AD&D is all too frequently thought of as a high powered game with Herculean heroes and heroines engaged in stories of epic proportions. However, it need not be like that. Though the roleplaying systems and various standard class abilities do suggest a power level well beyond our mortal kin, the game can be toned down when desired.

One of the greatest things about AD&D is that its "rules" are merely guidelines and they are NOT carved in stone, and if one wishes to run a very low-powered game, they can. You simply need to adopt a few new rules, change a few, and omit a few, but as long as your primary reference materials are still the core AD&D books, you are still playing AD&D. Anyone familiar with AD&D would, therefore, be able to fit into your variation with little difficulty.

Sometimes such low-powered games are called Poverty Campaigns, suggesting it is rather poor in some regard. But poor in what? Money? Perhaps, but mostly the term "poor" speaks to the issue of raw power and magical abilities and magic items, or even frequently the rate one's character advances in raw power and levels. This does not mean, however, they are poor in fun. In fact, they may be some of the best games going as far as roleplaying is concerned.

DMs who prefer poverty campaigns have genuinely honest concerns when it comes to a sense of realism and tradition and perhaps even history, and this level of concern compels them to make well-considered game worlds more often than not.

Magic is, unfortunately, one of the biggest problems in such games since magic seems to be one of the most "unrealistic" things in the world. But is magic really unrealistic? I find when people make such claims, what they really mean is that magic is unnatural, non-historical, and difficult to visualize. But magic, if you have it in your game at all, no matter how much - (a little, or a lot) - is just as real as you wish it to be. As a basic premise of the game world, it's as real as anything else is in that world. Thus, realism is not the issue, but a lack of familiarity may be the problem. Without genuine historical precedents of actual working magic, who can say how good the magic system works or how well it conforms to some semblance of reality?

It has, therefore, been my experience that such DMs, and the players that enjoy poverty campaigns, have the biggest problems with magic, divine or arcane. Both kinds of magic might cause huge problems. When some magic spell is widely available to solve most of life's little problems, or even answer the deep and mysterious questions, the game often seems all about magic and not about traditional human struggles. This may give the campaign that "unnatural" feel many would like to avoid, or prevents one from exploring more familiar ground and story lines.

The ability to Teleport or Plane Shift, for example, makes stories of great journeys rather passé. I mean, how exciting would Frodo's and Samwise's journey to Mount Doom have been if Gandalf simply teleported them there? Not very good, I'm sure you would agree. And long ocean voyages would be far too slow and risky if one could Plane Shift or Teleport instead. And how interesting is it if the thick, mysterious woods or forest, or perhaps that awful mountain pass, is in the way, and one is forced to journey through it? Just bypass it with magic. Or the stories of terrible curses - (Lycanthropy comes to mind) - will never shine when spells like Remove Curse are easily obtained?

Do you think a story would have been as interesting a mystery, trying to discover who did what in a traditional "who dun it," when you can simply Commune with god and ask? What if half the excitement is just trying to figure out if you can trust a particular character or not? Know Alignment, Detect Evil, or perhaps even Detect Enemy will cut that story short - or perhaps even start an argument about alignments and what they really mean. And is he telling the truth or not? Detect Lie removes even that doubt. Such stories which depend on these things are, therefore, often not plausible in AD&D games.

Injury, Infections, and Death, in particular, may no longer be anywhere near the awful things they are on Earth since many common spells will fix even these plights to a great degree. Rushing into battle, knowing you will be wounded or perhaps killed, is not nearly as dramatic or heroic if you know the party cleric is right there to fix you up. Instead of doing all you can to avoid serious trouble of a lethal nature, many actually seek it out and laugh at it. Cure Light Wounds, Regeneration, Cure Disease, Cure Blindness, and Raise Dead have a lot to answer for when it comes to altering our basic approach to injury and death.

A dying man gasping out a few clues is sort of silly in such a game. Not only could you easily save him with the most trivial of healing magic, and thus get all the information from him at leisure, even if you didn't or couldn't, you could always Speak With Dead. Dead men do tell tales in AD&D.

Now I'm not saying NEW ideas or story lines cannot be devised for such worlds. Not at all. But I am saying they will not have many traditional flavors, and many of our real life problems and mysteries simply aren't a huge problem on such worlds. So it takes a more vivid imagination to see how what might be a huge problem on Earth is not a great difficulty on a magic-filled world after all. And to keep coming up with new ideas that make sense in such a world and will still pose a challenge, even for the player well versed in magical powers, is not always so easy. Remember, no one really has any practical experience with magic-filled worlds since no one really grew up there, so it's not all that easy to imagine consistent worlds that make sense. I mean, how many of us grew up in a magic-filled world so that we'd really know, huh? Damn few of us, I'd wager.

