Low fantasy/magic?

  • 6 Replies
Low fantasy/magic?
« on: March 20, 2013, 12:27:25 PM »
Hi, I'm new to Dungeon World. Long-time gamer, was a freelance writer for D&D 3e (among other things) third party developers.

I've long felt a bit... tired of the standard magic 'level' in D&D. I don't hate it, it's just almost every single fantasy game I've been involved in for 20+ years has been loads o' magic.
It doesn't really fit the style of fantasy that many fantasy novels have, where magic is dangerous or rare, or a combination of a few easy gifts plus big exotic rare rituals.

D&D hasn't been ... easily altered to fit this style.

Dungeon World, on the other hand...

So. Thoughts?
Off the top of my head is making a new class to replace Wizards that retains Ritual and perhaps a magical gift or two (perhaps equal to a limited cantrip, usable always).
Creative use of the gift and some ability to perform useful mundane tricks/maneuvers when things hit the fan (distractions, useful information), would be useful.

Clerics and paladins would be replaced by ... Leaders?


Re: Low fantasy/magic?
« Reply #1 on: March 20, 2013, 03:04:03 PM »
First thought is to look at the old level 0 Villager playbook. It had limited access to basic Cantrips and Rotes. Then build your new low magic from there.

Also maybe just use World of Dungeons and eliminate the spirit use. Probably the easiest solution. It'll have a more sword and sorcery vibe.



  • 777
Re: Low fantasy/magic?
« Reply #2 on: March 20, 2013, 06:01:24 PM »
What about using magic like in Monster of the Week?
Replace Cast Spells with Use Magic.

Use Magic
When you use magic, name your spell, say what you're trying to achieve and how you do the spell, then roll +Int.

If you get a 13+ Your spell works beyond your expectations! Apply an additional effect.
If you get a 10+, the magic works without issues: Apply your effect(s).
On a 7-9, it works imperfectly: choose your effect(s) and glitch(s). The GM will decide what effect the glitch has.
On a miss, you lose control of the magic. This never ends well.

By default the magic has one of the effects for every 3 Wizard Levels listed below, is effective immediately and can last for up to an hour, and does not expose you to danger, unwanted attention, or side-effects. If there's a glitch that will change.

•   Inflict harm (1d4 damage per wizard level, magic obvious).
•      Pierce armour (render useless)
•   Enchant a weapon. It gets +1 harm and +magic.
•   Do one thing that is beyond human limitations.
•   Bar a place or portal to a specific person or a type of creature.
•   Trap a specific person, minion, or monster.
•      Evict a spirit or curse from the person, object, or place it inhabits.
•   Summon a monster into the world.
•      Communicate with something that you do not share a
language with.
•   Observe another place or time.
•   Heal 1-harm from an injury, or cure a disease, or neutralize a poison.

Glitches (one per effect):
•   You can't use that effect again until you Make Camp.
•      The effect is weakened.
•   The effect is of short duration.
•   You take 1d6 Mental Damage ignoring armour.
•   The magic draws immediate, unwelcome attention.
•   It has a problematic side effect.

The DM may require one or more of the following:
•   The spell requires weird materials.
•   The spell will take up to a few minutes to cast.
•   The spell requires ritual chanting and gestures.
•   The spell requires you to draw arcane symbols.
•   You need one or two people to help cast the spell.
•   You need to refer to a tome of magic for the details.

The GM may ask you how the effects or glitches interact with your Dungeon World - Be truthful now.
« Last Edit: March 20, 2013, 06:20:33 PM by noofy »

Re: Low fantasy/magic?
« Reply #3 on: March 20, 2013, 10:16:58 PM »
You can also just describe your "magical" abilities in a mundane manner.  A healing spell gets described as words of encouragement, a potion as a stiff drink from your flask.  A fireball gets narrated as sparking a cask of oil, and it's only like you're invisible...  I do this quite a bit in fact.

