Defining 'Low Magic'


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

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RDM42 wrote:

I think the thing a lot of people miss with low magic setting is that they seem to presume that the players in one will be meeting the exact same challenges as the PCS in a higher magic setting. If you tailor one end, you have to also tailor the others. You choose the opponents, they might even be a lower cr than pcs of their level would normally face. But I don't consider that particularly relevant as long as they ARE challenging.

Things like humanoids with class levels, or even higher monsters edited to account for magic lowering ... You can balance it, and if you have a lot of practice with that sort of setting, you can balance it pretty easily.

This exactly. I really like using humanoids and low cr monsters with class levels, and they are actually very well balanced for a lower magic game. In games I've DMed that have a higher magic item availability, more casting, etc... around monsters without class levels are really ideal to focus on in my experience, and put up a nice solid challenge, while, things that rely mainly on class levels in comparison don't do so well beyond pretty low levels (at least that has been my experience).

Monsters, including tough ones at higher level can work well in a low magic setting too, but, ideally with a little tweaking, like altering how their DR can be overcome for instance (very few things in my game have dr/magic). I tweak monsters in other ways, but, that's as much or more due to me just liking to modify monsters.
Players deal with humans (which are the overwhelming majority in the game I'm running) a lot more than they deal with monsters though.

Combat Manager is excellent for if you need a bunch of humanoid NPCs though, I use it a ton.


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Arikiel wrote:
I'm not sure why people are even trying to do this. It's like trying to define beauty. You're never going to get a consensus. Just a lot of argument. It pretty much means whatever you personally want it to mean. It has less magic then X. That is all.

You dont need a consensus, you just need the ability to describe your preference. You might not be able to agree with everyone on who is beautiful, but the people you do think are beautiful you can(particularly with prompting) describe what you think about them is appealing. Eyes, cheek bones, ears, hair, skin, figure, lips, whatever, you can describe it by saying I like his/her x y and z.

In terms of a game, by enabling that description, you can not only better understand your own opinion, and make informed choices, you can better enable others to assess that preference and make an imformed choice as to how to approach that game.


My working definition of Low Magic is a setting where magic can not do better at anything than a non-magic ability, and it isn't really "flashy".

A spells that does damage is low magic.
No flying is low magic.

In a lot of ways the Belgariad is like that, on the smaller scale. Wizard change weather and do huge fogs and such - but that is a grand scale (and the high magic involved).

In a fight the mages fight with sword and shield. Traveling - they use horses or wagons. If the do something else they shape-change, to regular animals. That is almost folklore level. They can do some mental influencing. Except when the Orb of Aldur is used, we don't have fireballs, invisible mages, flying.

That is the kind of thing I think of. The "personal level" of magic in the Belgariad.


The Belgariad low magic?

The party fighter eventually becomes a sorcerer just to keep up.


Lord Mhoram wrote:
My working definition of Low Magic is a setting where magic can not do better at anything than a non-magic ability

...then why does it even exist?


DominusMegadeus wrote:
Lord Mhoram wrote:
My working definition of Low Magic is a setting where magic can not do better at anything than a non-magic ability
...then why does it even exist?

Well, I don't see magic wanting to exist or not, magic isn't sentient, merely an energy that exists. I think what he means if something can be created in the mundane (without magic), but take a long time, many people and lots of effort, like building a house. If you can snap your fingers and your home is erected, that is the same as "magic cannot do better than doing so without magic". I think that's what he means.

Another side issue, at least for me, is cantrips, the lowest end of magic doesn't belong in my low magic settings. I like whatever level of magic I include to do something worthwhile, but not replace low-end, day-to-day activities like "making light", "cleaning with magic", etc. I think normal activities should be done in the mundane. Using magic for that seems too powerful to me. I'm more in favor at starting with 1st level spells as the first access to magic, rather than allowing cantrips.


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Lord Mhoram wrote:

My working definition of Low Magic is a setting where magic can not do better at anything than a non-magic ability, and it isn't really "flashy".

A spells that does damage is low magic.
No flying is low magic.

In a lot of ways the Belgariad is like that, on the smaller scale. Wizard change weather and do huge fogs and such - but that is a grand scale (and the high magic involved).

In a fight the mages fight with sword and shield. Traveling - they use horses or wagons. If the do something else they shape-change, to regular animals. That is almost folklore level. They can do some mental influencing. Except when the Orb of Aldur is used, we don't have fireballs, invisible mages, flying.

That is the kind of thing I think of. The "personal level" of magic in the Belgariad.

Isnt the only reason the 'flashy' magic restrained in the belgariad because of plot contrivances and the need for 'stealth'? Magic was only limited by power and imagination, and it was the need to 'keep quiet' that caused them to do things like use swords or ride horses.

Edit: It seems to me that the only limits on what magic could do was your own understanding of the physics involved, and your lack of desire to make a lot of magical noise. When Belgarath or Polgara pulled out the stops it would be super hard to define that as low magic.

I think maybe this is another area to look at. Low magic setting vs low magic story.