So you see, with magic in abundance, traditional story lines may simply no longer work. And many DMs hate that, or rather they would just prefer stories of more humble origins. That is why the entire approach to magic has to be toned down, or perhaps even eliminated, for the poverty campaign.

But wouldn't simply being a low-level group work? I mean, most PCs just don't have that kind of power until mid to high-level, so you can still use the more traditional story lines in low-level games, right? Especially if it takes decades to accumulate enough experience to even get to midlevels. Right? Sigh, alas, no. Sorry, but more often than not you can't even realistically do that. Let me tell why.

The thing is, even if your PCs are low-level and poor, and even if it takes decades for them to reach true power, chances are, on a world where powerful magic exists at all, the NPCs will have been dealing with it for centuries or more. Thus, high-level NPCs could almost certainly already handle any epic struggle, even if they would be quite challenging to low-level PCs. Two hobbits, for example, are not going to go off on an epic quest to save the world while NPC arch mages simply sit back and enjoy the show. If the world is at risk, they'll do something about it. It's their home too, you know?

Now I know there were specific reasons why characters like Gandalf didn't use their full powers, and you can always invent some reasons why high-level NPCs may stay their hand. But my point is you'd have to invent these reasons, and not just for one or two high-level NPCs, but for ALL of them. So I think you may begin to see the problem. No blanket rules exists in the standard game to prevent high-level NPCs from interacting with low-level PCs, and thus removing any epic concerns from their consideration. Or worse, nothing would prevent your low-level PCs from running to high-level NPCs to solve all their problems. DMs usually wish PCs to solve their own problems, and with a handy high-level mage or cleric in your town, unless you invent reasons why they refuse to help or get involved, the PCs will probably go to them for all the answers.

When game system rules are developed by concentrating on the PCs while ignoring the logical consequences of what the older, already well-established NPCs would be doing, or would have been doing these pasts few centuries, they will give you a rather distorted view of game reality. You can't ignore the logical consequences of what most NPCs would have been doing and still claim any great measure of realism. So even if a game seems well balanced and fun and equitable for your PCs, it may be sort of silly if the authors failed to take into account what NPCs, perhaps thousands of years old, may have been doing. This happens so often, in fact, that even if they might have made good game rules, they may have still failed miserably at making realistic world rules.

Though in actual practice worlds are often built just for your PCs, in "their" reality, the world wasn't made just for them any more than Earth exists solely for you. Billions of other people and trillions of other creatures would have something to say about that, I'm sure.

Thus, we often must "realistically" confine ourselves - (our story lines) - to the "Local Phenomenon." That is, smaller, less epic things that the locals care about but are really of no great concern to those abroad, no matter how high-level they are.

The problem is that this may make some rather uninteresting stories. Unless, of course, those abroad are not privy to what's going on. That way it can be more epic - just not epic enough to catch their eye. But that's hard to do in a world filled with magic while individuals may be scrying and communing and teleporting or plane shifting almost on a whim, etc., etc., etc., but not so hard to do in a world where magic is somewhat rarer, or at least considerably less powerful.

But magic and progression and experience shouldn't work differently for NPCs than it does for PCs - at least without a damn good reason other than game balance. So, by necessity, the entire world must be lower in levels and lower in magic or lower in raw power to make this work. But how do we do this in AD&D? I mean, that game system is built around powerful magic spells and magic items, so wouldn't it be tough to ignore this? The answer is, of course, yes, it is harder to do this. But the point is it is not impossible. And if you like a lower-level game with more traditional story lines, then this is for you.

So here are a few ideas on how to go about mitigating the magic, toning down the power level, and making a more traditionally flavored game - or in short, how to play or run an AD&D Poverty Campaign.

Please note one does not need to include each suggestion given below. You may like only one idea, and that alone may give your campaign the flavor you seek, or you may wish to incorporate several of them. No one is being told you must adopt each idea to run a good campaign, so please keep this in mind while you go over the ideas below.

Finally, if you think you have an idea or rule modification that has worked for you, please send me a few paragraphs on it and I may include it below. Thank you.

Email Jim Your Comments (Send Praise, Critique, Complaints, Suggestions, Ideas, or Submissions).


