Let’s be real honest here. Playing role playing games is effectively make believe for older people, be they kids or adults. Players and the GM are asked to pretend to be something they are not, react to things that are not happening, and use skills and powers they do not have. That is the appeal for a lot of people, it is fun to get that escape.
There are as many different approaches to games as there are fictional book genres. You have the hard science fiction. The more rollicking Space Opera, and Space fantasy. There are spy novels, murder mysteries, romance novels (yes I imagine there are role players out there who run games like a romance novel.) Historical fantasy, high fantasy, gritty low fantasy. You name the fictional genre and there is a game system out there for you.
Our Denver game is high fantasy mixed with horror. There is magic everywhere, in everything. And the big bad guys are trying to claim the world in the name of undead. And we as players embrace that. We have a Priest of Thor who is doing all that he can to embody Thor. A gnome sorcerer who has assembled a menagerie of creatures as pets. It is a fun mix, as the GM loves the challenge of us accumulating a massive collection of terribly powerful magic items, and yet somehow is always able to scare us with every battle.
The first game I ran with the boys I tried that. It was Monty Haul. I really didn’t set any limits on what they could accumulate. And they had fun with it. But I discovered that was not really my cup of tea. I didn’t much enjoy playing the arms race. I had a story I wanted to tell, and it involved continually challenging them, and that became difficult and boring.
With my new campaign, I did two things. One, I went back to D&D 5E, instead of Pathfinder. Because 5E intentionally created a system without rules for creating magic items. With the goal of to creating settings where magic items were uncommon. It is still possible to run heavy magic, but not as easy. Two, I designed a setting where magic items (and even heavy armor) are simply hard to come by. I wanted the boys to get excited by the seemingly mundane; a suit of heavy armor, a magical potion or scroll, a cache of expensive trade goods instead of jewelry.
So, now I have this world where I have carefully reasoned out why things work a certain way. No one has suits of heavy armor because of a scarcity of refined materials out on the frontier plus the tactics of the military have advanced past the days of heavy knights. And there are a number of things like that out there. This is not a setting where magic is commonplace.
The downside is that if you place too much emphasis on logical reasons for these things, and the fact that it is a low magic setting, you can set yourself a trap. Because if the players get used to things making logical sense, when you do spring magic on them they will argue with you. And you get questions like how can that dragon just fly away? It can because it is a magical dragon, suspend your disbelief. That mix is hard to navigate. But it is what I am trying to adhere to in my campaign setting.
The upside will be that when they do get magic items they will treasure them. And when they do perform magic or see magic performed it will be a much bigger deal. And I think that with everything that characters get in D&D 5E as far as abilities and powers that magic items are not as necessary. Right up until I unleash creatures that need magic to hit…