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Low-Magic, High-Rollers: Ep 2

World Building Heavy Casting Classes into Low-Magic settings.



In this series, I’ll be covering aspects and themes that continue to vex Dungeon Masters and Players with styles and tastes that often run on the darker and/or visceral end of how they enjoy their D & D. 

You’re beginning character creation for a low-magic campaign, but you don’t want to limit your players. A lot of DM’s seem to cut off high-magic wielding classes from the game so the players fit into the world. Although some settings may require this limitation, there are other ways to flavour a campaign without whittling down options. I’m a lover of high-fantasy but enjoy keeping a very medieval feel to my setting. So technology, if it exists in the form of automatons or firearms, is created in a very hodge-podge or anciently-obscure way and is sequestered in a far-off land. 

To figure out how to build a “gradient of grit/grim” let’s first figure out what evokes the little bit of magic that does exist then justify some of the key culprit classes that are often axed for low-magic settings and inspire some reasons for their existence in your “gritty and realistic” world.

When I think of a grittier setting I often look at high fantasy… weird right? Well, let’s look at some 80’s and 90’s classic fantasy adventures that had low magic settings and used some interesting ideas for magic. 


Ladyhawke: Set in a folklore fantasy Europe, the only magic really shown in the film is via the curse that Navarre and Isabeau have which was caused by a wicked curse by the local bishop. It’s clear that magic in this world exists, but mainly to the extent of occult curses and prayer. Definitely a world for fighters, rogues, clerics, paladins, and warlocks. 

Willow: Definitely more high fantasy but with a darker tone and exclusivity of who can wield magic. Only Willow and the village elder in his town really exhibit magic that can be learned. All other magic comes directly from Sorceresses of both good and evil and some magic items are there, like wands and potions/powders from fey creatures. Despite this feeling high-magic, those items are sparse and distributed only to leading roles. This world is perfect for any class, so long as you play to a level no higher than 7 or 8 and balance the party so there’s only a couple of magic users. 

Legend: For those who know it, this is Hyper Fey Fantasy, but hear me out. Think about who actually wields magic in this film. Darkness and the Fey, and that’s about it. The main hero who lives in the enchanted forest and the princess may get enchanted, or hold magic weapons but they themselves live very visceral realities within the context of the stories where they are pitted against very gruesome dangers. So low-magic could mean magic for all except the party… unless they have the right tools to fight back. 

Alright, now with an idea of the range of definitions that low magic can take. Let’s think about how each large casting class could fit into a low-magic medieval setting. 


Artificer: The most spelljamming and tech-savvy of them all, artificers can be masons and siege engineers for lords. Change the circumstances of their abilities and reflavour them according to the world’s tech level, and if there’s one in the party then perhaps they are the party’s only way to getting anything close to a magic item. Also, any automaton companions could be flavoured as something fuelled by a pact or deal with an elder being, or the captured soul of something ethereal.

Bard: The arts never get the credit they deserve when it comes to inspiring people with ideas, action, and emotions. Playing Bards in low-level play (level 1-5) and removing a few spell options could help. To lighten the blow, amplify how many times the bard can use inspiration in the day and scale +1,+2,+3 bonuses to it as their performative skill improves by level. 

Cleric: Medieval settings always have religion as a staple part of everyday life, villagers go to mass/weekly rituals, market days are often held by the region’s holy order, or go to battle in faraway lands under the veil of religious ideals. A Cleric’s power can be scaled down but perhaps replacing some more powerful spells with a charisma boost would make more sense since they’d be seen as pillars of a community and highly sought after individuals to lay folk who have high superstitions that need the ease of a blessing or exorcism. A Cleric’s nerfed powers can be bumped up by their social prowess in politics and social interaction and their basic healing can be justified by knowledge of herbology and experience working with a Hospitalling Holy Order.

Druid: Herbology, home remedies, and witch-like practices can be the centre point of justifying the existence of Druids. Instead of turning them completely into certain animals for shape change, they could augment parts of them to the likeness of animals to help traverse terrains, such as monkey hands and feet for climbing, webbed hands and feet for swimming, and webbed limbs for gliding, but no size changes. 

Paladin: Justify some of their power to similar flavour that Bards give inspiration. If you’re more of an oath-maker rather than a Holy Paladin an enhanced version of divine sense that allows more detection specifics could be a nice boost whilst whittling down the bigger spells, even enhancing divine smite but just flavouring it to feel like their ideals inspire their might rather than emanate some sort of radiant power. 

Sorcerer: Superstition about magic in low-magic settings is often high, when magic is used it attracts fear and speculation. One who can wield magic without the prompts of components or through natural elements cannot walk the world unseen unless they keep it concealed. Even good deeds done with the use of magic could potentially be seen as unorthodox or unholy. When removing higher-tier spells replace them with a boost to things like sleight of hand and stealth. 

Warlock: This is the easiest high caster to justify magical sources in low magic locales. The call to unorthodox sources of deep knowledge is considered rare and dangerous regardless of what world you’re playing in. Limited spell slots help keep this class quite grounded, but if you boil it down further, make the consequences of their higher magic use a difficult and potentially detrimental encounter with their patron. For example the sacrifice of a body part or the promise of their physical agency at any one time in exchange for such great power. If that doesn’t spell grit and grimdark, I don’t know what does. 

Wizard: This one is a bit tricky. For the most part, wizards thrive at utility with magic and often low-magic DM’s build a list of spells that aren’t in-world and leave it at that, but where’s the tradeoff? A wizard is an academic, but in a low-magic setting magic may not have a formal school, but rather is taught by a seer or elder of a small village, grove commune, or town, and they are very selective on who apprentices with them. Talk to your potential Wizard about their backstory and build info about that community they trained in, that can reveal the baseline of spells they can learn at the start, then customize the details of later spells to fit your world. 


When justifying magic at its lowest capabilities in a fantasy setting knowing the source of it is key, is it from the sun or moonlight? Is it the nebulous ether from the void of space itself, bleeding into the atmosphere? Or does it come from rifts between mysterious planes spoken of in vague tomes in the restricted section of an Abbey? Often magic in these settings comes at a deep cost or a need for cosmic balance, much in the same way alchemy does, what cost will you put forth upon your magic users? Time to world build. 

Written By: Christian A.V. Petrozza
IG: L2S_Entertainment
Twitter: @Late2theShowEnt

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