5E How to De-Magic 5e

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Brief Background:
I've been playing 5e since it "officially" came out, but recently I went back to AD&D (1e) for a while at the request of a group that wanted to give it a shot. In addition, I've been thinking of running B/X (Moldvay/Cook) for some fun and giggles. I am still running a 5e campaign concurrently with the 1e campaign.

For the most part, I love 5e. I run 5e in a pretty modified form at the table (a lot of fail forward, Amber resolution, fast-paced ToTM etc.) but I do use the default class and spell system.

And that's what I have been thinking about. It's not that I want to completely re-tool 5e to resemble 1e (I think that, among others @Zardnaar has posted some information about class/race/alignment restrictions, etc. that allow 5e to more closely resemble 1e). It's that I want to de-Magic 5e.

Okay, let me explain this first. When people ask me what I dislike about 5e, my response is always the same- there's too much magic. Now, let me be clear: this is my opinion. I am not asserting that this is right, or true, or correct for everyone- but it is for me. And it's not that magic is too powerful- it's that it is too prevalent. As a matter of style, in TTFRPGs, I prefer the occasional big bang to the constant little pew pew pew.

So I have two issues that I would want to fix if I was fixing 5e:

A. Cantrips.

Okay, I realize that this is a losing battle (and probably has been since, oh, 1985) but constant at-will cantrips (and especially scaling attack cantrips) annoy the heck out of me. Now, before you get all, "But that just allows people who like spells to use spells instead of weapons yada yada yada" ... I get it. I am not arguing about likes and dislikes, instead I am saying that I want to remove cantrips.


B. Spell equivalency.

This is a slightly harder one to grok, but once you see it, you can't un-see it in 5e. It's like the old, "If all you had was a hammer, every problem looks like a nail" issue with class design and balance in 5e. The basic "unit of currency" in class design in 5e is the spell; it is ingrained into the system that almost everything (from monster effects, to many invocations for Warlocks, to magic items) are treated as spells. Martial classes (such as Rangers and, um, that other one) are turned into spellcasters simply to give them abilities that would better be handled as abilities (hunter's mark, smiting). It stands out so much that when a class begins to depart from that system (monk with ki, Warlock's non-spell equivalent invocations) it both sticks out like a sore thumb and provides a breath of fresh air.


So I've been pondering this for a while and I thought I'd throw this out for general discussion. While I think it might be possible to approach the cantrip issue, the more I think about the spell equivalency issue, the more I begin to realize that this might be too hard-baked into the 5e DNA to change.

Any thoughts on the issue? What are the best approaches you've found for de-Magicking 5e?
 

Hussar

Legend
When I ran my Primeval Thule campaign, I strongly wanted to ramp down the magic level of the game. I went pretty medieval on the rules after a bit of back and forth. Basically, no classes with cantrips. They might be NPC's, but, the players cannot play any classes with cantrips, full stop.

It did lower the magic level considerably, although, the players still wanted their magic toys, so, I wound up with a monk, a paladin, a ranger and another ranger out of 5 PC's. :'(

Still had TONS of magic in the game.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
When I ran my Primeval Thule campaign, I strongly wanted to ramp down the magic level of the game. I went pretty medieval on the rules after a bit of back and forth. Basically, no classes with cantrips. They might be NPC's, but, the players cannot play any classes with cantrips, full stop.

It did lower the magic level considerably, although, the players still wanted their magic toys, so, I wound up with a monk, a paladin, a ranger and another ranger out of 5 PC's. :'(

Still had TONS of magic in the game.
I had a recollection of this (specifically, I think I remembered you discussing this),

That's why I included the spell equivalency bit. I am wondering if 5e might just have it too hard-baked into the DNA?
 

mortwatcher

Explorer
As far as point A: that horse has been beaten to death and then some. You also posted the viable solution for you, use that and back to the mediocre crossbow users they will go.

