Roleplaying Resources

November 9, 2011

Creating a Low-Magic Campaign

Some game systems, such as D&D, don't lend themselves to a low-magic world. These systems have assumptions about wealth at any given level, and the amount of magic characters will have access to. However, it's not all that hard to adapt any game system to work with your low-magic concept.

Before doing this, make sure your players are okay with it. Someone expecting a traditional D&D campaign might be annoyed or frustrated by these kinds of changes.

Money and Magic Items

There are no magic shops

Any magic items a player character receives must be found, given or crafted.

Low treasure

No one's going to be crafting powerful items if they have much lower wealth for their level than the rules suggest. You can also give rewards in the form of land, legal rights, servants, orchards and other things which aren't easily sold.

Combat and Experience

Slow advancement

In some game systems, such as D&D 3.5, magic isn't the dominant force at low levels. If you keep the level low, the system won't be thrown off by the lack of magic.

Combat

Avoid combat when possible. When you do include combat, give the characters a challenge appropriate to their power, and reward them accordingly, regardless of what the rules say. Another good strategy is to have the characters fight their own equivalents. It's much easier to balance an encounter between two humans than between a human, and a monster designed for a high-magic campaign.

Limiting Magic

Attitudes towards magic

If this is a low-enough-magic world, then most people have never seen a spell cast. They're likely to run a magic user out of town, or burn him at the stake. With consequences like this, characters will be more careful about when they use magic. Create a lot of urban adventures, and characters will have to restrain themselves most of the time.

Change the Rules

In D&D 3.5, limit wizards to their base 2 spells per level. Make new arcane lore an incredible find. Change the know-everything classes (cleric, druid etc) so they have a limited number of known spells. Drop sorcerer altogether. Here's one possible system for weakening magic.

If you want to go to an extreme, have severe rules-based consequences for using magic. For example, each spell costs its level in hit points, which can't be healed for an hour. This will be balanced by the fact that magic is far more effective when no one expects it.