The important thing in roleplaying games is advancing in power and/or character development. Increasing the power of your equipment is one form of this. But going from a mundane steel sword to a magic sword, then a better magic sword, then an even better magic sword, etc., is not the only way to do this. A similar, yet more earthly and natural solution, is using differing materials and moving from lower to higher technologies, which are more expensive and harder to come by.

You can start with fire hardened wooden spears and stone knives and bear skins (for padded armor). Stone weapons would be a step up, of course. Then another upgrade to a copper blade would be like getting a +1 weapon. An alloy, bronze for example, would be lighter and stronger yet (+2). Iron would be even better (+3). Steel would certainly be something to brag about (+4). And the mysterious iron meteorite - (or whatever it is, I will call it "runic" material) - would be about as good as it gets (+5).

Each gradation of weapon or armor (material) would have the same feel of progression or achievement when you acquire it just as it does in a more magically oriented game. You just need to tweak a few rules or invent a few new ones. But the advantage is you don't have to keep your eye on a whole magical "industry."

About the easiest way to do this would be the following:


Wooden Materials, or those made of bone, -1 to hit and -1 damage,
Copper Materials have no modifiers,
Stone materials (flint, obsidian, etc.) +1 to hit, +1 to damage,
Bronze Materials +1 to hit and +1 to damage,
Iron Materials +2 to hit and +2 to damage,
Steel Materials +3 to hit and +3 to damage,
Runic Materials +4 to hit and +4 to damage, and finally,
Blessed or Magic Materials Made from Runic metals +5 to hit and +5 to damage.

Arrows must be at least bone, or perhaps stone or metal-tipped not to be -1/-1. Cooper, bronze, or iron tips will have no bonuses or penalties. Steel is +1/+1 and Runic is +2/+2 and Blessed Runic or Magical Runic is +3/+3, but such arrows need to be reworked after each successful hit. This process must be done at home with a forge and costs 1/5 to 1/2 the price of a similar new arrow. Keep in mind, such arrows are often lost or left behind due to circumstances and must be replaced if you want that power again. Other missile weapons either follow similar rules or the general rule of having no bonus or penalty, or perhaps just +1/+1 (tops), as sling bullets, for example, no matter what metal they are made from.

If you need a magic weapon to even hit a creature, just assume - (for example if it takes a +2 weapon to even hit it) - you need iron or better.


Wooden Materials -2 from the normal AC,
Copper Materials -1 from the normal AC,
Bronze Materials the listed or normal AC,
Iron Materials +1 from the normal AC,
Steel Materials +2 from the normal AC,
Runic Materials +3 from the normal AC,
Blessed or Magic Materials Made from Runic metals +4 to +5 from the normal AC.

The general idea is that the knowledge of metals and alloys is rare and perhaps secret and guarded information. Secret societies and cults with this information become more important in this game. Also, metals are rarer and more valuable in such a society. Weaker materials will need to be repaired or replaced more often than stronger ones. You can guess at this, or use this as a rough guideline:

Wooden Materials or bone should be replaced after each battle where they came into play or were actually used - otherwise cracks may finally break the weapon next encounter.

Copper Materials may last for three battles and always be in need of repair. Failing to take time to repair it - with your own NWP black smith skill or by taking it to a black smith or weapon smith with that skill - may degrade the weapon or armor by 1 more factor or AC.

Stone materials, such as flint or obsidian, may break after 1 or 2 battles, and may need to be replaced since they cannot be repaired. It takes a great deal of time and skill to craft these stone, though they may be relatively less expensive than rarer metal ones.

Bronze Materials, as above, but will last longer, perhaps 6 battles before they need repair.

Iron Materials, as above, but will last 10 battles.

Steel Materials, as above, but will last 15 battles.

Runic Materials, as above, but will last 25 battles. And finally

Blessed or Magic Materials Made from Runic metals never need repair unless something extraordinary happens to them.

These rough guidelines will help a DM decide what to do, but no complete table is made. Common sense should be exercised. Many items found in the field may be in immediate need of repair before they can be used.


Borrowed from the game Rune Quest, this idea helps a great deal. Ultra pure metals are considered holy by various religions. Each religion may hold one in particular especially holy, and each god may be associated with a particular pure metal, like gold, silver, iron, copper, etc. These temples know the secret of making these metals of such purity, but this craft is not general knowledge. Coins may still be made from valuable metals, but never at this level of purity, so coins are not of runic quality. Though such purity might suggest a metal unsuitable for weapons, once enchanted, this is simply not the case; the enchantment process makes runic materials far stronger and more durable.

