Low Magic (3.5e Variant Rule)

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Whether you feel like casters are overpowered, or want to play in a world where magic is scarce, there’s several methods you can use to reduce access to powerful spells and magical items. Most DMs/GMs rarely ever have to worry about this, since most campaigns usually ends before the player characters hit the double-digit level range.

However, before incorporating any of these rules, be sure to ask your players how they feel about it.

Class Types
Caster Classes Hybrid Classes Martial Classes
Cleric Bard Barbarian
Druid Paladin Fighter
Sorcerer Ranger Monk
Wizard Rogue

Below are different, various methods for making magic more scarce.

Method 1[edit]

Post-apocalypse or previous supreme ruler killed most casters, destroyed arcane/divine books/scrolls, and knowledge of high-level magic is lost or forgotten.

Level Caps[edit]

A popular method is E6. However, if you feel like this might be too restricting, perhaps limiting all classes (and prestige classes) anywhere from 6th to 10th level, but characters may multiclass. It would be interesting to watch your players decide what combinations they come up with. Some ideas could be...

Multiclassing
Primary Class Secondary Class Prestige Class
Barbarian Paladin
Paladin Sorcerer
Ranger Wizard Arcane Archer
Rogue Wizard Arcane Trickster
Monk Bard Duelist
Fighter Wizard Eldritch Knight
Rogue Cleric Loremaster
Cleric Wizard Mystic Theurge
Rogue Bard Shadow Dancer

Magical Item Caps[edit]

All magical items would be restricted to either a +1 (with a 6th through 8th class level cap) or a +2 (with a 9th or 10th class level cap) bonus modifier.

DM/GM[edit]

If your player characters must multiclass, so must your NPCs and encounters using the same restrictions. Also, their magical items must also be adjusted accordingly.

Method 2[edit]

Since magic is reserved only for the experienced, all caster and hybrid classes are prestige classes.

Base classes[edit]

The base classes are just martial, and all caster/hybrid classes are prestige classes that require at least a character class level of 3 or higher.

Magic Item Caps[edit]

Players receive magical items at least 3 levels later than normal.

DM/GM[edit]

All NPCs and encounters must also multiclass with martial classes using the same restrictions.

Method 3[edit]

Magic takes a harsher toll on casters.

Magic Caps[edit]

All casters are able to progress normally, but their spells per day slots and arcane spells known are reduce by 1. This also includes hybrid classes such as Rangers and Paladins. Below is an example of the Bard class:

Table: The Bard

Hit Die: d6

Level Base
Attack Bonus
Saving Throws Special Spells per Day
Fort Ref Will 0 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th
1st +0 +0 +2 +2 Bardic Music, Bardic Knowledge, Countersong, Fascinate, Inspire Courage +1 1
2nd +1 +0 +3 +3 2
3rd +2 +1 +3 +3 Inspire Competence 2 0
4th +3 +1 +4 +4 2 1
5th +3 +1 +4 +4 2 2 0
6th +4 +2 +5 +5 Suggestion 2 2 1
7th +5 +2 +5 +5 2 2 1
8th +6/+1 +2 +6 +6 Inspire Courage +2 2 2 2 0
9th +6/+1 +3 +6 +6 Inspire Greatness 2 2 2 1
10th +7/+2 +3 +7 +7 2 2 2 1
11th +8/+3 +3 +7 +7 2 2 2 2 0
12th +9/+4 +4 +8 +8 Song of Freedom 2 2 2 2 1
13th +9/+4 +4 +8 +8 2 2 2 2 1
14th +10/+5 +4 +9 +9 Inspire Courage +3 3 2 2 2 2 0
15th +11/+6/+1 +5 +9 +9 Inspire Heroics 3 3 2 2 2 1
16th +12/+7/+2 +5 +10 +10 3 3 3 2 2 1
17th +12/+7/+2 +5 +10 +10 3 3 3 3 2 2 0
18th +13/+8/+3 +6 +11 +11 Mass Suggestion 3 3 3 3 3 2 1
19th +14/+9/+4 +6 +11 +11 3 3 3 3 3 3 2
20th +15/+10/+5 +6 +12 +12 Inspire Courage +4 3 3 3 3 3 3 3

Class Skills (6 + Int modifier per level, ×4 at 1st level)
Appraise (Int), Balance (Dex), Bluff (Cha), Climb (Str), Concentration (Con), Craft (Int), Decipher Script (Int), Diplomacy (Cha), Disguise (Cha), Escape Artist (Dex), Gather Information (Cha), Hide (Dex), Jump (Str), Knowledge (all skills, taken individually) (Int), Listen (Wis), Move Silently (Dex), Perform (Cha), Profession (Wis), Sense Motive (Wis), Sleight of Hand (Dex), Speak Language (n/a), Spellcraft (Int), Swim (Str), Tumble (Dex), Use Magic Device (Cha).

