So I've got a campaign where one of the characters, a fighter, severely distrusts magical items. The party level is 6+, and it seems difficult to figure out a way to compensate this character in non-magical treasure (as the challenge ratings of the encounters are getting up there).

I also have to add that I really like the role playing decision to distrust magic – it adds a flavor to the campaign that I've never had before. If anything, I want this player to continue or distrust magic further.

What have other people done in this situation?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Several of the answers use the 'he' pronoun, I understand it's just a convention. This player happened to be female. I tend to get incredibly interesting ideas from my female players! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 21:40

12 Answers 12


Sure, mechanical/non-magical equivalents would be a fluffy way to satisfy as aspect of his role-playing. But how about you try something interesting?

Word of your superstition and abstinence against magical gear has spread and intrigued a number of people. You've awakened old fears of harmful magical auras, and new prides in personal strength. Scholars and philosophers start sending you mail asking you questions or for instructions in how to live as a 'magi-Luddite' as the trend is being called. You become a minor celebrity with people asking to follow in your footsteps.

In short, give him the leadership feat. With the string that if he started using magical gear (in public) his following would abandon him.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I like this idea, but I think it needs to be expanded - maybe a custom feat that is equivalent to magical weaponry/armor? (it also doesn't function when they try to use a magical item, like Vow of Poverty or the Leadership feat you mentioned) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 10, 2012 at 20:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Expanded? Shrug, whereas the other players get magical loot, this player gets more followers or stronger cohorts. He will NEVER be as powerful, personally, as the fully-geared players, but he'll have an army at his back. Never dismiss the power of 4 guys with long spears giving you +2 aid bonuses. Or 50 slingers sending stones over a wall. Or expendable Timmy taking the AoO as you flee. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philip
    Commented Jan 10, 2012 at 22:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ "You are wielding a +2 spear, good for you. I am wielding 50 spears." \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 4:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ "...Simultaneously!" \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 6:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ that reminds me of a question that came later: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/15247/… \$\endgroup\$
    – SeanC
    Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 15:41

While two of my following suggestions originate from 4e I think they can still be applied to any D&D game.

Inherent Bonuses

Originally introduced in 4e's Dark Sun Campaign Guide, these bonuses greatly reduce the mechanical necessity to acquire magical items just to keep up with the expected encounter difficulty.

Inherent bonuses basically say that each character gains a +1 enhancement bonus to attack, damage, armor class and saving throws per 3 character levels (rounded down). It doesn't stack with actual magical items and puts all characters on the same ground regarding their attack bonuses and saving throws and whatnot.

On the other hand it doesn't completely negate magical items because inherent bonuses don't provide many of the additional effects magic items have (e.g. dealing fire damage when fighting a troll or something like that). This usually changes the selection of magic items from "mechanically required" to "overall usefulness" or "coolness".

Alternative Rewards

Originating from 4e's Dungeon Master's Guide 2, alternative rewards are grandmaster training, divine boons, or simply being awesome given mechanical stats. The function similar to magic items in the bonuses and abilities they provide, but they don't actually take up a body location.

Just to give you an idea what I mean, one example of how such an alternative reward looks like is this: description below

Davros Elden's Defensive Step Level 7 Uncommon
The fencing master's first lesson adjusted Garras's position in a duel, maximizing defense.
Grandmaster training 2,600 gp
When you shift, you gain a +1 item bonus to AC and Reflex until theend of your next turn.
Power Encounter (Minor Action)
Shift 2 squares.

Don't mind the price tag there! You can't actually buy these rewards (however, that would be a cool idea anyway - the kingdom's best swordfighter selling training lessons :D), but the price is there for the DM to determine the value of the reward in relation to what the party is supposed to get.

Imagine the realm's best swordfighter teaching the fighter a few new tricks, or the king's court cleric blessing the character in the name of his deity. A general guideline is that an alternative reward should be different from a typical magical item but not stronger than an appropriate item for the character's level.