Thus, through the right religious prayers and ceremonies, such runic metals may be enchanted. Weapons and armors made from such enchanted runic metals, while in the hands of true believers of that particular faith, may be +4 or +5, but in the hands of an "infidel," may be more akin to +1 or +2 items. This is sort of like the Holy Avenger sword and paladins, for example. It may even acquire a "holy" function or power.

Entire stories or quests can be built around acquiring enough of this rare metal to make even a single item.


It may be the case weapons and armor of Dwarven make or Elven make - (or other special races the DM deems appropriate) - may be +1 better than above. This does NOT mean dwarven or elven characters automatically have these weapons or the skill to make them, or even that most NPCs of that race have these items or knowledge. It only means special ones made by the best quality craftsmen from that race may be better than your average quality work. The point is, through skill and balance and knowledge, a weapon or piece of armor is slightly better without resorting to just more and more magic. Dwarves may be particularly good with swords, axes, hammers, and armor, while elves may be gifted bowyers and fletchers, making great bows and arrows. Your DM will decide upon these things as a matter of game flavor.


Economics is a hard thing to do, but many like the flavor of a poorer game, where a copper piece or two will take care of your daily needs, and a gold piece may allow you to live like a king for a month. The detail required is often such that the DM will have to make his own "shopping list." That is, items and prices in the book will need to be modified. This may take some work.

As for the items of metal, just assume those made from copper most closely resemble the book's listed prices. To make it easy, just consider each item of metal be to worth 10 times the next lower quality. For example, steel cost 10 times what iron does, and iron cost 10 times what bronze does, etc. But the DM may use another factor, such a 2, or 5, or even 20. It's up to them how easy or how hard the game should be, and how much money will flow through the adventurer's hands.

Also remember, material components for spells are often listed as costing X GP, but your economic system may make such a spell too costly to ever cast. If that's fine with you, OK, but you should make that call for each spell and not just let the numbers do the talking. Adjust any such cost to fit your world's economy. And please, make a note of it so it doesn't keep changing from session to session. You may even write it lightly in pencil in your PHB.

Finally, "staring money" for PCs will more likely be goods and equipment they have acquired, or that relatives or friends have given to them. For example, you can roll the starting money and the player may shop on the lists, but if the player "buys" item A, what really may have happened is that his character was given item A rather than the coins to buy it. This is often a more realistic approach to staring money. Just remember if you adjust the economy, you'll have to adjust starting money as well.


Now, in such a game the PCs would almost certainly have more realistic statistical numbers - STATS, i.e. STR, INT, CON, DEX, WIS, CHA. The idea of automatically having an 18 in your class's primary requisite is probably something that needs to fall by the wayside. By actually rolling characters and tweaking them or rearranging them less - (or not at all) - the campaign will shape up in another more realistic way and conform to more realistic probabilities.

Your DM may rule that weapons in the hands of a character with exceptional strength may become damaged more rapidly. In general, subtract one for each STR category above 18 - (not to ever be lower than one battle) - from the number of "battles" that material can endure before needing repair. Such exceptional strength will often punish the weapon a great deal while it does massive damage to armor, bone, sinew, etc.


Secondary skills can no longer afford to be tied to levels. That would virtually arrest a character's development in a slow moving, low-experience game. Thus, a good way to do it is as I have done it. Only time and desire - (and perhaps money) - will most frequently limit your character's acquisition and development of their secondary skills. Though you may devise another way to do it, if you'd like to see how I did it, follow this link:

An Explanation Of The Secondary And Tertiary Table Of Skills (A New Revision Of The Secondary Skills System For AD&D).

The Secondary Skills (The Complete Table Of Skills AND A Complete Alphabetical Listing And Explanation Of The Skills).

The class-based game of AD&D often seems at odds with skill-based games. "How come I can't learn this skill?" is often intoned in the general direction of the DM. Realistically, they probably can. In fact, the only realistic limits should be time, money, opportunity, and raw stats - (talent or aptitude) - and class or race-based limitations are often pretty stupid. Time and money alone will usually be enough. But game balance should be observed. So if your fighter wishes to sharpen some thieving skills, let them, but degrade some of their fighter skills. Perhaps this is simple as making their next hit dice 1d6 instead of 1d10, and limiting the constitution bonus to +2 (if any) instead of +4 on that hit dice.

