Low Magic Pathfinder


Homebrew and House Rules

Scarab Sages

I'm in the process of developing a low magic Pathfinder adventure, and am looking for some advice on house rules to make it more manageable for PCs.

To clarify, my flavour of low magic is one in which arcane casters are strictly controlled, and the gods only have a chosen few who serve them. This doesn't mean PCs aren't allowed to take caster classes, but it does mean that they are extremely rare as NPCs and as such, so are magic items. Almost all of the magic items that exist are relics of a bygone age, and I want them to seem special and unique.

This would all be fine and manageable, except I intend to use monsters such as outsiders - things with DR that become far more challenging if your arsenal consists of a masterwork longsword and a throwing axe.

Does anyone have any suggestions of house or variant rules to help with my problems? While I could go through monsters and alter their stats on a case by case basis to try and keep them of the right challenge level, I'm hoping for something that requires less work, or at least less thought.


Well...instead of damage reduction, why don't you try increasing the number of hit points? The idea is that outsiders would have incredible endurance and resilience, but weren't actually immune to damage.


I've been thinking about running a low magic campaign as well, though it is tough to "fix" all the things to make it fun and fair. What I was going to do, for health items and stat boosts, was use "item drops" from creatures and give them to the local potion brewer. actually i was planning to have a traveling potion maker that seemed to go around where the pcs were, he wouldn't carry any potions himself, so as the pcs couldn't just kill and steal all his stock, but he would make them potions if they had the ingredients. No magic to make the potions, obviously. The fun thing in this is the pcs may encounter a rare monster and defeat it and gain its "item"... They would have no idea what, if any it could be used to make. That's where you come in with your ideas. I was also thinking about having meals that the pcs prepare, give them temp stat boosts depending on what they use and how they want to prepare it. All just ideas though.


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Keep them as-is, but be careful about using them.

Sovereign Court

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I've said this before in other threads, but if you want to make magic items feel useful and special make sure that the PC's can actually use them.

No one will give a rat's tail about how special and historic a magical glaive is if no one in the party is built to use a glaive. In a particularly low magic game that can actually be even worse as your party might even feel cheated. "Oh, we finally get a magic weapon and it's a cross bow. Hu-rah."

As for other suggestions: talk to your players about this. It's a game where everyone is meant to have fun after all and their suggestions are going to be far more useful to you then anything this message board can help with. :)


The best way to get the low magic feel is to let the PCs be special and have magic, but surround them with a low magic world. They go into a ruin and get a magic item, and when they come back to town, they are special. They did something awesome and got a power.

This leads them to running s$@@. Good. So what. At 5th level they can each kill 20 men. They should be running it unless your world is some goof ball retard s~$% with 8th level mayors and 12th level blacksmiths.

Scarab Sages

Westbrook87 wrote:
Well...instead of damage reduction, why don't you try increasing the number of hit points? The idea is that outsiders would have incredible endurance and resilience, but weren't actually immune to damage.

Do you have any suggestions for how much to increase the hit points by to keep the challenge on roughly the same level?


erbridge wrote:
Westbrook87 wrote:
Well...instead of damage reduction, why don't you try increasing the number of hit points? The idea is that outsiders would have incredible endurance and resilience, but weren't actually immune to damage.
Do you have any suggestions for how much to increase the hit points by to keep the challenge on roughly the same level?

I wouldn't change it, or anything else for that matter. Just be aware that monsters get a significant boost out of their DR and spell-like abilities. Even the ability to fly becomes a lot more of an advantage.

Playing low-magic IS your houserule; it creates a cascade of consequences that are difficult to "fix" with a handful of satellite rules. The system works perfectly without magic. Only, many monsters are designed with the expectation that magic is common. Make sure you make these truly unique and challenging. But that's part of the charm of playing in low-magic; going after THE werewolf as opposed to a pack of werewolves.

The only houserule I would consider is about healing and natural recovery of lost hit points, and I suggest looking into Evil Lincoln's Strain/Injury variant to keep the pace of the game steady, but even that isn't strictly necessary.

'findel


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You could just ignore DR couldn't you? The PCs will presumably be doing less than "expected" damage anyhow without magical boosts (to both hit rolls and damage), so they've kind of got a hit point boost anyhow.

One thing I've done is to allow people to ignore some of their opponent's DR equal to the PCs level. That way heroes are still heroes but its more intrinsic to them, rather than their gear. (Note that when it comes to rules I favour "quick and easy" over "balanced and realistic" so this might be a very poor low magic rule. It worked okay for us though).


You don't have to do anything special with the casters per say, though I would change the way some of the spells work. Some of the variant rules I've picked up from Kirthfinder might be useful, such as Detect Magic as a touch spell and having heavy stone walls stop scrying and teleportation. These nonmagical safeguards prevent the need for stronger magic and kind of nip the magical escalation in the bud.

Scarab Sages

Thanks for all the advice. I'll just clarify that I'm not interested in ways to deal with casters in a low magic world. My problem specifically relates to issues brought up by a lack of magic items.

