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General What do do when a setting doesn't have magic?

You can run most any flavor of D&D sans magic. It's going to change around the dynamics of the game. Anyone running such a game needs to carefully consider which monsters and abilities are used. Healing will be hugely reduced, so the game would most likely need to have most of the "resource depletion" encounters removed, and focus on a smaller number of more focused, storyline important encounters. Probably need to change around advancement as a result.

Because there won't be any "magic items", treasure will become far less important. This will also mess with various "CR" systems for balancing encounters.

I think it can be done, but to be a successful game it's going to take some thinking on the part of the GM.

Personally, for such a game I'd skip any flavor of D&D and opt for something like Mythras.
Of all editions of D&D however, 5e is the least affected by lack of magical healing. So there’s that...
 

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You can run most any flavor of D&D sans magic.

No, I think the game falls apart with zero magic. In PHB 5e with zero magic, you're left with:

Barbarian (Berserker)
Fighter (Champion, Battlemaster)
Rogue (Assassin, Thief)

Literally every other class or subclass has magic. Monk gets Ki Empowered Strikes. Everything else literally gets spellcasting in some manner.
 

ART!

Adventurer
5e D&D functions really well with all spellcasting classes and subclasses removed. It can appear less satisfying because it leaves more than half the classes and a whole section of the book out of the game, but the game would be sound and the characters would perform as intended (I'd expect that in a no-magic world, the threat of demons, golems, and enemy spellcasters wouldn't be as present as in a regular game).

So while 2/3 of the pages would be removed, the system itself wouldn't be amputated of essential components. One could take the SRD, remove everything magical, and be left with a perfectly playable RPG. It's just that D&D fans would be missing a lot of things.

You can go a long way in refluffing many magical spells and abilities as mundane, and you can go even further if you are willing to tweak things a bit

...throw out the full casters and try some reskinning on the others' spells. Here's an example, probably inspired by Aragorn and his Big Adventure:

2nd Level Ranger SpellsReskinned
Animal MessengerAnimal somehow understands you, and you attach a note to its collar
BarkskinAny number of reasons to become less hit-able
Darkvision"Ignore" other senses to gain more vision
Find TrapsRangerly intuition
Lesser RestorationHerbs. Good ones.
Locate AnimalsRangerly intuition
Locate ObjectRangerly intuition
Pass without TraceMad skills
Protection from Poison"Old shaman prayer" said to be protective
SilenceSpecial stomp that upsets eardums
Spike GrowthWhisper to the plants...plants are natural, right?

Yeah, this is totally do-able, and with very little work really. Think of "magical" abilities - and some-to-all spells - not in terms of their description or how we usually think of them, but rather in terms of their effects. Heck, even a Wish spell could be thought of as just getting really lucky.

And if there's no magical creatures, there's a lot of spells or magical abilities that you can just ignore, like Turn Undead or Summon Lesser Demon.

Given that, at lower tiers even the spellcasting classes become viable.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
No, I think the game falls apart with zero magic. In PHB 5e with zero magic, you're left with:

Barbarian (Berserker)
Fighter (Champion, Battlemaster)
Rogue (Assassin, Thief)

Literally every other class or subclass has magic. Monk gets Ki Empowered Strikes. Everything else literally gets spellcasting in some manner.

I would totally disagree that this indicates the game is falling apart. D&D plays just fine even if you're only using a subset of its full range.
 

Asisreo

Archdevil's Advocate
Oooh, I love having D&D fit in odd settings.

Now, I have no clue how to have a balanced D&D game where there's no magic existing. However, I can think of a couple of ways that I can have a no-magic setting where the players and the setting is abruptly introduced to magic.

Something like the medieval era but one day, mystical beasts actually appear and the smart scholar has found a way to manipulate magic as a wizard while the meek peasant was touched by a demonic presence and given pact magic. Stuff like that.

In this world, magic is new and nothing is really built around it but it doesn't restrict the creative design of adventures as much as a straight "Magic never has and never will exist" setting.

If I was going for that, I would definitely go with a separate system. However, I love magic in all systems so such a campaign likely wouldn't happen for me.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
For items, Green Ronin had some rules I thought were nice for Masterwork items in d20/3.5 (I saw it in their Black Company rule book, but assume it shows up elsewhere). It looks like folks have done similar for 5e.

Basically non-magical craftsmanship can give the weapons, armor, or equipment up to 6 benefit bonuses and they include things like bonus to hit (+1 to +3) , bonus to initiative (+1 to +3), bonus on concealmant rolls (+4 to +12), critical threat range, protection against sneak attacks and criticals, encumberence, helping on skill rolls, etc...
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
People can do all of that.

D&D player characters become more and more saddled by the focuses of their classes as they level.

It works fine at low level vs appropriate obstacles. When you get higher up, you can slowly morph into a hammer if your DM doesn't keep threats under you.

Replace orcs with bugbears. Ogres. trolls. hill giants...
 

Wasteland Knight

Adventurer
No, I think the game falls apart with zero magic. In PHB 5e with zero magic, you're left with:

Barbarian (Berserker)
Fighter (Champion, Battlemaster)
Rogue (Assassin, Thief)

Literally every other class or subclass has magic. Monk gets Ki Empowered Strikes. Everything else literally gets spellcasting in some manner.

You can still run a game. Mechanically some characters will probably be similar. But a party can be built and a game can be run.

Is it a great design choice to choose D&D for a no magic game? No, I don't think it is. As I mentioned earlier, for an absolutely no magic game, I would reach for a different ruleset.
 

Wasteland Knight

Adventurer
Play in a system better suited for it.