Scale up non-magical items

Depending how much the character's distrust of non-mundane items reaches you might get him up on par with alchemical items, masterwork stuff or special materials:

  • Alchemist's fires that cover a larger area, deal more damage and are harder to resist.
  • Tanglefoot bags that are more difficult to escape from.
  • Masterwork items that provide a higher bonus to attack rolls than normal.
  • Special materials that provide additional effects (e.g. a special material that increases the critical multiplier or the threat range).
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just noticed that the word order and content in the description for "Alternative Rewards" was a bit messed up. I meant to say that these benefits should be different from typical level appropriate magic items but they shouldn't be stronger than an appropriate item. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2862
    Commented Jan 10, 2012 at 23:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ The alchemical item bit reminded me of a 3pp Pathfinder product, Krazy Kragnar's Alchemical Surplus Shop (can't confirm the URL at the moment, due to being at work, but the first few Google results for that title look right), that has a bunch of neat new alchemical compounds and items. I'm just starting to ease some of that stuff into my campaign, so I only know that nothing looks broken or anything. \$\endgroup\$
    – minnmass
    Commented Mar 29, 2021 at 21:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Special materials: again not strictly 3.5, but the PFSRD has a stupid number of special materials that could slot into 3.5 pretty easily (YMMV on the balance of some of them, though): d20pfsrd.com/equipment/special-materials \$\endgroup\$
    – minnmass
    Commented Mar 29, 2021 at 21:13

As the other answers suggested, I began adding feats as treasure from specific encounters.

It worked extremely well for our group. In fact, several other players started considering going down this path in future campaigns. I found that as long as there was narrative combined with the feat, players found it exceptionally interesting.

Feats and treasure are not 1:1. You cannot drop, sell, break, share or forget a feat. You have to carefully balance them with the existing character. In our campaign, I think they were more powerful than the treasure they replaced.

I also tweaked existing mechanics. Instead of magical treasure for our paladin, when he acquired his mount, I gave him a giant wolf with slightly improved speed and attacks. This player (who normally didn't care much about his characters dying) said that he might cry if he lost this one. How is that for player engagement!

This took a lot of planning, I don't think it would work for all groups. My core players have always enjoyed narrative focused development for their characters, whether it be storyteller crafted, a plucky player vs. all odds or a fantastic combination of the two. Campaigns where the players prefer to treat their character as a WOW-toon (generic story, distinguishing equipment/powers) might not work. I'm not suggesting this is wrong, it's just a different approach.


You have a couple of options for creating treasure balance in a party where one character for role-playing reasons won't take magic treasure while the others will:

  1. Create "non-magical" magical items. Examples for a sword. Maybe the sword was made by an famous smith whose crafting was unparalleled in last age. It gives a +1 to hit and damage because of its fine craftsmanship. Maybe the sword has channels worked into its blade by ingenious dwarven smiths who were constantly at war with trolls. The hilt has a reservoir that holds oil that flows down the blade and can be ignited. This could have the same effect as a +1 Flaming Sword.

  2. Similar to above, talk with the player about having them craft weapons/armor/items of their own out of the bodies of fallen monsters. If they skin a displacer beast and wear the hide as a cloak you could easily offer savings throw or AC bonuses. Likewise a weapon made from the bones or teeth of nasty beasts could have equivalent effects to magical weapons.

  3. Find story-based reasons to trust a magical item. Why does the character distrust magic items? Is there a way around it? Perhaps if an item was created divinely instead of arcanely the character would be more inclined to use it? A stamp of a Lawful Good God usually makes it pretty safe to use an item (unless you're evil).

  4. Talk with the player directly, explain the situation and the difficulties you are having in rewarding their character. Perhaps they will slacken their character's discrimination for you in favor of game balance. No one likes to fall behind.


You could also use Vow of Poverty from the Book of Exalted Deeds. Depending on his class and his alignment, you could tweak it to be more fitting, but to keep its balance do not take many restrictions out of it. (I use a tweaked VoP for a character I am playing that is not good-aligned.)

The original VoP does not allow a character to use magic weapons, any armor, martial weapons and above, does not let him have money or possesions other than enough rations of food for one day, and requires two feats to be taken, but it gives a good amount of benefits like exalted armor, attacks that are considered magic for the puproses of damage reduction, bonuses to attack rolls and damage rolls, resistances, and some more ascetic-oriented features.