Point B: Rangers had spells historically as a class, they get them a bit sooner now, you can impose level restrictions. A lot of classes have spell-like abilities, not exactly spells. You could remove some of the casters from the game, keep wizards and clerics, as those are the iconic ones. But magic is integrated very deeply to 5E, so it is going to be hard to get rid of that feeling.
 

DWChancellor

Kobold Enthusiast
Adventures in Middle Earth (AIME) is a perfect guide to reducing 5E's magic. They made all new classes and the baddy's powers are much less spell/spell-effect based. Despite being 100% 5E engine, the game is aggressively low magic and the merest speck of power is something wondrous and rare (our "wizard" can... light up his staff.)

The AIME trick to making up for the relative weakness of "casters" in a low magic game is to amp up their skills and ability to do non-magical effects (knowledge, medicine). Overall healing is much rarer so anything that helps becomes a big deal. They also have much better weapon and armor proficiencies.

Ultimately the style of DM'ing has to adapt to with knowledge, negotiation, and general out-of-combat actions taking more prominence unless you want an all fighter/rogue party.
 

RSIxidor

Explorer
Would the casters who lose cantrips gain more spells per day or extra features or some other thing? Or do you mean completely removing magic altogether so that wizards/rogues/sorcerers/bards/clerics in their current form don't even exist?

Rangers and paladins shifting from spells to abilities sounds good to me. Hunter's mark being at-will makes sense to me. Something like Pass Without Trace after some levels. Favored Terrain/Enemy need to be fixed still but that's perhaps a separate discussion. Smite limited to CHA+1/2 level times a day or changed in a more significant way. Find Steed just be a thing they can do after a long rest.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
I've been fiddling with the idea of an invocation based ranger for a long time, where depending on what you want to build you can take invocations that are pure "martial", ones that tie you into "nature magic" sort of stuff (without becoming a spellcaster), beast enhancements (with getting a simple scouting beast as part of the base class), etc.

This doesn't deny rangers tapping into the nature-based supernatural, but makes it voluntary.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Would the casters who lose cantrips gain more spells per day or extra features or some other thing? Or do you mean completely removing magic altogether so that wizards/rogues/sorcerers/bards/clerics in their current form don't even exist?
Well, I am throwing it out there for other ideas.

My ideal world would get rid of cantrips entirely to start with; maybe tinkering with spells at higher levels to give them more oomph. Definitely not giving more spells.


Rangers and paladins shifting from spells to abilities sounds good to me. Hunter's mark being at-will makes sense to me. Something like Pass Without Trace after some levels. Favored Terrain/Enemy need to be fixed still but that's perhaps a separate discussion. Smite limited to CHA+1/2 level times a day or changed in a more significant way. Find Steed just be a thing they can do after a long rest.
Yeah, I don't think we need Paladins and Rangers to be casters.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
Just bringing up a concern so it can be faced head-on. One benefit of the current "everything is a spell" design mentality is how multiclassing stacks. If you look at AD&D multiclassing, because of the XP charts you were not particularly far behind if you were a caster and something else (or even triple classed). Because on-level spells were important. In 3.x, when multiclassing became king, one way to gimp your character was to take levels of somethign that didn't advance your primary casting. A cleric/wizard was a lousy combonation unless you ended up taking something like the mystic theurge that advanced two casting progressions at once.

5e has a system that balances between these, were advancing in a different casting class have value but also limitations. I've found myself bumping my head with this with X/Warlock multiclasses already.

Not bringing this up to say your idea won't work, bringing it up so that it can be addressed in whatever you go with.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
My ideal world would get rid of cantrips entirely to start with; maybe tinkering with spells at higher levels to give them more oomph. Definitely not giving more spells.
Okay, throwing some ideas out there.

Get rid of cantrips*+, keep the exact same number of spells. Reduce the encounters-between-long-rests expectation to a saner number like 4.

