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Low/Epic Fantasy Setting Assistance Sought


PaladinAg
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On 9/6/2020 at 3:14 PM, PaladinAg said:

Hi, I've recently spread my wings from Champions to Fantasy Hero and inspired by "The Last Kingdom", I feel inspired to do a low/semi-epic fantasy set in a divided land (although more later medieval rather than Saxon period). Most of the setting information I've seen available is for High Fantasy campaigns, not for low fantasy and I would welcome thoughts on creating one. I would particularly welcome thoughts on low power/subtle magic systems, which would mostly be employed by NPCs.

 

Low power magic generally means divination, long incantations, curses, hexes and alchemy. I would point to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, particularly film one, for what low magic looks like; Gandalf is pretty nerfed compared to what he can do in the books. Prophecy also tends to make itself known. In terms of a low magic system, I know I’m going to sound like a broken record when I say this, “What do you want people to be capable of?” And on the heels of that question, “What is the thematic source of this magic?” I need both of those to provide a reasonable answer. But. As I’m late and speed posting, here’s a combination:

 

1) The Touched. Those who are “touched” are highly sought after, and for all the traditional trope reasons. Some folk want to hire them, some want to own them, some want to set them free somewhere... far far away from where they are. Some want to kill ‘em. The Touched all have something in common: near death experiences where they made a permanent link with the energy wall between worlds. This tends to manifest as classic divination magic, but has other manifestations.

 

2) You cannot create a Touched on purpose. People keep trying. No one knows why, or how, the Touched come to be and that includes themselves. Some people are born that way, some get it after nearly dying, but interestingly, no one who has sought to become one has ever succeeded. The energy has some kind of will, and it cannot be chosen, only choose.

 

3) I see dead people.

 

4) I see the future seven seconds at a time, giving me combat precognition. I see a soul who is about to die and I can through great effort, redirect them — Battle Meditation. I can place a curse on a family line; I can infuse a mundane item with magical energy.

 

5) I cannot cast any spell in less than 10 minutes. 

 

6) I am actually a conduit for magic; good old fashioned 6th element magic. But it was sealed away by time and ignorance. Which is why no one can choose it, because none of them know what they’re looking for.

 

So, there’s a few ideas to kick about.

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1. It depends on what "low magic" is. I run Hârn as low-magic but others would find it too magic heavy.

 

2. Consider that no powers just talents. A sort of "Pulp Action" set in the medieval era.  The GM controls what happens because the character simple summon a force or entity. Think Indiana Jones - the characters simple fight to summon the magic and then it comes.

 

 

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  • 4 weeks later...
On 9/13/2020 at 12:48 AM, Thia Halmades said:

 

Low power magic generally means divination, long incantations, curses, hexes and alchemy. I would point to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, particularly film one, for what low magic looks like; Gandalf is pretty nerfed compared to what he can do in the books.

 

While I agree with idea that a lot of people are striving to achieve a "Lord of the Rings" feel for the level of magic, having wizards as PCs in a game is VERY different from having them as a main supporting character in a book.  In TLoR, Gandalf generally avoided using his magic except when absolutely necessary, and he rarely simply cast "fireball" or "lightning bolt" at an enemy...And, in a book, the author can make the wizard character do what he wants.  A GM doesn't have the same luxury with a player character wizard.  If that wizard can cast fireball or lightning bolt, you can guarantee that you're going to see it used A LOT.  Also, taking the wizard character out of play for extended periods (a la Gandalf's penchant for disappearing only to show up just in time to save the day) probably isn't going to be a satisfactory way of dealing with a player character wizard either -- they want to be in there mixing it up with the rest of their buddies, not off doing the gods know what just so the other players can have their moment in the sun.

