D&D 5E The Decrease in Desire for Magic in D&D

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
So, this post by @James Gasik really hit home and got me thinking about something...
Yeah, to the point that every time someone complains they "break the game", I have to point out that not only are they part of the game, but they have been for a long time. Goodberry, Tiny Hut, Magnificient Mansion, Teleport, Fly- all these spells and more, are legacies.

But you know what edition got rid of them, for the most part?

And was derided for not "feeling like D&D"?

And so they were brought back for that very reason?

Amusing, isn't it?

For some reason (I really cannot tell you why!) the last few years I've been playing 5E I've desired a "low-magic" style setting/game. I have been all of keeping it more mundane, heroic but not "superheroic", keeping magic and magical items rare, making the game gritty with easier death and harder recovery.

And I don't know WHY I have felt this way... :unsure:

I began decades ago with B/X and AD&D and I was perfectly happy up to 3rd edition with flying wizards, teleportation, and similar magic mention in the quote above. I never had any problem with mighty magic weapons and regions of mystical mysteries lost for ages, where strange and unusual were common occurrences.

But, for some unknown reason, in 5E I don't seem to want it anymore, while it is part of the game (as James says...) and has been for years.

So, I am not seeking answers, but if anyone has thoughts or wants to discuss it, please let me know. It would be nice if I could find a reason why...
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
A theory: in the 0e-1e-early 2e days, magic was "extra". Most PCs and nearly all NPCs would be non-casters, or at least non-mages. Perhaps more important, those characters who could cast couldn't do it very often, until high level anyway. Casting was also less reliable, and easier to interrupt, and some spells (e.g. Teleport, Poly Other) carried serious risk for either the caster or the target. Magic items were common, but as they could be destroyed fairly easily they were seen as only being important while you had them. And as no DM could ever know what items her party would have at any given time, magic items weren't built in to the math of the game other than magic weapons being required to hit some creatures. That said, when it did work magic was often special and sometimes spectacular.

Then came 3e, with item creation for all made easy and (relatively) cheap, along with a much greater number of classes and PrCs that could cast, or quasi-cast. Items also became much harder to destroy; and were built in to the game's math expectations. Bards became mostly-full casters that could start at 1st level, rather than Fighter-Thieves with something extra tacked on. But there were still some hard limits on how many spells anyone could cast in a day.

With 4e, item destruction went away completely and a few classes were given always-on casting. Some classes that would normally have been non-casters were given quasi-magical abilities. Also, by now any serious risk associated with casting is gone; and casting is much harder to interrupt.

And now there's 5e, where items have decreased in importance somewhat but casting has gone nuts. Casters can cast something every round, all day long if they want to. A far smaller fraction of the classes are fully non-casters, when compared with 0e-1e. Which means, in comparison to 0e-1e everyone can cast now - you get and spell, and you get a spell, and you...etc.

End result: magic has gone from being extra to being expected; and thus from exciting to ho-hum.

Answers there are, but we can get to those later. :)
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
I think tiny hut is the best example. Up till at least 3.x it was basically a tent the Wizard could use to rget in a good night's sleep if there was a storm IF they dedicated a spell slot to it the last time they took a rest. Now in 5e tiny hut is an improved version of the much higher level force cube spell that makes an invincible bunker for a group of almost any table size plus some npcs... Except that bunker does not just protect against a storm., now it protects against toxic air, active volcanos, ancient dragons, vision & much more. It's not really even believable as a power for marvel super heroes, Gene grey/Phoenix could do some of that but only SOME and telekinesis/telepathy was pretty much of her entire powerset... Tiny hit is a footnote & the same munchkinize dial gets applied all over in 5e.