* Warlock needs EB or a replacement. Sorcerer has the most cantrips and least spells known, they will need some rebalancing. Or maybe that's what makes a sorcerer unique - they among everyone still have cantrips because they are the embodiment of magic. Some others (AK & EK if you keep them) may also need adjustments since they have special abilities around cantrips. Oh, and half the clerci domains do as well.

+ Just something that came up in the multiple "get rid of cantrips" threads. Often getting rid of combat cantrips was enough to make them rare again. Allowing the wizard to light his pipe with magic was still considered cool. You could even leave it as "keep druidcraft, thaumaturgy, or prestidigitation".

This addresses the biggest pet peeve of mine about the number of encounters being a balance point between the long-rest, short-rest, and at will resource recovery models. And can baance just stripping out (combat) cantrips.

To give an example, a caster (past Tier 1) has about the same number of "offense viable" spell slots, even as they go up levels, because low level slots aren't worth the action spent. Those low level slots are used for utility. Those offense viable slots produce a result > than a martial character. Cantrips produce a viable-to-spend-an-action result, but are < than a martial character. Those average out over time.

Now, taking out cantrips means that casters will either be using light crosspows, darts, etc which are even less than cantrips (again, we're talking tier 2 and higher), so the average goes down farther. But if there are less encounters per long rest, that means there are less actions that are spent on the very-low-return actions.

So even-less-results, but less of them, still works out at a balance point. If it's a valid balance point I say it would need testing. But it's something.

Note that this may end up with casters doing less utility casting to keep their slots for combat, since even a 1st level spell does more than a light crossbow.

Also that casters are not the only long-rest classes. For example a barbarian will do well with less encounters per day because they can rage in a larger percentage of them.
 

dave2008

Hero
I'm with you @lowkey13 I too prefer less magic (not less powerful). He is what we have done:

A) Cantrips do not scale and the cost slots just like spells (level 0 slots).

B) not sure about that one, but I get you you. How does AIME handle it? Can you just give the various classes the equivalent of the spell, but make it a class feature?

Personally, another thing we have done is restrict magic to half-caster classes or you can multi-class into a full caster, but no more than half of your levels can be in a full caster class.
 

Salthorae

Imperial Mountain Dew Taster
Well, I am throwing it out there for other ideas.
Would you re-include the old 2e 1st level spell named "Cantrip"?
Cantrips are minor spells I studied by wizards during their apprenticeship, regardless of school. The cantrip spell is a practice method for the apprentice, teaching him how to tap minute amounts of magical energy. Once cast, the cantrip spell enables the caster to create minor magical effects for the duration of the spell.

So minor are these effects that they have severe limitations. They are completely unable to cause a loss of hit points, cannot affect the concentration of spellcasters, and can only create small, obviously magical materials. Furthermore, materials created by a cantrip are extremely fragile and cannot be used as tools of any sort. Lastly, a cantrip lacks the power to duplicate any other spell effects.

Whatever manifestation the cantrip takes, it remains in effect only as long as the wizard concentrates. Wizards typically use cantrips to impress common folk, amuse children, and brighten dreary lives.

Common tricks with cantrips include tinklings of ethereal music, brightening faded flowers, glowing balls that float over the caster's hand, puffs of wind to flicker candles, spicing up aromas and flavors of bland food, and little whirlwinds to sweep dust under rugs. Combined with the unseen servant spell, these are the tools to make housekeeping and entertaining simpler for the wizard.

Yeah, I don't think we need Paladins and Rangers to be casters.
Even in 1e Rangers were spellcasters. At 8th level they started getting Druid spells and at 9th level they started getting Wizard (Magic-user) spells also, so they were like Double magic martial class even in 1e.

2e reduced them to just Priest spells starting at 8th level.

1e Paladins also started to get access to Priest spells at 9th level.

2e kept Paladins to Priest spells at 9th level

It's not like 3.x or 5e brought spellcasting to these classes, 5e just continued the trend of 3.x of bringing their casting abilities forward.
 

Krachek

Adventurer
Some hints.

