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I'm preparing to run my first session as a GM (Pathfinder but I don't think it matters for this question). I love the world building side of things, so I'm not too interested in pre-published adventures or campaign settings (although I don't have any quibbles about borrowing liberally from them).

I've never been very good at creative writing - mostly because I'm too critical of my own ideas - so I'm struggling to come up with a plot. What I thought was my first good plot idea revolved around an elven village running out of food. Trying not to think too hard about it at first, I started creating hooks for adventures, generating NPC and enemy stat blocks and encounters, detailing the setting, etc.

Then I realized that it's kind of impossible for elves to run out of food due to the presence of magic. So I decided the elves' magic, whether wooing the crops to grow or the rain to fall, isn't working for some unknown reason. Now I have another adventure hook - the PCs can talk to the elves who work the fields, from whom they can find out their magic is being "blocked."

So how can elven magic - particularly the kind that they rely on for their food - be "blocked?" Are there any spells or magic items that could explain this? Or is my plot idea too complicated already? I'm loathe to resort to "dragon/villain attacks village, go kill the dragon/villain," but I'm starting to see why a lot of pre-published introductory adventures are just that.

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Keep in mind that as DM, you create the world, including previous-unknown magical effects with it. You're not limited to the PHB spells and DMG magic items. You've got some good answers to that effect below already, but it's worth underlining that point, in case it's giving you cognitive dissonance: you get to make new things up. –  SevenSidedDie Jul 25 at 17:28

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Finding out why the elven magic has stopped working could be a very interesting adventure! The direction of the adventure largely depends on how magic "works" in your setting. This is only really limited by your imagination and what you and your players will enjoy. Here are just a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

1. Magic comes from the gods, it is blocked because they are unhappy. The god that grants the elves their magic is unhappy about their behavior or philosophy. This can be resolved by finding a way to appease the god, finding a new god or source of magical power, teaching the elves how to maintain agriculture without magic or even traveling to the realm of the god to give him a stern talking to (or even a spanking if you don't mind your players fighting gods).

2. Magic is being absorbed or blocked by something. This something could be a cult who wishes to starve the elves to make them weak, a large monster that is in hibernation and gathering all magic within a certain area to get strong so it can awaken or even a magical artifact from an ancient civilization gathering energy to explode or summon demons or transmute all bread into bunnies.

3. Magic comes from the planes. If you would be interested in some adventures traveling between dimensions this could be a good way to introduce it. The players have to track down a disturbance on another world or in between worlds where the connection has been disturbed. Maybe the amount of magical energy in the universe is depleting due to entropy and your players must find a way to replenish it.

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Depending how you treat the way Elves magically grow their food (not BAM! food magically, instantly spawned but more of an enhanced farming), one approach could be that it's not the Elves' magic being block, but the soil itself has become corrupt.

Example: The ground water has become tainted due to a toxic slime monster in the cavern where the water table is. This could lead to some related quests as to why this happened and is it spreading to the nearby area (yay plot themes). The quick and easy route would be a fissure happened and the slime seeped through, or you could end explore where the fissure leads.

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Great idea. Now I have to figure out where the slime came from. Is there anything in the bestiary like a toxic slime monster? –  Koveras Jul 25 at 21:28
    
Gelatinous cubes dissolve flesh, and have a very potent paralysis toxin that could "seep through the soil" –  Sandwich Jul 26 at 2:09
    
@Koveras I'd just take an ooze that best fits your setting from d20pfsrd.com/bestiary/monster-listings/oozes and possibly a little tweaking. Either a poison damage per slime's turn aura [whole room] or better yet radius with a tunnel system the party can move it through (set traps or risk other mobs?) would be fun additions. –  PRX Jul 28 at 21:02

First off, congrats on taking-up the mantle of GM!

Secondly, if you don't mind making-up some new spells to fit your story, it's pretty simple:

The elven crop-growing spells are being blocked by some evil magics. The Evish farmers should have some sort of clue that leads the PC's through a detective story. The farmers have clues that lead the PC's to some other location, where they discover more bad stuff happening. Perhaps there's a bunch of cultists doing some crazy ritual-magics with sacrifices and whatnot. There's a quick battle, and the PC's find more clues that lead them to the next step.

Use the 'Three Clue Rule' at every step.