edit wizards & other casters used to walk around with encounter ending spells in their pocket but at the same time if you ask a wizard to scout ahead here's what you got:
  • Wizard: holy @W$@#@$ that squirrel had huge teeth & the acorn it was eating had a lethal looking point
  • party:eek:mg like a giant squirrel?
  • Wizard: Well the teeth were
  • party: so... like a squirrel version of a direwolf or something? did the acorn look magical
  • druid: I'll check it out
  • Fighter: I'll go with him to be safe
  • ...
  • dm: and with that the totally mundane squirrel is killed with a toe kick from SirBob
Now wizards aren't really concerned about being in melee with actual level appropriate monsters & cast spells all day but little of it is impressive & it's almost never back pocket ace encounter ending power levelsif things go sideways but everyone else is also uptuned in ways that ensure nobody will care even if they go sideways.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
So, this post by @James Gasik really hit home and got me thinking about something...


For some reason (I really cannot tell you why!) the last few years I've been playing 5E I've desired a "low-magic" style setting/game. I have been all of keeping it more mundane, heroic but not "superheroic", keeping magic and magical items rare, making the game gritty with easier death and harder recovery.

And I don't know WHY I have felt this way... :unsure:

I began decades ago with B/X and AD&D and I was perfectly happy up to 3rd edition with flying wizards, teleportation, and similar magic mention in the quote above. I never had any problem with mighty magic weapons and regions of mystical mysteries lost for ages, where strange and unusual were common occurrences.

But, for some unknown reason, in 5E I don't seem to want it anymore, while it is part of the game (as James says...) and has been for years.

So, I am not seeking answers, but if anyone has thoughts or wants to discuss it, please let me know. It would be nice if I could find a reason why...
I don’t know why, but if you want a low magic 5e, check out adventures in middle earth. Heck, you can just use the classes in an otherwise normal 5e game and you’ll have a much less magic heavy game.
 

I hope, we see some more revisions to the healing rules.
More of the optional rules in the PHB.

With long rests being a week, we would have a feeling that is a lot closer to ADnD.

Casters can pull out the big guns, while fighters can go on all day, as long as they have some sort of healing.

I really love the way fighters can heal woth second wind. So after a few short rest, the fighter is like new. The problem is just, that no one can play the fighter to their full potential, if you only have one combat per day. In such a setting, casters rule supreme.

For us, going from 6 hour long rest to 30 hour long rest did the trick and got the feeling right.
We also adde 1/4 of your hit dice recovered during a night's sleep.
(like in the healing surge option.)
 







For some reason (I really cannot tell you why!) the last few years I've been playing 5E I've desired a "low-magic" style setting/game. I have been all of keeping it more mundane, heroic but not "superheroic", keeping magic and magical items rare, making the game gritty with easier death and harder recovery.

And I don't know WHY I have felt this way... :unsure:
I don't know about you, but the magic D&D Wizards (specifically) tend to do, and particularly the same sort of spells people call "game-breaking" just don't jive at all well with magic in fantasy generally. Whether we're talking books, TV, movies, videogames, fantasy is a popular genre, hugely popular now even, and D&D's magic exists starkly at odds with the magic in virtually of that.

Most of the magic in fantasy as a genre exists on a spectrum of power and capability that a lot of D&D's stuff doesn't fit well with at all.

In particular, a lot of the spells in D&D feel like they should require lengthy rituals, multiple casters, special preparation, and so on, and D&D just doesn't have that beyond the odd 10-minute or 1-hour casting time, really. It doesn't do ritual magic at all, but virtually all fantasy that involves truly powerful magic does involve that.

Further in fantasy as a genre, magic tends to fall into basically three categories:

A) Very similar to psychic powers/psionics - there's an absolute ton of this, which often gets overlooked, and it's especially common with female authors and more female-audience-friendly fantasy for whatever reason. Prime exemplars would be Mercedes Lackey's work, Robin Hobb's entire Assassin setting (19 books over 25 years so far!), or the "Small Science" in the Grishaverse (Shadow and Bone etc.), which is the dominant form of magic there (and includes a lot of stuff that's very "Psionics Handbook").