The world of the belgariad has some very high levels of magic. But plot and world contrivances/consequences limit it's use to minimal or crucial effects. IE you can bring down that castle gate with magic, but every enemy mage in 200 miles will 'hear' you do it. You can conjure that thunderstorm and lightning strikes to emphasize your point, but you are going to kill thousands of people with weather disruptions in the process.

This is probably the most obnoxious way to go about creating a 'low magic' campaign. If you dont want mages using flashy magic powers, dont give them flashy magical powers. Dont say 'sure you can be a wizard' and then punish ever spell they cast.


DominusMegadeus wrote:
Lord Mhoram wrote:
My working definition of Low Magic is a setting where magic can not do better at anything than a non-magic ability
...then why does it even exist?

"There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?"


Marroar Gellantara wrote:
DominusMegadeus wrote:
Lord Mhoram wrote:
My working definition of Low Magic is a setting where magic can not do better at anything than a non-magic ability
...then why does it even exist?
"There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?"

Because the answer is "To have a trap option for people to pick."


What makes you see it as a trap option?


DominusMegadeus wrote:
Lord Mhoram wrote:
My working definition of Low Magic is a setting where magic can not do better at anything than a non-magic ability
...then why does it even exist?

Flavor. Style.


I knew using Belgariad as an example would be a bit contentious. I know there were reasons in plot - loudness of magic, sneaky, that sort of thing.

And I was talking about the low magic as a story. It was just an example.

I ran Fantasy Hero. Wizards could not fly. they had some flashy spells - a small fireball and such. It wasn't what I would call low magic - but the wizards could do different things than the non wizards, but there weren't better.

Most fighters with some weapon special tricks could easily keep up with wizards when it came to damage and combat. Some non magical types were good in the woods and kept people alive there. The mages could read the old book that gave clues to the plot.

I'm just saying my big yardstick for "low magic" is wizards don't take over the plot. Personally I don't feel that style works well with this game system... but not every game system can do everything (even my favorite "universal" game).

I was just throwing out the idea of how magic was actually used in the story.

Shadow Lodge

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Lord Mhoram wrote:
I'm just saying my big yardstick for "low magic" is wizards don't take over the plot.

I think that should be considered "standard magic" and should be the target for the system. Targeting game "balance" at a goal of anything magical is automatically better than everything non-magical is absolutely horrendous game design.


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Kthulhu wrote:
Lord Mhoram wrote:
I'm just saying my big yardstick for "low magic" is wizards don't take over the plot.
I think that should be considered "standard magic" and should be the target for the system. Targeting game "balance" at a goal of anything magical is automatically better than everything non-magical is absolutely horrendous game design.

Although I think the story-mechanics distinction made earlier feeds into this too (or can, anyhow).

I like magic being better than mundane. That's how it's portrayed in the stories I read and try to emulate. However, I don't want players of mundane classes to feel like spectators. One solution that appeals to me is to balance mechanical power with narrative cost.

Granted I think that approach would be anathema to many.

Grand Lodge

Dotting to do an in depth read thru


Steve Geddes wrote:
Kthulhu wrote:
Lord Mhoram wrote:
I'm just saying my big yardstick for "low magic" is wizards don't take over the plot.
I think that should be considered "standard magic" and should be the target for the system. Targeting game "balance" at a goal of anything magical is automatically better than everything non-magical is absolutely horrendous game design.

Although I think the story-mechanics distinction made earlier feeds into this too (or can, anyhow).

I like magic being better than mundane. That's how it's portrayed in the stories I read and try to emulate. However, I don't want players of mundane classes to feel like spectators. One solution that appeals to me is to balance mechanical power with narrative cost.

Granted I think that approach would be anathema to many.

You would be right. That sort of thing works in a book or movie, but when the caster is a player and everything they do has some horrible consequences every single time, they start to feel singled out. It sucks.


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I like it. :)


Lord Mhoram wrote:
My working definition of Low Magic is a setting where magic can not do better at anything than a non-magic ability,

I question useability of this definition, because practically nothing in fantasy literature fits it. There are well-known cases when magic is situationally useful to the point where a user needs to maneuver himself where it can be applied optimally. Though even in settings like Lankhmar, Conanverse and ASoIaF you have notable magic users with straightforward combat abilities. There are practically no cases where magic does not provide an array of extra options over the mundane stuff.

Lord Mhoram wrote:
In a lot of ways the Belgariad is like that, on the smaller scale.

No. Spellcasters in Belgadiad do not solve all problems with magic because plot. But they totally can do all sort of flashy stuff, from blasting people into oblivion to polymorphing into dragons. When Belgarath and Ctuchik duel and start using magic seriously, Belgarath's nonmagical companions cannot contribute in any way.


Helaman wrote:
Dotting to do an in depth read thru

*waves at Helaman*


@ Steve Geddes: You mentioned balancing mechanical power with narrative cost. Could you elaborate a little more on what you mean by this. It sounds like an interesting concept.


Perhaps Steve is referring to components of the spell that don't seem to cost much when observed in a vacuum but expensive for the character in the storyline's perspective.

