What is "grim and gritty" and "low magic" anyway?

Belegbeth

First Post
ManicFuel said:
I'll jump back in on this one.

  • Removing spells from the game tends to cause player revolt, so I limit spell availablity to magic schools. Finding the School of Fire and convincing the master to teach a few spells is an adventure.
  • Allow any spellcasting class, but require a feat (Magical Aptitude from 3.5 works well) and a tutor for class entry.
  • Make magic items count. No +1 anything or cure light wounds potions. If magic is rare, those few who can enchant items will create something special. +3 mithral plate, heal potions, +4 flaming scimitar, etc, are examples of the types of treasures I hand out.
  • Don't be shy about giving these items to PCs of a lower level than normal. It is the usually the only item of that type they will find!
  • Introduce low magic and grim and gritty seperately. When PCs can still "get hit 5 times with an axe" and live, it gives them some leeway when judging encounter strength. Learn the nuances of each side independently.
  • I second the use of humanoids as antagonists, especially under 3.x, where monsters can have class levels. This makes encounter balance simpler.
  • I also second the escape routes. Running from or talking your way out of an encounter should ALWAYS be an option.
  • General advice for every campaign style, but it bears repeating. In every adventure, present the each PC with opportunities to do what they do best, and with situations where they must try something they do not do well. These go well in tandem: Fighter must make successive Spot/Listen checks or be surprised by low level warriors. Let him sweat why he needs to make these skill checks, then cut him loose on a few thugs.

These suggestions are all excellent. :cool:

I ran a very exciting "low magic" campaign two years ago using many of these ideas. The key to doing this -- as pointed out in this post -- is not to nerf or fiddle too much with the mechanics themselves. Rather, the DM needs to use the features of his campaign world in order to encourage a "low magic" feel. Secretive 'colleges of magic,' or mysterious 'divine cults,' that are reluctant to impart their 'esoteric lore' without some kind of service is a great way to further good PC role-playing, exciting plots and adventures within the campaign, and a 'low magic' feel within the world as a whole (in which magic remains 'mysterious' and 'dangerous').

Requiring pure spellcasters (wizards, clerics, etc.) to take a few levels in another class before being 'introduced' to the ways of magic maintains game balance, since the game rules accommodate multi-class characters.

The only mechanical change I introduced in my game was to treat all spell-casting as a full-round action.
 

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Gothmog

First Post
EricNoah said:
I've had some additional thoughts based on something Wulf said a few posts back about the "distance" between the player and the character.

I think some people want to be closer to their character, and some want to be further away. And it may not be consistent for a particular player.

If my goal is to have a close-to-reality or close-to-plausible experience, LM/GnG is right up my alley because the character I play is going to be closer to what I personally could do or be if I were transported into that setting. When I play such a character and the character succeeds, it may feel more like it was "me" who succeeded because it wasn't my high AC or my stats in general that won the day, it was my own cleverness.

Conversely, if my goal in gaming is to get to "be" someone I never really could be (like a wizard or a tiefling or an awakened rust monster), maybe standard-magic D&D is going to get me there. My spells, my magic items, my supernatural powers, my better-than-humanly-possible skills help the character achieve things that normally no one could achieve. I still have to use my own cleverness to "win the day" though because (if the DM is doing a good job) the opposition may have similar or superior powers. But maybe (and this is up for debate) more of my character's success is due to the stuff he earns as a reward/consequence of playing the game (from his race, class, magic items, etc.).

Is this making any kind of sense? I kind of lost my train of thought. I'll come back and try again in a bit...

I think you've hit pretty close to home for most of us here, although I hadn't really considered it this way before. Personally, I don't tend to enjoy high-magic games as much since I cannot identify at all with my character, the world, and it just seems ridiculous after a certain point that hundreds or thousands of different sentient species share the same world. Plus, playing a half celestial high elf wizard/rogue/arcane trickster just stretched believabilty past the breaking point for me. It would take a truly exceptional DM to run a high fantasy world that really sucked me in. Unfortunatly, most DMs run high magic games where all non-human creatures have very human-like mindsets and motives, and the thing just falls apart. I can't really even think of a published high-magic world where this principle isn't strained to the point of breaking.

I find low magic/GnG much more compelling since I can identify with the character, his concerns, fears, and aspirations. True, its more like real life, but thats the frame of reference we come from, and can relate to easily. Besides, real life ain't that bad at all. And I can personally attest that a success in a low magic game gives me a much greater sense of accomplishment- I feel like I figured things out and came through, rather than shooting my most powerful magic whatzit to solve the problem. And you haven't really gamed until you've been in a situation that scared you/made you uneasy based on the events in game- and fear is a VERY hard emotion to capture in fantasy, let alone in a high magic game. Also, I have found as a DM that it is easier to motivate players to really become invested in the game if they can identify strongly with their character, and in the case of 90% of the players I have known, this is MUCH easier to do in a low magic/GnG game.
 

milotha

First Post
Gothmog said:
And I can personally attest that a success in a low magic game gives me a much greater sense of accomplishment- I feel like I figured things out and came through, rather than shooting my most powerful magic whatzit to solve the problem. And you haven't really gamed until you've been in a situation that scared you/made you uneasy based on the events in game- and fear is a VERY hard emotion to capture in fantasy, let alone in a high magic game.


