What is "grim and gritty" and "low magic" anyway?




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  1. #1
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    What is "grim and gritty" and "low magic" anyway?

    "I run a low magic game."
    "Magic is more rare in my game than in standard D&D."
    "My game is alot more grim and gritty than normal."

    I hear these phrases tossed around many times on this board, from some perfectly good people and supposedly good DMs (haven't played under all of you to make that assertion.)

    But what does it mean?

    How do you define low magic? How do you define grim and gritty? What makes these seemingly more attractive than standard Core Rules D&D for many? Is this a direction more campaign settings and sourcebooks should go in? What about the core rules?
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  • #2
    OK, for me, low magic means there's not a lot of magic in the campaign. Magic is still powerful, just rare, and fills most people with awe/dread. Magic items are very uncommon, except maybe potions, which are more alchemy than magic. The few people able to cast spells are pretty powerful individuals.

    Acquiring a magic weapon or some magic armor for one character might be the plot of an entire campaign.

    Grim and gritty, to me, is a little different. It can be low magic, or not. The setting is closer to what the actual medieval era was like in Europe, not an idealized, somewhat sanitized version that is in most game settings. People are dirty and smelly. Food and water is not always safe to consume. Things are dark at night, and disease can be a problem, if it's a low magic game.

    More importantly, combat can be lethal, no matter how experienced you are. There is always a threat that you could die from one well-placed dagger or sword thrust. Characters can't just shrug off massive amounts of damage, even at high levels. This usually involves some sort of VP/WP system, with critical hits going straight to WP.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Remathilis
    How do you define low magic? How do you define grim and gritty? What makes these seemingly more attractive than standard Core Rules D&D for many? Is this a direction more campaign settings and sourcebooks should go in? What about the core rules?
    "Low Magic", to me, means no magic shops, no one sells magic, access to magical items is very, very limited, wizards (and sorcerers) are not that common.

    "Grim 'n' Gritty", again to me, means the potential of One Shot, One Kill, the idea that a low level character stands a slim chance fighting a high level one.

    Both put together also implies, to my eyes, a grim world, filled with death and darkness everywhere, lots of moral ambiguities, and Survival Of The Fittest.

    Why are they attractive? Well, for some people such rules make things more "realistic" (a highly ambiguous and flexible term). For others they bring in more of a "Conanesque" feel, thus more closely mirroring specific types of some fantasy literature (the Game of Thrones serious pops to mind).

    These are just some initial impressions; I invite others to chime in and correct any misinterpretations I have.
    Last edited by Wombat; Friday, 12th March, 2004 at 02:58 AM.
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    To me
    "Low magic" usually means "I hate handing out magical items, so I removed them, inadvertantly making anyone who plays a wizard or cleric significantly more powerful than the rest of the party, but that's ok, because I cover it by saying that wizards and clerics are uncommon. Even though there's one of each in every party."

    "Grim and gritty" usually means "I love save vs death mechanics and I hate hitpoints. I've further devalued the fighters of the party by removing any staying power they have."

    Simply put - if someone uses either of these phrases to describe their campaign, it means that they didn't really think about the campaign world beyond their own personal DMing preferences.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Saeviomagy
    Simply put - if someone uses either of these phrases to describe their campaign, it means that they didn't really think about the campaign world beyond their own personal DMing preferences.
    Wow condenscending & insulting. How quaint. :\
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  • #6
    For me, low magic means that, for the world at large, magic is not a common thing. Society isn't based off of it, and it's more valuable than money can usually afford. It's not in the hands of store clerks, kings or even the local priest, but instead, rests with saints, hermits and other folk who often remain at the fringes of society for one reason or another. This does not mean, however, that the same necessarily applies to the PCs - they're the exception, after all. But the point is that that the kings champion likely is clad in normal full plate, the town priest is an Expert/Aristocrat, and the idea of a magic item shop is insanity.

    Grim and gritty...evil's omnipresent. Being good get's you killed. At the end of the day, you're not likely to destroy the lord of darkness, but you might save a childs parents from being killed by the things minions. Bad things happen to good people, and evil prospers. It also means that death is likely a quite permanent thing, though that ties partially into low magic.