For example, a spell requiring 1 year to cast may not cost much gp, but it grounds the character for 1 whole year. Or a spell might require specific conditions that may not be convenient to the character, such as "cast during a thunderstorm", "answer can only come dawn after a foggy night" or "emerge from the lava of a volcano".


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Dreaming Warforged wrote:
@ Steve Geddes: You mentioned balancing mechanical power with narrative cost. Could you elaborate a little more on what you mean by this. It sounds like an interesting concept.

I was thinking something like the belgariad example - where they can do incredible stuff, but daren't for reasons pertinent to the story.

I'm struggling to remember a decent example (we had a phase of going through lots of campaigns in the late eighties/early nineties).... We had a similar caster/mundane disparity issue with rolemaster campaigns - around levels eight to ten, martial characters really start to suffer diminishing returns. Investing heavily in their specialised skills/weapons doesn't bring much benefit so they end up broadening (not an ideal strategy for feeling awesome). At about that level, power point multipliers and access to ever increasing spell levels mean casters really start to pull away in their raw power.

I remember one campaign where casting magic caused corruption (of both the caster and the world) and was therefore a bad thing - I think that included an increasing chance of summoning a demon to you as you incurred more and more corruption which gradually subsided over time. That meant the casters could dominate events, but at a cost within the story, rather than through any mechanical limitation on casting.

However, as I mentioned, I don't think this is a good strategy for the "typical" pathfinder group. My tastes in particular (and my group, more generally) are quite nineteen seventies - I don't really care about imbalance between the classes (i also think it's a fine model to have sucky low level mages requiring fighter protection - only for the roles to be reversed at higher levels).

I think some kind of "narrative limit" might be worth considering in the arsenal, though. If one wants to run a low magic game. Provided everything is clear up front - I don't think those who care will choose to play a caster, so I can't see anyone getting "trapped". They may not get to play the character they want to, but that's endemic to any limited campaign - low magic or otherwise.


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Laurefindel wrote:

Perhaps Steve is referring to components of the spell that don't seem to cost much when observed in a vacuum but expensive for the character in the storyline's perspective.

For example, a spell requiring 1 year to cast may not cost much gp, but it grounds the character for 1 whole year. Or a spell might require specific conditions that may not be convenient to the character, such as "cast during a thunderstorm", "answer can only come dawn after a foggy night" or "emerge from the lava of a volcano".

I wasn't, but I think that kind of thing is another good way to limit magic. I've played in games where crafting rules included additional flavour element requirements (like requiring the tears of a unicorn or a dragon scale and so forth). Longer "ritual type casting" for high level spells is something else we've done - although that seems a mechanical limit rather than a narrative one, to me.


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FatR wrote:


No. Spellcasters in Belgadiad do not solve all problems with magic because plot. But they totally can do all sort of flashy stuff, from blasting people into oblivion to polymorphing into dragons. When Belgarath and Ctuchik duel and start using magic seriously, Belgarath's nonmagical companions cannot contribute in any way.

It's been forever since I read the series, but IIRC there were also cases where magic had unexpected consequences. The main character at one point summons a giant storm to break up a potential battle, only to later get yelled at by his mentor, who had to spend something like a year running too and fro over the realms, fixing all sorts of strange weather that was the result of messing up the meteorological system


Interesting thoughts... I would agree with you that this "corruption" might not sit so well in Pathfinder, or for numerous groups. As one poster put it earlier, these limitations should be clear up front to avoid misleading players into thinking they have all this access and no real possibility to apply it.

Laurefindel brings another way of limiting the Spell category by tweaking requirements for spells. This sounds time intensive though.

I'm more intrigued by the possibility of allowing a fair amount of magic in the world, but limiting what spells are available based on their relation with the narrative. Classic examples provided by posters are the Create Water cantrip in a desert setting, or the numerous spells that foil a plot because they point directly to the solution, and do not require players' creativity, collaboration, or interaction with the setting.

Have DMs limited the spells allowed in a campaign? The Xolth example presented earlier is a clear example of numerous restrictions. The advantages are that they can easily be presented to players up front, so no surprise, and the other is that these limitations reinforce the setting.

In my Eberron example, I would probably limit some spells in some areas, either by making them not work, or by making them harder to cast (generally by requiring a higher spell slot). For example, Create Water would require a level 2 spell slot in the Talenta Plains.

But clearer and absolute limitations might be of interest, based on their impact on the story or the setting.

For their narrative powers, divination and teleportation spells, or even spells like Knock or Rope Trick should be carefully looked at.

As for setting impact, in clearly depends on the setting, but the main question should always be: given how many casters are present in my world and whether magical items can easily be made, what would be the impact of having "this spell" in the casters' list.

Similarly, imagine the value of learning of a Create Water spell having been discovered or developed in a desert setting? A whole arc could be based on the search for this spell (careful though that you consider how the discovery will impact your setting) and the power shifts that result from it.


Dreaming Warforged wrote:
Laurefindel brings another way of limiting the Spell category by tweaking requirements for spells. This sounds time intensive though.

yes, too complicated to be practical as a tack-on house-rule; I was just thinking aloud.