The general idea of classes, however, is justified under the notion that pure classes - (like just fighters or just mages or just thieves or just clerics) - are second to none, and taking time out to hone other skills will lessen a character's performance - perhaps even preventing them from specializing in a weapon if they aspire to be a pure fighter. And years of training are also assumed just to get the first-level in a class, so one could not just pick up the skills of a 1st-level thief or a 1st-level mage by forgoing one level of fighter, for example. It may take years of game time.

Thus, realistically, they can do these things, but not in a slipshod manner. Multiclass characters should be allowed for humans AND non-humans, and blow off the dual class rules by no longer using them. Just age such characters an extra 4, 6, or 10 years, adjust their stats of STR, CON, and DEX downwards for being older - (though they may increase in INT and WIS) - and let them play multiclass characters. Bear in mind, however, that a slow moving, low-xp game will make it take forever to go up in multiple classes, so this is not a walk in the park. You give up a lot by choosing to be multiclass. Finally, not to let things get too unrealistic, do not allow triple class characters, or worse, for PCs. Ewwwww.

But non-class related skills, like tracking or other NWP skills, may be picked up, if they have the time, money, opportunity, or talent.


Many dislike the seeming unrealistic nature of characters with lots and lots of hit points. I don't think the AD&D abstract system of hit points is that unrealistic, but it could be better or more easily grasped.

As a lower-level game, this already is less of a problem since low-levels implies only a few hit dice, and we never reach the level of the ludicrously powerful character. But one may adapt a few more rules to add another dimension to this game. These rules would be more optional than most.

Hit locations, for example: Roll 1d20.

Left Leg (1-4),
Right Leg (5-8),
Abdomen (9-11),
Chest (12),
Left Arm (13-15)
Right Arm (16-18)
Neck and Head (19-20)

Your maximum hit points (M) would be kept as well as individual hit locations. Roughly, each leg (1/3)M, each arm (1/4)M, abdomen (1/3)M, chest (1/4)M, and head (1/4)M (round off to nearest integer). You may notice right away all these locations add up to more hit points than M. That's normal.

Each time you are hit, 1d20 will determine where. Then subtract this from that location AND your Body total. You have 8 numbers to keep track of here, but that's realistic detail for you. A small drawing of your body will help, with each location showing the protection there and the remaining hit points there.

If any location goes to zero or lower, act accordingly. A limb becomes useless. The abdomen will render both legs useless. The chest or head will drop your character to unconsciousness. Or, you may have numerous minor injuries but your Body's total damage is more than M, so you are unconscious then too.

But two more factors are involved here. First, armor. Armor is no longer acquired by the suit, but you can wear it by the piece, each location perhaps having a different kind of armor. A bronze helm, a copper breastplate, leather bracers, etc. For each plus afforded by that armor type, it absorbs one point of damage and prevents it from getting to you. Thus, if you wore an iron breastplate (+1), and were hit for 6 HPs in the chest, you'd only take 5. So you'd lose 5 HPs in chest and 5 HPs on body.

Limits would also be imposed. No location can take more than twice its normal maximum. So if you were hit for 14 HPs in your MAX 4 HP arm, you'd lose the arm, but only 8 HPs from your Body's total (not all 14). By losing the arm, I mean it would be at -4 HPs and hang uselessly at your side until healed. Additional blows may further injure it, and your Body's HPs will be lowered as well.

NOTE: I do not mean your limb can't get lower than double its MAX HPs. I only mean no single blow can damage it more than double its MAX HPs. Your limb can go to -100 HPs or more if it keeps getting hit and you keep living.

One could develop rules for maiming injuries, but that's getting to be too much for most people. But that's up to you. If you wish, one easy way is to use the -10 rule for each location. If a limb gets to -10 or lower, it requires Cure Serious Wounds to restore it to positive HPs. Similarly, if it got to -20 or lower, it may require Cure Critical Wounds to restore it to positive HPs. Or you may simply rule the limb is taken off if it reaches -X HPs, thus requiring Regeneration to reattach it or grow a new one.

Naturally, if your head or neck gets to -10 HPs, you're dead. If your chest gets to -20, you're dead. If your abdomen gets to -10, your legs are useless (paralyzed). How much MAGICAL healing may be required is up to the DM, but normal healing will probably not fully restore any location that becomes so seriously damaged. The DM should assume, unless actual Regeneration is required, that a Raise Dead spell will restore all locations to positive potential HPs - thus, limbs that were useless are assumed to be normal again from the fantastic power of this life restoring spell.

