View Full Version : Dilemma: Setting versus Mechanics

2014-08-29, 01:16 PM
The long and the short of it, I'm running a d20 Future game in a very explicitly non-magical setting. I warned my players that I may borrow from DnD for enemies but I wanted to avoid explicitly magical things, like Medusa's and their Petrifying gaze. However, I was planning on, slowly, introducing more magical elements as the game goes on (the words I used was "A slow transition from Realistic Sci-Fi to Fantastical Sci-Fi").

I was designing an encounter for the party, using the stats for a Young Red Dragon as a template for a Drake-like alien they would be fighting. As I looked through its stats, it looked like the only thing I needed to change was the fluff. And then I saw it had a Caster Level of 1, meaning it can cast spells. I am not at the point I want something to be doing something so explicitly magical but then I also don't know how to tweak the Creature to stay a relevant enemy but without Spells.

On one hand, I could just pick some spells I can refluff (Like Obscuring mist as being steam he shoots out). Or I can just chop off spells all together and make no other edits. At CL 1, its not particularly dangerous spellcaster (versus a team of 5 level 5 PCs). I'm just not sure what to do at this point.

Does anyone have any ideas to "Dumb-down" the magic of spell casting? Leaving it somewhat mystical and otherworldly, but not completely mundane nor completely magical?

Red Fel
2014-08-29, 01:24 PM
Does anyone have any ideas to "Dumb-down" the magic of spell casting? Leaving it somewhat mystical and otherworldly, but not completely mundane nor completely magical?

Do Psionics work? I mean, it's a bit of a simplification, but ironically, one of the complaints against Psionics has been that "psychic powers are too science-fiction-y for a fantasy setting." So invert it. Take pseudo-fantasy creatures (like your alien-dragons) and give them Psionics. Because nobody's ever heard of psychic dragons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pern).

I mean, I don't know d20 Future all that well, but if it functions anything like D&D 3.5, Psionics shouldn't be hard to import, and apart from healing, Psionics does pretty much anything magic does, with a slightly more psychic flair.

2014-08-29, 01:26 PM
Psionics? You can pschyoteleknetically 'heat up things' and make fire, for example.

Psionics can be very science based....

2014-08-29, 01:29 PM
OOh, Psionics yes! I mentioned Psionics are rare and rather species limited (there was only 1 playable race with it, and it was just telepathy). So that fits perfectly. I'm welcome to other ideas though, if this situation crops up again.

2014-08-29, 01:32 PM
Next time, look at effects instead of what the creature actually is. I don't know my monster manual very well, but if you wanted to do a flying firebreathing creature, Young Red Dragon is probably not the only option you have. There's likely other monsters that have those attributes too.

2014-08-29, 01:37 PM
I wanted a Dragon, specifically, because Dratians (what I'm calling them) are a predator that appears on several different worlds, even before the resident species developed space travel. This of course baffles scientists, due to the remarkable similarity between species that developed completely isolated from one another. Mechanically, all Dratians are Dragons from one of the 3.5 books and this will be their first encounter. I wanted to make an encounter early on, before one would have access to their more magical abilities, but I started the game a tad too high level and now I've run past the Non-Casting Red's. But I like the Psionics, that may be a permanent change.

2014-08-29, 02:10 PM
You could always just not let it cast spells.

2014-08-29, 02:16 PM
1) let it be magic
2) psionics isn't magic - because it isn't magic if you call it something else
3) technological gizmos that have effects similar to the spells it would have
4) no casting but give it something else to compensate, like higher ability scores, more HP, other class features (fighter or barbarian abilities instead of sorcerer)

2014-08-29, 05:05 PM
4) no casting but give it something else to compensate, like higher ability scores, more HP, other class features (fighter or barbarian abilities instead of sorcerer)

How much 'compensating' does a dragon need? Even without spellcasting it's still a flying, firebreathing, highly intelligent Tyrannosaurus Rex!

Psionics can be very science based....

If you let 'science' include things like the luminiferous ether and phrenology, sure.

2014-08-29, 05:31 PM
With CL1 it's only going to have a couple spells prepared at most. Just figure out how you could fluff them and keep the effects. Illusions may be recreatable via holograms, possibly chemical scent stuff to make it more belivable. AC bosters or strength boosters could be some kind of servos or ... future-tech shields.

you could always refluff that kind of thing as a biotic whatzit, or cyborg thing.


