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My Experiment with 5e - No Classes with Cantrips

Hussar

Legend
Well, we've kinda rounded a bend in our Primeval Thule campaign, and things have changed at the table, so, I thought now is a good time to show the results of my 5e experiment. When running PT in 5e, I wanted to really strengthen the "SWORD and sorcery" feel and I felt that 5e is a smidgeon too magic happy for what I wanted. So, at character generation, I put my foot down, and managed to badger my players into accepting a pretty strong restriction - no classes/characters with cantrips.

Just for a bit of background, we run the game on Fantasy Grounds and use voice chat. That has it's own ups and downs, so, I'll try to keep that in mind when I talk about the results.

So, after about year of play and 9 levels, here's what I learned:

1. Combat becomes LIGHTNING fast. When you remove casters, area of effects, and whatnot from combat, you can blow through a LOT of combat in a 3 hour session. We actually touched into 7 combats one session, with a fair bit of time for other stuff, although that was very much the exception. However, we frequently did 3-5 combats in a 3 hour session and rounds just blow past. When you strip down the analysis paralysis that often comes with casters (should I cast this spell or that spell... or if I move the spell 5 feet to the left I can get that guy, but, then I won't get that other guy... ), the game really speeds up.

2. Combat becomes very predictable. Not sure if this is a good thing or not. But, I can pretty much guarantee how much damage the party will do per round and plan an encounter accordingly. I know that the 5 PC's we have will do about 125 (give or take) damage per round. Pretty much like clockwork. So, if I wanted a strong encounter, I needed about 400 HP worth of baddies. It does make planning encounters pretty easy. And, because the party lacked area attacks, it really, really cuts down on the total damage the party can do per round.

3. Choices get pretty limited and the players I think were not very happy about it. We allowed, barbarians, fighters, rangers, paladins, monks and rogues as options. We wound up with two rangers, a paladin, a rogue and a monk. I think the players were not terribly happy with all the classes being pretty close to each other. 5e really does seem to rely on having casters to add variety. The non-casters tend to be pretty similar in play.

4. One thing that I did like, and now that we've done some shifting around with characters and allowed full casters, is that without casters in the party, "Magic Solves All Problems" becomes a lot less of an issue. Players rely on their skills a lot more since you can't just magic problems away. They spent a lot of down time learning new languages and tools so that they could broaden their approaches to problems. Now that we have a bard and a warlock in the party, every problem becomes a nail to the hammer of magic. Instead of relying on skills, spells become the default. :( Not a result I'm very happy about.

Overall, I'd say the experiment was a pretty solid success. The game was fun and the players seemed to have a pretty good time. 5e works pretty well as a low magic game, IMO.
 

Staccat0

Villager
I've thought about doing this a lot. Or maybe just running a game where you don't start with cantrips or they are included in your "spells known" or whatever depending on the class.

Thanks for reporting back.
 

Paul Farquhar

Adventurer
5e really does seem to rely on having casters to add variety. The non-casters tend to be pretty similar in play. ]
That's always been true of D&D, it's not just a 5e thing. And I would suggest it is the main reason for the success of D&D, and fantasy RPGs in general, over RPGs in other genres.

Why did Shadowrun add magic to cyberpunk? Because without it gameplay is pretty much limited to hackers (rogues) and mercs (fighters).
 

Nevvur

Explorer
Thanks for sharing, Hussar. I've been working on an SRD5 overhaul that removes spellcasters entirely, and your report gives me some food for thought as I move forward with the project.
 

Zardnaar

Adventurer
We did this in 2E mostly same results. Well I mean no primary casters allowed.
Would be interesting to see a 3pp variant PHB with 4E or AD&D/3E type classes. AEDU or AD.

Trade your cantrip and class features for more spell slots or AEDU classes.
 
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Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Ah - so not a "no cantrips!" experiment, but a "no primary casters!" experiment. Interesting, very interesting...
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
If your concern is "analysis paralysis", perhaps casters with short spell lists would help, so they know their spells better? So no wizards, clerics or druids...
 

Zardnaar

Adventurer
Ah - so not a "no cantrips!" experiment, but a "no primary casters!" experiment. Interesting, very interesting...
I had something for a 3E low magic campaign where we used a must find teacher thing along with AD&D type rules on magic items so you could not buy them or easily create them.
A primary caster was any class with level 9 spells. Basically they were really rare, think Jedi purge. You would have to find an NPC and then take levels in the class I think the Sorcerer was the only one we allowed in at level 1 and even then it was more or less a death penalty if you got caught.

Red Mantis Assassins were used to enforce the rules. 3.5 Bards became the best caster you could get away with otherwise you had to MC at level 3 eg fighter 2/wiz 1 and you had to find an NPC as well.

Its kind of what lead me to believe you could fix 3.5 if you plugged in some smaller numbers (rewriting/removing the problem spells and feats) and stripping out the 3.X magic item system. The D&D game I wanted in 2008.
 