There are also "inherent bonus rules" that do almost the same thing, but do not have the same power. With inherent bonuses, the ideas marked as 1 and 2 of Iain's could be applied to give some uniqueness to the character's non-magical items.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I saw the vow of poverty used to min-max the hell out of a character, which was both hilarious and sad. But, it's DnD, so why not, eh? \$\endgroup\$
    – Cthos
    Commented Jan 10, 2012 at 20:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Khaal Basically it was Vow of Poverty mixed with the Cavalier class combined with having to make a will save in order to be able to damage the character (which I think was the vow of poverty). I think he had the Vow of Chastity as well, it was terrifying. High AC character that could barely be damaged, who could pop off a Heal every 3 rounds. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cthos
    Commented Jan 10, 2012 at 21:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Khaal it was you had to make a fort save in order to actually hit the character, or the weapon would break off of the character's awesomeness. I looked it up, and it was the Vow of Peace. So, the character had 3 vows, and couldn't do lethal damage, had an AC through the roof, and enemies had to make a fort save to hit the character: dndtools.eu/feats/book-of-exalted-deeds--52/vow-of-peace--3080. But he left the smacking of things to us. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cthos
    Commented Jan 10, 2012 at 21:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Cthos So basically you made a character that resembles what would errupt if Dalai Lama fornicated with Chuck Norris:D. \$\endgroup\$
    – Khaal
    Commented Jan 10, 2012 at 22:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Take a good, hard look at Vow of Poverty before allowing it into your game. \$\endgroup\$
    – okeefe
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 0:32

A few different possibilities, depending on exactly what issue you trying to fix.

It seems to me that there are a few different categories of things you might be trying to address. For example:

  • Relative character power level
  • Ensuring that the game is fun for everyone and that everyone is getting something from the adventure.
  • Ensuring that there is a reason that the character remains with the party when they don't seem to be doing anything that the character cares about.

Whatever the case, I'd suggest starting by having a conversation with the player about your concerns and seeing what the character's motivations are and if you can find ways to address your concerns (or perhaps the concerns don't even need to be addressed).

Some ideas of where this might lead:

Non-Material Gains

Try to figure out the character's motivations and provide story-hooks that allow them to work toward that goal. Those rewards are not necessarily going to be material in nature, but can still make for a very rewarding game experience.

These might be in the accomplishment itself, they might be related to some item picked up in the journey, or they might be given as a reward after-the-fact.

Examples might be if your character has divinely inspired religious goals, attempts to gain nobility in a court, attempts to woo a member of the character's preferred gender, gain rank in a military and eventually gain followers (leadership), etc.

This won't scale their power level as much, but it will provide an in-game reason for them to be around, and potentially for the group to keep them around as well.

I will note one variation on this theme is providing them a mechanism to "work on their issues," as it were. Some path so that they might eventually overcome this fear. This might mean that they have to use a magical item (or, worse, an intelligent magical item) in order to save the party or otherwise face it head on, or it might be longer-term just from seeing the magical items that are around them not backstab them campaign after campaign. Whatever it is, you'd need to work out the details as to why they are this way with the player.

Psionics, Clerical, or Druidic Magic

This requires determining exactly why the character is distrusting of magical items. If it is related to a matter of sorcery then it might be solvable by introducing something that works like sorcery but clearly isn't. Minor tweaks to the magical system in the game can amplify this effect (e.g., "psionics are different" rules or having it so that there is "Detect Divine Magic", "Detect Nature Magic", and "Detect Sorcerer/Wizard Magic").

Plenty of worlds draw pretty firm distinctions between types of magic, so there's good precedent here. If not in your current area, then possibly once they start to travel they might encounter cultures that don't have the same associations, or when in their area magic behaves differently (e.g., in one segment of one world I had sorcerer/wizard spells kill plant life a la Darksun, it only happened in that region, but it meant in that region Divine magic was the norm and wizardry was outlawed).

Nonmagical Equivalents

Can be combined with either of the previous elements, but essentially just provide masterwork weapons that give larger enhancement bonuses. These items wouldn't have the other niceties that magical items provide (e.g., resistance to rust monsters, the ability to pass DR), but they would give a little more "umph" and could help close the power gap.

Vow of Poverty (or a modification)

Give the player some sort of in-game set of powers for refusing to use magical items. There are a few well-established mechanisms for doing this (e.g., the aforementioned Vow of Poverty) , but you can also just talk to the player and roll your own between the two of you using the other misc. vows and prohibitions as a template.

These might include extremely good in-character reasons for the character to avoid magic, such as that he is actually allergic to it or is particularly susceptible to control from intelligent items. You can also provide incentives to stick with the more mundane equivalents without going full-on vow of poverty.


I'm playing a non-magical, somewhat distrustful of magic character on Pathfinder. I'm using their gunslinger class, which obviously emphasizes the mechanical over the magical. He uses SOME magic but not all, I'll tell you what the greatest gifts I get are...gold. In that system, with that class, every bullet I fire costs gold to replenish. So something I have to do is constantly look for gold or items I can sell for gold. It's a simple solution, but one I find that works. If the non-magical user is an archer or uses a bow, give him better arrows but that cost him more in gold. Or have someone willing to sell him a really good sword, but he had to have the gold to buy it. He might not USE magical items, but he might take them, to sell them for gold.


