of classed PC races, not critters. For the most part.

So, rather than fighting tons of undead, or dragons, or oozes, you're fighting humans, half-orcs, dwarves, elves, etc.

It can work, though it seems best-used in a high-intrigue/low-combat style, or at least an urban setting where combat is often policed (and interrupted by the police...)

Eh, YMMV, but dropping the monsters solves several of the inherent difficulties with a low-magic environment.


a low magic item campaign isn't really viable unless you do the following

gut out any monsters with a CR higher than 8. and be careful how many CR5-8 monsters you throw around.

play E6 or E8.

provide each player a handful of sacred artifacts

remove annoying supernatural abilities from the remaining monsters, such as magical flight, at will invisibility, unfitting energy resistances that feel tacked on, or regeneration on monsters where it isn't an iconic trait.


Can'tFindthePath wrote:

YES! It is a viable idea. You will have to do your own encounter balancing, but I don't understand GMs who think they can just read the CR and throw it at ANY party of the "appropriate level". In my 25 years of D&D/PF, 12 working with the CR system, I have always had to balance my encounters by the seat of my pants. It is a lot easier in 3.x/PF, but it still requires GM skill.

As to your specific campaign goal, I say "Bravo, and don't let anyone tell you that you can't run that type of game and make if fun".

Here is (broadly) what I would do:

-give all Heroics (PCs, and special NPCs) +1 per 4 character levels....to everything. Attack, damage, AC, saves, skill checks. Excluding DCs and level checks.

-reduce "automatic" treasure amounts by 90% (change gold for silver, this will enhance your setting). It also means that you could let players buy or make whatever they want, because it would come much later and weaker. Or you could just say no bonuses stack at all with the level bonus. Oh, massively reduce the cost of masterwork.

-use some form of Armor as DR (I personally don't like any current incarnation "as is"). If you use the PF version form UC, I would add a Dodge bonus (stacking with the level bonus) to the Defense score equal to the creature's base Reflex save bonus.

-use a form of Wounds and Vigor. Be sure to allow healing of "vigor" at 1 per level per hour. Possibly more with aid.

-drop specific, cool, but not necessarily powerful magic items as you see fit.

-be conservative in the extreme with spell availability. You could make all casters spontaneous (with accompanying limited spells known). Indeed, I would probably limit spell casting progression to the Bard table for full casters (with reductions or eliminations for lesser casters). Alternatively, if that doesn't seem "fair" to you, you could limit levels in caster classes to 2/3 (or even 1/2) character level. The wounds and vigor, depending on the version, will keep casters powerful.

That is a lot to...

I forgot to add one more thing: use some kind of Hero point system to give the players a butt saver. Otherwise, you may have too many Boromirs, and not enough Faramirs.


DrDeth wrote:
You know, we see this a lot. “I want to run a low magic campaign’ , but we rarely see “I want to play in a low magic campaign”. Why do you think that is?

Our games were always low magic for 2nd edition. 3.0 came along, and it changed up a bit. By the time 3.5 came along everything was high magic and play was high level as well. During EPIC, most of the time we wouldn't even start up a campaign with characters less then seventeenth level. Pathfinder came about, and I ran RotRL's Tried to keep it very much very few house rules. Now, someone is running an E6 lowmagic homebrew for Pathfinder. I begged and begged for this. I am SOOOOOO happy to be playing in a low level, low magic campaign. Yippie! Yay!

Greg


I tend to always run fairly low level magic campaigns and they average about 3-4 years of real time in length. Adjusting? I adjust little or nothing. The players get generally whatever magic they find until higher levels. A few potions and scrolls at level 2 and a +1 item here and there at 3rd and above. Make the players earn their magic. It will be more enjoyable game.


Actually I'm thinking of using the Middle Earth Setting, with Conan D20 rules tweaked for the pathfinder skills. Magic is more rituals, suummons and much less blasting. Tweak the races to accomodate Elves, Dwarves, Numenoreans, etc.
Combat oriented, low magic, maybe a couple of minor magic items.
Might be a good change of pace from the usual spellblasting Ye Olde Magic Shope campaign.

Owner - House of Books and Games LLC

Take a look at the 3.5e book Weapons of Legacy; I love that book and use it in my campaign, which is very, very low wealth.

Not only does it allow for interesting unique items, but it lets you define the progression rituals, which you can use to gently guide the campaign.

All around a marvelous tool.


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DrDeth wrote:
You know, we see this a lot. “I want to run a low magic campaign’ , but we rarely see “I want to play in a low magic campaign”. Why do you think that is?

