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Infinite Worlds / Magic

Low Magic

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 111
Causes of low magic can vary. In some cases, a region simply undergoes a temporary downturn in available magic, such as a star system whose magic comes from a comet that passes through only once every few decades. Rather than a lack of magic, low magic in a world might instead result from some force that actively consumes or warps magic so that it doesn’t function as reliably or powerfully as expected, such as a planet whose moon is an immense creature parasitizing the world’s otherwise ambient energies. In any case with an irregular or diminished magical supply, inhabitants evolve and learn to deal without magic. Even if the environment experiences a periodic glut of supernatural power, that magic functions as a luxury more than as a necessity.
For visitors, these worlds can seem utterly vexing because magic doesn’t work as expected. Unlike the enhanced effects of high-magic areas, this form of low magic impedes spellcasting and spell-like abilities (see the sidebar below). In extreme forms, low magic might even hinder supernatural abilities, although that effect appears less common since such traits can be more reliant on a creature’s personal power. As with planes beyond the Material Plane, some regions experience restricted magic only for certain schools of magic. This situation happens more often when something, such as a planar intrusion, warps the magical field on a planet. In exceptional circumstances—and any galaxy is full of exciting exceptions— different combinations of magic might be impeded and enhanced. Consider the case of a sapient gas giant planet that longs to be a rocky planet; it thus enhances earth-themed spells while impeding air- and flight-themed spells out of a sense of self-loathing. Mix and match to create something unique.
For some low-magic societies, however, culture limits magical use. Past catastrophes could instill rhabdophobia that lasts generations, even becoming incorporated into a society’s laws and legends as a forbidden art. Religious dogma might have demonized magic long ago, and a low-magic world might have only recently rediscovered ancient spellcasting traditions and created new techniques. Magic could even be a lost art, as the world’s arcane potential survives only in a dwindling supply of magic items.
Whatever the case, a world’s inhabitants likely consider magic some combination of alien, fascinating, and frightening. In instances where magic works but is rarely seen or used, visitors possessing magic might find themselves in trouble for using it. Few worlds are so limited in their magic that a typical person is completely unfamiliar with it, even if that familiarity takes the form of fanciful cautionary tales that contain a kernel of truth.
Magic could also be a tradition so prestigious that it’s closely guarded by elites. Alternatively, magic might be considered so hazardous or corrupting that the society recruits pariahs to train as mages in service to the comparably pure populace. Wherever magic potential exists, though, there’s inevitably someone willing, able, or conscripted to practice it.
This control can stem from authorities—whether the government, the priesthood, or otherwise—such as an ancient, traditional order of mage hunters or wizards who hoard these powers. Any of these groups might suppress magic in an artificial but overarching way, using edifices, policies, or devices devoted to keeping magic from everyday life, much like the fonts mentioned for medium-magic worlds. These places or tools make obvious targets for dissidents who want to make magic free, resulting in a conflict like a cold war, a secret insurgency, or an open rebellion.

Low-Magic Adventure Hooks

D20Adventure Hook
1 Legend says magic is locked in leylines that also imprison a powerful entity. A radical group decides to test this theory.
2 Explorers discover natural features that keep magic low on an inhabited world. Some want magic set free; others fear this change.
3 Fugitives manipulate magic and the beliefs of a world’s people to hide and keep their enemies at bay.
4Archaeologists uncover evidence that magic wasn’t always low.
5Conspiracy theorists ambush leaders that they suspect hoard magic.
6 All of a world’s magic goes to protect it from a nearby black hole. A greedy conqueror threatens this stability.
7 Histories claim that the use of magic attracts fiendish attention, but heretics want to test the doctrine.
8 The world absorbs magic without diminishing the effects, making learning (though not using) it difficult. Where’s this energy going?
9 Members of an age-old order hunt mages and suppress magic use. Enemies and the authorities believe the order hides a secret.
10 The first spellcasters have appeared among low-magic people. This “sign” has been interpreted in more bad ways than good.
11 A potent, spacefaring extraterrestrial tours low-magic worlds. Some say it’s searching, and others claim it’s changing things. Why?
12Magic-starved monsters prey upon a planet’s population.
13 Infamous warriors who carry eldritch heirlooms have answered a psychic call to gather on a low-magic world.
14 A scrupulous authority figure wants help freeing a prisoner to aid them in uncovering the shocking reasons for the world’s low magic.
15 Eco- and mago-fascists believe low magic is a state of imbalance and releases a transmutation agent to set magic free.
16 Those suffering from magical maladies flock to a facility that suppresses magic.
17 A wealthy expatriate wants to recover cultural relics from a planet ravaged by nonmagical war and full of environmental hazards.
18 Leaders have duped a world’s people for generations with fake magical displays.
19Extraplanar forces have begun to gather on a low-magic world.
20 An astrophysicist has discovered the world’s magic is being siphoned into a local star.