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

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
I love 2e! But my players (and the vast majority of the TTRPG community) play 5e, so...
Does it make you enjoy 5e more to not only constantly disparage and complain about it, but to always assume the most cynical of reasons for WotC to make the design decisions they do (which you then pass off as established fact)?

I guess if it enriches your experience, go for it.
 

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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
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. :)
This. I've taken to handing out magic items rarely, but making them more powerful. As a result, players are actually looking forward to and excited to find them again.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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").
Also Katherine Kurtz; and the psionic-like powers some people have in her books often still take some time to pull off, thus making them in some ways similar to 5e rituals or spells in other editions with long casting times.
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.
Agreed. Spells resolve at the caster end far too reliably, even if the target manages to ignore the effect somehow.

I don't like the idea of a skill check but I very much support the idea of casting always taking time, even in combat, and being much easier to interrupt. Further, I don't like the idea that ranged spells always go exactly where the caster wants; and much prefer there be some sort of aiming roll (on which it's possible to fumble!).

Powerful magic is fine, but there should be risks attached. :)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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.
I usually don't count those, as most play stopped around that level anyway; and even if it continued, the casting powers of those high level characters (Rangers, Paladins) was miniscule compared to what else they could do.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Because 3rd Edition power spike magic and their abilities so high to the point it makes the game less fun in comparison.

The right idea is reel it back to 2E maybe B/X level, with some modern QoL(Like cantrips, and non-vancian.)
The funny thing is that a significant portion of the power-up that spellcasters got in Third Edition was due to the limits from AD&D 1st/2nd Edition being removed or seriously scaled back. Why did the designers do that? Because there was a large amount of feedback saying that those limits weren't fun, and so were routinely ignored in play. The end result was the "caster edition" of D&D.

I think the takeaway here is that while playtesting and consumer feedback are important, they're no substitute for good design on the part of the developers.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
This. I've taken to handing out magic items rarely, but making them more powerful. As a result, players are actually looking forward to and excited to find them again.
Question: have you done anything to rein in or remove "pew-pew" casting, and-or to make casting less reliable?

IMO those are both bigger "offenders" here than are magic items.
 


Eric V

Hero
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.First,

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...
First, I will echo @doctorbadwolf's suggestion of AiME (though that might be a tad hard to find these days...)

Second: I felt similarly to what you wrote above and I concluded that, at least in part, it's because it doesn't resemble magic in any movie or book I have ever seen/read. As such, it just feels off, somehow. My particular beef is shared spell lists, so I had just multiple castings of hold person, counterspell, banishment, etc. every game (literally), and that felt awkward. There also seems to be a weird thing where magical items are called out as optional, but then a sizable part of the DMG is devoted to them. Having said that, none of them felt particularly interesting, or unique. Could be because I (and maybe you) have been playing D&D specifically for a while and seeing the same items/spells over and over again has made it feel more mundane.

5e rules also just seem to be more open to a non-magic game* than almost any previous edition; maybe you saw that on some level and it piqued your curiosity?

*One would have to eliminate virtually all but 2 classes, but the resulting mechanics would be interesting on some level. For example, a monster with resistance to non-magical damage becomes quite fearsome.
 


DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
While I agree with much (not all ;) ) of what has been said in response to my OP, particularly...
  • Increasing the power of some spells while nerfing other spells.
  • The commonality of spellcasting via classes/subclasses/feats/features.
  • The ease and success of spellcasting in general.
  • The lack of integrating spellcasting with common media/tropes.
...I feel like it is more than that.

Perhaps it is just that I am getting older...
It's caused by getting older. I mean, Harry Potter was aimed at young adults for a reason.
But not Harry Potter. Love HP and I am finishing reading Prisoner of Azkaban (not my favorite one) for the 4th time (as I go through the series again). I have watched the movies even more. ;)

You make a lot of threads which basically say you want to play 2E. I'd suggest you play 2E rather than complaining about 5E constantly.
Interesting. I say a lot about house-ruling 5E to make it like something that appeals to me more, but I really like 5E in many ways and have said so numerous times. I've posted several threads about helping balance out martials vs. casters as well. I also recently started the thread on playing 5E without house-rules or homebrew.

So, since I don't recognize your handle, or ever recall you commenting on my posts in the past, I am not sure what really prompts you to say this.

The funny thing is that a significant portion of the power-up that spellcasters got in Third Edition was due to the limits from AD&D 1st/2nd Edition being removed or seriously scaled back. Why did the designers do that? Because there was a large amount of feedback saying that those limits weren't fun, and so were routinely ignored in play. The end result was the "caster edition" of D&D.