Healing magic, when available, will heal hit locations. The Body's hit points are a function of remaining damage - more on this later.

If an arm - (normally with a maximum of 4 HPs for this example) - has 3 HPs of damage, and it is healed for 6 HPs, the arm is restored to MAX - (healed for 3). The remaining 3 HPs is then divided in half and rounded up (3/2 = 1.5 becomes 2 HPs carry over). Each time carry over healing energy goes to a new hit location; the remainder is halved and rounded up. If you targeted one location, it would next go to adjacent hit locations. If more than one location is adjacent, healing magic AUTOMATICALLY flows toward greater areas of damage first - (you may not direct it to lower areas of damage first). In this case, if you target the ARM, the CHEST is next in line. If this is not damaged, then the remainder is lost. If it is damaged, heal as much as it is able. If more healing points remain, divide by 2 and round up, then proceed to the next adjacent area if any (no backtracking). Healing the chest, for example, may heal the chest then flow to an arm, but would stop there, even if more healing points remained. Healing the abdomen might flow into the chest and then an arm, however. Healing a leg may flow into the abdomen, then chest, and then head. Etc.

Of course, this means one should lay their healing magic on more centrally located hit locations. Healing the CHEST, for example, could have remaining HPs directed to the neck and head, either arm, OR the abdomen.

The Body's HPs will be restored as well. The Body's HPs should always be its MAX minus all remaining damage to each hit location. After healing hit locations, recalculate the Body's remaining HPs.

Normal healing will add 1 HP to EACH hit location/day. Healing and Herbalism skills will allow each tended location to heal 2 HPs/day. Such a healer may tend to up to 5 locations (or whatever the DM wants). That might be 5 would on 5 different people, or 5 wounds on one person, or anything in between.

The body's HPs, however, will always be MAX HPs - all remaining damage in each hit location.

For serious injuries that took hit locations to -10 or lower HPs, normal, natural healing will heal these lost or useless limbs to -1 hit points, but no further. Those limbs are forever useless unless MAGIC comes into play. Whether it takes Cure Light, Moderate, Serious, or Cure Critical Wounds, or even stronger magic, is up to the DM.

Therefore, you can see that permanently lost limbs will permanently lower one's MAX Body HPs by 1 HP - unless first restored magically.

Under such rules, magical healing, though exceedingly rare, will be sought out by the maimed and crippled. This, in and of itself, could become a quest. Even in lower-level groups that have a party cleric, they may not be able to cast the level of healing required to repair certain, serious injuries. For example, if a limb were reduced to -20 HPs, Cure Light Wounds will restore it to -1 HPs (eventually, after you cast enough of them), but CLWs will never restore it fully to positive HPs. It will take stronger magic, and that may require finding a higher-level cleric who may not be all that common. Or worse, it may require a whole temple and many clerics and ceremonial magic to get the required level of healing - more on this later.

All these possibilities make such concerns rather more epic and far from cheap and common as they may seem in other games where magic healing spells are a dime a dozen - so to speak.

Why all the detail? It adds realism, but if you don't wish this level of detail, either don't use the hit location optional rules or just ignore the extra optional healing rules and use normal healing rules. Whatever works for you is what you SHOULD do.


But what about magic? Wasn't that the biggest problem? Do we simply abandon clerics and magic users? And what about those other classes that also use magic at mid to high-levels - like rangers, bards, and paladins, etc.?

Well, you certainly could totally get rid of magic, but I wouldn't recommend that. If you wanted to do that, you be getting so far afield from AD&D that I'd suggest you just play a different game. In fact, the only reason we are doing this at all is to still play AD&D. The advantage of that is obvious since many who play AD&D will be able to see, understand, and immediately enter your low-powered game with little additional instructions. They already know how to play. They just need to experience a low-level campaign. Thus, we keep as much of AD&D as possible. This means keeping clerics and magic users. But in what form?

Worldwide adventuring is practically out of the question. Going from planet to planet is right out. Perhaps you'll even be confined to one continent or island. Or, perhaps long, dangerous, ocean voyages may be part of your adventurer's life.

To do this, one must find or invent or adopt a reason why magic is scarce and levels are low. And just saying it takes TIME will not cut it since NPCs have had all the time in the world. Lower-level limits are one way to go.

