Houserules for non-E6 low-magic

Homebrew and House Rules

First, low-magic, for me, is LOTR magic, in opposition to Dragon Ball Z gods 9th lvl spellcasters, not "no magic".

Here are my design goals :
- Speed-up combat
- Less "problematic spells" while thinking about "classic fantasy" and not "demi-god destroying reality, forging demi-planes and so on..". And using Spheres of Power.
- Trying not to remove any class from the game.
- Avoiding too many small bonus to calculate.
- Too many magical stuff, nothing is exceptional when everything is just a +1 to attack, +2 to saves, +1 to int and so on...

Here I go :)

1 :
Suggested solution : Trailblazer (a d20 variant, like pathfinder) showed the maths behind its reasoning and it seems good to me.
So, at BAB+6 you do -2/-2 instead of 0/-5, at BAB+11 you do -1/-1 and at BAB+16 you do 0/0. Maths proves that it's more damage on average, except when fighting monsters with much higher or lower AC than you (harder in both cases, so, good to me :) ).

2 :
Limited magic from Pathfinder Unchained, Heighten Spell metamagic feat for free, limiting spells to 4th levels (but keep the higher slots for metamagic).
Power should be in line with what Spheres of Power offers, so, Vancian and Spheres should be useable.

3 :
With these two modifications, nothing need to be banned from a "low magic" setting except maybe non-unchained summoner.

4 :
Limit magic buffs to 1 per 5 levels. (For example a 16th level character could have 3). Inspired by 5e.

5 : Automatic Bonus Progression.

As it's a home game in a homebrewed world, I'm not concerned about balance against AP, for example. So if a 20th level wizard is less powerful and cannot handle the same challenges than a 20th level wizard, this is by design and not a problem.

What I want is more speed, more simplicity, more "classical fantasy" (I like high level play too, but not in this world), and less superpowers and magical "+2"s, and maybe more balance between spellcasters and martials.

What do you think about ?

I mean, I read through your list and my immediate response was "Spheres of Power" tweaked to the power level you need (don't allow Vancian, don't allow legendary talents, perhaps limit which classes are avaiable). EDIT: Is there any particular reason you want to use Vancian and Sphere magic together?

Automatic Bonus Progression would play nicely with that in order to cut out all of the items that are just small bonuses.

I've thought about this topic and like most of your ideas. About 4, what about debuffs? I could easily see the players thinking, "If we can't buff more than once (at low levels), let's all debuff the monsters." Then you have a situation were you are stacking debuffs. Who decides which buffs are the buff that is currently working? I could also see "I will cast this wimpy buff spell on my opponent, thus negating their Very Important buff spell."

I played a PFS game once where we had lots of casters and only 1 "fighter". We got attacked by a BIG monster. I don't remember what it was, but it was big and dangerous. Well it was dangerous until all the debuffs started hitting it. Soon it wasn't dangerous at all.

Thanks for your replies

Thunder, the particular reason is only that I want that my player have the choice between spheres or not.

Valandil, you're right, I should read how it's handled in 5e.

Feel free to take a look at some of the articles I've done on low magic settings in the past (you can find them under my profile, pasted below for convenience sake).

My setting was capped at 13th level (by comparison Pathfinder Society is capped at 12th), and magic spells were capped at 6th level with 0 level cantrips / orisons banned. O levels were banned due to it allowing virtually anyone to cast some level of magic, which definitely didn't fit the campaign. 7th - 9th magics were banned due to their reality melting implications. Races were limited to core rule book only (although could have been set for any specific races based on the campaign world) in order to capture a more LOTR / Witcher / Shannara sorta feel.

Spell storing and spell trigger items (scrolls, wands, potions, etc) were all removed from the campaign, and the appearance of any form of spell casters were restricted to a mere fraction of what they typically are in most campaigns. PC classes represent only 5% of the population, with marital / skill based characters representing 80% of those.

Prestige classes were removed due to the number of feats, archetypes, etc available for customization of characters.

Iterative attacks were allowed as a standard action, meaning multiple attacks and full movement allowed. Mages after all cast higher level spells without penalty, a rogues sneak attack scales without penalty, why should a martial character have such a penalty as either "move or be good"? Hell, even ranged martial classes don't have to make such a choice.

