Anti-Magic Zones

One of the old D&D idioms that I haven’t seen come back in 4e yet is the Anti-Magic Zone. This is an effect (zone, terrain, trap, power) in which magic no longer works. In older editions this was easy to implement as spells were quite easy to identify and deny. In 4th Edition, it’s not as easy. If we define “spell” as a power that uses the Arcane power source, then anti-magic zones either loose their potency against parties without arcane characters. Worse: if there is just one arcane character, you’re left with a player that feels singled out. In 4th edition, all characters have “spells” of some sort, whether they’re prayers, exploits, or some other type of attack. In my imagination any “anti-magic” effect should affect powers from all sources, not just arcane. There’s also a separation in 4e between magic Rituals and magic Powers. In an encounter you’re not likely to use rituals so an “anti-Ritual” zone wouldn’t be much use; similarly an “anti-Power” zone wouldn’t do much good if the purpose of the zone is challenge players by stopping rituals (such as Sending, Knock, Detect Object, etc). Of course, one zone that affects both is good either in or out of combat.

Here’s my new proposal for a Anti-Magic zone as fantastic terrain. I’m thinking that an easy Arcana check would allow a player to identify it before stepping inside, and you might let the players make Arcana checks to disable the zone as well.

Anti-Magic Zone

The ground has been scrawled with runes that seem to invert on themselves. The ground radiates an awkward silence that seems to suck all the magic energy out of the air.

Effect: Any creature starting his turn in the zone cannot use any powers other than basic attacks for the duration of the turn. Any ritual starting, ending, or passing through the zone fails.

Usage: Anti-magic zones are dangerous for players and monsters alike. Smart characters would want to push enemies into the zone and then prevent them moving out of it. Use these sparingly as limiting to basic attacks might be frustrating and make the combat last longer.

Anti-magic can also be used as an attack: Int vs. Will, effect: target can only use basic attack powers until the end of its next turn. This selectively disables a character’s super-weapons for a round.

Do you have special memories of old anti-magic zones? Is there a 4e incarnation that I missed?

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9 thoughts on “Anti-Magic Zones

  1. Hi,

    Your post is some good thought-food; thanks for sharing. I have fond memories of anti-magic zones from 2e, though I’ve never encountered one in my 3e (or 4e, of course) games. They were fun hazards to work around, even if they were sometimes a hassle to arbitrate. I’m definitely going to think about their place in the current system for my campaign.

    I also like your anti-magic-as-attack idea — I think another way to employ (or at least justify) it within the system is to build the mechanic so that a success is a kind of “pre-miss” for a single arcane power, eliminating it from being used on the target’s next turn. You could even calculate the target spell’s defense simply by adding 10 to its caster’s attack modifier. Hmm.

    Gears are turning — thanks for the ideas!

  2. I think that, with anti-magic zones, you’d want to be very careful not to make them too big. A 2×2 area on the battlefield would be fine, and you might be able to get away with a little more, but probably not much larger.

    One of the things you have to remember is that, if all you’re stuck with is basic attacks, your turn is likely to be a little on the boring side. In addition, if you happen to be one of the many classes that do not rely overmuch on Strength or Dexterity, your basic attacks are not going to be very effective. Overusing an effect like this could make an encounter both longer and less fun if not employed carefully.

    As an alternative, I’d put rather use a Wild Magic Zone, and I might even key it to a particular power source. This way, rather than simply nerfing a character in the zone, you give them a choice: go with the basic attack that reliable but not that effective, or gamble a bit with a power that might be a lot more effective than normal, a lot less effective, or possibly even harmful to the party. A zone that, for example, randomly either increases or decreases the size of bursts and blasts, or causes attacks to occasionally target random creatures within the zone rather than their intended target, might be considerably more fun than a zone that simply shuts down your options.

    That is, of course, just my opinion.

  3. Pingback: Gamecrafters' Guild » Blog Archive » Wild Magic Zones

  4. You should specify keywords for this: “Cannot use powers with the arcane or divine keyword.” There’s no reason a martial power couldn’t be used in an anti-magic zone.

  5. @Brian,

    Exactly. Either small zone(s) or scattered throughout or combined with other terrain or features. For instance, a smart creature might put one just inside the door to his lair, forcing opponents to venture further in. Also, I like the wild magic zone idea.

    @Shirizaan, @Snars-at-Fleas,
    You’re right about the magic part. I made it broader than just affecting arcane or divine because I think the spirit of anti-magic (as a hazard) is to limit powers and with the spirit of 4e, I feel its best to treat all power sources the same in this case. I mean is primal or shadow powers not magic in some way? And as for the aspects of fighters, rogues, rangers, that can violate the laws of nature with their attacks, it seems somehow super-human. And as I mentioned depending on the party makeup it could be quite obnoxious to an individual. However if you know your party’s makeup, feel free to limit just one power source to achieve your desired effect.

    I like the no magic items as a variant. Although I’d want to include negating extra crit damage and enhancement bonuses as well. In 4e magic items don’t really feel essential in combat or to the character’s abilities (other than persistent bonuses to attack and defenses), so a just anti-magic-item zone would create some anxiety (and therefore useful), I don’t know if it instills the same fear as anti-magic did in other games.

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