Magic in Middle-earth for 5e
Magic and spellcasting in Middle-earth has been the subject of a lot of discussion in the roleplaying community. These are some suggested rule modifications for playing spellcasters in Middle-earth during the Third Age, an age in which magic is diminishing.
Outside of those rare locations protected by great magic, casting spells may draw the attention of The Enemy. For the Free Peoples, the Enemy might be a dark wizard, an ancient being, or even the Lidless Eye; for the Servants of Darkness, the Enemy might be an Elf-Lord or the Istari.
If any target resists a caster's spell with a natural 20, the spell is detected by The Enemy. Agents of The Enemy may be sent to investigate or to respond. The higher the spell level, the higher the Challenge Rating of the response will be.
For dungeonmasters wishing to reflect the great danger of channeling the immense power of magic, this rule can add that risk.
If a caster's spell attack roll fails with a natural 1, the caster is overwhelmed, cannot cast any more spells, and has disadvantage on all attack rolls, ability checks, and saving throws until the caster completes a short rest.
Spellcasting is more arduous in the Third Age as the time of magic fades into the mists of history. This variant rule reduces some schools of magic, and makes spellcasting more infrequent.
The Cost. In addition to the usual requirements for casting spells, the caster must also spend hit dice to cast a spell.
Hit dice cost = Spell Level × School Multiplier
The hit dice are subtracted from the caster's hit dice pool as part of the casting action. A school with a ×0 multiplier requires no hit dice to be spent.
|Illusion||×1||1 hit dice|
|Necromancy||×1||1 hit dice|
|Evocation||×2||2 hit dice|
|Transmutation||×2||2 hit dice|
|Conjuration (if permitted)||×3||3 hit dice|
Minimum Cost. The minimum hit dice cost for a spell is equal to the school multipler. Evocation cantrips, for example, cost the minimum of 2 hit dice.
Desperation (Alternate Cost). In the event of emergency the caster can endanger their own life in a desperate attempt to cast a spell. Instead of spending hit dice, the caster may choose to roll the hit dice that would have been spent, and take necrotic damage equal to the number rolled. This damage occurs immediately after the spell casting is completed, and cannot be mitigated through resistance or immunity. For example, a Necromancy spell cast as a 3rd level spell that would have cost 3 hit dice can instead be cast by rolling 3 hit dice and taking that much necrotic damage.
Dungeonmasters can tune the spellcasting atmosphere of their setting by raising or lowering the multipliers for each school.
Special Note on Ranger v2: Characters using the Ranger v2 class (from Wizards of the Coast) gain 2d6 hit dice per level. If such a character is casting spells with this variant, then double the hit dice cost listed. For example, if the cost is 1 hit dice then the Ranger v2 character pays 2d6 hit dice.
Special Note on Psionics: Depending on the story setting you prefer, consider allowing psionics to be unrestricted unless used to cast a spell.
As the world becomes more mundane, and as the power of magic diminishes, some place remain mystical. The Rings of Power preserve the magical power of the realms that they protect or dominate. The towers raised by Numenoreans are still imbued with ancient magic, and magic seeps from dragons into the land around them. This next variant reflects how some places in Middle-earth maintain a mystic power while it fades away in others.
The power of the Song of Creation permeates Arda. But some places crackle with magic potential, while in others the power of magic fades. A spellcaster can freely sense the type of location they are in.
Embiggened. When casting a spell in this location spell attacks have advantage, and spell saving throws have disadvantage. This includes locations such as Elven kingdoms, ancient forests, and lairs of Dragons and other Powerful Beings.
Latent. There is no effect on spellcasting in this type of location, which includes Empty Wilderness, Dwarven kingdoms, Elven communities, and the dwellings of the Dead.
Waning. When casting a spell in this location spell attacks have disadvantage, and spell saving throws have advantage. This includes locations such as well-travelled roads and countryside, and small communities of Humans, Dwarves, or Orcs.
Mundane. Spells (and cantrips) may only be cast by ritual, spell attacks have disadvantage, and spell saving throws have advantage. This includes locations such as Human cities and Hobbit communities.
Note on Psionics: Consider psionics to be unrestricted by this variant unless used to cast a spell.
Travel plays a large role in the stories of Middle-earth, but the Conjuration school of magic nearly removes the need for travel entirely. Even the Valar always travelled, and not even a Maiar like Gandalf used teleportation when he certainly could have benefited from it. Conjuring food and water for Thorin's company would have also changed many situations dramatically. Your storytelling may benefit from removing the Conjuration school from your Middle-earth setting.
No spell from the Conjuration school of magic may be cast.
Gamemasters and players may decide that certain spellcasting classes do not fit the stories they wish to tell in a Middle-earth setting. See Classes for some suggestions.