For the longest time I was hoping for a third party publication to propose a completely new set of spells, keeping the same names and levels in order to leave spellcasting classes as-is and retain all cross-referencing to the spell section. Basically, rewrite the spell as it should function in a low-magic setting mind frame.

However, even this wouldn't solve the issue of magic items and of their mechanical bonuses required to play the game as conceived and remaining on par with CR.


FatR wrote:
Lord Mhoram wrote:
My working definition of Low Magic is a setting where magic can not do better at anything than a non-magic ability,

I question useability of this definition, because practically nothing in fantasy literature fits it. There are well-known cases when magic is situationally useful to the point where a user needs to maneuver himself where it can be applied optimally. Though even in settings like Lankhmar, Conanverse and ASoIaF you have notable magic users with straightforward combat abilities. There are practically no cases where magic does not provide an array of extra options over the mundane stuff.

I Undestand what you mean.

What I was trying to get at isn't that magic can't do anything, just that it does it differently - specifically in a low magic setting.

You can ride or horse, or shapechange into a wolf and run.
You can spend 10 minutes lighting a fire, or firefinger.
You can spend hours interrogating a subject or you can peek into their mind.
You can swing a sword, or send grenish rotting vapor to do damage, or gesture and a wound appears (not doing the magic missle or fireball, as they are a little flashy for what I think of as low magic).

There are effects that magic can do that are different from mundane, but they aren't really overwhelming.

And I separate low magic from Sword and Sorcery - I tried reading Lankmar, Connan and ASoIaF and hated them all, just not my taste.

Belgariad isn't a low magic setting, I just happened to be reading through them again, in the third book, and yes we see magic, but it is very "low magic" because plot. But looking at the results of "plot" made me look at a way to see low magic. A way to get that same result without "hey - plot"

Personally I don't think PF is a good fit for what I think of as low magic, but I was looking at the feel and tone without worrying about game system.


MMCJawa wrote:
FatR wrote:


No. Spellcasters in Belgadiad do not solve all problems with magic because plot. But they totally can do all sort of flashy stuff, from blasting people into oblivion to polymorphing into dragons. When Belgarath and Ctuchik duel and start using magic seriously, Belgarath's nonmagical companions cannot contribute in any way.

It's been forever since I read the series, but IIRC there were also cases where magic had unexpected consequences. The main character at one point summons a giant storm to break up a potential battle, only to later get yelled at by his mentor, who had to spend something like a year running too and fro over the realms, fixing all sorts of strange weather that was the result of messing up the meteorological system

Yep - start of second series - Belgarian summoned a lightning storm to stop an Arendish war, because just 1 lightning bolt wasn't enough to distract them. Belkin and Belgarath came and yelled at him later.


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Plot is, generally, a bad way to restrict magic. If all magic is going to carry consequences, just keep it away from players.

At least, my experience is that having an ability that you're afraid to use is just frustrating; I'd rather not have the ability than stare at it and feel like I don't dare use it. Or it devolves into the player trying to figure out ways to protect against the consequences so that they can use the ability. This approach works much better in a narrative than in a game.

Within PF, I think the best options are to stick to the E6-E8 area, where spellcasters haven't pulled massively ahead (and other problems, like math breakdown, haven't started yet), and to selectively nerf or ban particularly problematic spells. Or to play a game wherein casters in general are banned (and not torture the players by throwing tons of casters at them).


PhelanArcetus wrote:

Plot is, generally, a bad way to restrict magic. If all magic is going to carry consequences, just keep it away from players.

At least, my experience is that having an ability that you're afraid to use is just frustrating; I'd rather not have the ability than stare at it and feel like I don't dare use it. Or it devolves into the player trying to figure out ways to protect against the consequences so that they can use the ability. This approach works much better in a narrative than in a game.

Within PF, I think the best options are to stick to the E6-E8 area, where spellcasters haven't pulled massively ahead (and other problems, like math breakdown, haven't started yet), and to selectively nerf or ban particularly problematic spells. Or to play a game wherein casters in general are banned (and not torture the players by throwing tons of casters at them).

I agree with you about restricted magic, but there perhaps many shades of gray to restriction, like in public, or others?


I've been working on a homebrew setting where magic wouldn't necessarily be less powerful, but magic items and powerful spellcasters would be extremely rare. To limit the need for magic items I'd like to try a system similar to this.


DominusMegadeus wrote:
Lord Mhoram wrote:
My working definition of Low Magic is a setting where magic can not do better at anything than a non-magic ability
...then why does it even exist?

In that sort of setting, magic is the tool you learn to use to be a Jack-of-all-Trades. With the other part of that phrase, Master-on-None, also applying. You aren't the equal of the Master Thief at stealing and you're not the greatest warrior in the land, but you can fill in when one of the real experts isn't available.


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Dreaming Warforged wrote:
PhelanArcetus wrote:

Plot is, generally, a bad way to restrict magic. If all magic is going to carry consequences, just keep it away from players.

At least, my experience is that having an ability that you're afraid to use is just frustrating; I'd rather not have the ability than stare at it and feel like I don't dare use it. Or it devolves into the player trying to figure out ways to protect against the consequences so that they can use the ability. This approach works much better in a narrative than in a game.