    Both are the way I prefer to do things, to varying degrees for varying games.

    Good examples would be the Midnight and Ravenloft campaign settings.

  • #7
    Low magic: either the DM remembers to ban spellcaster PCs, or spellcaster PCs grossly overshadow everyone else, who lack the equipment needed to compete.

    Grim & gritty: bring multiple character sheet, don't get attached to your current PC, becuase the next roll could kill them no matter how good they are.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Krieg
    Wow condenscending & insulting. How quaint. :\
    Perhaps I should qualify.

    If someone's primary description of their campaign includes only the phrases "grim and gritty" and/or "low magic", then you're in trouble.

    If they start out by describing a WORLD as opposed to their houserules, and you then say "so it's low magic and grim and gritty", and they say yes - my comments don't really apply.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Remathilis
    "I run a low magic game."
    "Magic is more rare in my game than in standard D&D."
    "My game is alot more grim and gritty than normal."

    I hear these phrases tossed around many times on this board, from some perfectly good people and supposedly good DMs (haven't played under all of you to make that assertion.)

    But what does it mean?

    How do you define low magic? How do you define grim and gritty? What makes these seemingly more attractive than standard Core Rules D&D for many? Is this a direction more campaign settings and sourcebooks should go in? What about the core rules?
    There are several types of "low" magic campaign types. The features of these types are often mixed and matched. None of these magic levels are truly "better" then the one presented in the core rules. It's all a matter of style preference. Some of these magic levels are:

    1) A completely reduced magic level in the world. Spellcasting classes are hard to qualify for, resulting in fewer numbers of casters. The effects of spells are reduced in power and are seldom flashy. Magical items are extremely hard to come by, nigh impossible to make, and are rarely, if ever, sold. Magical creatures are often more mythical than real. If civilizations exist where the majority of the population do not believe in magic, then the overall presence of magic is extremely low by D&D standards. This level of low magic gives the game a sort of pseudo historical feel akin to the Pendragon game.

    2) A somewhat reduced level of magic. Spellcasters are not as common as they are in the core rules, but still wield significant power. The general population is aware of magic though not all may have experienced it directly. Magic items are still not common, but are a little easier to come by. Some items such as potions and scrolls, can be made with some difficulty. Magical creatures are present to the extent that nearly everyone believes they exist.

    3) A slightly reduced level of magic. Spellcasters are common and command the standard powers presented in the core rules. The general population accepts casters as members of society and most have witnessed real magic. The main restriction at this level is magic items. Some items can be obtained on the open market while others cannot. You could buy a potion of healing rather cheaply for instance but a +3 longsword would not be available for any price. Potions, scrolls, and possibly wands could be made by the pc's, but permenant items must still be obtained through adventure.

    As far as grim and gritty are concerned, its all in the presentation of the details. A critical hit chart that is capeable of taking out a high level fighter in one good hit does not make the game "grittier" just more deadly. A game can have a gritty feel when the overall tone of the campaign is dark and even the heroes feel "dirty", much like the main characters in The Black Company, by Glenn Cook. By contrast a game can be lighthearted in feel while having an extemely high pc mortality rate. " Oh wow, we lost Bob, and Joe on that trip. Lets head back to town and look for a couple of out of work fighters!" Neither style is right or wrong. Whatever the the DM and players enjoy is right.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Saeviomagy
    Perhaps I should qualify.

    If someone's primary description of their campaign includes only the phrases "grim and gritty" and/or "low magic", then you're in trouble.

    If they start out by describing a WORLD as opposed to their houserules, and you then say "so it's low magic and grim and gritty", and they say yes - my comments don't really apply.
    That is certainly fair enough. Of course the same can be said of pretty much ANY campaign under those qualifications (replacing grim/gritty & low magic with other descriptors).

    FWIW Wombat, Shadowdancer & Trickstergod's comments echo my opinions on the subject...although I don't necessarily agree with Trickstergod in that evil must be omnipresent. I feel that moral ambiquity is a more likely prereq.
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