On such a world, no matter who you are or how long you live, just like demi-humans, even humans have level limits. The immediate problem here is that demi-humans have many advantages already due to their race, and the lack of level limits on humans is what balanced the game before. So what balances it now? Multiclass characters were especially a problem since they had all the advantages and few disadvantages packed into one tight little package.

Tone down the racial abilities. Get rid of infravision, for example, or lessen it, or have elves only get twice as old as humans. Remove resistances to sleep or charm, or the ability to detect sloping passages and secret doors. Do not allow racial advantages like +1 on swords and bows for elves, or huge bonuses vs. poison for dwarves - or just make it less, like +1, but not +4, to preserve some of the traditional flavor. Simply by toning down racial advantages and letting all characters multiclass, you go a long way to balancing the game again. Finally, perhaps humans may achieve one level higher than most races. But you'll see what I mean by that later.

First, decide on how far you wish to go with magic. For example, if you don't want Raise Dead in your game, perhaps make the level limits at 8th-level. Thus no one can ever get to 9th-level where one can start casting such 5th-level spells, and 4th-level or lower-level spells will be the limit in that game. Even the highest-level NPC will be 8th-level then. Unless, of course, you let humans get to 9th-level - one level higher, as mentioned above. That gives them the power of Raise Dead and other 5th-level spells. Wow! That makes up for a lot, and many of those toned down racial bonuses that demi-humans keep will be balanced by this one extra level that only humans get.

But, you may at times wish more powerful magic in your game while preventing wide spread magic. You can still do this with-level limits. Though individuals may be limited to a particular level - as all characters are - by working together, in groups, guilds, temples, etc., and using ceremonial magic or archaic rituals, they may cast higher-level spells.

For example, let us assume while on holy ground a cleric may cast as if they were one level higher than they are. While adventuring in the field, a 4th-level cleric is just that, but they would act as if they were 5th-level - (one level higher) - while on holy temple grounds - as far as spell casting is concerned. Furthermore, by working together with other clerics - (of 1st-level or higher) - of the same religion or at least the same alignment in one area - (like all Good, or all Lawful, etc.) - you take the highest-level cleric and add one level for each additional cleric present in the circle, not to exceed +N levels, an arbitray limit chosen by the DM for that world. That group can effectively cast a spell at that higher level. Perhaps they can do this once per day - or more if you wish, or less often, too..

Similarly, mage guilds or mage castles may be built in special areas to augment their power by one level while there, and additional 1st or higher-level mages may add to the power of the highest-level mage (up to +N, wehre N is chosen by the DM) while performing some archaic ritual. Together, they can do more powerful things, but they have to work together.

You can decide how high ceremonial magic or archaic ritual magic can increase their abilities and limit that to whatever level you wish for your game. As previously stated, you may limit the circle of spell casters to no more than N members, where N = the level of the highest-level caster. Or perhaps better, N must simply be less than the highest-level caster there. So a lot of 1st-level clerics still can't do things that are too powerful.

For example, on temple grounds, the highest-level cleric might be 5th-level, thus with 4 other clerics (4th-level to 1st-level) they can cast one spell per day as a 9th-level cleric. That is, they could, for example, cast a Raise Dead spell by working together.

EXAMPLE: If 8th-level is the game limit for all races, except humans who may be one level higher, then an individual human could be 9th-level (or 10th-level while on "special" ground). And using ceremonial magic or archaic rituals, along with 9 other spell casters (9<10), the highest-level caster could cast a spell as if they were 19th-level. Using these particular numbers as limits would make it possible for a group of mages to cast a Wish. However, more often than not, spells, traps, powers in general found in the world at large, will all be limited to the abilities of a normal 9th-level character. This makes the whole game less powerful while preserving many possibilities. Remember DMs may pick their numbers to achieve a higher or lower desired level of magic.

You may give different limits for each class, too. Clerics may have one limit, mages another, warriors yet another, etc. You can do a lot if it suits your needs. But I wouldn't let these limits get too far apart since the game is sort of balanced and play tested as is. Thus, no more than one or two levels difference between class limits is recommended.

Next, you can make magic rare as hen's teeth, not allowing mages to pick any old spell from the list and research it, but only allowing a few instances of randomly determined spells to come to light. This would NOT be some scroll they found with the complete spell on it, so much as the clues and hints that would lead, in time, to that spell IF they choose to pursue it and research it. Similarly, you may have to limit clerics more severely in their spell selection, perhaps even allowing each god access to only a handful of theme based spells instead of the whole list in the PHB.

