I have been looking into ‘Adventures in Middle Earth’ (AiME), the Cubicle Seven 5E Dungeons and Dragons remake of their game The One Ring. It is a interesting game. I really like the way they have presented a low magic version of D&D, and I have been looking at whether I could transplant those low magic character classes to a non-Middle Earth game.
The character classes broadly mirror the main character classes in the Player’s Handbook. The one exception I think is the Wizard where they have had to do major surgery to create a version of the Wizard (the Scholar) that doesn’t have any spells but is still interesting and effective. I think they have done a good job.
I’ve often wanted to play a low fantasy, low magic version of Dungeons & Dragons. Not being a professional game designer, I’ve never been prepared to do all the work required to make that happen. But AiME provides a good basis to create a low magic flavour of D&D. It would be a good basis, for example, if you were looking at a campaign that was more like Game of Thrones.
You would need to make some changes to get this to work, and how many depends on how much of the AiME system you’re using. For example, whether you’re using the shadow or journey rules. But my impression was that it wouldn’t require a huge amount of effort to make these character classes work outside of the Middle Earth setting.
Let’s take the Scholar (Wizard) class as an example. Basic attributes of the class transplant across easily (although AiME uses some new skills). The living standard rules are linked to your race/culture, so for standard D&D you’d have to assign living standards to different races/cultures. The 11th level ‘Hidden Paths’ Scholar ability is linked explicitly with the journey rules, but the fluff is vivid enough that you could use it without. Turning to the Master Healer path, use of the hagweed herb, and ‘relief from long burdens’ is linked explicitly to the shadow rules. You would need to provide an alternative, such as removal of energy drain, or a mental condition like charm or feeblemind. Under Master Scholar, ‘dark knowledge’ could instead relate to demons or devils and infernal/abyssal (or the far realm). That’s it! It otherwise works as written.
The prospect of running a Dungeons & Dragons game and there being no spells like fireball or magic missile is quite exciting. I think it might change the dynamic and the game play. The party would not be able to rely on spells to solve their problems, or on the force-multiplier effects of area effect combat spells. Players may find they need to be much more careful, respect numerical superiority, use cunning and avoid diving headlong into combats. I think it would lead to more intelligent and more cautious players characters. All of that sounds like a good development to me.
I also like the way that AiME makes magic items interesting. They do have mechanical effects, but they make very clear that items have a history, and they are from a particular culture, and belonged to a particular person. I like how this gets away from the +1 sword nonsense.
I think the high fantasy, high magic background of Dungeons & Dragons is hard to avoid if you’re playing the game as written. That’s because in all of the editions therer are high fantasy concepts baked into the game rules. For example, the availability of healing magic or cure disease, and the ability to resurrect people from the dead, etc. To have a low fantasy version which still functions effectively like Dungeons & Dragons is intriguing.
So in summary I think the advantages to running normal D&D using the AiME system is that it is a low magic, low fantasy, gritty game with more of a GoT feel. Threats are more serious, and players are forced to act much more like real people than super heroes. Equally, monsters have to be played more intelligently because you can’t rely monsters with loads of magical spells either.