B) Very similar to superpowers - again, this is just almost entirely absent from D&D, but I'm sure if D&D was being designed today it wouldn't be. There's a lot of this. Prime examples would be most of Brandon Sanderson's fantasy work (particularly Mistborn and the Stormlight Archive), or NK Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy.

C) Spells and ritual magic - This usually tends to be somewhat spooky/dark (even Harry Potter is a bit spooky). Spells are learned and cast in an organised way, rituals are conducted, and so on. This is closest to D&D's magic in some ways, but often is just one form of a magic in the settings it's in, and usually is very high-effort to both learn and use and can go very wrong in a way never seen with D&D's "if you cast, either it works or it doesn't" spells. The Grishaverse notably also has this kind of magic, which is seen as something different from the "Small Science", something terrifying.

D&D's lack of any skill checks for casting spells puts it at odds with all of these. In D&D, if you cast a spell, it can fail, but it can never go wrong, and it doesn't fail because of your lack of skill (outside of 4E, arguably), it fails because the target somehow shrugged it off, and generally inanimate objects can't do that, so those spells always work. So D&D is at odds with this stuff mechanically and conceptually/thematically, which I think is a real problem.

The same applies to everything you're saying re: grittier except "easier death" in media generally. Easier death is I think a canard people get from thinking about earlier editions of D&D. It doesn't achieve any of the same goals as the rest of the stuff, it just makes people re-roll characters a lot, which tends to reduce immersion, mildly inconvenience groups and annoy people more than making them feel much.

Anyway, I generally feel similarly to you, in that, the overpowered magic of D&D isn't interesting or exciting, it's just kind of annoying, and I do think a lot of that is because it's never fit with any fantasy except really Vance - and even that's arguable, if D&D Wizards were Vance characters they'd be able to memorize like, 4 spells at once, not close to 40 (Worlds Without Number shows how to make a playable D&D-style class that works this way, I note).
 
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It's not that I necessarily desire low magic, but like @Lanefan says, the magic has become very plentiful, common and reliable. Which a least to me makes it feel less "magical," and that's not ideal.
Worse, it's not even done it in an interesting way.

Compare the "common" magic of D&D to the the properly-integrated common magic of Earthdawn, and whilst magic is as or more common in Earthdawn, it's hugely more interesting too.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
For a low magic game, I highly recommend warhammer frpg (2nd ed). It had 3 features that made magic "feel right" for a low magic setting:

1: There were not a lot of "dabblers" - half casters, 1/3 casters, feats that give a spell... no. If you knew magic, you were a caster. It was the norm to have one spellcaster in the group if any.

2: Magic was powerful but not guaranteed to work nor was it safe. Magic was not used casually. In other system, magic costs life (HP etc). Again, Magic is not used casually.

3: Casters were focused. A big problem IMO with casters in 5e is they can have a HUGE array of tools to fix problems (cleric, druids and wizards in particular). But a "proper" caster in a low magic game may know only a handful of spells. You couldn't do everything.

So if you wanted that in 5e... no feats that give spells, no magic using subclasses, and limit magic users to warlocks only.
 
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overgeeked

B/X Known World
The problem is the bad assumption that these spells have functioned exactly the same in every edition which is clearly false. 5E goodberry breaks 5E. 5E tiny hut breaks 5E. The earlier versions did not because they were better designed and better balanced. The problem isn’t that a spell called goodberry or tiny hut exists. The problem is the mechanics.
 




cbwjm

Legend
I tend to change tiny hut and good berry, tiny hut I use the 2e version and for good berry, I have it consume the material component.

I'd say that the most important aspect of 5e feeling high magic are the cantrips (which I love) because it means magic can always be cast by spellcasters, even if it is small magic. Magical Items tend to be more limited in 5e, due mostly to attunement, so people don't light up when someone casts detect magic. The ability to have a number of spells prepared without worrying about potentially wasting a spell slot in sure also helps in feeling like high magic.

Otherwise, dnd has always had an equal or greater number of spellcasters to non-spellcasters, even if some of those spellcasters wouldn't get their spells until 8th or 9th level.
 

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