I've been in numerous normal or high magic games where the GM has been able to instill a sense of fear or emotion in the characters. I find that that has nothing to do with the level of magic in the world. The fear of a TPK can be very real in either type of campaign setting. If you really care about your character, their death can be traumatic no matter the level of magic. I've also gamed in low magic campaigns where my character seemed ineffectual and inconsequential, and thus when they died, I didn't care as much. So, I guess "I've really gamed" in both high magic and normal magic worlds.

I must once again object to the view that you cannot really game in a high or normal magic campaign. I think this is a personal preference, and if people enjoy either/both type, more power to them. Your preference and the style of play that you choose doesn't invalidate your ability to be a good role player.
 

milotha said:
I must once again object to the view that you cannot really game in a high or normal magic campaign. I think this is a personal preference, and if people enjoy either/both type, more power to them. Your preference and the style of play that you choose doesn't invalidate your ability to be a good role player.
Why must you object to that, since Gothmog specifically said that he does not find high or "normal" magic campaigns engaging? He's saying it's a personal preference too, and not his. :uhoh: :confused:

I have no problem with folks who like to play D&D exactly as written. I do too, actually, although the games I really like have elements of LM/GnG due to my personal preference. I don't particularly like folks who don't care for LM/GnG telling me how I should play, or that I should just stick to low level, or that I should pick up a different game, or questioning why such a discussion even has any value. That really isn't very helpful in light of the question the original post in the thread asked.

Or in any light, come to think of it.
 
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Orius

Legend
Saeviomagy said:
To me
"Low magic" usually means "I hate handing out magical items, so I removed them, inadvertantly making anyone who plays a wizard or cleric significantly more powerful than the rest of the party, but that's ok, because I cover it by saying that wizards and clerics are uncommon. Even though there's one of each in every party."

"Grim and gritty" usually means "I love save vs death mechanics and I hate hitpoints. I've further devalued the fighters of the party by removing any staying power they have."

I generally agree. To put it bluntly, many times, it seems that people advocate low magic grim & gritty games to cover lazy DMing. They don't like magical healing because it makes it harder to threaten the party. They hate raise dead or worse, resurrection and often ban the spells from the game, because there's no fear of death. They hate divination magic because the players get clues too easily. They hate magic weapons because they boost attack and damage rolls. They hate hit points because fighters don't take a dagger in the back or a crossbow pinted at them seriously, and because that same fighter can "fall off a cliff and walk away". Then they play up the "realistic" aspects of medievialism, meaning the utter ignorance, rampant poverty, filth, disease, and prejudice of that horrid age. Not the type of setting I'd enjoy, given that I consider the Dark Ages (a term I find utterly appropriate) to be fairly close to hell on earth.

Maybe it seems like I'm being insulting, and maybe some people will accuse me of trolling. But the simple fact is that D&D is slanted somewhat towards heroic fantasy. Thus the hit points, and the existance of magic. It's part of the flavor of D&D. Certainly too much magic can wreck a campaign, I won't deny that. But I think all too often, DMs don't like to take magic into account and seem to prefer nerfing the party rather than preparing scenarios and building campaigns around it.
 
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Gothmog

First Post
milotha said:
I've been in numerous normal or high magic games where the GM has been able to instill a sense of fear or emotion in the characters. I find that that has nothing to do with the level of magic in the world. The fear of a TPK can be very real in either type of campaign setting. If you really care about your character, their death can be traumatic no matter the level of magic. I've also gamed in low magic campaigns where my character seemed ineffectual and inconsequential, and thus when they died, I didn't care as much. So, I guess "I've really gamed" in both high magic and normal magic worlds.

I must once again object to the view that you cannot really game in a high or normal magic campaign. I think this is a personal preference, and if people enjoy either/both type, more power to them. Your preference and the style of play that you choose doesn't invalidate your ability to be a good role player.