I'd love to play in a game that uses my house rules for low magic items.

But yea, the reason is simple. DM's think about these sorts of things. ALOT. As a dm you are always tinkering with your game in your head (honestly if you are homebrewing a world, how many times a day do you think about it, i dare you to keep track of it in a notebook or something). Players just think OOH new shiney, I want shiney magic items. Note these can and are the same people at different times. Its just a matter of perspective. When playing, your perspective is your character, when running your perspective is the whole world.

That said, 'low magic' has become a meme in and of itself, with dms that want to reign in power in their games. Players usually dont like being put at a deliberate disadvantage, which low magic does. And they usually like getting treasure and rewards that do awesome things. So there is a certain bias against it from a player perspective.

Honestly, there REALLY needs to be a well thought out product that helps guide dms in these attempts. Either a paizo product, or a well done 3pp (on the order of dreamscared's psionics). The market is just rife with desire for it. Because honestly, I want just a magic sword to matter again, i dont want it to be replaced in 3 levels. I want it to be a signature item. The standard rules dont support that so I came up with house rules. They work well enough, but I'm not a pro game designer, i'd like to see what the best in the business can come up with on the subject.


we're very much the magic sword matters, type players, but it does make high level play very hard.


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Pendagast wrote:
we're very much the magic sword matters, type players, but it does make high level play very hard.

That is one of the reasons I really like my house rules. I completely removed the +x from magic weapons, and moved them to internal bonuses characters can choose from as they level. So the math works out pretty well. In my home game I reacently gave one of my players a flamming bow. (no +x just flamming) and that bow will likely be the bow he always uses. It has a name and history, and it will continue to matter throughout the game.


I have tried playing in two low magic games. One was pure pain to play and died before we made it to 6th level. It just felt wrong. It was D&D without the magic.

Now the other game, well ti was real fun. It felt liek a new world with different expectations. IT was fun and we all were sad to see it end when the GM left school and moved out of state.

What I learned from this was if you want to run a low magic game, you must help the players adjust their expectations and offer them more then a D&D world stripped of the high magic. If you put that work into it then it can work.


It is possible. You must manage DR of enemies. You must also keep a close eye on enemy AC versus to hit bonus. The system assumes magic itesms. So it balances enemies accordingly.

In the end this a much bigger issue of presentation and fluff than a mechanical issue. For instance take Lord of the Rings many people consider it Low Magic, but by the time the leave Lothlorien in Fellowship (book) thay have 2 magic rings, 8 cloaks of elven kind, magic food (wheybread), enchanted potting soil, a magic bow, a magic shortsword that glows when orcs are near, a reforged magic sword, a magic sword that lets Merry stab the Witch King (enabling Eowyn to kill him), you get the idea. The key is how the items are rolled out and how their power is explained that make the difference.

Rather than talking about a +2 Longword that glows with magic. Perhaps they find an equisitely crafted longsword bearings the markings of House Renal whose secrets of metalurgy turned out weapons durable and lightweight. It is said their alloy blended elements of Folded Turgon Stell with cold iron, thier blades are said to even pierce the hearts of ghosts and other insubstantial creatures, if you believe in such fairy stories.


Kolokotroni wrote:
Pendagast wrote:
we're very much the magic sword matters, type players, but it does make high level play very hard.
That is one of the reasons I really like my house rules. I completely removed the +x from magic weapons, and moved them to internal bonuses characters can choose from as they level. So the math works out pretty well. In my home game I reacently gave one of my players a flamming bow. (no +x just flamming) and that bow will likely be the bow he always uses. It has a name and history, and it will continue to matter throughout the game.

As I read this last post, I was struck with a thought about + powers on weapons. Min/max stacking them in weapons is a VERY mechanical and somewhat meta-game approach. It would be even worse without the enhancement bonus as a base. I'm not saying I disagree with your system, far from it, but I would lower the max "plus" weapon build from +10 to +5.

That flaming bow may continue to matter, but you don't want it to become a flaming, frost, lightning, acid, holy, brilliant energy bow.


Gnomezrule wrote:
Rather than talking about a +2 Longword that glows with magic. Perhaps they find an equisitely crafted longsword bearings the markings of House Renal whose secrets of metalurgy turned out weapons durable and lightweight. It is said their alloy blended elements of Folded Turgon Stell with cold iron, thier blades are said to even pierce the hearts of ghosts and other insubstantial creatures, if you believe in such fairy stories.

Very nice fluff; I'd like to find magic in your games.