Divination/ access to security feeds and fast accurate processing software.

For keeping things of limited usage, you can fluff it having limited amperage, total power available, or even that the parts break down from use.

Mirror image. Holograms. Why does it stop working? the crystals or lenses or whatnot get damaged from exposure. Image quality deteriorates and eventually shuts down.

Evocation can be easier/harder so I'd probably avoid it, but there's a fair amount of effects I feel could be refluffed.

The Insanity
2014-08-29, 05:53 PM
Don't use the spells. Dragons are fine wihout them. Especially if it's just CL 1.

2014-08-29, 08:42 PM
According to fluff, standard Red dragon tactics are straightforward. They use their breath weapon and physical attacks in a close up fight, rarely if ever using spells. This would especially be true for a young one. Frankly, I'm not sure you need to tweak it.

If you want to let it keep a bit of its casting ability, you could just limit its spell list to the Fire domain, that would be thematically appropriate. Doing this, your young dragon can only cast Produce flames, which basically lets him throw weak single target fireballs for a bit.

2014-08-29, 08:51 PM
There are also ways in 3.5 to get rid of the casting altogether, like the Xorvintaal template.

Mark Hall
2014-08-29, 09:34 PM
A few options:

1) Magic is going to show up eventually. This is an early hint of that.
2) It's a CL 1 sorcerer. It doesn't have spells... it has some spell-like abilities that are described as something else.

2014-08-29, 10:32 PM
I like Option 2. Grab 'spells' that are thematically appropriate and easy to refluff as something else.

2014-08-30, 07:09 AM
You could cloak it in a lot of high-end technobabble. For example:

On dissection, the creature is discovered to have three different kinds of small inorganic nodules distributed throughout its brain, skeleton, and digestive tract. The nodules appear to be composed primarily of magnesium-copper-yttrium-silicate, but also contain a few peculiar things. The nodules seem to have a 0.01% impurity in the form of what should be a very short-lived element - francium. Despite this, however, the francium appears to be stabilized. Any significant disruption of the nodules causes the francium to instantly decay, but scattering measurements reveal that inside the nodules is a repeated structure of single francium atoms suspended in hollow 20nm shells of the silicate substrate, each of which has four thin needles of osmium extending in a nearly-perfect tetrahedron from the shell walls. The interior of the shells appears to contain extremely strong, tightly contained electromagnetic fields - approximately 300 tesla. Measurement of the mass of these nodules indicates that they are about 50% as massive as one would expect given their structure and elemental composition.

Proximity to the nodules appears to cause quantum-cryptographic systems and noise sources to glitch out, returning digit strings of 1% lower entropy than expected. Pinging the nodule with the correct RF frequency photons in the presence of a strong external magnetic field causes this effect to spike to 20% entropy reduction but appears to destabilize the nodules, allowing the francium to decay over a period of seconds. For some reason, however, once this has been done once to a sample from a given dragon, the effect appears to be un-repeatable for all other samples from the same creature, as if the nodules are somehow in communication with eachother. Further experimentation advised.

2014-08-30, 11:52 AM
The important question here is if you're using d20 modern/future equipment/classes or just the general ideas of the setting and whatnot.

Cause if it's a full d20 modern/future campaign and you're using creatures straight out of the Monster Manual and such, you're going to be running into problems. First being things like spellcasting monsters who, nominally, would use spells from the Player's Handbook that were tuned down for d20 modern. A fireball spell, for example, isn't as dangerous as a rocket launcher. So you can either have your dratian not use their spells (very much in character), fluff them as just natural abilities of the creature, apply a template that strips away the spellcasting, or just use the spellcasting anyway and make a point of adjusting the creature's caster level to one of the magic using prestige classes and use their spell-list so you don't have widely powerful spells that are completely out of bounds for what modern characters can do.

2014-08-31, 11:12 PM
Spells are the thing that make dragons nearly invincible in the hands of a decent DM. My suggestion is to choose the spells you want the dragon to have, and give him equipment that allows him to cast those "spells." A gun that shoots "web," a silver disk that makes a hologram minor image. Make them 1 shot things that are keyed to the DNA of the user, and they need to be charged in specialized docking ports, so they can only be used once a day.