Another method to lower the magical profile is to make it work less often. Simply put, one can give each spell caster a percentage chance their spells will succeed - perhaps identical to their resurrection survival roll, for example. In addition to a creature getting a saving throw, sometimes these spells will not even get THAT far, and the less than certain nature of casting magic will have a potentially huge impact on the flavor of the game. However, I wouldn't bother to make them roll except during actual combat. While safe and under little pressure, it is assumed they can cast their spells as normal. Only being rushed brings on the spell failure roll.

Finally, you may wish to just remove certain spells from the game, or just alter them so they are not as offensive to you or traditional story lines. For example, if your only true problem was with the spell Raise Dead, then by all means, give it the axe and take it out of the game.

Spell Durations may also be curtailed. The entire idea of continual this or continual that may have to go. Also, permanent magic items may not be so permanent anymore. Battle magic may become the norm. That is, spells work for such short duration they are good for about one battle. DMs should devise standard spells to augment weapons or armor (+1, +2, +3 etc. at various levels, but make their duration about right for one battle, thus needing to be cast just before each fight).

Longer lasting magic may be taken out of the game. Continual Light, Armor, Stone Skin, etc. or similar spells that hang around until needed may ruin the flavor you seek. Get rid of them, or alter their duration. Do this spell by spell, however, for if you are not offended by the duration for the spell Armor, you don't have to change it just because you don't wish Continual Light spells everywhere.

However you tone it down and limit it, the important thing is that mages and clerics are still there and still useful and still powerful - and still very much worthwhile as a character to play.

But if you limit raw power and selection on spells, I'd adopt a softer approach than the AD&D memorization standard, and I'd use a mana system to give spell casters a better chance to use what they know with greater diversity. Here is such a system that has passed scrutiny.

Mana System, A Different Way To Cast Spells (A Good Alternative System To The Standard Memorization Of Spells. Add Diversity To Your Spell Casters).

Furthermore, I might even allow a greater use of cantrips and orisons. Heck, it might even be more fun if more classes could use them other than just clerics and mages, but you may wish to avoid this too if you want to cut back on magic. Cantrips and Orisons, however, are very, very weak, so if it's power you object to, you could use them more, but if it is just wide spread magic, then perhaps not. Here is an article on these useful 0th-level spells:

Cantrips And Orisons (See The Minor 0th-level Spells Mages And Priests May Still Employ).


Naturally, if magic spells are curtailed, magic items probably are as well. Or perhaps a former higher culture and civilization has been destroyed on this world, making some standard magic items more like Artifacts.

The point of all this is, of course, by making powerful, high-level magic no longer something done solely by the whim of the individual, it takes a lot more work, cooperation, and perhaps the right location, to get powerful things done. These restrictions on spell casting and levels solve the NPC problem, make magic rarer and more special, and harder to mess up traditional story lines. Yet, a large semblance of AD&D is preserved, and access to magic and a more epic story line is still possible.


The DM should also use more natural magic items of wonder. Those items have fantastic, almost magical properties, but none of them rely on a high culture of magic or understanding or the actual manufacture of magic items. For example, shields and armor made from certain creatures would be better. A classic example would be the "bulette" or land shark shield. The blood - or other parts - of various creatures can have magical properties. Certain gems and jewels have certain properties. The mind boggles at the possibilities. The point of this is clear, however, since it makes reliance on knowledge of making magic items or understanding magic as a science not important. It even allows more traditional thoughts and beliefs, even if they may not be true. For example, a four-leaf clover may be thought to bring the owner luck, and one may do a great deal to obtain such a thing, but it would have no real game effect (like +1 to saves). On the other hand, if the DM wanted, it certainly could have that property as well.

The DM is encouraged to bring in as much of this as they want, all while preserving the lower-power and less high-powered flavor that often comes with too great an understanding about how magic works and how one may manufacture it. Once the culture may do that, the society often takes a turn toward higher and more sophisticated development, and that leads to many of the problems one wished to avoid in the first place. So reliance on naturally occurring magic items is definitely a good idea, and the DM can always control how often they appear in his game world.


So, with all that said, I hope you will run a lower-powered game sometime for yourself, or at least play in one if it happens to cross your path. With magic and raw power no longer as a reliable fall back position, you are often forced to roleplay more, use your head more, and develop even the little skills of your character in greater detail and depth as well. Thus, many poverty campaigns are some of the richest in character development and roleplaying, and I highly recommend trying one.

© February of 2001
James L.R. Beach
Waterville, MN 56096