I'm running a 4e, duet campaign in a non-magical world. Because the hero is travelling alone, he sort of needs "extras" so he doesn't get killed all the time. It's a real struggle and I don't claim to have it figured out, but here are some ideas I've been using.

Three items of my own creation:

The Corner Bow - This "L"-shaped crossbow was initially designed to be attached to the side of a saddle. The rider would reach down and pull the trigger, sending a bolt straight ahead, into the line of enemies. When the horse was standing still, the bow worked great. When charging into battle, however, the bow frequently shot the horse in the neck. In any case, you now have a crossbow that can shoot around corners. Perhaps the character finds a small piece of mirror he can affix to the bow. The ranged attack has significant penalties, but it's still an interesting option just before an encounter.

Camouflage - This loose tunic is designed to look like __ (insert common environment like woods or rocky terrain). It gives a +2 to stealth while moving in that environment and +4 to stealth when standing still (to hide).

"Dog" Whistle - This flute has been surprisingly fun. When the character blows into it, the sound is inaudible to most creatures. When you encounter a creature it effects, though, it has dramatic, if unpredictable, results. Roll a random die to determine if the effected creature flees, attacks, drops weapon and covers ears, falls prone and covers ears, falls prone and convulses, or just starts screaming wildly. I try to come up with a new possible effect almost every time the characters tries the whistle. Having a creature, who seemed particularly imposing moments ago, start vomiting uncontrollably makes for a dramatically different and interesting encounter or skill challenge.

Here are a few other, general ideas:

Books - Books don't help someone become better in battle, but if they're carrying them around (hopefully they have mount!), they have reference materials for certain situations. I know, lame, right? A character might find a book on the flora and fauna of the region, history of the kingdom, healing techniques, etc., with the appropriate bonuses to their skills. It also makes for some difficult decisions when the player approaches a certain level of encumbrance.

Traps - dandwiki has a page for Quick Traps (and I think someone mentioned Tagglefoot bags above), which characters carry with them. The character I'm working with has gotten really creative using these, which is fun for them and keeps me on my toes. He can also reduce the number of enemies he'll have to encounter in battle by enticing his enemies, one at a time, down a hallway and around a corner, where... trapped!


Non-magical "potions" - There are plenty of items on Earth - which is non-magical as far as I know - that have effects on people, so there's no reason why there can't be some crushed plant leaves or animal semen or whatever in the world you've created that help or hinder creatures. Peyote, for example, is not magical, but it sure would mess with our hero's enemy if he slipped its powdered form into their drink.

Glands - Anytime any PC I'm controlling kills a creature that might have glands, I cut that creature up trying to find them. This could be your average spider/snake venom (which the PC can use to tip their weapon for ongoing damage) or the glands of a flash or fire beetle. Someone already mentioned using body parts of fallen monsters and that's a great idea. I once ran a PC who killed a poison-spewing alligator monster and, when my DM refused to allow me to get its glands, my character skinned the thing. In the next town, he paid the local tanner to create armor out of it. My DM relented and gave me +2 armor. Obviously, you'll have to introduce these creatures in order for the hero to kill them and remove their body parts.

Alchemy - I don't know if your player considers alchemy to be too similar to magic but, if not, that's an option. This ties in with the potions and glands mentioned above. Here's a decent list:


You could also give vials of smoke or a bottle of some slick liquid that the character can use as a splash weapon - Spy Hunter style. It would give them a controller element in battle, creating areas of difficult terrain or obscured vision.

Cheating??? - I don't know if you would consider this to be cheating, and I apologize if this seems against the spirit of your question, but it just dawned on me that the character in question could possess a magical item which they are not aware is magical. As far as they know, that new set of __ (insert item for which they have an available "slot") gives them a +1 to attack/AC/whatever. What they don't know is that the item is magical and has __ property. This would be a good object to insert into the story if your players fail a detect magic check with what seems like a pretty decent roll.

