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

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
The first couple levels were usually very low magic, particularly in 1e where an MU would get random starting spells so they could not even count on a 1/day sleep nuke or B/X where clerics had zero spells at 1st level. But magical options did improve, particularly after looting some dungeons and NPC's gear and gaining some levels.
I called getting "sleep" winning the spell lotto (now that I have amnesia its a win in real life LOL) ... and you might start as the party bazooka/nuke and go up or start darn ineffectual depending on that lotto. Martial types were highly dependent on the DM providing magic items particularly later but early on too... however there was a relatively common theme among DMs who weren't using the premaid adventures to have a lot fewer magic items (calling it a low magic game world), but this often had little impact on the number of spells found (it made sense to give caster adversaries books and scrolls, so getting exactly the spells you want started happening). The experience was not only affected by random chance but the DMs hand.
 

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Micah Sweet

Legend
From my perspective everything has come about because the focus of D&D 5E has changed dramatically from where it was 40 years ago:

Story over game.

Why do people think Tiny Hut breaks "the game"? Because people want to use 5E as the same game they did 40 years ago, where you have resources you have to manage in order to survive long enough to get to where you are going to win your prize (treasure, gold, whatever.) But 5E doesn't care about that "game" all that much. What is truly important is the Story-- where are the PCs going and what are they questing to do and who are they going to meet to accomplish what task? And what slows down that story? Meaningless fights and "random encounters" in the middle of the night by packs of wolves that serve no purpose because resource management is no longer a part of the game. Tiny Hut just allows us to just skip over that unnecessary speedbump that used to be all the rage 40 years ago, but is now a waste of time because it has nothing to do with the story everyone at the table is telling. Where we are go after we wake up is what matters-- rando fights against nameless creatures whose results will be completely wiped away after everyone wakes anyway, isn't.

Darkvision is the same thing-- a way to skip an endlessly repetitive set of "monsters surprise you from the darkness!" attacks because now you can see them more often than not. Isn't that always the clarion call of DMs who complain about the proliferation of Darkvision? That they can't surprise their players anymore? Well from the perspective of Story... the question would be asked "Why are you so desperate to attack your PCs from hiding all the time? Is there a Story reason to do so?" If there was a Story reason to do so... if the narrative of the adventure the party was on was for this to happen... then the DM can add in all manner of special magic / events /rules which could screw up, reduce, or even eliminate the effectiveness of Darkvision this one time in order to emphasize this part of the Story. But that's a special case for this Story-- not something that would be done all the time. And 5E is telling us that if surprising the PCs with hidden monsters doesn't matter as they are traveling through X corridor heading toward the next point in their adventure... then having so many monsters with Darkvision is just pointing that fact out.

And how about the Ranger's ability that specifically prevents the party from "getting lost"? That's there because there are only so many times you can run the "Whoops! You got turned around! Gotta find your way back!" trope before it again just becomes a meaningless speedbump that slows forward progress of the Story of finding the troll warren because they have villagers that are going to die if they aren't rescued.

I know this rubs a lot of past edition players the wrong way... especially those DMs who say "story" comes out of what the PCs do through random excursions and wanderings across an open map, and not an adventure path throughline that the DM has running in the background and which the players will pick up on and probably engage with to campaign completion. But I don't believe that is what 5E is. Here's my honest belief: 5E is not a game built for sandbox play.

It isn't designed to have a handful of characters just going out with a pack of supplies that have to keep track of on "adventures", trying to survive in the wilds, fighting monsters, and looking for treasure. That's a game style of older editions. It's not for 5E. And we can just go down the line of every class feature and spell that does its level best to erase a facet of AD&D "survival game" play. And yet because 5E is the Game Du Jour... people try to use it that way and get constantly annoyed that it doesn't really work to their satisfaction (without a heavy dose of modification.)

But for the rest of us... mostly probably newer players and occasionally older schmucks like me who actually prefer Story-based play and couldn't give a rat's ass about "random encounter tables" or having to detour from the adventure for three days to go look for fresh water because our "waterskins are running low"... having Adventure Path campaigns and an emphasis on Narrative over Game makes 5E our preferred edition. And in that regard... whether you have magic or not doesn't really matter because you can't use magic to skip the Story. The Story takes the availability of magic into account.
That is...exactly what the problem is. I don't want to play the game that 5e wants me to play, but everyone still wants to play 5e so I have to make it work. As both a player and a DM I find myself constantly irritated at player power, and it's all because "Story" trumps all now.