You are correct in saying that each person's experiences and preferecnes determine what they find enjoyable and engrossing, and good roleplaying doesn't occur in any one style of game. However, when I made the comment about being uneasy/afraid, it wasn't in reference to a TPK, losing magic items, or even having the character killed. It was more in reference to a fear of dark unknown places- the kind of thing that makes you look around the dimmed gaming room wondering what might happen if you go down the dark hallway to the bathroom. I have played in three adventures that evoked this kind of dread and unease in the players, and all three were low magic games. In my experience, this kind of engrossing factor is hard to achieve in a high magic game, because the characters are more like superheroes than normal people, and its hard to evoke fear/dread in empowered people. There is a reason horror games don't have superpowered characters, and why more "mundane" games (where players play characters more like their real-life selves) typically evoke a greater emotional response or attachment in players. I'm not saying its impossible in a high magic game, just much harder (and believe me, I have tried).
 
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Saeviomagy said:
To me
"Low magic" usually means "I hate handing out magical items, so I removed them, inadvertantly making anyone who plays a wizard or cleric significantly more powerful than the rest of the party, but that's ok, because I cover it by saying that wizards and clerics are uncommon. Even though there's one of each in every party."

"One of each in every party" in a game world I designed would be... let's see... ONE additional wizard and ONE additional cleric in the world, beyond the few dozen that already would exist. How does that negate the idea that clerics and wizards are rare? Members of PC classes should be rare and exceptional. Paladins are rare, rangers are rare, bards are rare, even true fighters are rare. I'd be against restricting player choice in this area, because a) they're supposed to be exceptional and b) they're only 4-8 people out of a world of perhaps a million. Not enough to change the assertion "clerics and wizards are rare."
 

Orius

Legend
Joshua Dyal said:
In my experience, the poor and inexperienced GMs I've played with have instead run "default" D&D. Usually in a dungeon. It's odd that we have two conflicting stories from those who are trying to "bash" low magic and gritty games; both that poor and inexperienced GMs run them, and that they are much more difficult to run well. If both of these are true, then grim and gritty and low magic must result in monumentally bad games. While I have no doubt that monumentally bad games do exist, to suggest a correlation between "suckiness" and fans of a certain style of game is ludicrous.

While I'm certainly not a fan of the low magic, grim & gritty stuff, I have to agree somewhat.

I'd say you're right when you say inexperienced DMs tend to gravitate to default D&D. Or more accurately, inexperienced DMs don't realize D&D rules aren't quite set in stone, and use every variant they can, even throwing all sorts of contradictory and imbalanced rules together. I know I certainly did this at one time, and I'm sure a lot of green DMs and players do the same.

I think what happens is that after a while, all DMs learn more about the game. Some DMs I think get bitter or cynical about the unbalanced games and then start nerfing everything saying it's more "realistic", and I think they do that because they are bad DMs. Some people don't belong behind the screen. It's that simple.

So yes, while some poor DMs go for low magic grim & gritty, not all do. And not all DMs that run such games are lousy either.
 

Belegbeth

First Post
Orius said:
I generally agree. To put it bluntly, many times, it seems that people advocate low magic grim & gritty games to cover lazy DMing. They don't like magical healing because it makes it harder to threaten the party. They hate raise dead or worse, resurrection and often ban the spells from the game, because there's no fear of death. They hate divination magic because the players get clues too easily. They hate magic weapons because they boost attack and damage rolls. They hate hit points because fighters don't take a dagger in the back or a crossbow pinted at them seriously, and because that same fighter can "fall off a cliff and walk away". Then they play up the "realistic" aspects of medievialism, meaning the utter ignorance, rampant poverty, filth, disease, and prejudice of that horrid age. Not the type of setting I'd enjoy, given that I consider the Dark Ages (a term I find utterly appropriate) to be fairly close to hell on earth.

Maybe it seems like I'm being insulting, and maybe some people will accuse me of trolling..


Well, yes, you ARE being insulting. At the very least it is clear that you have not bothered to read many of the posts in this thread. If you had, you would realize that your generalizations are completely unfounded.
 

Snoweel

First Post
Gothmog said:
There is a reason horror games don't have superpowered characters, and why more "mundane" games (where players play characters more like their real-life selves) typically evoke a greater emotional response or attachment in players. I'm not saying its impossible in a high magic game, just much harder (and believe me, I have tried).

I'll second that.

I have a how-to book on writing that states, in relation to the vulnerability of protagonists, something to the effect of "it is easier to write a good Batman story than a good Superman story".

I agree.

And since my DM focus is on creating a story (and I'm actually not creative enough to railroad my PCs, so I rely on their decisions, as the protagonists, to drive the tale and provide me with the stimulus with which to spark my imagination and therefore create interesting challenges which often lie outside the scope of Challenge Ratings and game balance - ie. mysteries), it's important that I make this process as easy as possible.

The logic being that energy expended on an easy task will produce more fruit than the same amount of energy expended on a more difficult task.

It is easier to challenge PCs with less resources and thus I can devote more time and energy to crafting evocative and intriguing locales and situations - 'fluff' if you will.
 

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