Geek Native held a round table discussion on Inhospitable Settings in which several RPG designers talked about the attraction of settings that are a bit different, the importance of not straying too far from science and world-building techniques.
Taking part in the event was John Yackel of Valiant Fox Gaming. He publishes the 5e setting Fading Embers, a campaign world that’s frozen and dangerous. In Fading Embers, access to fire magic isn’t possible. Magic-users get different spells, not fewer, as one approach Valliant Fox takes is to retheme spells rather than discard them and so flame strike becomes thunderstrike.
Working with John, and starting with “the cold” as an inhospitable environment, we put together this list of spells that you might want to restrict in such a setting to preserve the mystery, threat and alienness of it.
John’s been kind enough to add some notes to the start of each section.
Magic restrictions for cold 5e settings
Mostly I’ve done two different suggestions for many of them:
- “Substitute Type” short for: Substitute Damage Type of Choice (selected when the spell is learned); Flame blade to Lightning blade, etc;
- I tried to make one specific suggestion for Substitution when possible (so it’s not all “Choose one yourself”)
- Ash, Smoke, Magma are all variations of Fire damage in different forms, chosen from the Para & Quasi elemental planes in D&D cosmology; For all of these, I further suggest eliminating effects from the spells that would normally ignite things in the environment (like ‘Ash Storm’ would deal Fire damage to creatures it hits, but not catch the village on fire)
|Burning Hands||Substitute Type Or make ‘Smoking Hands’|
|Conjure Minor Elementals||Consider what else might appear instead of a fire elemental… Possibly some of the related Para & Quasi Elementals that are fire related: Smoke, Ash, Magma (Radiance already a 5e damage type, so left out to avoid confusion)|
|Continual Flame||Already does Light without Heat|
|Control Weather||Place a restrictive cap on how warm it can go. (“Cool” is the max. No more “Warm, Hot or Unbearable heat”)|
|Creation||In such a setting, this spell should not be able to create fire or elements that spontaneously ignite.|
|Delayed Blast Fireball||Substitute Type Or make ‘Delayed Blast Magma ball’|
|Faerie Fire||As normal but it produces no heat|
|Fire Bolt||Lots of cantrips already; possibly eliminate|
|Fire Storm||Substitute Type Or make ‘Ash Storm’|
|Fireball||Substitute Type Or make ‘Thunderball’|
|Flame Blade||Substitute Type Or make ‘Frost blade”|
|Flame Strike||Substitute Type Or make ‘Lighting Strike’|
|Flaming Sphere||Substitute Type Or make ‘Magma Sphere’|
|Heat Metal||Freeze (cold) Metal, Corrode (acid) Metal|
|Leomund’s Tiny Hut||Consider reducing the duration.|
|Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion||Possibly leave alone as a little warmth from a 7th level spell isn’t overkill|
|Mordenkainen’s Private Sanctum||Does not say anything about the temperature within the area|
|Produce Flame||Radiance (Light but no heat/fire)|
|Sacred Flame||Actually already does Radiance (not Fire)|
|Scorching Ray||Substitute Type Or make Lightning Rays|
|Sunbeam||Actually already does Radiance (not Fire)|
|Sunburst||Actually already does Radiance (not Fire)|
|Wall of Fire||Wall of Ash (keep damage the same)|
Magic restrictions for water-scarce 5e settings
- I’m definitely thinking about using two of the quasi-elemental planes: Salt and Dust.
- Also, I’m certain that the Dark Sun setting would have info on spell suggestions, but I never did buy anything in the 4th edition (it’s last official update).
- But even the original Dark Sun still allowed ‘create food & water’ to an extent.
|Acid Splash||As a cantrip, this should not convert with alkali or other reagents into drinkable liquid too readily.|
|Cone of Cold||This spell already uses cold air rather than liquid, no adjustment is needed.|
|Conjure Minor Elementals||Replace any water elementals with dust or salt elementals.|
|Control Water||This spell does not summon water from anywhere but can raise the level of water nearby. Given the level of this spell, and the use of a drop of water as a component, Control Water may need no adaptation.|
|Control Weather||As a high-level spell that may make it rain you may not remove it entirely, although that is an option. It may be the case that the weather moves from stage 5 or 4 back to 3 more quickly than usual or that there are additional and dangerous side effects from making it rain in this way.|
|Create Food & Water||Remove this spell or change water to salt or dust instead. Alternatively, dramatically reduce the quantity of water summoned.|
|Creation||Consider either disallowing this spell from summoning drinkable liquid or have the liquid duration such that it does not provide as much nourishment as “normal water”.|
|Destroy Food & Water||Remove this spell or change water to salt or dust instead. Alternatively, dramatically reduce the quantity of water destroyed.|
|Fog Cloud||Replace the fog with dust, alternatively, have any condensation or droplets of water that may occur due to the fog vanish when the spell ends.|
|Gaseous Form||Replace the fog with dust, alternatively, have any condensation or droplets of water that may occur due to the fog vanish when the spell ends.|
|Gust of Wind||Wind summon in this way is as warm as the setting.|
|Ice Storm||It should not be possible to harvest much water as a side effect of this spell.|
|Locate Object||Remain consistent whether this spell can or cannot locate water.|
|Melf’s Acid Arrow||The arrow should not convert with alkali or other reagents into drinkable liquid too readily.|
|Ray of Frost||It should not be possible to harvest much water as a side effect of this spell.|
|Sleet Storm||It should not be possible to harvest much water as a side effect of this spell.|
|Thunderwave||Thunder does not produce water.|
Magic restrictions for low-light 5e settings
- There are rules for levels of lighting and darkness in the Player’s Handbook that people should look to for sure: Bright Light, Dim Light, Lightly Obscured, Heavily Obscured and Darkness.