I think it should also be noted that +1 sword is a metagame term for really good sword. This issue is not the metagame term the issue is that you can buy 8 of them in a midsized town. The issue is the nature of many adventures assumes an economy and technology based on magic. Change the method and flavor of their availability and you are 90% of your way to a low magic world.


I have run all my PF campaigns (and 3.5 btw) at half the WBL guidelines. I consider this "low magic" but others may not.

The only adjustments I make are reducing monster hit points about 10%-30% and removing enemy consumable magic items. I ignore just about ALL the magic consumables enemies have listed in their stat blocks. This has the side effect of making my GMing job easier during combat as well. I have found that running this type of "low magic" PF game does not make it more deadly for the PCs but can make combat take longer. On occasion I do get some very long combats (12+ rounds) but I think they are rare enough as to not bog things down.

That's it. Works well for my group.


Having run many low magic games I've found the that casters actually end up weaker. The full casters have weaknesses that in a normal game they can shore up with magic items. In low magic game magic items are lacking, the ability to create them is restricted, and you can't buy magic items.

In low magic game the best classes are class that have more than 1 good save. Classes that have casting ability and combat bonuses. So in a low magic game classes like the Ranger, Paladin, Monk, Bard, Inquisitor, Magus, Alchemist, and Summoner are great in low magic.

Grand Lodge

Define viable...

I have been in several low magic items games...they were all flops. I have run a few...only one worked out okayish and that was only because the spell casters were also remove, healing system was completely rewritten and basically we only fought other humanoids and possible an animal here and there...no monsters. Low magic items changes a good deal of the game balance...the biggest being balance between casters and not...along with no access to scrolls basically being equal to banning the wizard and witch and magus. Clerics, druids and sorcerer still rule supreme tho. Oh with a special nod to the summoner....


well low magic doesnt necessarily rule out wands, potions and scrolls, in fact along with the casters themselves, these would be some of the more common items available.

Grand Lodge

I know that...but because low magic games tend to skew things so much in favor of the casters, I removed them entirely t o make it work...and that was the ONLY time it worked. My comment about scrolls was unrelated...but many low magic games basically remove the ability to buy scrolls. That means your basically banning the scribing classes. Since I like scribing classes, I cringe a bit when somebody goes I am running a low magic game and they do not specify the availability of scrolls.


Based off your previous statement, which I put as a spoiler to prevent a massive response (bolded the main part for easy distinction), you could have a failure chance for casters. Something as simple as 100 minus Spell Level times 5 percent chance of success thus 0 level spells would be 100% (100-0x5) but a 9th level spell would have a 65% (100-9x5) chance of working simply from how much magic is needed to cast it (assuming the bigger the spell, the more power it takes to use it).

The Dark Sun setting of 4e did have an inherent character development chart as well that might help you get some ideas since that setting was based on arcane magic being feared and almost non-existent. Never got to play the previous editions of it, so unsure if they had something similar early on.

Spoiler:
Tim Hunt 103 wrote:

I'll do some reading on that.

Fair point, I just said some subjective buzzwords and left it at that.
As generic and pointless as it sounds, despite running 4e and pathfinder for years now, I've never felt like I was playing Tolkien styled fantasy. Corebook classes (no monk, and i still don't get Bards), 'plain' races (humans, dwarves, half elves, halfling. True elves left a long time ago), arcane magic in a recession (the elves are gone), only a handful of distant deities. All Detect spells are gone. Resurrection magic is the sole purview of one of the gods, and she's the least anthropomorphised. Maybe resurrection is in there as a 9th level spell.
That sort of thing.

A big thing is that I don't like is there being so many magic items around that most of them get sold. I've been running kingmaker and the players usually greet a new bundle of magic items by doing the sums to work out their worth, and all but converting them into cash on the spot.

Maybe that is a result of the particular AP giving the wizard time to craft the perfect items instead of merely working with what they find/acquire.

For a new game with players new to fantasy, I'd really like to have them excited over what they find, and not expecting that ill let them shop through the books for optimised gear.

So if I do need to keep a fair bit of gear in, I'll alter the question.

How easily could a campaign work where, by and large, the magic items are those that are made available, and not commissioned or self made?
I'm not looking to push the bleeding edge of CR, a big thing of the 'there's no Raise Dead' is that the PCs might fear death. That let's me play NPCs and monsters with enough fear of death to break or surrender.

Given all of that, how badly are optimised builds and their selected gear needed?


Use a vow-of-poverty monk (the Pathfinder version, not that broken crappy one).

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