Hussar

Legend
That's always been true of D&D, it's not just a 5e thing. And I would suggest it is the main reason for the success of D&D, and fantasy RPGs in general, over RPGs in other genres.

Why did Shadowrun add magic to cyberpunk? Because without it gameplay is pretty much limited to hackers (rogues) and mercs (fighters).
Not entirely true. Not to bring up edition warring, but, 4e allowed a HUGE variety between and within the classes, even those that couldn't cast spells. However, 5e has gone back to a more traditional arrangement for classes, so, the non-casters have a much more limited palette to work from.
 

TwoSix

Lover of things you hate
1. Combat becomes LIGHTNING fast. When you remove casters, area of effects, and whatnot from combat, you can blow through a LOT of combat in a 3 hour session. We actually touched into 7 combats one session, with a fair bit of time for other stuff, although that was very much the exception. However, we frequently did 3-5 combats in a 3 hour session and rounds just blow past. When you strip down the analysis paralysis that often comes with casters (should I cast this spell or that spell... or if I move the spell 5 feet to the left I can get that guy, but, then I won't get that other guy... ), the game really speeds up.

2. Combat becomes very predictable. Not sure if this is a good thing or not. But, I can pretty much guarantee how much damage the party will do per round and plan an encounter accordingly. I know that the 5 PC's we have will do about 125 (give or take) damage per round. Pretty much like clockwork. So, if I wanted a strong encounter, I needed about 400 HP worth of baddies. It does make planning encounters pretty easy. And, because the party lacked area attacks, it really, really cuts down on the total damage the party can do per round.
I'd be curious to see how a party of all full casters handle combat encounters, in comparison. Is there a lot of dithering over the best way to setup before actually engaging? Do they have to push the cleric or druid forward to be the "front line"? Or do they focus on area effects and slows to make sure they aren't touched?

I have to imagine combats would be less frequent, and much more variable in how long they take.
 

mrpopstar

Villager
My group trends towards human fighters, rangers, and rogues, so it's not uncommon for me to be DMing for a group without a primary caster, or with only one primary caster. It keeps magic special!

:)
 

Paul Farquhar

Adventurer
Not entirely true. Not to bring up edition warring, but, 4e allowed a HUGE variety between and within the classes, even those that couldn't cast spells. However, 5e has gone back to a more traditional arrangement for classes, so, the non-casters have a much more limited palette to work from.
There is some validity in that, and I think that is what non-fantasy games need to try and do (which, quite frankly, is where the warlord belongs).
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
, 4e allowed a HUGE variety between and within the classes, even those that couldn't cast spells. However, 5e has gone back to a more traditional arrangement for classes, so, the non-casters have a much more limited palette to work from.
Even 4e didn't have quite as much variety among the non-casters, not only in the sense of pairing them down to beatsticks in Essentials, either. The '4.0,' call it, Martial Source never supported the Controller Role, while every other source - all essentially 'casters,' or at least solidly supernatural - did. FWIW.

That's always been true of D&D, it's not just a 5e thing. And I would suggest it is the main reason for the success of D&D, and fantasy RPGs in general, over RPGs in other genres.
D&D's success is obviously due to it's 1st-RPG past fad (and current come-back!) status - it has a mainstream name recognition that no other TTRPG remotely rivals, so most players enter the hobby by trying D&D - if they don't like it, they probably don't stick with the hobby, so potential fans of other sorts of RPGs are largely excluded from the market.

Now, some genres of RPGs have more trouble for other reasons, too. Science fiction vs fantasy, for instance. While fantasy fiction might use a variety of fairly detailed premises about magic, worlds, races &c, the tropes all look pretty consistent - swords (or other such weapons), dragons and whatnot, you can ignore the details and it still looks like fantasy. With science fiction, OTOH, the details can be the lynch-pin of the 'what if' story. So, sci-fi RPGs either license an extant sci-fi franchise, like Star Trek or Star Wars or whatever, or they end up needing to create one of their own - because there is no generic sci-fi.

OTOOH, super-hero RPGs work pretty well. You can cut magical powers entirely from a superhero campaign, and lose nothing in terms of game play potential, no Dr. Strange to cook up a spell to solve the issue's issues? No problem, Tony Stark or Reed Richards can invent something.

But, no, there's no genre or RPG factors that require spellcasters to be the only classes that are engaging to play, it's strictly a D&Dism - the kind with a halo, that says 'moo...' ;P
 
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Wrathamon

Explorer
I wonder if you just limited cantrips to once per short rest if you would get that feel you're looking for, but I guess its the bigger spells.

Did you allow Ritual Caster?
 