Transform paladin, ranger and bard into 1/3 caster. Using the Eldritch Knight frame.

Cleric remove most domain, keep the war and maybe storm. Remove sacred flame.

Wizard, sorcerer, Druid Transform attack cantrip into fist level spell. Those spells last one minute and allow spell attack. It don’t scale with caster level but may be upcast for better damage and lasting longer.

Warlock.
Keep fiend patron and pact blade.
Transform eldritch blast into a class ability.

Remove magic initiate feat and ritual caster feat.

Hope it help you adapt your game.
 
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Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
@lowkey13 since this is about hitting your preferred blend, what is your thinking on rituals?

Is that a "even more castings per day!" to cut down, is it "slow and grand so it's how I envision magic", or even going the other direction of "more utility spells should be rituals because without cantrips spell slots will be saved for combat and I think magic should be more than just combat"?
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Even in 1e Rangers were spellcasters. At 8th level they started getting Druid spells and at 9th level they started getting Wizard (Magic-user) spells also, so they were like Double magic martial class even in 1e.

2e reduced them to just Priest spells starting at 8th level.

1e Paladins also started to get access to Priest spells at 9th level.

2e kept Paladins to Priest spells at 9th level

It's not like 3.x or 5e brought spellcasting to these classes, 5e just continued the trend of 3.x of bringing their casting abilities forward.
Ugh. If I had one wish, it would be that Paladins never existed.

BUT IF I HAD TWO WISHES, it would be that people stop trotting this thing out. ;)

It's not just that Rangers and Paladins didn't get spells until name level (8th level was name for Ranger, 9th was name for Paladin), it's how ridiculously underpowered the spells were.

If you reached 10th level as a named Paladin in 1e ... how much utility were you getting out of your two cure light wounds per day?

This is somewhat akin to calling thieves spellcasters because they can read scrolls; somewhat true, yet not really.

I have yet to meet a single person who chose to play a Ranger or Paladin in 1e because of spellcasting, and it's been four+ decades.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
@lowkey13 since this is about hitting your preferred blend, what is your thinking on rituals?

Is that a "even more castings per day!" to cut down, is it "slow and grand so it's how I envision magic", or even going the other direction of "more utility spells should be rituals because without cantrips spell slots will be saved for combat and I think magic should be more than just combat"?
So I've been toying with the idea for a while, which is why I reduced it to the two categories above. I really think it comes down to two things for me- the cantrips (specifically the attack cantrips) and the spell equivalencies.

To explain-
The attack cantrips mean that magic is used, not just in every single combat, but pretty much every round. The commonplace becomes boring, and because they scale, they also reduce the impact and efficacy of combat magic that isn't cantrip-based. I realize that this is very much a matter of personal taste, but I just don't like 'em. That said, I see this as being an easy fix.

The spell equivalencies, however ... I'm not sure how to change this without completely re-vamping a lot of 5e. I'll have to have a look at what AIME does, I guess.


...as for rituals? I don't have any particular problems with them.
 

Yaarel

Adventurer
@lowkey13

I dont understand the difficulty. If you arent in the mood for high magic, then ban spellcasters. Martial classes only. And if someone wants a splash of magic, use a feat. The solution is so simple. I dont grok the existence of a difficulty.



In 4e, this thematic division was even easier.

I had Material Plane be strictly Martial classes (Human) and Primal classes (certain Nonhumans).

I had the Feywild be strictly Arcane and Psionic classes.

If there were any Humans who knew magic it was because of contacts with Nonhumans.

Likewise, the concept of Martial powers were alien to the Fey Eladrin. If there were any who trained physically, it was because of having been in the Material Plane and learning the skills from Humans.



Assign the classes and races that make sense for a setting. Done.
 

dave2008

Hero
I'll have to have a look at what AIME does, I guess.
I was just checking out AIME, and is really low magic, like essentially no magic. There is also a bit of middle earth specific features that would need to be modified. It is definitely interesting and not your typical D&D
 

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