Building a Low Powered world in DDNext, advice wanted

I have been playing DnD since 2001 and have been running (Mostly in a co-DM fashion) since 2007. My group has normally played in a high powered setting chiefly designed by a friend or the Forgotten Realms.

For the introduction of 5e I wanted to run a much lower powered game, something akin to the stories from the 1e game my parents would tell me about playing. In creating this world I am seeking help from experienced DMs on just about anything. 
01. Any websites you suggest I read?
02. Any good modules I should use for inspiration?
03. How low should I make the magic?
04. Instead of magic items, what did you use as rewards?
05. How did characters play spell casters and how did NPCs see them?
06. Was the world mostly human or a mix or the races?
07. Any podcast out there that I should check out? Advice or recorded games.
08. Any other advice for a DM

I know I could just use another setting (I think Greyhawk and Dark Sun are both low powered) but I would like to inject my own ideas into the setting that will more than likely hold us for 3 to 5 years.

I'm not sure if low-powered is quite what you're going for, but if you're going for a more AD&D feel to the game the main thing is characters die a lot more often. In that regard, it's low-powered 'cause your big powerful badass dude can fall down a pit trap and be killed instantly from the fall. The traps weren't all just death traps though. Sometimes they'd do something more insidious like change your race, personality or just dump you somewhere else far away with no simple way back.


I'd look at some adventure modules too. Dragon Mountain is iconic and it kicks high level ass with kobolds.


Grab an old DMG too. Flip through that and you'll get a pretty good idea what AD&D was supposed to feel like.

 We used to play like this back in 2nd ed. How low powered are we talking about here? Historical levels of magic, Greek mythology levels or low magic?

 

 Fear is the Mind Killer

 

I am thinking trinket magic might be around such as rings that cast light but there may only be one Flame Tongue (or any flaming sword) in the whole world. I do not see any strong combat related items dropping before level 10
D&DN handles that side of things quite well as it is assumed that magic items are not needed. Anyway some ideas more or less translplanted from the TSR era historical books.

1. No magic. Think Earth maybe Game of Thrones level magic. Magical races do not exist or are dying off. Any Dragons are most likely  the last ones. Spellcasters are banned and do not exist, Elves, Dwarves etc may not exist either. Magic items do not exist at all.

2. Very low magic. Spellcasters are nerfed or failing that very rare possibly limited to the PCs and villains. Magic items are very rare and are gifts from the gods. Think Excalibur and Greek legends. Pick spells that have very little visable effects, ban things like teleport. Magic may only work in certain areas or via certain items that conect you to the gods.

3. Low magic. Magic is rare but it is known to exist. A secret organisation could be killing spellcasters (Sith in Star Wars), and magic items can maybe be found from ruins of previous civilisations who may have had a higher level of magical awareness.  A holy avenger may as well be an artifact. Magical races are dead/dying/hiding, magic  is restricted to PCs, and a rare few magical races and NPCs.

 Fear is the Mind Killer

 

The 2e viking handbook gets brought up a lot. It's an excellent resource for historical campaigns, generally because it really gets into how one might run a historical campaign.

01. Any websites you suggest I read?
02. Any good modules I should use for inspiration?
03. How low should I make the magic?
04. Instead of magic items, what did you use as rewards?
05. How did characters play spell casters and how did NPCs see them?
06. Was the world mostly human or a mix or the races?
07. Any podcast out there that I should check out? Advice or recorded games.
08. Any other advice for a DM



1-I'd suggest you read some books instead. The Game of Throne series is a very good example of a very low-magic setting and the story is great. If you want some no-magic-at-all ideas (or ones where it's hard to tell if there's actually some magic going on or everything is just coincidence and/or manipulation) read some historical fiction books like Bernard Cornwell's The Warlord series.
2-Our own medieval History is a good "module" to read. 
3-Low powered doesn't have to mean necessarily low magic. You can have magic be common but put some severe drawbacks of casting it, so that it isn't used indiscriminately. Personally I do like very low magic in a setting, it make things grittier.
4-Gold, land, titles of nobility, etc. Think of our own world in medieval times as a source (you might have to stray from the typical dungeon-crawling concept of game, however, at least in so far as rewards are concerned). A PC might not find a magical artifact in the dungeon that he will use, but perhaps returning a family heirloom from a dungeon for a local nobleman may gain him favor or title, and of course money.
5-See examples I gave in item 3.
6-Doesn't really matter for a low powered campaign. Just avoid races that are too powerful on their own, independent of class choice (for example, races with level adjustment in 3e).
7-Don't know.
8-You might want to use a slower (or slightly slower) XP progression and/or pull the brakes a little on awarding XP. If the PCs level too fast they won't get the feel of each upgrade on their character sheets and the game will naturally feel high-powered, even without all the magic.