The problem with ignoring DR is that it removes some of the threat from creatures who would have had DR in comparison to those who never did. They stop being as special.

I'm leaning more and more towards just leaving the monsters as they are and being cautious with their use, but I'm still interested in other suggestions.


erbridge wrote:
I'm leaning more and more towards just leaving the monsters as they are and being cautious with their use, but I'm still interested in other suggestions.

There's also the possibility of increasing the importance of special materials (mainly silver) and perhaps inventing a few more. You could also make that silver = magic in terms of bypassing DR (or 1/2 DR). This wouldn't be inconsistent with previous D&D editions...

Some kind of semi-magical rituals or blessings could be used as well, such as "dip blade in this-godddess-pool under moonlight give Good quality for 1 moon cycle" and so forth.

Scarab Sages

That's a good suggestion, thanks.


erbridge wrote:


This would all be fine and manageable, except I intend to use monsters such as outsiders - things with DR that become far more challenging if your arsenal consists of a masterwork longsword and a throwing axe.

I don't see an issue, particularly. Material-based DR can be dealt with by golf-bagging and throwing money at the problem, and spells can handle alignment or DR/magic on an as-needed basis.

Liberty's Edge

I give out inherent bonuses. I give out 20% of the expected treasure and hold the rest back, awarding flat bonuses instead, starting at level 3.

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BxxBV1PW-LILUFVFNDIwTU04dzA/edit?usp=sharin g

It's just one of the house rules I'm currently using, and the spreadsheet was not meant for public consumtion, so it may be confusing.


You can do a mix as well ignoring DR for most creature: if magic items are rare creatures would not have been able built up a resistance to them. and save the DR and Sr for the big bads where players my need a "Special" weapons or weapons to deal with it thus enforcing the low magic feel. of the world.


In my game full casters were tossed out. Any abilities that are overtly magical like teleports, summons, and creations are out. Everything else for the most part is just refluffing what you tell the players. I also used vitality points to help with the lack of a cleric-heal bot. For the DR of monsters just use a special material or have the blades enhanced through alchemy.


I think a much larger issue with lack of magic items is to keep the player characters balanced with level appropriate monsters, in that monsters are designed with a power level that assumes that each PC has a certain amount of wealth mostly spent on magic items to keep up their damage output, AC etc.


erbridge wrote:

I'm in the process of developing a low magic Pathfinder adventure, and am looking for some advice on house rules to make it more manageable for PCs.

To clarify, my flavour of low magic is one in which arcane casters are strictly controlled, and the gods only have a chosen few who serve them. This doesn't mean PCs aren't allowed to take caster classes, but it does mean that they are extremely rare as NPCs and as such, so are magic items. Almost all of the magic items that exist are relics of a bygone age, and I want them to seem special and unique.

This would all be fine and manageable, except I intend to use monsters such as outsiders - things with DR that become far more challenging if your arsenal consists of a masterwork longsword and a throwing axe.

Does anyone have any suggestions of house or variant rules to help with my problems? While I could go through monsters and alter their stats on a case by case basis to try and keep them of the right challenge level, I'm hoping for something that requires less work, or at least less thought.

You would need two broad fixes. Please note that these end up being a lot of work.

The game assumes your PCs have a certain amount of magical items - and not just randomly found but actually bought or tailor-planted for them - to balance monsters.

1) "Inherent bonuses", although you might want to call them "hero bonuses" or "destiny bonuses" instead. It's easier to buff the PCs than to nerf every monster and NPC you ever use or make your own.

Inherent bonuses would fill in for whatever magic items are missing. You need to deal with the "Big Six" as other items aren't required.

The Big Six are:

Magic weapon
Magic armor & shield
Ring of protection
Cloak of resistance
Amulet of natural armor
Ability-score boosters

Some are easy to fill in. Magic Weapons, for instance. You get +1 to hit and damage every 4 or 5 levels. That fills in for the magic weapon. By the time a PC could afford a +5 flaming sword, they could find a +1 flaming sword without harming game balance.

Rings of Protection are expensive, so the "acquisition rate" is slower. You'll need to research this yourself. The bonus type could just be "destiny".

The Amulet of Natural Armor falls into the same category. The bonus type would also be "destiny". Calculate what values are needed for both the ring and amulet and just add them to the PCs.

Cloaks of Resistance could simply give a +1 bonus to all saves per 4 levels, or rather, PCs would get "destiny bonuses" that fill in for this. (Otherwise they'll always fail their saves against fear, breath weapon, mind control, death... and that's not cool. They should fail those saves some of the time.)

Magic Armor/Shield: Armor is easy. +1 destiny bonus per 4 or 5 levels. But shields are not. Many PCs don't ever uses shields, but some do. This isn't even class-dependent; a shield-using fighter is a different beast than a non-shield-using fighter. The quick-and-dirty fix is to apply the same bonuses again as for armor, but only if the PC is using a shield. In a low-item system you shouldn't worry too much about Rings of Force Shield or Animated Shields.

