I’ve been developing a campaign for my group. I’m pretty new to DMing, and the group itself is quite young too, we’ve had two campaigns together. Some members are more experienced, some less so.

A big driver in the campaign is the (homebrew) magic system, and the effects it has on society. Other than this, the setting is pretty standard. I’ve been advised that – because the magic departs so much from standard D&D, it might be a good idea to use a different system. So, I’ll give a brief description of what I want to do, and any feedback or ideas would be great.

The vibe is basically steampunk-esque.Only 100 years ago, the country was agrarian and had no magic. An explorer set out to find the other side of the world, and discovered a nation of ‘primitive’ tribal people with magical tattoos (analogous with Australia).

Tattoos channel energy and different tattoos channel energy in different ways. This also requires that the person with the tattoos – doing the channelling – knows how to do it. To learn an new healing skill for example, you have to get the right tattoo, and learn how to channel the energy right. Some people are better at picking these skills up (they become the shamans and greater magic workers of the tribes) but anyone can learn to be competent enough (so there is no distinction between magic-able and magic-non-able classes – anyone can learn spells).

The energy has to come from somewhere, and that requires tattoos too – to ‘unlock’ or make available the energy in the person (or animal) with them. So if you have the ‘energy available’ tattoos and I have the ‘healing channelling’ ones, I can hold your hand, and use your energy to heal someone else. Notice that you can’t do anything on your own in this situation because you don’t have the healing tattoos. Having your energy available in this way just requires the tattoos, you don’t need to learn anything. The doesn’t have to be only one source: a circle of ten people can all join hands and have one of them direct the energy accordingly, with powerful effect. This is also a good way to share the load: a powerful spell is much easier if many people each contribute only a fraction of the energy required (think about lifting a great weight together).

In practice, most users in the tribes have both kinds: ones to make their energy available and others to direct its use. But they also draw power from the world around them, by tattooing animals and carving symbols on trees. They have noticed that more intelligent beings (humans, and the cleverer animals) are easier to draw energy from, while only the most practiced workers can use plants and trees.

You get nothing for free. Using something’s energy makes it weaker (probably in terms of HP), though you can cast as many spells as you like if you have the energy available.

The tribes of the distant land used their magic in much the same way for centuries, and were happy enough. This worked well since they tended to use their own energy, so using too much was out of the question.

But the ‘visionaries’ of our country saw other uses. Magic – driven mostly by animals and slaves tattooed against their will – has powered the last 80 years of industrial revolution and military advancement. Using large quantities of others energy upsets the balance and makes far more powerful magic possible.

The tattoos are written in a mystical ancient language. Anyone can copy it, but it was only every known to a few. The country is effectively governed by a ruling class of wizard/slave-drivers who know more than almost anyone else about the language and guard it closely (this is what makes it difficult to get new spells).

I won’t go deep into the law here but you can probably see how it all comes together. It’s power/responsibility dynamic. The fat cats are the bad guys, and they use their own skill to channel other’s energy to their own ends. This is the easiest way to get power and it works great for the fat cats, but at the expense of enslaving thousands (and scarring the earth in their earlier experiments with magic at grand scale). Our party will need to fight against this in various ways, but do so without using the same tactics themselves and becoming as bad as their enemies.

I think one of the most interesting parts of this is trust: as they will not necessarily all have the same spells at the same time, they will sometimes have to rely on each other’s energy to cast powerfully without dying.

So that’s the system and the broad outline of the lore. Would 5e be a good fit for this? If not, what might be a better system? I don’t have much experience with other systems but I’d be happy to give them a go.



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