 

And that's the point, in my opinion, of trying to run a low magic campaign:  to keep the spell casters from simply dominating all of the action.  In that spirit, I agree with many of the suggestions made earlier in the thread.  Spells should be required to have a variety of limitations.  In my opinion, pretty much all spells should Require a Roll (there may be a few exceptions).  One limitation that may not have been suggested (I don't recall seeing it mentioned), particularly for spells that are intended to be used in combat, is the Extra Time limitation.  The nice thing about this limitation is that if the player NEEDS to get a spell off quickly, they can still do so -- but with a penalty to the casting roll based upon how much they're moving things up the time chart.  So, while they can "rush" the spell, they increase their risk of failure.  To prevent "spell abuse" you can make this penalty relatively substantial (exactly what "substantial" means will vary from campaign to campaign).  It's also worth noting that as the spell casters become more powerful, these penalties become less and less of an impediment.  In effect, you can use the time scale to somewhat simulate the "level" of a spell from other game systems, if that's what you're after.

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Three things come to mind for controlling spell casters; that is, for preventing them from dominating the adventure:

 

Lots of limitations on the spells that mean magic takes time and preparation to cast; much more so than "I thwack him with a hammer" usually does.  Problematically, this tends to discourage players from wanting to play a spellcaster.  This can be balanced a bit by allowing rarer, more-difficult-to-cast magics exceed point caps for the other types of characters.  Use sparingly.

 

Side-effects:  manipulating magic exacts a pound of flesh.  

 

This makes spell casters less likely to just fire off magic every chance they get, but all the above caveats are still in place.

 

Design your magic system so that only X uses or X points worth of magic can be used in a single day.  yeah; I know, but it does work.  Again: those two caveats from above are still in play.

 

 

While there are a lot of reasons that people might want to play magic users, the most typical reason is access to powers and abilities others do not have.  Very few players are going to happily accept that the price of that access is reduced participation.  Unfortunately, that's pretty much _the_ control for powerful magic: make it kind of unappealing or extremely difficult to use.

 

The only other choice is to nerf magic so hard that you've essentially just re-named all the barbarian's normal attack powers ("I throw my axe" becomes "fireball," etc. )

 

 

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The long and short of it is that in any fantasy setting, high or low, someone has to decide how magic works in that world.  Games like D&D build the restrictions into the rules by pre-designing spell lists and class restrictions that lock in their worlds magic.

 

For a Hero based game the GM is required to set those boundaries.  And I am not talking about anything in the build rules.  I am talking about world restrictions.

 

If the GM says all magic in this world is inward, a mage can only influence their own body.  Then anything like D&D spell slinging and magic items do not exist and cannot be built. 

 

If a GM says all magic in the world is enchanted items.  Then everything will center around magic weapons and magic items.

 

Once the "theory" of magic has been defined, then everyone can build to met those parameters. 

 

If the GM says the world has no spirits or undead, then no one will be able to build a Necromancer no matter how cool a player thinks it would be.  He could build some form of charlatan masquerading as a Necromancer, but not actually be one. 

 

Once you define "magic", then you can assign limitations and other rule'centric requirements.  But unlike most of the class/level games out there, core Hero does not have a prebuilt magic system.

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If you have not checked it out already, take a look at @Killer Shrike's web site. He has a ton of resources that can work well for a Low Powered Fantasy world. Also a good bit of advice on building magic systems with a bunch of examples of fully built systems. (Yes, I know it says High Fantasy, but the resources are appropriate to many genre)

 

http://www.killershrike.com/FantasyHERO/HighFantasyHERO/FantasyHERO.aspx

 

- E

 

 

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Hi, I've recently spread my wings from Champions to Fantasy Hero and inspired by "The Last Kingdom", I feel inspired to do a low/semi-epic fantasy set in a divided land (although more later medieval rather than Saxon period). Most of the setting information I've seen available is for High Fantasy campaigns, not for low fantasy and I would welcome thoughts on creating one. I would particularly welcome thoughts on low power/subtle magic systems, which would mostly be employed by NPCs.

 

The key is to decide what magic can and cannot do, and how it is used.  If its "snap your fingers and say a word to do anything" then its going to be really powerful.  If you need lots of time, concentration, a special location, weird components like bones of the target's family etc and is limited to specific concepts, then its going to be very limited.

 

Low magic campaigns are best if you simply ban direct attack spells and "buffs" such as "Strength Aid".  Spells should take long periods of time to use (out of combat, at least a minute to cast) with concentration and usually increased END Cost.  Cap the absolute active point power of magic, it just cannot do some things or be very powerful.  Most of it should be informative, summoning spirits and divining things like where to find water or how a battle will go.

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