This is really my take on it. While a creative GM can shoehorn just about any system to "work", I'm a firm believer that not every system is suited to every type of game or style of play. And I think it's good practice to put yourself in the best spot to succeed by picking a ruleset that is a good fit for the game you intent to run.
 


DMMike

Guide of Modos
Now, I have no clue how to have a balanced D&D game where there's no magic existing. However, I can think of a couple of ways that I can have a no-magic setting where the players and the setting is abruptly introduced to magic.
Easy. Generic character classes. Each character gets d8 hit dice, 4 tool, 2 armor, and 4 skill proficiencies. Weapons are included in tools, saves are included in skills. A little Expertise wouldn't hurt.

When and if there are any monsters around with magic-like abilities, you'd best start using science against them. Oil bombs, gunpowder, engineering (catapults), acids (eye-irritation is a thing)...the bards could use a soft science. Talk about the monsters' mothers.

Also, tactics. I guess I'm mentioning this second because it applies to games with or without magic. Oddly, magic use seems to be preferred over tactics, which is unfortunate.

"Magic never has and never will exist" setting. . . If I was going for that, I would definitely go with a separate system. However, I love magic in all systems so such a campaign likely wouldn't happen for me.
We might have scared our OP away with the "don't play D&D" ideas . . . in the D&D forum :poop:

Edited for do do
 

This is really my take on it. While a creative GM can shoehorn just about any system to "work", I'm a firm believer that not every system is suited to every type of game or style of play. And I think it's good practice to put yourself in the best spot to succeed by picking a ruleset that is a good fit for the game you intent to run.
Agreed

In this particular case however, the DM doesn't need to shoehorn anything because shoes aren't necessary. The DM can simply leave their shoes behind and go barefoot. But dubious pedal analogies aside, a DM doesn't need to modify the rules at all to make 5e a suitable system for no-magic-D&D. All it needs is the removal of magical elements. Like a jedi-free Star Wars game. As a matter of fact, magic-free 5e D&D is still a more comprehensible and mechanically-rich engine than many RPGs.

That doesn't make your argument (that other systems can be better suited) any less valid however.
 
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I would totally disagree that this indicates the game is falling apart. D&D plays just fine even if you're only using a subset of its full range.

The game functions, but a game has to do more than just function. It needs to represent the range of characters that players can imagine in the setting. You're not limited because those are the characters of choice that your players are interested in. You're limited because that is the range of mechanics that exist for PCs. IMO, restricting all possible characters to a subset of Barbarian, Fighter, and Rogue means the game is not fit for purpose.

Compare it to d20 Modern (it's d20 Past, really, but that's a supplement for that system). It's a class-based game that supports no magic (spellcasting classes are all prestige classes). In that game, you have these base classes: Charismatic, Dedicated, Fast, Smart, Strong, and Tough. One class for each attribute, with different class features for each class. Fighter, Rogue, and Barbarian gets you Fast, Strong, and Tough. And that's essentially it. All your class features make you Faster, Stronger, or Tougher regardless of what your attributes are. Doing this means your players can't pick Charismatic, Dedicated, or Smart, even if they want to. And if they try, well, they end up as a Rogue with high Cha or a Fighter with high Int. You'll be better at what you picked, but all your features still make you Faster, Stronger and Tougher. That provides a very limited range of characters for your game. It's so narrow that I wouldn't describe it as a complete game.

And that's before we start getting to what NPCs and monsters you'd have to cut out if they also have no magic, or how skills and backgrounds are affected.
 

ART!

Adventurer
The game functions, but a game has to do more than just function. It needs to represent the range of characters that players can imagine in the setting. You're not limited because those are the characters of choice that your players are interested in. You're limited because that is the range of mechanics that exist for PCs. IMO, restricting all possible characters to a subset of Barbarian, Fighter, and Rogue means the game is not fit for purpose.

I get where you're coming from, but at least a few posters here have pointed out that you don't have to limit this to barbarians, fighters and rogues. If was going to be literal about this, I wouldn't allow barbarians because at high levels they can fly.

My argument is to allow all or most of the classes but re-skin things. No mechancial changes required, just re-thinking what the effects of this magical ability or that spell could represent in a zero-magic world.
 

Stormonu

Legend
2E had the Historical series, with some interesting ways of handling D&D from no magic, low magic or even fantastical. It can be done, but some classes/abilities need to be altered or removed. As others have said it'd probably be easier to use another system entirely that's better suited to a "mundane" world.

For no/limited magic

Bard - no/limited spells, inspire ability has a mundane influence.
Barbarian - Beserker subclass doesn't need changes, Totem and Storm wouldn't be usable
Cleric - no/limited spells or channeling, everything else mostly stays
Druid - no/limited spells or shapechange
Fighter - no Eldritch knight, everything else unaffected
Monk - remove class or change abilities to be mundane tricks; no Elemental subclass
Paladin - no/limited spells, most other abilities stay but have a mundane source
Ranger - no spells, most other abilities stay
Rogue - no Arcane Trickster subclass, most other abilities stay
Sorcerer - remove class
Warlock - remove class
Wizard - remove class or limit to Illusionist and 3rd level or less spells (see below)

Spells - If allowed, I'd say no spells above 3rd level, limited to healing, enchantments and possibly illusions. Enchantments would be similar in manner to the bard's Inspire ability, using charisma and faith in one's self to gain an actual benefit - so things like True Strike, Bless, Bane, Curse, Enhance Ability and the like might work, just because the individual gains an extraordinary confidence in their own abilities (or lack of such).
 

Halloween Horror For 5E

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