Then, during combat, when the player wearing/using the object says, "I rolled 18 vs. AC," you secretly add the +2 magical item bonus before determining success. This is more work for you, but it adds the possibility that the character eventually discovers his mistake and is disgusted/kills self/swears off fighting/is angry with companions for not telling him/etc. It could be especially interesting when one of the other players notices that the guy with the (secretly) magical bracers is hitting with 18 when he/she is not. As a DM, all you can do is shrug your shoulders. They'll figure it out eventually. Come to think of it, this could be a fun idea even for a character who doesn't fear magic. And the item wouldn't have to have a bonus property. It could have a penalty. Now I'm typing as I brainstorm, which is a bad idea.

Good luck. Thanks to the other posters here. You've given me some cool new ideas for my own game.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Update (is it tacky to comment on my own post?): I came up with another useful, non-magical item. It's basically Blu-Tac. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blu-Tack My buddy's PC is using it in all sorts of interesting ways. He recently spent several rounds throwing hunks of the stuff (athletics) at a wall he wanted to climb. He succeeded and failed several times, and then used the hunks of "Blu-Tac" as hand and foot holds. More athletics and acrobatics checks followed. Good fun for both of us. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lechlerfan
    Commented May 1, 2012 at 4:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Better to update the answer. Each post is a mini-wiki, so you (and others) can (and should!) improve the Answer as often as is beneficial. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 1, 2012 at 17:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the grossness and audacity of suggesting I use animal semen in my campaign. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 18:11

There's always the option of having a trusted M-U cast a spell with some sort of extended duration or Permacy.


Just get creative. I had a guy like this who (because of constant abysmal Use magic device rolls) swore off magical items. So I had to get creative with him. After the party finally kills the BBEG that was bent on killing nature (killing all Druids and making forests uninhabitable wastelands). I gave the party the standard loot for such a task (lots of Gp and a few magical items)and also played out a spirit of nature rewarding the party by bestowing a gift to one of them. The no-magic-items guy ended up getting the gift which was basically a sword made of nigh on indestructible wood that also made it very light and had a keen edge. I just told him that it was basically a natural version of a +2 (+3 in lush forests) longsword. And because this player often missed out on massive amounts of gold in magic items I felt he needed something else, so I ruled that whenever he holds the sword he can understand and speak to both plants and animals, because of natures bond to the sword or something (did I mention this happened a VERY long time ago?). The guy was ecstatic about getting such a unique item, and the other players couldn't complain since they all got his share of magic items for the past few levels. And all the hilarious role playing where the character would get into arguments with squirrels or trees would always add a little flavor to any game session.

So solution, every time a huge reward is given out just give him a unique item that replicates the effects of a magical item by using mundane or extra ordinary means.


I concur with much of what was said here. As a person that loves dwarven fighters (it is expected to my first character in a any new campaign) I think I know where the person is coming from. Let him come up with how he wants to compensate for the lack of magic. A weapon master with a masterwork sword can easily be just as deadly as a "normal" fighter with a +5 sword. If he wants to fully dedicate his attention to one weapon, let him get better.

Encourage them and work with them and it'll be fun.


Let her character suffer

Choosing to play as a person ethically opposed to the use of magic items in D&D 3.5 is like playing someone opposed to electronics in Eclipse Phase. She is asking you to let her play a character who is going to be powerless, ridiculed by his peers, and constantly at war with himself over the consequences of his belief system. It is extremely unlikely that he will ever find peace and far more likely the rest of the party will keep him around to abuse because they feel like it. This is not a character whose life will be pleasant or easy.

First, make sure your player realises this. There are people in real life who refuse to vaccinate their kids and as a result cause their children not only to be a danger to other kids but to be likely to contract all sorts of easily preventable diseases themselves. Often this wrong-headedness is tied up with strong, emotionally charged beliefs about reality. Encourage your player to research these kinds of people and what leads them to act this way and keeps them going in the face of overwhelming evidence that their beliefs are actively harmful to themselves and their children, so that she can play someone like this in a respectful way. It is also possible that she doesn't realize she's setting her character up to endure a hellish life. In that case suggest she use magic items like the rest of the people in the campaign world, and that the character she is suggesting is not a good fit for the system you are using. Consider using a different system, or adding in any of the various suggested homebrews to buff her up some.

Then, consider whether you and the rest of your players are okay with having a character like this in the game. 3.5 tends to be a light-hearted laugh-fest so this is a significant departure from normal. If your group is okay with this kind of play, go ahead and let her play the character. Giving her homebrew powerups is not helpful, desired, or necessary.

If this is in fact what she wants, but not what some of the people in the group are comfortable with, then ask her to play a lighthearted character in this campaign and suggest she try a game of Polaris, possibly with some of the same people as in the normal group, to get her Catharsis fix.


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