Games with "Softer/Low Magic"

I’m trying to grasp around a certain type of magic and what games use it, but although is quite prevalent in fantasy, it’s somewhat hard to describe. So maybe people can point me to examples or a good term for it. There’s two principles:

  • Magic effects are natural, simple and subtle, specially coming from magical creatures. An elf disappears in tall foliage, a fairy puts someone to sleep by touching their forehead, the voice of a mermaid mesmerizes the listener.
  • Magic can be done in a ritualistic way, and is able to “change the rules”. As in “After researching and gathering components. I’ll do this long ceremony with multiple specific steps and after that I’ll be invulnerable to fire.” (This essentially makes that much like the fighter is not someone who has fight, but someone who know how to properly fight. The magic user is not someone who has magic, but that knows how to best apply it).

In anyway, magic is a delicate matter, there’s no much of “raise your hands, speak words and shoot a fireball”. It also makes artifacts a more prevalent form of magic.

Inventory-based RPGs like Cairn kind of already do this, but at the same time it doesn’t. The PCs aren’t knowledgeable in magic, yet they can read a spellbook and become a animal (which is pretty flashy). Is the book a beacon of magic? Is magic everywhere and just needs the right words to be coaxed? If so, why can’t you just memorize the words?

As for a couple of popular examples of fiction that work this way:

  • Lord of the Rings, obviously. There’s no incantation but magic is everywhere.
  • Most representations of urban fantasy. Generally it goes “We grab a silver knife, rub this three things on it, mutter this words and throw it into a fire. Now it can kill demons.” How does that works? Who cares! (The majority of magical superheroes work like this)
  • The Witcher kinda fits. Sure, a lot of it is flashy and grandiose. A witcher shoots flames from its hands, but there’s no visible rules, he just makes a symbol and it happens. And even though sorcerers are capable of some extreme feats, most of it is a wiggle of fingers, a hard stare or hours of chanting.

So, yeah. Soft magic, which TTRPGs have it?

PS: I realized that as I wrote this, it lost a lot of focus and what I’m searching for might be hard to grasp. I tried to rewrite and make it clearer, but failed. For that, I’m sorry. Hopefully this will at least spark interesting discussion on the subject.


The game I know of that treats magic most closely to this is Ironsworn. Rituals are one of a few kinds of Assets that PCs can choose (along with companions, paths (kind of like backgrounds/classes), and combat talents). Here a few examples of rituals:

When you wear an animal pelt and dance in moonlight, roll +wits. On a strong hit, you or an ally may wear the pelt and add +1 when making moves with the related stat (wolf-edge; bear-iron; deer-heart; fox-shadow; boar-wits). If the wearer rolls a 1 on their action die while making a move using the pelt, the magic is spent. On a weak hit, as above, but the wilds call as you dance; Endure Stress (2 stress).

When you cloak yourself with the gossamer veil of the shadow realms, roll +shadow. On a strong hit, take +1 momentum. Then, reroll any dice (one time only) when you make a move by ambushing, hiding, or sneaking. On a weak hit, as above, but the shadows try to lead you astray. You must first Face Danger to find your way.

When you walk a wide circle, sprinkling the ground with salt, roll +wits. On a strong hit, choose two. On a weak hit, chose one.

  • When a foe first crosses the boundary, take +1 momentum.
  • When you first inflict harm against a foe within the boundary, inflict +1 harm.
  • Your ward is ‘likely’ (Ask the Oracle) to trap a foe within the boundary.

I have found these type of effects often in compilations of magic items, especially ones designed for low-level play. I think the design of items in Stonetop might interest you. They sort of go with the Seeker class/playbook and the Arcana handouts. Good stuff!

Also, it sounds dumb, but I’ve honestly had a lot of fun using 100 Mundane Magic Items, a system-neutral supplement I found for $0.99. A lot of these seem similar to your description. Quick sample:

  1. Liar’s Bowl. Anything sitting in the bowl appears as something else of equal size.
  2. Lute of Uselessness. Musician and listeners doubt themselves for an hour.
  3. Remembrance Torc. Wearer knows one memory of the previous owner.
  4. Scout’s Banner. Flag that is only visible to blood relative of the owner.

Origin has something to do with it.

In Tolkien’s world, things simply ARE magic by nature as you described. And if it was made, it was made by someone a long time ago who is a lot more powerful than you could ever hope to be.

It’s why I prefer items having magic instead of something “within the PCs.” You aren’t magic, your stuff is. It’s outside of you.

If it comes “from within,” you need limitations, like Avatar: The Last Airbender.


Ooooh, this really hits the vibe. Ironsworn was already on my reading list, definitely picking it up now.

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That is actually a very very good diagnosis of the matter, I think it applies also to occult-ish magic that reads like someone carefully doing techniques to manipulate the natural world

Have you looked at magic in Ryuutama? It might interest you. It’s pretty simple as I recall.


Ryuutama is in my radar. I have looked into it but didn’t get to the magic. +1 to the list.


It is pretty unique! (Ryuutama print + PDF here for other folks’ convenience.) Uses MP like a JRPG. Lots of flavor in the spells, too. Definitely a game I want to try!


Tiny Dungeon D6 has a similar distinction to what you are describing. “Spell-touched” characters can produce subtle magical effects at will, creatively. “Scroll readers” read spell scrolls. It’s like your idea of subtle magical effects versus bigger effects that require material stuff.