D&D General Vote Up A 5e-alike, Part 1: Tone -- Gritty/Low Magic

How do we want to do gritty/low magic?

  • Poll closed .


@mamba talked about specifying the tone of the game and mentioned gritty/low magic and superhero-level characters. I have to say, it's easier for me to think of options for a low-magic game than it is for a high-powered game, so this poll will focus on that. If you guys have questions to set the tone for a high-powered game, let me know.

I will compile the answers and put them in a post and in a google doc. For now, feel free to discuss away. I'll check back after game tonight.

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A suffusion of yellow
Warlock, Witch, Scorcerer, Druid, Priest, Bard

All spells are rituals that need a skill check and come from supernatural entities
Primary monsters are Humanoid, Fey/Spirits (including ghost) and Monstrous Beasts.
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We ran for a while with only martials and casting up to half caster equivilent (multiclassing with a full caster to achieve that was fine).

I feel that mundane enemies works best for a gritty setting, to make the rarer supernatural enemies really feel special and stand out.

Tony Vargas

I'd tried to run low-magic games back in the TSR era, they make playing casters much more attractive. It's downright self-defeating. Thus, I'd say don't offer casters as PC options, at all. 5e, of course, you'll have to adjust things to make that work.


Victoria Rules
"Other" all over the place. Even the options I voted for come with qualifiers. :)

"All caster classes allowed but reduced number of spells" - full caster classes yes but drop a few half-casters, to the point where it's pretty much just Rangers (maybe) and Paladins as the half-casters. Also, instead of reduced number of spells (available) I'd go for reduced number of spells (castable in a day) and no at-wills of any kind.

"Spells require roll to cast properly with potentially dire consequences if miscast" - a spell cast under no duress shouldn't require a roll, and in many cases it shouldn't be possible to cast a spell at all while under duress e.g. in melee or while being jostled etc. The potentially dire consequences: an interrupted spell can (but doesn't always) cause a wild magic surge, with possible results limited only by how big a table you're willing to design/roll on for effects. And while the consequences of a WMS can be dire, they can also be highly beneficial...or, most of the time, simply amusing or inconsequential.

Oh, and area-effect spells should always require the caster to roll for aim, usually a fairly easy roll but if the spell doesn't go where you wanted you could easily hit your allies...or miss everything.

More broadly, magic becomes the high-risk high-reward limited-use option.

"Other" - there's no need to soft-limit the types of monsters encountered by labelling something as 'primary'; in fact I'd go the other way and enxourage DMs to mix up the monsters over the course of the campaign.

"Other" - implement a wounds-vitality or body-fatigue hit point system and make wound/body points much more difficult to recover or cure than vitality/fatigue points.

"Other" - find some way (and this would be new to D&D) of making it so a character at 1 hit point isn't as fully-functional as a character at half h.p. or at full h.p. The 4e 'bloodied' mechanic can be a starting point here, but with more gradations e.g. half h.p., 1/4 h.p., and 1/10 h.p. Intent: ultimately (and ideally) to make losing the first few hit points just as important as losing the last few.

Howzat for a start? :)


One day, I hope to actually play DnD.
reduced classes-fighter, rogue, monk, barbarian, ranger, paladin, artificer, sorcerer. (bard-halfcaster)
roll to not miscast-3rd level or higher spells need a nature/religion/arcana roll to not fizzle out uselessly (sorcerers get a special metamagic for free that lets them bypass this check by spending 2 sorcery points)
lower hitpoints
harder/slower healing
natural and 'natural supernatural' monsters
reduced species-remove anything more explicitly supernatural like elves, tieflings and gnomes

edit: after reading mamba's comment after this i think you could probably add bard to the class list too if you put it's spellslot progression on the halfcaster track, also yeah, some spells really need to be removed from play for the proper lowmagic experience.
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I started brainstorming on what changes I want in the other thread. I settled on reducing the number of spell slots by dropping all casters down to half-casters (I might bring some subclasses up from that a bit, but the baselines are the abandoned 2024 Warlock and Paladin spell progressions). This also means all magic comes from gods / patrons, there is no innate magic like Wizard or Sorcerer, that was intentional too.

On top of that, spells, just like attacks, will need a roll to succeed. Still working that out but there will be critical failure (something really bad happens), strong failure (something bad happens), light failure (nothing / reduced effect happens), success (the expected outcome happens), and strong success (better than expected outcome in some way).

Finally, martials will be buffed somewhat and specific spells nerfed / removed.


I'm the Straw Man in your argument
Roll 3d6 down the line for stats
Roll for hit points
Roll for spell selection.

Caster Classes Warlock, druid, and Cleric


Many of these seem more like setting-specific elements than balancing mechanics to me. Overall I don't think 5e is really set up to do grim and gritty or low magic well; except maybe at low level. If I HAD to do it, I'd say
  • Limit magic to 3rd level or lower. Unfortunately to keep the classes balanced and yet still convey a sense of personal improvement, you should also probably consider
  • Level Dilation - Make level increases slower, and maybe subdivide the steps. Maybe you increase skills one at a time instead of adding a proficiency bonus. And after so many increases you add other level improvement bonuses. Or have to spend xp to increase everything separately. Or maybe you just progress veeeeeerrrrrrryyyyyy sssssllllllooooowwwwly.

Just my 2 cp

Voidrunner's Codex

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