Re-Skinning Spells

A follow-up to similar articles I wrote on using D&D creature stats to make original sounding creations, how about giving your spell caster some original twists? There are a few different ways you can personalise your spell list, simply changing the appearance such as the colour, the sound, the very sensual content of your spell, is the easiest way by far, but with your DMs permission (or if you are the DM and don’t care) you can make minor tweeks to the effects of your spells. Changes of damage type are simple enough, but other effects should be taken with caution as they may unbalance the game in such a way that it makes your character more powerful than the others.

Oh yes, the Dungeon Masters Guide has its tips and tricks for spell design, but there is no exact science without zealous and time consuming playtesting, so with caution and judicious forethought, lets mess with magic.

Bane/Hex/Hunter’s Mark

Three spells with similar effects: nominate a creature and bring it bad tidings, extra damage dealt against it, cause it difficulty trying to resist your attacks or fighting back, you get the idea. The PHB is reticent to mention what it looks like of course, it’s up to you how it appears. It’s a classic thing to have a symbol of coloured light appear above the head of your mark, appearing as a glowing shape on the skin, or perhaps a burnt brand seared into the flesh.

For a bit of variety, why not conjure an effigy like a voodoo-doll or shrunken head in the image of your victim, a fantastic image for Hex. For Bane, having your enemies whither visibly, or their skin blacken, or for Hunter’s Mark having wounds appear upon you quarry just before the blow is struck. Alternatively, perhaps there is no visible effect for others, but that those whom you have hexed, marked, or baned are visited by dread visions like a leering mask across your face, or a sudden dread each time they turn their back on you.

The Glorious Versatility of Magic Missile

The inescapable dart of pure energy that deals force damage at a rate of 1d4+1 per dart, a spell so famous it had a rather unsubtle cameo in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in 2010:

So many options, there are just too many to bother detailing, after all it’s just a shot of damage. Here’s a bullet point list:

  • Tiny flying skulls that cackle as they fly. With your DMs permission, necrotic damage to replace force.
  • Winged knives or whirling shuriken. Slashing damage is a safe swap for force.
  • Wasps.
  • A simple beam of light that zigzags, and fizzes loudly.
  • Squirrels that aim for the throat of their target!
  • Ice spikes, fireballs, arcs of static energy, each with relevant damage type changes, by the leave of your DM.

Most people take Magic Missile as a given for any spell slinger that has it available to them, and it’s such a simple spell that you can have a lot of fun designing your own.

Barkskin/Mage Armour/Stoneskin

Must I describe these spells? They’re rudimentary ways to ramp up the durability of your magic wielder, who are traditionally rather squishy and easy to kill. Do they have to do what they say on the tin? Skin of bark and stone, hovering forcefields?

There is no reason why you cannot turn yourself into an animate statue of gold, just as Gideon Jura does when withstanding damage. There is no reason why you could not conjure a coiling weave of steel chain, hovering black iron that smoulders with burning icons, or opaque and perfectly geometric blue-ice. If it suits your character to have bark skin then by all means, but how many book-learned wizards will immediately think of trees when defending themselves? Sorcerers have no control over the source of their power, would dragon scales suit you better, or perhaps a coat of rippling light?

Next month, ideas on very different spell casters and how their spells can be made to fit their themes. In the mean time please feel free to share your home-brewed spells and individual magical effects down in the comments, or over on our Facebook.

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