Re: Low fantasy/magic?
« Reply #4 on: March 23, 2013, 02:51:18 PM »
One option for Cleric spells is to keep the descriptions super subtle, to the point where you're never sure if it *is* divine providence or merely chance. For example:

Guidance: Sunlight through a cloud shines in the right direction, wind blows leaves or dust in a certain pattern, a flock of birds swoops overhead in a direction, etc. The idea is that these are things that the faithful are interpreting as divine guidance.

Cure wounds: Doesn't close cuts or remove bruises. Instead it's a prayer that fills someone with the divine fervor, the confidence and zeal to keep fighting long after they should have passed out from pain.

Animate Dead/Resurrection: There are countless 'almost dead/thought dead' miracles. It's why we have wakes before burying people.

Some stuff doesn't quite work, like Light. You can remove that entirely.

Otherwise make sure the effects of clerical magic are delayed, fickle, and subtle to the point of being completely dismissable as chance/natural phenomenon.



  • 18
Re: Low fantasy/magic?
« Reply #5 on: March 27, 2013, 04:58:27 AM »
There's a few things about the first post I don't understand.

You want a low fantasy setting, but it should still have magic in it?

Where does the magic come from? If you answer: "uh, some deity or demonic forces, I guess" then its pretty much a far step away from low fantasy to high fantasy, as it gives reason to believe that there are a bunch of gods and demons strolling about, dealing out magical powers on a whim.

Limiting the magic doesn't really make it less fantasy, there's still magic and it must come from somewhere.

European academics in the 16th century developed a discipline called Demonology, where they studied how witches gained magical powers and from what sort of demonic forces it derived from. Sex with demons is a common way of gaining powers. Being born half human and half demon is another good way of possibly do something magic. Naturally we think of these demonologists as kooks today, but their fear was real at the time that something unnatural was going on in the world. Demons everywhere, the end of the world is nigh! This is a low fantasy setting. The belief that there is something terrible going on, witches everywhere.
And don't forget all the rituals the common people must do to avoid bad luck or what have you! Throwing salt over the shoulder, having silver in the baby's crib, hanging up horseshoes above the door, these sort of small things, they are all linked to the belief of magic.

Re: Low fantasy/magic?
« Reply #6 on: April 02, 2013, 01:33:40 AM »
Just started a low-magic game with my group. So far we're addressing it purely with game fiction and things are going well. The most important thing we did to achieve this was discussing the fictional world we wanted up front and agreeing to play to that fiction.

What came out of our discussion was basically this:
-Magic is rare; those who can bend magic to their will are rare
-Magic is powered by dark, difficult to control, and ultimately corrupting forces
-Practical magic items are non-existent; relics and strange artifacts of power exist but are rare and dangerous
-Those wielding magic are feared and distrusted by ordinary folk. It's not a respectable thing to dabble in at best. At worst, it's torches and pitchforks time.
-And we decided to not have any clerics. Plenty of weird gods, shammans, cults, etc. But no walking hit point battery in chain mail. This required a small mechanical tweak. So far I'm going with "At the end of a Scene, you heal equal to 1/2 your Constitution." Still testing this mech out, though.

So far the party has one wizard, and he's role-playing the hell out of how and why his magic works. His magic missiles are invisible mental blows that batter his targets minds. When he casts a light spell, he must pull it down from a true light source and "capture" it. Casting fails have unpleasant consequences, due to the source of his power. He's constantly scrounging for strange spell ingredients, creeping out the other members of his party. And, most importantly, he's not hurling spells left and right. He keeps a low profile, because... pitchforks and torches.

The party also has a Paladin. He has yet to lay on hands. When he finaly does, I'm sure it will be interesting. I doubt he will select any of the Paladin casting moves, but if he did, I'm sure we could work it into the fiction.

So that's all a really long winded way of saying "follow the fiction." It really does work well. Just discuss the world you all want to play in up front. The more everyone feels like they had a hand in laying the foundation, the more enthusiastic they'll be in building on it.

All that said-
If you want a solid mechanical fix for spells, then noofy's suggestion to use the Monster of the Week magic rules would be a good start. That's the direction I was headed initially, but laziness prevailed. If you want to develop some custom low-magic char sheets, I'd love to see them!
« Last Edit: April 02, 2013, 01:38:41 AM by Blang! »