Within PF, I think the best options are to stick to the E6-E8 area, where spellcasters haven't pulled massively ahead (and other problems, like math breakdown, haven't started yet), and to selectively nerf or ban particularly problematic spells. Or to play a game wherein casters in general are banned (and not torture the players by throwing tons of casters at them).

I agree with you about restricted magic, but there perhaps many shades of gray to restriction, like in public, or others?

The shades of grey are generally just excuses. When you restrict a characters ability to use what amounts for the majority of the 'stuff' that they get as a character, you are basically asking them not to play.

That is a godaweful way to 'balance' set of abilities. If you want balance between magic and not magic, or to reign in the power of magic. Do that. But do it at the core of the game. Change what characters get.

I will repeat an example I give fairly frequently. I have 2 friends over to play video games, with 2 setups. I have a super nintendo, and an xboxone set up. I my two friends pick one and start playing. However, if the person playing the xbox one plays for more then 10 minutes an hour, i come in and punch him in the face, until he stops playing. That is a really crappy way of ensuring that both of my friends have similar amounts of fun.

Because the point here is to actually have fun. If the stuff a wizard can do is an issue, change what he can do, or replace wizards with a different class, or alter how spells work to limit their power/narrative influence. But done punish, either narratively, or mechanically a player for using the tools he is given. You can call it 'story' or 'setting' all you want. You are still being a jerk.


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If you're going to curtail the abilities of a wizard or another class, this should be made known before a game even begins, so a player will know up front, before character creation, what specific limits are placed on a given class. He may opt to play something else, or not play at all, but the decision should be his and he should be provided with all such information to make such a choice.


Kolokotroni wrote:
Dreaming Warforged wrote:
PhelanArcetus wrote:

Plot is, generally, a bad way to restrict magic. If all magic is going to carry consequences, just keep it away from players.

At least, my experience is that having an ability that you're afraid to use is just frustrating; I'd rather not have the ability than stare at it and feel like I don't dare use it. Or it devolves into the player trying to figure out ways to protect against the consequences so that they can use the ability. This approach works much better in a narrative than in a game.

Within PF, I think the best options are to stick to the E6-E8 area, where spellcasters haven't pulled massively ahead (and other problems, like math breakdown, haven't started yet), and to selectively nerf or ban particularly problematic spells. Or to play a game wherein casters in general are banned (and not torture the players by throwing tons of casters at them).

I agree with you about restricted magic, but there perhaps many shades of gray to restriction, like in public, or others?

The shades of grey are generally just excuses. When you restrict a characters ability to use what amounts for the majority of the 'stuff' that they get as a character, you are basically asking them not to play.

That is a godaweful way to 'balance' set of abilities. If you want balance between magic and not magic, or to reign in the power of magic. Do that. But do it at the core of the game. Change what characters get.

I will repeat an example I give fairly frequently. I have 2 friends over to play video games, with 2 setups. I have a super nintendo, and an xboxone set up. I my two friends pick one and start playing. However, if the person playing the xbox one plays for more then 10 minutes an hour, i come in and punch him in the face, until he stops playing. That is a really crappy way of ensuring that both of my friends have similar amounts of fun.

Because the point here is to actually have fun. If the stuff a wizard can do is an issue,...

It can work well, with the right rules and the right setting. The WoD's Paradox system in Mage can work to limit ridiculously powerful magic.

In PF, casters are supposed to be balanced with martials, so any added narrative limits would have to fairly minor to avoid crippling them entirely.


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gamer-printer wrote:
If you're going to curtail the abilities of a wizard or another class, this should be made known before a game even begins, so a player will know up front, before character creation, what specific limits are placed on a given class. He may opt to play something else, or not play at all, but the decision should be his and he should be provided with all such information to make such a choice.

This is all fine if the limits or curtailing is done within the mechanics of the game. If its narrative, its dramatically less predictable. Its also less real to the person making the choice. Its often a matter of perception or opinions. What is too much? What is 'noisy' in the belgariad, what causes 'ripples' in the force. Narrative limits on mechanical abilities cant be accurately described before the character choices are made because all the circumstances of those limits are not apparent until the moment they occur.


How do others allow access to higher level spells in their campaigns?

In my low-magic game (where Magic is drying up and arcane casters are rare), arcane casters do not automatically gain new spells when they level. (I am allowing the Sorcerer his bloodline spells, however. Mainly because the story pace has not supported taking time out to do research and study.)

I raised the DC by+5 in order to research new spells, and am requiring the 1kgold/spell lvl and the 1wk/spell lvl requirements before they can even attempt to see if they understand/learn it.

It's simply an attempt to implement mechanics to reflect the story environment - i.e., magic ain't easy. And the few practitioners who do exist opt to steal it from someone else rather than spend weeks of time and thousands of gold and still risk failure.

I guess that's where a large part of the challenge for the GM is in designing and running a low-magic campaign: how do I capture the flavor that made me want to write this? And is that challenge enjoyable enough for my players to want to play it?