Unfortunately, knowing that doesn't lead to a course of action. I'm not going to get my players to play 2nd ed or ACKS. All I can do is try to make Level Up (my favorite version of 5e) into more of a game I enjoy.

I still wish WotC were more upfront on their design goals for 5e, but I suppose it's all there between the lines.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
That’s an interesting take.

IMO, darkness and hunger are, or at least should/can be, part of the story. Imagine the fellowship of the ring going through Moria with darkvision and goodberries. Booooring.

Now, maybe that’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but 5e’s solution to make it optional also kind of removes it. Tables that didn’t like those aspects could have just used plentiful glowing moss that tastes good.
It's just the default. When my friend ran his desert campaign (which was survival oriented), he went through and removed spells that didn't fit his campaign (goodberry, create water, etc). And we played a fun campaign that went at least to 13th level, maybe higher (although the survival aspect was a bit tedious at times).

You have to have some kind of a default after all. While I realize that old-school gamers would likely prefer a more old-school default, IMO this was the better design choice WRT the game's popularity.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
You would have fighters, rogues, barbarians and monks. You could make a pretty cool party out of that.
5e technically monks are magic users right? I like how Level Up really made the martial artist, ummm martial and using the same resource as other martials aka exertions (they made a parent class called Adept and Warrior Monk as an archetype).
 

Cruentus

Adventurer
Is it possible that magic seems less special in 5th edition because many of us here have been playing D&D for years? Spells like Fireball should be wondrous and terrifying, but after 5, 10, or 30 years seeing it in games, well, it kind of loses its impact.
I don't feel like that's the case for me, and I've been playing for 40+ years. For me, magic seems less special because in 5e everyone can cast some type of spell - between class/subclass/feat/race/background, etc. Everyone has magic, unless you decide specifically not to (i.e. Champion, and even then, they could Feat into it, or get a cantrip by being an elf, albeit, likely suboptimally).

In Ad&d, a Wizard could cast Fireball at 5th level, but only after getting 20,000xp and surviving with d4 Hit Dice (usually in a party of 5+), AND finding a fireball out in the wild (which usually means getting it dropped on you first).
In 5e, that same Wizard gets to 5th level after 6,500xp with d6 HD (usually in a party maxing 4 players), and PICKS 2 spells each level, so is guaranteed to get what they want.

That Ad&d Wizard has a total of 7 spells to cast, pre-memorized, no swapping out. That's it.
That 5e Wizard has 9 Leveled spells to cast, plus 4 Cantrips at will, that never run out, and can and Arcane Recovery to get a few back. And can prepare however many spells and use the ones that are most helpful. Then add in rituals, etc., and the capabilities go on up.

Just the wizard itself has become easier, more flexible, and IME, doesn't need to rely on party members as heavily as older games. That, plus the fact that anyone can cast spells or spell like abilities if they want to makes it feel like the odd game is the one with little to no magic, and every game is expected to have everyone throwing around spells. THAT gets boring to me (and this from someone who likes playing Wizards).

If Wizards had to roll "to hit" like every other class with all of their spells (or call it a casting roll, whatever), and then remove saves, I'd be better inclined. But as it stands, as has been mentioned, there is no danger to spells, very little chance to miss unless you're pew pewing cantrips all day, and aside from saves, which halve/remove damage and effects, that's the limiter.

Also, the fact there are 215 Wizard Spells alone in the PHB speaks volumes.
 

Story over game.

Why do people think Tiny Hut breaks "the game"?

Darkvision is the same thing-- a way to skip an endlessly repetitive set of "monsters surprise you from the darkness!" attacks because now you can see them more often than not.

And how about the Ranger's ability that specifically prevents the party from "getting lost"? That's there because there are only so many times you can run the "Whoops! You got turned around!
I get your point, but I still disagree. I consider myself a story DM, and oftentimes, these innovations do not serve the story.

LTH? A ranger relying on their woodcraft to select a safe spot to sleep and camouflaging it serves the story. The wizard not even spending a spell slot to pop up an indestructible tent does not.

Darkvision? The dwarf accustomed to dark passageways, snorting at his colleagues whose eyes do not adjust as his do, that’s a pretty good story. So is having the dwarf go first instead of the rogue because his darkvision makes him more likely to see traps. A party where everyone except the dragonborn can see in the dark is just not as interesting.