I think the takeaway here is that while playtesting and consumer feedback are important, they're no substitute for good design on the part of the developers.
I really don't know what WotC did as far as this goes when it comes to creating 3E, but the feedback they got would not represent myself or any player I ever played with. (To be clear, I am not saying people might not have felt that way, just something I personally had never seen.)

First, I will echo @doctorbadwolf's suggestion of AiME (though that might be a tad hard to find these days...)
I have it (most of it anyway) and I like some elements of it as well, but I've never felt it feels "right" for me, either. Perhaps I'll take another look...

on distinction to make on this thread: are we talking about low magic setting or again on nerf casters matter?
Preferably neither! :) I really don't want, nor did I intend this to become:

1. Low magic setting discussion
2. Nerfing caster discussion
3. Edition "war/comparison" discussion
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
It's caused by getting older. I mean, Harry Potter was aimed at young adults for a reason.
I’d disagree. I’ve always played D&D as low-powered, low-magic since I was a kid. I’ve played that way for almost 40 years now. To me, that’s just D&D. High-powered, high-magic is fine. It’s just not D&D to me. Harry Potter is neat but it’s not D&D.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
But not Harry Potter. Love HP and I am finishing reading Prisoner of Azkaban (not my favorite one) for the 4th time (as I go through the series again). I have watched the movies even more. ;)
Harry Potter is a good example here in a few ways. Yes the magic is IMO mostly too fast-paced for D&D, but in the heat of combat they still have to aim their spells and can (and often do) miss; and D&D could do with a lot more of this. There also seems to be no real limit on how many spells a caster can do - or try - in a day, which while balanced when everyone works that way isn't at all balanced in a level-based system that's also trying to make and keep martials playable.

But Potter is not a good blueprint to follow for setting design in one very big other way: it's papered over in the books/movies but when looked at the least bit closely the power gap between muggles and even the most hopeless witches-wizards is simply far too great to be sustainable in a realistic setting.
 

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
I like the idea of a low magic campaign, like a LOTR campaign, and I would play in such a campaign.

But not as a permanent thing. Ultimately I love magic in D&D, I am drawn to playing wizards, bards, druids, and clerics. I like that the setting is so meaningfully different from the real world, because of magic.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
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.
The point of death being so much closer to breathing down the necks of PCs rather than being changed up in a locked cage in the back room of another locked building with a lock on the building isn't so much the actual PCs getting killed. I've had more 5e PCs fall to monsters than 2e/3.x/pf PCs but in almost every case the 5e PC was suicidally played or just straight up executed with the player shocked it was even on the table. In 2e/3.x/pf though the PCs knew that life was fragile & acted with a sense of self preservation.
 

cbwjm

Legend
I usually don't count those, as most play stopped around that level anyway; and even if it continued, the casting powers of those high level characters (Rangers, Paladins) was miniscule compared to what else they could do.
I know a lot of people don't count them, but they still always had spellcasting which is why they've evolved into the half-casters we have now, they just slowly gained more spellpower, developing from their earlier incarnations.
 

So a way to satisfy magic feeling, may be to emphasis on describing spell effects,
describing the use of material, somatic, verbal component, and making magic using less mechanical.

Magic feeling is in some way allergic to rule, methodical and repetitive application.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
I like that the setting is so meaningfully different from the real world, because of magic.
See this is a pivotal issue for me.

When I played before (I stopped when I was 35 for a while), my games were magical in many ways. I had magical locations, powerful magical items, as well as high-level casters (all this was in AD&D 1E/2E), magic-based storylines, etc.

But, for some reason, now--playing 5E--I seem to want games which are "low magic", less magic items, weaker casters, more mundane. It isn't just about the PCs, classes, spells, magic items--it is about the setting as well.

Why do I desire a less magical setting/game in 5E when I was very happy having a high magic (near Monty Haul (?) sometimes) setting/game in B/X and AD&D for over 25 years?
 


J.Quondam

CR 1/8
Why do I desire a less magical setting/game in 5E when I was very happy having a high magic (near Monty Haul (?) sometimes) setting/game in B/X and AD&D for over 25 years?
Does there have to be a reason? Tastes change over time.
Personally, I've gone the other direction, preferring low-magic settings, and even humans-only settings. But of late, i've found myself more interested in gonzo. I don't think there's any particular reason, except maybe to just scratch an itch that hasn't been scratched much.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
In the past Magic was Magical but these days its so ubiquitous that its become a mundane tool - especially with stupid spells that are just skill replacements (hunters mark)

I also think that as rl tech allows us to do more stuff our minds get less impressed by magic - sending a message or creating an illusion are basic tasks now.

but yeah personally, Im currently more interested in Historic fiction than I am in Fantasy genre, although supernatural and fantastic elements are appreciated
 
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