Otherwhere wrote:

How do others allow access to higher level spells in their campaigns?

In my low-magic game (where Magic is drying up and arcane casters are rare), arcane casters do not automatically gain new spells when they level. (I am allowing the Sorcerer his bloodline spells, however. Mainly because the story pace has not supported taking time out to do research and study.)

I raised the DC by+5 in order to research new spells, and am requiring the 1kgold/spell lvl and the 1wk/spell lvl requirements before they can even attempt to see if they understand/learn it.

It's simply an attempt to implement mechanics to reflect the story environment - i.e., magic ain't easy. And the few practitioners who do exist opt to steal it from someone else rather than spend weeks of time and thousands of gold and still risk failure.

I guess that's where a large part of the challenge for the GM is in designing and running a low-magic campaign: how do I capture the flavor that made me want to write this? And is that challenge enjoyable enough for my players to want to play it?

What these rules do is encourage the divine casters who know their entire spell lists (Cleric/Druid/Shaman - Especially Shaman with it's list stealing). It especially encourages a Druid since their combat abilities are much less dependent on magic items (though these rules don't bar crafting which could make this moot) thanks to their Wildshape ability.

I kind of feel like I should do a review of what people's Low Magic rules actually encourage for all of these, but for the most part the pattern is pretty simple to figure out.


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Otherwhere wrote:

How do others allow access to higher level spells in their campaigns?

In my low-magic game (where Magic is drying up and arcane casters are rare), arcane casters do not automatically gain new spells when they level. (I am allowing the Sorcerer his bloodline spells, however. Mainly because the story pace has not supported taking time out to do research and study.)

I raised the DC by+5 in order to research new spells, and am requiring the 1kgold/spell lvl and the 1wk/spell lvl requirements before they can even attempt to see if they understand/learn it.

It's simply an attempt to implement mechanics to reflect the story environment - i.e., magic ain't easy. And the few practitioners who do exist opt to steal it from someone else rather than spend weeks of time and thousands of gold and still risk failure.

I guess that's where a large part of the challenge for the GM is in designing and running a low-magic campaign: how do I capture the flavor that made me want to write this? And is that challenge enjoyable enough for my players to want to play it?

Does the sorceror get anything back for the removal of his primary class features? Its fine to want to make magic hard. But you also left in a class that is effectively all magic. If you want to make it harder to attain new spells, thats fine, but for characters whose entire set of abilities is based on those spells, they need to be compensated. Otherwise you just gut the class, and leave a system in place that actively discourages people from wanting to participate in the story you are trying to present.


Rather than completely disassemble an existing arcane class for a low magic setting, I would just create a new spellcaster that is completely capable within its more limited sphere of magic, but not otherwise totally gimped - something that might be weaker than sorcerer/wizard, yet still a viable class, and name it something else.


Kolokotroni wrote:
Otherwhere wrote:

How do others allow access to higher level spells in their campaigns?

In my low-magic game (where Magic is drying up and arcane casters are rare), arcane casters do not automatically gain new spells when they level. (I am allowing the Sorcerer his bloodline spells, however. Mainly because the story pace has not supported taking time out to do research and study.)

I raised the DC by+5 in order to research new spells, and am requiring the 1kgold/spell lvl and the 1wk/spell lvl requirements before they can even attempt to see if they understand/learn it.

It's simply an attempt to implement mechanics to reflect the story environment - i.e., magic ain't easy. And the few practitioners who do exist opt to steal it from someone else rather than spend weeks of time and thousands of gold and still risk failure.

I guess that's where a large part of the challenge for the GM is in designing and running a low-magic campaign: how do I capture the flavor that made me want to write this? And is that challenge enjoyable enough for my players to want to play it?

Does the sorceror get anything back for the removal of his primary class features? Its fine to want to make magic hard. But you also left in a class that is effectively all magic. If you want to make it harder to attain new spells, thats fine, but for characters whose entire set of abilities is based on those spells, they need to be compensated. Otherwise you just gut the class, and leave a system in place that actively discourages people from wanting to participate in the story you are trying to present.

Ah - yes. Well, not immediately, but in this game, in order to progress as a normal (standard PF) arcane caster, you have to undergo a Great Trial. If you survive, you open up spells of lvl 6 and above, gain Item Creation feats, and most Meta-magic feats. So part of the mechanical intent was to create a drive to undergo the Trial. If you don't, you become like one of the few "hedge wizards" - those who either never attempted the Trial, or who failed but survived.

He hasn't really been too limited as we have come across a few spell books and scrolls where he had access to new spells that he could attempt to learn. And if he failed, he could always try again next time he leveled up. (But because I made Spell-crafting so important, he has pumped feats and traits to boost it, so his bonus is like +14 or something.) The main drag on arcanes has been too little time to break for research. The Main Story has kept my group moving to accomplish goals, even without my needing to implement consequences for delay!


