Design Notes

What have we done?

In a nutshell, we have slowed down spellcasters' (and psion's) spell (power) acquisition somewhat, allowing 7th level spells by level 19, and delaying 9th level spells until 25th level. This falls in between the "all spell-casters must be evenly multiclassed" route taken by Andy Collin's Umber campaign, and the status quo, in terms of the maximum spell levels achievable. It also has the effect of weakening primary spellcasters, but not to the degree that might be initially thought: because many spell effects are scaled by caster level, even though the caster does not gain access to certain high levels as quickly, they can still cast their lower level spells with increasing power as they level up. We have also given them a few extra feats (mostly to soften the blow), and supplied a martial training prestige class to give the spell caster even more flexibility.

We have also scaled back the cash dramatically, dividing starting money by 10, and the "cash" component of treasure by the same amount (thanks, Andy), which will weaken non-spell casters the most (by way of balancing out the other big change).

We all love feats, and we feel that many classes don't get enough feats to really embrace some cool concepts that fit their class, style and background. Therefore, we are permitting a feat every 2 levels instead of every third level. This means a feat at 1st and 3rd as usual, then 5th, 7th, 10th etc.) Note that fighters will therefore receive a feat every level! Since this only results in 1 extra feat by 7th level, we do not think this will change such things as prestige entry requirements very much.

Additionally, we are also allowing one free regional feat at first level, to be taken according to the character's region of origin.

Other changes are minor tweaks by comparison, on a par with ideas floating around in many other published and web campaign ideas.

Why Tinker with Magic Levels?

The Problem

We have discovered through play that Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition, while providing the best D&D experience so far, and scaling perhaps better than any previous edition, begins to leave its "sweet spot" somewhere between 9 and 15 levels of advancement.

Specifically, certain spells and magical abilities allow characters and enemies to do things which are drastic, and may have an unravelling effect on the underlying game world. Magical travel, powerful divinations, creation and healing spells all begin to make the game seem more and more contrived. Whether as a DM you can tolerate this only to 9th level, or you can accommodate it up to 16th, the ceiling is there: it practically becomes a different game, and one that is not necessarily to the tastes of the ones who gravitated towards the genre in the first place.

There is a sense of diminishing returns for players, too. Players of rogues and fighters that have spent levels honing and using their skills and capabilities find that a wizard or cleric can make them redundant with the wave of a finger or a quick prayer. After acquiring a +6 ability item or two, characters find themselves in the strange position of refusing magic items, or regularly "trading them in" for cash or better stuff. Characters become walking "magic-shops" laden with amulets, bracers, robes, cloaks, vests, belts, goggles, circlets, boots, gloves, rings, ioun stones, weapons and armor. Adventures can degenerate into scry, buff, teleport, force cage, plunder, mordnificent mansion, repeat. Magic begins to feel mundane, and there is a feeling of artificiality about it that makes willing suspension of disbelief harder (perhaps more so for us old fashioned folk).

Goals

The goal of these revisions and house rules is to extend the gaming "sweet spot" farther into higher levels. To make the game scale better, and to restore the sense of mystery and wonder we experienced in days gone by when we discovered a new and wonderful magic item, uncovered a deadly trap, or encountered a terrible creature.

The style of these revisions will not be for everyone. They lean towards a more 'realistic', or simulationist style of game, with emphasis on characters and strategy rather then magic and character-design tactics.

Low magic premise

One of the key underlying premises to these house rules is that the campaign world is relatively low magic. That is to say, it does not have actual magic shops, magic items are rarer than the DMG would suggest, and members of PC classes are also rarer than the DMG indicates. This is in aid of placing the characters front and centre in the game. The players want to remember their character's actions, not just a long list of "wicked stuff" they wore to accomplish their aims (although these rules also set out to make that list feel much more special).

Player Characters

Some of the most important changes are those made to character classes. Spellcasters in particular have been adjusted, and wealth reduced all round.

We think that reduced wealth and magic item acquisition will hurt non-spellcasters the most, bringing them in line with the now reduced spellcasters themselves.

Encounter Levels and Challenge Ratings

Some advice for DMs (and assurances for players) on the consequences of lowerd magic and encounter level problems.

Economics

Economics is one of the key reasons we have felt the need to introduce these rule changes. The default game setting can lead to paradoxical/hard to model situations, where people are in a quasi mediaeval situation at the same time as permanent magics can be made to zip people around at no per-use cost, food can be "created", and all manner of diseases and even death "healed".

Acknowledgements

These house rules are a combination of ideas culled from various products (both d20, from Wizards of the coast and others, and non d20), Dragon magazines, from sources on the web, and our own ideas and developments. Thanks to my co-designers and players, especially our co-DM James Quigley, and I would like to specifically acknowledge Andy Collins for his ideas on low gold and eliminating the +1 level adjustment for ECL +1 races, J. D. Wiker for ideas from Swords of our Fathers and Staffs of Ascension, Sean K. Reynolds for a starting point for my turning rules, and Steven Kenson for the legendary weapons scheme, and others who I have forgotten (or didn't know whose ideas I was stealing). All such works are copyright the original authors.