|Arcane Eye||Usually, the eye from this spell has darkvision and lasts for an hour. That may still be appropriate for a low-light setting, if not, try reducing the duration before removing the darkvision.|
|Blindness/Deafness||Could become extra scary|
|Clairvoyance||Might not be super useful for Seeing, BUT it can also be used for HEARING|
|Dancing Lights||Reduce the 10-foot radius of the glow to 1-foot.|
|Darkness||Remove the ‘Concentration’ element|
|Darkvison||Add a ‘Concentration’ element|
|Daylight||Remove the spell’s ability to dispel magical darkness. If necessary, reduce size of glow dramatically.|
|Evard’s Black Tentacles||Add a shadowy aspect that deals necrotic damage to restrained targets. Also add a vulnerability to Bright Light, giving targets Advantage on their saving throws versus it when they are in a brightly lit space.|
|Faerie Fire||Consider reducing the size of the cube rather than removing the glow of the things inside it.|
|Fireball, Bolt, Shield, Storm, etc||Keep unchanged; the flickering light from these spells can be seen as mixed blessing but a fair one.|
|Images and illusions||Reduce their ability to create bright light; a glow only|
|Light & Continual Flame||Reduce Bright Light by 10 feet|
|Moonbeam||Add a requirement of being outdoors for it to function|
|Sunbeam||We’d feel bad nerfing a level 8 spell, so no change here|
|Sunburst||Shrink the light radius from 30 f. & 30 ft, to 15 ft and 15 ft|
|Sunburst||A high-level spell and so consider leaving untouched or reducing the 60-foot radius slightly.|
Magic restrictions for violent flora 5e settings
- Fire magic would be super dangerous for starting massive fires. Like one fireball a mile outside of town could end up burning down the whole county. Spellcasters might want to embrace other damages types, like Acid
- Necrotic damage could be seen in a much better light by the general populace. Suddenly, blight becomes a useful spell for establishing areas of no-plant-growth, like a salted-earth moat around a settlement.
- GMs might want to give Druids a version of ‘Turn Undead’ that applies to out-of-control plant creatures.
- Certain spells dealing with plants should have a danger of working too well, requiring the caster to make a mental effort to control it properly. I suggest a Saving Throw using their spellcasting ability score, versus their own Spell DC. This is referred to as ‘Caster Check’ on the chart below.
|Barkskin||No longer requires concentration, but the caster cannot affect more than one creature with this spell at a time|
|Control Water||As normal|
|Create Food and Water||As normal or consider adding a risk of sparking nearby plant growth.|
|Create or Destroy Water||Destroying water might anger nearby plant-based creatures|
|Giant Insect||As normal|
|Goodberry||+2 hit points restored per berry rather than the normal +1|
|Grasping Vine||If concentration is broken (voluntary or otherwise) within the spell’s duration, the Grasping Vine remains but acts as an independent hostile creature until the duration is over.|
|Insect Plague||PC must pass a Caster Check to prevent the insects from devouring nearby flora.|
|Locate Animals or Plants||For Plants, a possible ‘overload’ if there are too many nearby results. PC must pass a Caster Check to locate a single specific target. Failure results in vague number/direction of the plants sought.|
|Plant Growth||The area affected is Doubled. PC must pass a Caster Check to exclude areas from the spell effect.|
|Purify Food and Drink||As normal or consider adding a risk of sparking nearby plant growth.|
|Spare the Dying||Can affect plants and plant-based creatures.|
|Speak with Planets||Can attempt to Charm a plant-based creature as per charm person rules.|
|Spike Growth||The area affected is Doubled. A successful Caster Check can reduce the area to the normal radius.|
|Thorn Whip||+10 feet range|
|Transport via Plants||GM may impose Teleport-like percentage roll for arriving off-target, similar area, and possible mishap.|
|Wall of Thorns||No longer requires Concentration|
A huge thanks to John for the collaboration on this post — suffice to say that it grew beyond the initial scope — and he stepped up anyway.
Replying to other comments to this article with helpful observations can boost your karma.