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Kolokotroni wrote:
gamer-printer wrote:
If you're going to curtail the abilities of a wizard or another class, this should be made known before a game even begins, so a player will know up front, before character creation, what specific limits are placed on a given class. He may opt to play something else, or not play at all, but the decision should be his and he should be provided with all such information to make such a choice.
This is all fine if the limits or curtailing is done within the mechanics of the game. If its narrative, its dramatically less predictable. Its also less real to the person making the choice. Its often a matter of perception or opinions. What is too much? What is 'noisy' in the belgariad, what causes 'ripples' in the force. Narrative limits on mechanical abilities cant be accurately described before the character choices are made because all the circumstances of those limits are not apparent until the moment they occur.

Sure. That's part of the enjoyment of playing a magicuser in a limited magic setting.

It's obviously wrong to impose limits without warning players beforehand, but if everyone knows about them (including the uncertain nature) what's the problem? If you don't like that uncertainty or lack of definition, you know not to play a magical character or not to play at all.


Steve Geddes wrote:
Kolokotroni wrote:
gamer-printer wrote:
If you're going to curtail the abilities of a wizard or another class, this should be made known before a game even begins, so a player will know up front, before character creation, what specific limits are placed on a given class. He may opt to play something else, or not play at all, but the decision should be his and he should be provided with all such information to make such a choice.
This is all fine if the limits or curtailing is done within the mechanics of the game. If its narrative, its dramatically less predictable. Its also less real to the person making the choice. Its often a matter of perception or opinions. What is too much? What is 'noisy' in the belgariad, what causes 'ripples' in the force. Narrative limits on mechanical abilities cant be accurately described before the character choices are made because all the circumstances of those limits are not apparent until the moment they occur.

Sure. That's part of the enjoyment of playing a magicuser in a limited magic setting.

It's obviously wrong to impose limits without warning players beforehand, but if everyone knows about them (including the uncertain nature) what's the problem? If you don't like that uncertainty or lack of definition, you know not to play a magical character or not to play at all.

Except Divine Caster that know their entire lists aren't limited at all as I said above. So it just changes which caster you play in that setting.


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Steve Geddes wrote:
Kolokotroni wrote:
gamer-printer wrote:
If you're going to curtail the abilities of a wizard or another class, this should be made known before a game even begins, so a player will know up front, before character creation, what specific limits are placed on a given class. He may opt to play something else, or not play at all, but the decision should be his and he should be provided with all such information to make such a choice.
This is all fine if the limits or curtailing is done within the mechanics of the game. If its narrative, its dramatically less predictable. Its also less real to the person making the choice. Its often a matter of perception or opinions. What is too much? What is 'noisy' in the belgariad, what causes 'ripples' in the force. Narrative limits on mechanical abilities cant be accurately described before the character choices are made because all the circumstances of those limits are not apparent until the moment they occur.

Sure. That's part of the enjoyment of playing a magicuser in a limited magic setting.

It's obviously wrong to impose limits without warning players beforehand, but if everyone knows about them (including the uncertain nature) what's the problem? If you don't like that uncertainty or lack of definition, you know not to play a magical character or not to play at all.

Is it actually enjoyable to anyone to not get to play during portions of the game? Because that is what your asking. It often makes for a tense and interesting sorry. But it makes for a crummy game when you tell someone to sit there and do nothing while other people have fun, because if you had fun it will ruin everything for everyone and you'll have to be punished for it.

As I have mentioned before, most of the time, games that have these sorts of limitations shouldn't have classes like the wizard where the overwhelming majority of the thing they do is arbitrarily limited by narrative means. That isn't fun, thats obnoxious. In a story, a character sitting there and doing nothing because its someone else's turn, is just fine, the specialist gets to shine. In an rpg thats an actual person, spending hours of his actual life, watching other people have fun.


Kolokotroni wrote:


Is it actually enjoyable to anyone to not get to play during portions of the game? Because that is what your asking. It often makes for a tense and interesting sorry. But it makes for a crummy game when you tell someone to sit there and do nothing while other people have fun, because if you had fun it will ruin everything for everyone and you'll have to be punished for it.

As I have mentioned before, most of the time, games that have these sorts of limitations shouldn't have classes like the wizard where the overwhelming majority of the thing they do is arbitrarily limited by narrative means. That isn't fun, thats obnoxious. In a story, a character sitting there and doing nothing because its someone else's turn, is just fine, the specialist gets to shine. In an rpg thats an actual person, spending hours of his actual life, watching other people have fun.

Don't we have plenty of these situations now - "Let the face talk, you don't have the skills for this" - "Let the trap guy deal with this, you don't have the skills for it" - and a bunch of "This is magic stuff so wait until we have something for you to hit"

But more importantly, narrative limits to magic don't have to mean, "You can't use magic at all for long periods". It could be you have to be more clever about how you use magic, keeping non-obvious, for example. Or as in the example, you can always use magic, it's just harder to get high level spells.
That's not "sit there and do nothing while other people have fun".

You're attacking a straw man.