A wizard who focuses on abjuration spells and is a powerhouse with those, but weak with other magic makes a great story. Most of the wizards I see pull their spells from the most recent “10 most overpowered spells” video.

On more story-oriented games, high magic both tends to be a story breaker and distort how NPCs react. The king being assassinated is not a big deal when the court cleric can just cast an auto-success Revivify!
 
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Laurefindel

Legend
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?
Other than growing older and see our interests shift, id say it’s partially because a world full of magic and strange powers is no longer the novel idea of a wonderful setting (as in a setting full of wonders) as it used to be. Actually, a more grounded setting with characters being remarkable for succeeding despite having no or little access to super-human powers and magic is the new proposition in fantasy. I think it’s one of the reason the Mandalorean was that popular; the force and the Jedi/Sith were never far but the show wasn’t about that; it was about a bounty hunter remarkable and badass in its own ways but without wizarding mind tricks. He gets his share of « magic items » in the form of Beskar armor, spear, and darksaber, and baby-yoda is a powerful but one-spell-slot-wizard, but the story is still about a man that has to compete with the fantastic.

But part of 5e apparent superabundance of magic comes from the fact that spells seems to be the power metric of this edition, and that in many cases, what could have been written down as an ability has been implemented as a spell instead. There is also little in ways of reward other than (blatantly) magical items an treasure. The One Ring RPG introduced rewards and virtues, special items and abilities that may or may not be magical but are special in some personal and mechanical ways. In The Mandalorean, the armor, the spear, and the overtuned N1 fighter (perhaps even his disintegration riffle) would have been rewards, leaving the darksaber as the only « magical treasure ».

[edit] some necessary autocorrect corrections…
 
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5e technically monks are magic users right? I like how Level Up really made the martial artist, ummm martial and using the same resource as other martials aka exertions (they made a parent class called Adept and Warrior Monk as an archetype).
They are using extraordinary abilities, but so are barbarians, fighters and rogues. That doesn’t make them magic-users.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
That’s an interesting take.
Totally agree.
IMO, darkness and hunger are, or at least should/can be, part of the story. Imagine the fellowship of the ring going through Moria with darkvision and goodberries. Booooring.
I would argue that it would have made little difference since there are very few mentions of meals or supplies between Rivendell and Lothlorien.
Food and water are an issue brought up often once Sam and Frodo break off and head to Mordor. But food and supplies only come up in fiction when it matters like going to the toilet only comes up when it matters.
Now, maybe that’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but 5e’s solution to make it optional also kind of removes it. Tables that didn’t like those aspects could have just used plentiful glowing moss that tastes good.
Yes but the 5e method for removing the resource management aspect of the game uses the original in game methods for removal or resource management. Goodberry, Tiny Hut, Magnificent Mansion are all old spells. Some of these spells are as old as the game.
 

Yeah you had to earn magic back then, with 5e its everywhere. I guess in the rapid modern world getting stuff now is what younglings want / need.
I'm not sure trying to de-magic 5e would work. Despite being a fan of 5th, 1st, basic, TOR, MERP and Decipher LOTR......something just didn't work for me with AIME. The books had excellent re-sale value though so wasn't that much of a waste!

Luckily there 1000 rpgs out there, and suited to all styles of play, including low/gritty magic
 

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
It's just the default. When my friend ran his desert campaign (which was survival oriented), he went through and removed spells that didn't fit his campaign (goodberry, create water, etc). And we played a fun campaign that went at least to 13th level, maybe higher (although the survival aspect was a bit tedious at times).

You have to have some kind of a default after all. While I realize that old-school gamers would likely prefer a more old-school default, IMO this was the better design choice WRT the game's popularity.

I think the problem with that approach is that there’s no official guidance to back up DM fiat here. If you remove those spells you look like a mean DM. In my group that would be ok; I think reactions would range from “that sounds like fun” to private grumbling. But the impression I get on this forum is that at many tables that would lead to arguments and resentment.

If there were official guidance on what classes/subclasses/spells/rules to include or exclude based on setting, the DM could say, “We are going to play (setting type); use the standard list to see what options are allowed”. I for one would find that useful.
 


Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
I don't feel like that's the case for me, and I've been playing for 40+ years. For me, magic seems less special because in 5e everyone can cast some type of spell - between class/subclass/feat/race/background, etc. Everyone has magic, unless you decide specifically not to (i.e. Champion, and even then, they could Feat into it, or get a cantrip by being an elf, albeit, likely suboptimally).
I think the ubiquitous multi-classing does not help on that score either.

4e started with as many martial classes as casting ones including the ranger without magic. ... Pure martial further received a ton of support in a very short time in books like Martial Power I and II. Although you very much could invest them with magic via a background or feats and later a theme, however it felt a lot less easy
 

Laurefindel

Legend
It's just the default. When my friend ran his desert campaign (which was survival oriented), he went through and removed spells that didn't fit his campaign (goodberry, create water, etc). And we played a fun campaign that went at least to 13th level, maybe higher (although the survival aspect was a bit tedious at times).

You have to have some kind of a default after all. While I realize that old-school gamers would likely prefer a more old-school default, IMO this was the better design choice WRT the game's popularity.
This

D&D (apparently) aims to offer a complete array of propositions with a multitude of options making all kinds of different campaigns possible. All mixed together, it leads to a kitchen-sink world where all options are possible at once, but I do not think this is how it has to be. An immense step toward a low-magic or a more grounded setting can be achieved by selecting which options, out of all things proposed by D&D, will be used in the game.

As with all things this is an all-player decision, otherwise you get into the « how dare you BAN things that D&D allows me to do by RIGHT! »
 
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Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
If there were official guidance on what classes/subclasses/spells/rules to include or exclude based on setting, the DM could say, “We are going to play (setting type); use the standard list to see what options are allowed”. I for one would find that useful.
Then when the DM said we are going to use my custom setting that is sort of like that one its not a huge jump... I kind of like that idea
 


Micah Sweet

Legend
I get your point, but I still disagree. I consider myself a story DM, and oftentimes, these innovations do not serve the story.

LTH? A ranger relying on their woodcraft to select a safe spot to sleep and camouflaging it serves the story. The wizard not even spending a spell slot to pop up an indestructible tent does not.

Darkvision? The dwarf accustomed to dark passageways, snorting at his colleagues whose eyes do not adjust as his do, that’s a pretty good story. So is having the dwarf go first instead of the rogue because his darkvision makes him more likely to see traps. A party where everyone except the dragonborn can see in the dark is just not as interesting.

A wizard who focuses on abjuration spells and is a powerhouse with those, but weak with other magic makes a great story. Most of the wizards I see pull their spells from the most recent “10 most overpowered spells” video.

On more story-oriented games, high magic both tends to be a story breaker and distort how NPCs react. The king being assassinated is not a big deal when the court cleric can just cast an auto-success Revivify!
That's not the story they're trying to encourage. What it seems people want is, "the PCs run around kicking increasingly dangerous-looking butt".
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Oh so having balanced spell lists has a value....

Actually thinking about spell lists and how they impact play seems like a thing.

I remember trying to balance things some back in 2e when I made a suite of custom clerics for a campaign. Later, PF 1e had separate lists for all kinds of classes too, right? (Say for the Magus or others that we're limited by theme).
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
I think the problem with that approach is that there’s no official guidance to back up DM fiat here. If you remove those spells you look like a mean DM. In my group that would be ok; I think reactions would range from “that sounds like fun” to private grumbling. But the impression I get on this forum is that at many tables that would lead to arguments and resentment.

If there were official guidance on what classes/subclasses/spells/rules to include or exclude based on setting, the DM could say, “We are going to play (setting type); use the standard list to see what options are allowed”. I for one would find that useful.
I would say that this is more about a disconnect between what the DM thinks would be fun vs what the players think would be fun, than anything inherent to the system.

Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't be opposed to such advice. But I think the DMs having trouble selling their players on their survival house rules would have just as much trouble selling their players on the official survival mode option. (Assuming that they're mechanically alike.)
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
I would say that this is more about a disconnect between what the DM thinks would be fun vs what the players think would be fun, than anything inherent to the system.

Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't be opposed to such advice. But I think the DMs having trouble selling their players on their survival house rules would have just as much trouble selling their players on the official survival mode option. (Assuming that they're mechanically alike.)
It does seem like there are just not enough players out there who find limits of any kind fun, and so the issue will continue to snowball.
 

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