You'll need to figure-out the background for WHY someone went through the trouble. Is there a batch of dark-elves trying to wipe-out the elf village? Is there a rival elf city trying to annex them?

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Thanks a ton for the Three Clue Rule. Very good information. –  Koveras Jul 25 at 20:23
    
+1 On the Three Clues Rule! –  G0BLiN Jul 25 at 20:47

Elves? Without Magic?

Well, yes, you can have magic be blocked in most RPGs that feature magic.

I'm assuming this is some version of D&D, or at least the elves get their magic from something, instead of intrinsically having it. In D&D 3.5 parlance, this is the difference between divine casters and arcane casters. If the elves depend on nature spirits / a deity's favor to provide the magic they use, then yes, your plot would work wonderfully. They'll be starving and wondering why their mages/druids can't do jack to help them. Hunger and desperation would even encourage them to "outsource" the problem to adventurers.

Perhaps It's the Wrath of Evil Power

Maybe the elves messed with power that doesn't like being messed with, and now that power is denying their magic. Is that power a cult? Drow? Rival cities? Some Random Act of an Evil Creature? The result of a demonic pact? That's just an idea, but it can work.

Some More Ideas for When You're Stuck

I highly recommend S. John Ross's Big List of RPG Plots. He distills plots into an abstract form so you can use them in whatever system you're using. It's a little less obvious than liberally borrowing from printed adventures, too.

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Well, clerics can create food and druids can cast plant growth. Clerics get their magic from a deity and druids get it from nature "forces" (whatever that is - it's not spirits). It's easy enough to explain why a deity would stop blessing his clerics but what about the druid? –  Koveras Jul 25 at 17:35
    
@Koveras Sometimes natural forces answer to a deity, (actually, according to many domains, natural forces answer a lot to deities) or something is equally insulting to both nature and gods, or it's a very well-thought-out magical sabotage. –  PipperChip Jul 25 at 17:46
    
Love the Big List - a great resource! btw, how does nature get insulted? Or do you mean the god behind nature? –  Koveras Jul 25 at 20:21
    
The god(s)/goddess(es) behind nature. I guess you could anthropomorphize nature and it itself got insulted because you made an undead ecosystem or something. This is all very setting-specific, though. –  PipperChip Jul 25 at 20:27

In nearly any system of magic, there are rules & boundaries that define its limitations. Without such, magic users would be gods, omnipotent, and boring.

As such, if properly functioning magic is a barrier to the plausibility of your story, then you must find a reason for magic's failure.

Something to consider for added plausibility, or idea generation, is to find real-world analogs. Trying to find a reason for a failed village? Look for the history of why a town or city might fail irl. Modern examples abound:

  • Detroit (economic)
  • Baghdad (war)
  • Pripyat (industrial disaster, i.e., Chernobyl)

Now, economic causes for famine may not make for an interesting story unless there's more to it than The Case of the Misaligned Goals Resulting in Negative Incentives for Efficient Nutritional Magic

However, you don't need to exclude economics: An economic reason could be a red herring for something else, e.g., the local Elven rival using economic attacks, buying all the food-producing macgufifns, to soften up the Elves for easy conquering. In a case like this, you have a nice setup that writes itself if you think to yourself, "hmm, how would town leaders hiring adventurers handle this?"

  1. 1st Adventure: Solve the immediate problem by hiring adventurers to steal this cache of food-producing wands from the rival group.
  2. 2nd Adventure Starvation avoided, the adventurers must now infiltrate the rival's ranks to discover what was planned next
  3. 3rd Adventure Pending successful spy operation, Rival group realizes their plan is compromised, and so there will never be a better time to attack
  4. 4th Adventure The village, though saved from a slow drift into starvation, must now send its adventurers on hurried journey to seek allies against a foe that outnumbers them.
  5. 5th Adventure ....And so on.

The thing is, once you have placed your scenario in the context of real-world analogs, you have a foundation that allows for systematic exploration of the options available. Certainly this is not the only way to progress, but if you're struggling to create internally consistent systems & plots ex nihilo then it canbe very helpful. And thinking in real-world terms can also help to avoid plausibility-breaking inconsistencies from PCs of the type, "Yeah, but if they used their last food wand, why wouldn't they just go to the next village and buy more?" (The rival bought them all, that's the plot)

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