I know I could just use another setting (I think Greyhawk and Dark Sun are both low powered) but I would like to inject my own ideas into the setting that will more than likely hold us for 3 to 5 years.



Dark Sun was actually maybe the most high-powered setting of the AD&D era, if you think only in terms of characters. Ability Scores ranged 8-20 instead of 3-18, all races were more powerful than their basic versions, and you had new races even more powerful in some aspects like the Half-Giant and the Thri-Kreen. The known world was ruled by evil psionic/wizard kings with a level of power practically unparalleled by any other NPC in other settings. And these kings had Templars (which were a type of cleric, so magic users) to enforce their justice in the cities.
Oh, and every single PC in the game had at least one or two inate Psionic power.

But all that power was balanced and countered by a world that was the deadliest of all D&D settings.
The idea was that the world was SO harsh on its inhabitants that those who managed to survive naturally evolved into hardened beings.
Despite all his power, a PC in Dark Sun could die much more easily than in any other setting.
Survival was the core of the game, both in the scorching desert and in the politically-corrupt cities.

So... Dark Sun is a very different kind of "low powered".
PCs (and most NPCs and monsters) are actually quite powerful, but the game is made so that even so the world makes you feel overwhelmed and crushed by reality.

It's very very interesting, and I can only recommend you try it if you've never played Dark Sun.
But it may not be the kind of "low powered" you are searching specifically. 
My one bit of advice is that not all magic is created equal. Some of the first things people think to eliminate - crazy magic weapons, etc. - have relatively little impact on what most characters do or how they make decisions or how things play out. Meanwhile, "staple" things, like relatively accessible healing magic, dramatically change the tenor of a game when they're even curtailed a bit. Getting hurt is kind of a big deal when it's not possible to CLW it away. I'd almost go so far as to say that removing the Cure X Wounds line of spells and healing potions would have a greater effect on campaign feel than removing every single other magical spell, effect and item combined. You don't have to get rid of healing magic - it's an extreme step - but it's certainly a big hammer.

Okay, two bits of advice. Mundane treasure that isn't for adventuring, directly - titles, land, etc. - can quickly become very "so what?" treasure. Players aren't motivated in general as much by status or the ability to provide for their families as fictional characters are. The first plot of land is cool. For all but the most score-screeny players, there's heavily diminishing returns. Make plans to make their treasure actually feel like a benefit.
Dwarves invented beer so they could toast to their axes. Dwarves invented axes to kill people and take their beer. Swanmay Syndrome: Despite the percentages given in the Monster Manual, in reality 100% of groups of swans contain a Swanmay, because otherwise the DM would not have put any swans in the game.
I ran a Martial class/Human only 4e game and we really enjoyed it. I replaced magic items with Special Abilities like the Fighter earned Brutal effect on all his attacks, and the Ranger became immune to Fear effects, and the Rogue gained an Insight bonus.

Read some Robert Howard stuff, like Conan and Solomon Kane. Replace the names of known monsters with ones players will not recognize, like Gobilns became Bogandis and Hobgoblins became the Nekari and Gnolls were the N'longa warriors.

Dont describe visual effects for divine spells when opponents use them, stuff just happens! Create a sense of mystery when magic is used, Don't just say "they cast magic missile", describe some wierd effect like "he reaches into a small pouch and reveals a handfull of dust, when he throws it into the air a spark flies at you, take 1d4 damage"

You have to think about your encounters and how you will describe things ahead of time but it is worth it. 

Disclaimer: Wizards of the Coast is not responsible for the consequences of any failed saving throw, including but not limited to petrification, poison, death magic, dragon breath, spells, or vorpal sword-related decapitations.

I don't think D&D Next is there yet. They have stated in their design goals that they want to allow both High Fantasy and Low Fantasy style campaigns ... so its my assumption that they will have modules which support that sort of game.

I too prefer low fantasy settings.

AD&D did this best... 3E/4E assumed everyone was playing Forgotten Realm-esk settings and never considered looking back, at least the OGL allowed you to purchase books such as Conan d20 and Game of Thrones d20 which embraced the low fantasy settings.

So far D&D Next is going the right route however by giving martial classes strickly martial abilities (maneuvers) and staying away from the supernatural... It will be interesting how they decide to incorporate the ranger and paladin, will they give with a low-fantasy setting?
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