Along the same line, I dropped the penalty for secondary attacks to hit. You still have to have the prerequisite BAB to unlock them, beyond that point you earn it, you keep it.

Casters were tied much more closely to their domains & specialty schools of magic. Casting within them allowed for a -1 bonus to towards the cost of metamagics, outside their domain / speciality a + 1 penalty, and spells from opposed schools were not allowed at all. All casters (arcane and divine) were limited to 3rd level spells other than their specialty / domain.

Dynamic casting for all casters. Dynamic as in memorize your spells in advance, but they don't disappear when they are cast until you exhaust your allowed spell slots per level for that day. This also minimizes the impact of a mage loosing their spell book. Spell mastery is likewise encouraged for this reason as it basically treated all the "known spells" from the feat as being permanently "memorized".

This flexibility was included to help offset the loose of spell triggers / spell storing & spells being more restricted to domains & specialty schools, etc.

Under these rules, martials & skill monkeys became much more common in the campaign setting. Casters were seen with a mixture of fear and awe because they could do things others couldn't, not because they were an over whelming power. Death once again became a real threat (resurection, raise dead, etc were removed as spells).

Yes, all of my house rules applied to npcs, monsters, etc.

A slow xp progression was used to help slow down the rapid progression of game pacing, thus curbing the feeling of "getting to the end with nothing to do". This has a secondary effect of allowing for more immersive game play at each level and encouraged the PC's to take an interest and active involvement in the campaign world setting. Secondary pursuits of things like building guilds, schools, temples, investing in businesses, etc all started to evolve into game play.

Don't let anyone tell you there is no "market" for such a campaign. Mine ran for years, and my old players still call me on the phone and comment on how this or that hero or villain was great! or "a bastard!" or whatever. In short, their adventures were memorable and their time in my campaign left them with memories they literally told their kids about.

As a DM, you cant ask for much more than that.

Feel free to check out the links below as they go into much greater detail.

Obsidian Portal: Here is the main link for my "scratch pad" I put together for my players as a point of reference. It is very much a work in progress, and has been so for years now. Because of which most of the variants are working fairly well at this point.

These are my previous forum articles

Less flashy magic: nt#1

How many towns / people are in your kingdom? #1

How many casters are in the world?

Level based defense bonus & Armor as DR variant: me#1

Mundane vs magic items:

Low magic combat:

Low magic injury and healing:

Liberty's Edge

The easiest House Rule to make magic less prevalent is just eliminate 9-level casters. With a maximum of 6-level casters you get some interesting stuff, but nothing earth shattering until really high levels. You need to be 13th level to get 5th level spells like Teleport and Raise Dead, for example, and never get any spells to raise the dead if they've been gone more than a month or so.

This makes things way more restrictive with almost no actual rules changes (though the world changes are profound).

I dunno if that's the sort of thing you're looking for, but it's a solid low effort way to get some of the same effect.

@Deadmanwalking This was actually an option I looked at myself (partial caster classes only), as well as E-6, Iron Hero's etc and HEAVILY considered it. Ultimately I steered away from it due to other issues such options still left in place, such as very powerful magic items, very powerful other worldly creatures, etc and felt that simply capping the campaign at 13th would allow for better control of these factors.

One idea that was almost used was setting the campaign cap at 11th level, which likewise would have worked just fine but I liked the idea that partial casters would barely have access to 5th level spells, where as full casters would have access to 6th with several additional spell slots left for meta-magics and similar tactics. Ultimately the way that 13th level effected the available magic level in the campaign vs 11th was the determining factor. That said however once the party past 10th level (the campaign cap for most NPC's) progression was definitely slower and required significant campaign story line objectives to be accomplished before leveling up was even an option. This allowed for continued progression (at least theoretically) without much in the way of power creep and spell / feat bloating.

Rethinking this one for a second, the level of magic items you would have in the campaign world would be limited by two factors the max level spells available to create the items, and whether or not more troublesome spells even existed in the campaign world to begin with. Thus you could still have level 20 toons.

If you also included in the campaign the rule about over hauling magic items so your characters simply got specific bonuses as they level vs getting them as magic items it could make for some fascinating game play changes to the world.

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