Silver Crusade

Anzyr wrote:
Steve Geddes wrote:
Kolokotroni wrote:
gamer-printer wrote:
If you're going to curtail the abilities of a wizard or another class, this should be made known before a game even begins, so a player will know up front, before character creation, what specific limits are placed on a given class. He may opt to play something else, or not play at all, but the decision should be his and he should be provided with all such information to make such a choice.
This is all fine if the limits or curtailing is done within the mechanics of the game. If its narrative, its dramatically less predictable. Its also less real to the person making the choice. Its often a matter of perception or opinions. What is too much? What is 'noisy' in the belgariad, what causes 'ripples' in the force. Narrative limits on mechanical abilities cant be accurately described before the character choices are made because all the circumstances of those limits are not apparent until the moment they occur.

Sure. That's part of the enjoyment of playing a magicuser in a limited magic setting.

It's obviously wrong to impose limits without warning players beforehand, but if everyone knows about them (including the uncertain nature) what's the problem? If you don't like that uncertainty or lack of definition, you know not to play a magical character or not to play at all.

Except Divine Caster that know their entire lists aren't limited at all as I said above. So it just changes which caster you play in that setting.

You're obviously assuming that all players will powergame their way around the GM like he/she is their adversary. These rules aren't put in by the GM to create a further powergaming challenge to be overcome. They're there to help tell a certain story, and if a player wants to interact with that story through the lens of the modified caster they will. If they don't want to interact with the story in that way they will pick another role.

If someone came to my low-magic game and said, "I'm playing a cleric because I wanted to play a wizard, but you gimped wizard, so I'm playing this caster you didn't gimp." I'd probably think about it for a moment and say, "You're right, that isn't fair. I'll have to adjust clerics too so they don't overshadow the wizards that I spent so much time trying to make interesting."

In the same way, if a game prohibits eastern themed classes and weapons, but you then show up with a fighter named Yukokaze who wields a curved bastard sword and introduces himself as a samurai, you've subverted the GM's intent. Trying to bypass the GM's intention is disrespectful, sometimes even downright rude. If their game bothers you that much, talk to them about it. If you can't come to an agreement, it might just be a game you should sit out.


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Trying to change the rules after the fact because someone looked at them said "Ok, I don't like the changes to Wizard, I should be a Druid instead." would make someone not a GM I'd want to play under anyway. You aren't trying to bypass anything. He set up the rules. Based on those rules you decided to play something that wasn't impacted as heavily by them. That is called conforming to the rules. (This is also why GM's shouldn't try to change from the default rules without serious consideration.)


Well if I were gimping magic in a low magic setting, both arcane and divine would feel the same axe blow - I wouldn't affect one and not affect the other. Didn't 2e have clerics with a major domain and minor domains and all access to healing, but not access to all domains? I would apply that thinking along with capping the spells at whatever I determined should be the maximum level (whatever that is).


And that's fine gamer-printer. But it's not easy to change the rules to suit low magic, without merely shuffling around "viable" class choices. Which is what I'm trying to show as earlier in the thread where I went over what classes were suitable picks for other low magic campaigns.


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Anzyr wrote:
Steve Geddes wrote:
Kolokotroni wrote:
gamer-printer wrote:
If you're going to curtail the abilities of a wizard or another class, this should be made known before a game even begins, so a player will know up front, before character creation, what specific limits are placed on a given class. He may opt to play something else, or not play at all, but the decision should be his and he should be provided with all such information to make such a choice.
This is all fine if the limits or curtailing is done within the mechanics of the game. If its narrative, its dramatically less predictable. Its also less real to the person making the choice. Its often a matter of perception or opinions. What is too much? What is 'noisy' in the belgariad, what causes 'ripples' in the force. Narrative limits on mechanical abilities cant be accurately described before the character choices are made because all the circumstances of those limits are not apparent until the moment they occur.

Sure. That's part of the enjoyment of playing a magicuser in a limited magic setting.

It's obviously wrong to impose limits without warning players beforehand, but if everyone knows about them (including the uncertain nature) what's the problem? If you don't like that uncertainty or lack of definition, you know not to play a magical character or not to play at all.

Except Divine Caster that know their entire lists aren't limited at all as I said above. So it just changes which caster you play in that setting.

It may - or the limitations we're discussing might apply to all (the campaign I played in where magic use risked summoning demons if you did too much of it applied to essence, mentalism and channelling - essentially divine and arcane magic).

My point is that, provided everyone knows what's what going into the campaign, it's not "unfair" or "ambushing" the players, nor depriving them of some features they thought they'd be relying on or any of the other issues that have been raised. Most objections seem to me to be based on the idea that the DM has advertised a game of pathfinder, then suddenly springs a whole bunch of limitations on the players after-the-fact, which I dont think is being advocated by anyone.

I agree with you that one shouldnt change the rules once someone's brought a character along just to "get" them for daring to try and circumvent the restrictions. But I reject the idea that, because some (even most) pathfinder players dont enjoy games where magic users are limited beyond the core book's assumptions it is therefore wrong to do so. It's wrong to do so if those people are ignorant of the changes, but I quite enjoy games where magic is limited in this way and provided it's all spelled out in advance, what's the problem?

There's no 'correct' way to play - if you want to limit a campaign to all dwarves, all commoners, all classes-except-that-magicusers-have-a-hard-time.... how is it a problem? It might not suit everyone, but no game will.

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