Ability-Score Boosters: Usually a PC boosts one stat first, one second, and often no others, but Wisdom is common because it boosts Will saves. This is one of the most customizable areas of purchasing magic gear. You can't even guarantee two fighters, members of the same class, are going to buy ability boosters at the same rate. You need to calculate what items a PC of each class you're using (and that could be a lot) would have acquired at each level and provide equivalent bonuses then, and leave at least a little flexibility, because someone is going to want to play a swashbuckler or archer just using the fighter class (and they'll want Dex boosts instead of AC boosts).

2) Dealing with DR. In a system without actual magic items, DR X/magic is not balanced. You could remove it, or replace it with another DR. Fortunately, that's an easy change. Quite frankly after about 4th-level every PC would have been expected to have a magic weapon, so past that point you could simply remove all DR x/magic and have no real impact on game balance.

You're also going to have trouble with alignment-based DR, but if you give PCs the ability to bypass the DR that matches their alignment, you can dodge a thorny-problem.

Usually the inability to penetrate DR X/admantium is not a problem. Your PCs can have their damage trimmed. However, some monsters such as iron golems are not well designed, and have too much DR. Trim. Monsters shouldn't have more than 5 DR per 5 levels. (A really tough monster might be CR 20 and have DR 20/adamantine. Probably some sort of adamantine animated object.)

PCs can acquire silver or cold iron weapons, plus bludgeoning, piercing or slashing weapons, as standard.

Scarab Sages

I had already thought of the issues of scaling encounters due to lack of magical bonuses and had decided that inherent bonuses was the way to go, but suggestions along those lines have been helpful in determining when and how. Thanks again.


This is pretty much our campaign world. From roughly 1/2 million people in the 'known' world, roughly 200 are arcane spellcasters and a dozen of those are 13th+ level (1-2 per city), with perhaps 3x the divine casters.

Some suggestions, based on our experiences:

1.) More robust mastercrafting of items. We can have items made with +2 to hit, or +2 damage, bonuses to initiative, etcetera. Armor with extra DR (we use armor as DR) is popular. This alleviates some of the pain of not having magic items, and enchanting those items is a powerful incentive to make really good items.
2.) Magic is limited by money. Your casters will take item creation feats and become high-magic quickly if they have the money. Our GM keeps us pretty poor, and occasionally we get our paws on a nice item found in ruins or such. I'll second the advice that found magic items should be useful to the party, and telling your players that's going to be the case will forestall some of their lust for Item Creation Feats and the cash they require.
3.) Encounters with more numerous enemies rather than encounters with big nasty enemies. If you're fighting orc hordes or bands of ogres, you have to worry less about exotic resistances or the need for magic weapons. Keeping a close eye on monster DR's and the saves required vs their special powers is key, as players won't have +3 Cloaks of Resistance (or high stats, as lower magic players tend to have lower stats).
4.) Slow leveling down. Normal Pathfinder has you going from 1st to 10th level in a real hurry. I suggest ditching XP tracking and let the players level when you decide it's time. However, offer other rewards in the meantime to give them a sense of getting better without actually leveling up. This could be stuff like roleplaying rewards (titles, land and fame), or even bonus skill ranks or specific feat-like rewards (save the elf kingdom, gain +2 diplomacy with Elves).


There's another issue to look out for: spellcaster/non-spellcaster balance is even further off in low-item games.

Inherent bonuses help this some, but don't get all the way.

Non-casters can normally rely on some basic effects from magical items. Flying is a big one, but they'll also end up with stuff like healing and self-buffs through potions and effects like energy resistance and invisibility from wondrous items.

So "low-magic" is paradoxically "high-magic" in the sense that spellcasters can dominate even more.

Personally, I'd suggest E6, but Maraxous's suggestion of not having full casters has some definite merit.

If you want to do a full 1-20 campaign and include full casters, you'll want to think about removing those sorts of utility spells from casters or giving non-casters another way to get them (single-use blessings from the gods perhaps?).

Cheers!
Landon


What about allowing your PC's equipment to "level up" with use? If your PC uses a longsword, and sticks with it, why not allow the sword itself to earn benefits with prolonged use?

PC fighter uses a longsword as his primary weapon, and for each battle that he wins, a portion of the XP he is awarded goes to an upgrade pool specific to that one weapon only. The XP can go towards increasing damage or attack, bypassing DR, increasing crit range or multiplier and so on. If the PC decides to change weapons, the upgrade pool he accumulated does not transfer to the new weapon.

The same can be applied to armor and shields. Thoughts?


Some suggestions (some of which has already been suggested):

-Ability score increases every 2 levels, starting at level 2, instead of every 4 levels.

-Untyped, Dodge or Competence bonus to AC (they all make sense, so your call) based on character class and level. A game of Thrones RPG or Conan RPG did this very well.

-Improved masterwork bonuses, as well as improved bonuses to weapons/armor made of special materials like mithral or adamantine. For example, a non-magical but exceptionally crafted +4 or +5 adamantine sword with keen edge would seem reasonable to me. I would let this sword bypass the same DR types that an equivalent magical sword would bypass.

-Either eliminate magic item creation or limit its use to relatively minor items.

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