Table: Bard Spells Known
Level Spells Known
0 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th
1st 3
2nd 4
3rd 5 11
4th 5 2
5th 5 3 11
6th 5 3 2
7th 5 3 3
8th 5 3 3 11
9th 5 3 3 2
10th 5 3 3 3
11th 5 3 3 3 11
12th 5 3 3 3 2
13th 5 3 3 3 3
14th 5 3 3 3 3 11
15th 5 3 3 3 3 2
16th 5 4 3 3 3 3
17th 5 4 4 3 3 2 11
18th 5 4 4 4 3 3 2
19th 5 4 4 4 4 3 3
20th 5 4 4 4 4 4 3
  1. Provided the bard has a high enough Charisma score to have a bonus spell of this level.

Magic Item Caps[edit]

All magical items gets boosted up a category higher...

  1. Common (magic) Items → Uncommon Items
  2. Uncommon Items → Rare Items
  3. Rare Items → Very Rare Items
  4. Very Rare Items → Legendary Items
  5. Legendary Items → Sentimental Items
  6. Sentimental Items → Artifacts

DM/GM[edit]

All casters and encounters with spell-like abilities must also be cut in half.

Method 4[edit]

Old-school feel of AD&D 1st and 2nd Editions

Slower Level Progression[edit]

Add extra percentage for level progression (such as 10% to hybrid class level progression and 20% to caster level progression). The class experience level progression table could look something like this:

Class Experience Level Progression
Level Caster Classes Hybrid Classes Martial Classes
1st 0 0 0
2nd 1,200 1,100 1,000
3rd 3,600 3,300 3,000
4th 7,200 6,600 6,000
5th 12,000 11,000 10,000
6th 18,000 16,500 15,000
7th 25,200 23,100 21,000
8th 33,600 30,800 28,000
9th 43,200 39,600 36,000
10th 54,000 49,500 45,000
11th 66,000 60,500 55,000
12th 79,200 72,600 66,000
13th 93,600 85,800 78,000
14th 109,200 100,100 91,000
15th 126,000 115,500 105,000
16th 144,000 132,000 120,000
17th 163,200 149,600 136,000
18th 183,600 168,300 153,000
19th 205,200 188,100 171,000
20th 228,000 209,000 190,000

DM/GM[edit]

NPC casters and encounters with spell-like abilities must also follow the same slower level progression.

Optional Rules[edit]

There are much fewer adepts, priests, and other spell casters compared to other NPC classes. If casters live among other commoners, they practice in hiding due to fear, suspicion, anger, hatred, etc. There are no magic shops inside towns or cities, but perhaps only a few secretly dispersed across the land far away from civilization. People may view divine casters as crazy quacks, praying and worshiping to gods long dead or gone. Secret organizations such as magic guilds and temples may exist to help spread the secret knowledge of the arcane and the divine.

Fear[edit]

If a caster publicly casts a spell in front of commoners, guards, etc., they would react negatively, and the flashier the spell, the more negatively they will react. For every spell level, the caster should receive a -1 to any interaction (such as Diplomacy or Gather Information) with anyone who witnessed their spell casting. If people witnessed a level 3 spell casted, then the caster could receive a -3 on all social interactions with anyone who witnessed the spell.

Hatred[edit]

If people in a particular community or kingdom despises magic, then they may attack a caster if they witness a spell being cast. Roll a 1d20 against the spell level, if the the roll is higher than the level of the spell, the people choose not to attach you. If people witnessed a spell level 3 casted, then you have a 1-3 chance they will attack, thus rolling a 4 or higher on 1d20 and they don't.

Additional HP And Skill Points[edit]

To help caster and hybrid classes live longer in combat and more useful in non-combat situations, perhaps offering one additional hit point and skill point per caster class level, and one additional hit point and skill point per two hybrid class levels may make them more enjoyable to play.

Perhaps arcane casters automatically receive an additional skill point in Craft: Alchemy every level, whereas divine casters automatically receive an additional skill point in Profession: Herbalism every level to rely on the items they make more so than they spells that they cast.


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