Saeviomagy

Villager
4. One thing that I did like, and now that we've done some shifting around with characters and allowed full casters, is that without casters in the party, "Magic Solves All Problems" becomes a lot less of an issue. Players rely on their skills a lot more since you can't just magic problems away. They spent a lot of down time learning new languages and tools so that they could broaden their approaches to problems. Now that we have a bard and a warlock in the party, every problem becomes a nail to the hammer of magic. Instead of relying on skills, spells become the default. :( Not a result I'm very happy about.
I think that this is actually a problem with skills and ability checks - at first level the best spell for a job just succeeds, while the best skill for a job, still has a 15% chance of failing a simple task.*

*I'm leaving out skill specialization, because I don't think that requiring everyone who wants to use skills to be a rogue or bard is sensible... and they STILL fail pedestrian tasks 5% of the time.
 
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Hussar

Legend
I wonder if you just limited cantrips to once per short rest if you would get that feel you're looking for, but I guess its the bigger spells.

Did you allow Ritual Caster?
Yes, I did. However, no one took it, so, it never came up.

Note, that I did still have rangers and paladins, so, it's not like I went no magic. Just a lot lower.
 

Hussar

Legend
I think that this is actually a problem with skills and ability checks - at first level the best spell for a job just succeeds, while the best skill for a job, still has a 15% chance of failing a simple task.*

*I'm leaving out skill specialization, because I don't think that requiring everyone who wants to use skills to be a rogue or bard is sensible... and they STILL fail pedestrian tasks 5% of the time.
Well, there's that, but, also, I think there's the tendency of DM's to pile on skill check after skill check and make any failure a catastrophic failure. You want to sneak around and scout out enemy territory? Ok, well, you have to succeed these fifteen stealth checks, and fail one and the alarm is immediately raised. Do it with an Arcane Eye? Ok, no problem. Jeez, magic is powerful.
 

Hussar

Legend
What was the logic behind banning 1/3 casters and not 1/2 casters? What about monks of the 4 elements?
The simple answer is probably laziness on my part. Just a blanket ban on any class with a cantrip achieved most of what I wanted. While we had a monk, no one showed any interest in a monk of the 4 elements so, it just didn't come up.

My main idea was to reduce the level of magic in the game, no erase it entirely. The 1/3 casters almost always come packaged with cantrips which mean that they are casting spells nearly every round. Which was obviously not what I wanted to see. The 1/2 casters don't get cantrips so, other than things like Hunter's Mark, which, realistically isn't that big of a deal in my mind, we'd go entire encounters with no spells being cast.
 

jgsugden

Explorer
...So, after about year of play and 9 levels, here's what I learned:

1. Combat becomes LIGHTNING fast. When you remove casters, area of effects, and whatnot from combat, you can blow through a LOT of combat in a 3 hour session. We actually touched into 7 combats one session, with a fair bit of time for other stuff, although that was very much the exception. However, we frequently did 3-5 combats in a 3 hour session and rounds just blow past. When you strip down the analysis paralysis that often comes with casters (should I cast this spell or that spell... or if I move the spell 5 feet to the left I can get that guy, but, then I won't get that other guy... ), the game really speeds up.
This surprises me. In my experience, the spellcasters speed up the combat. We, perhaps, have less time lost to indecision than at your table, but when a fireball deals a total of 200 damage as opposed to the 45 a fighter is dealing in one round, it tends to push the combats closer to the end faster.
2. Combat becomes very predictable. Not sure if this is a good thing or not. But, I can pretty much guarantee how much damage the party will do per round and plan an encounter accordingly. I know that the 5 PC's we have will do about 125 (give or take) damage per round. Pretty much like clockwork. So, if I wanted a strong encounter, I needed about 400 HP worth of baddies. It does make planning encounters pretty easy. And, because the party lacked area attacks, it really, really cuts down on the total damage the party can do per round.
Again, the last statement, about how much damage they deal per round, seems to contradict the 'speeding up combat' element. Do you also avoid using monsters with spells or things that simulate spells like breath weapons?
3. Choices get pretty limited and the players I think were not very happy about it. We allowed, barbarians, fighters, rangers, paladins, monks and rogues as options. We wound up with two rangers, a paladin, a rogue and a monk. I think the players were not terribly happy with all the classes being pretty close to each other. 5e really does seem to rely on having casters to add variety. The non-casters tend to be pretty similar in play.
As I started to read this thread I wondered if adding the Warlock would help. It has so few spells that there is little paralysis there... They have less spell options than the ranger. However, it sounds like that did not work for you.
4. One thing that I did like, and now that we've done some shifting around with characters and allowed full casters, is that without casters in the party, "Magic Solves All Problems" becomes a lot less of an issue. Players rely on their skills a lot more since you can't just magic problems away. They spent a lot of down time learning new languages and tools so that they could broaden their approaches to problems. Now that we have a bard and a warlock in the party, every problem becomes a nail to the hammer of magic. Instead of relying on skills, spells become the default. :( Not a result I'm very happy about.
Can you give some examples where this was better without magic and worse with magic? I'm curious what you're seeing as problems with magical solutions.
 

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