Monday, July 20, 2015

DM Quick Tips #1 - Flavour your magic descriptions

This is the first installment of DM Quick Tips, a series devoted to short tips that can help you become the Dungeon Master that your players deserve.

Today's Quick Tip: Flavour your players spells

Too often when combat starts all pretense of roleplaying goes out the window. Sometimes it's difficult to continue the immersive experience when we're busy calculating AC and rolling dice. But there are a few small things you can do to keep the flavour up, while still moving combat along at a healthy pace.

One of the interesting things about spells in D&D is that many of them are shared across classes. During combat when a player casts thunderwave they're far more likely to just tell you they're casting it, who they're targeting, and what they rolled. After all it's the DM's job to describe things, right?

Yes and no. Its important to impress upon your players that they can flavour their own characters. Maybe a wizard does a particular flourish with his wand whenever he casts an electrical spell, maybe his hair starts to stand up on its ends. I'm also an advocate for different classes using the same spells in completely different ways. While a druid who casts thunderwave may cause a loud roar of thunder to come out of seemingly nowhere when he taps his staff against the ground, a bard might play loudly on his lute, and the sound waves propel enemies away from him in the exact same manner as thunderwave. In this way a character watching the two spells might think they are two completely different spells.

This flavour can be provided by the player, but I find it's good to help them get started by at least describing the spell based on their class, without just saying the name of the spell. Then in the future they may be more likely to flavour it themselves.

Other spells that are good to flavor are utility spells like comprehend languages. A more traditional spellcaster might commune with spirits or point at a foreign book with their wand and have the letters rearrange themselves. However, a bard might be somewhat less magical. The bard might flip through dozens of books on languages that he studied in his bard college, aided of course with his inherent bard ability he's able to decipher the text.