Add Splendor to Your Spells
- Making Magic Memorable -
Magic is one of the cornerstones of Dungeons & Dragons, and provides much of the mystical feel so beloved of the fantasy genre. Unfortunately, despite magic being of such importance to the game, all too many uses of magic in the game are described with no more flair than, "I cast a Fireball spell". As this article explains, spellcasting in Dungeons & Dragons can be easily made that bit more exotic, enriching the roleplaying experience in the process.
Describing the Spell
You know what spell you want to cast, and who you want to target, but actually describing the spell's casting and appearance can turn even the most common spell into something of wonder. Just by considering each of the following components of a spell's description, you can make it far more unique. Even the divine magic used by clerics, paladins, rangers, and druids, can be made more appropriate to their patron deities using the guidelines provided below.
What exactly does the spell look like? What substance forms the physical aspect of the spell? A Fireball, for example, need not look like a simple ball of flame. It could like a flaming winged skull, a flaming fist, flaming heart, glowing phoenix, etc. It's still a Fireball, but it need not look so basic. Also consider the color or colors of the spell; where magic is concerned you need not adhere to the expected. Why not make the fireball eerie green, blue, purple or even pink? Giving the spell an unusual appearance is entirely permissible, providing it makes no change to the effect of the spell.
Another part of the spell's appearance is its motion. If the spell has to cover a distance, how does it do so? Does it simply appear there, or does it travel? Following the Fireball example, does it fly through the air, and if so, does it fly straight, spiral, or zigzag? Does it simply appear out of nowhere to engulf the target? Does it bounce or roll along the ground?
What does the spell sound like? Sound accompanies the casting of many spells, and can range from the tinkling of bells to the rumble of thunder, from echoes of chilling laughter, to the crackle and sizzle of energy. Once again, giving just a little thought to this aspect of a spell gives it much more depth, and the sound need not necessarily match the spell. Why not have your Fireball sing as it flies through the air? Once again, providing the sound has no game effect, why not be creative?
The least important of the descriptive elements in most cases, describing the scent of the spell can make it seem far more real in the mind's eye. Once again, the scent of the spellcasting, if indeed there is any, can be unique or unexpected. For example, the Fireball may well smell of brimstone, but it could just as easily smell of lavender, or anything else you desire.
Naming the Spell
A well-described spell can be made to seem even more unique and impressive, if it's given a different name, although the original spell name should always be placed in brackets afterwards: for example, Sazzlemun's Searing Orb (Fireball).
Given the eccentricity and egotism of many spellcasters, it is hardly surprising that even the most mundane of Cantrips may often bear flamboyant titles. Precious few magicians, having spent weeks or months in toil creating a new spell, would then give their unique creation a humdrum name like "Fireball". Instead, they would make it grandiose, taking pride in their personal achievement.
Giving a newly created spell a good title is satisfying and easy. All spell-titles are composed of one or more of the following components, although two or three components is the optimum.
The most vital part of any spell name informs of the spell's effects, appearance, or less commonly, results, and in many cases, a truly evocative Descriptive Title is often all that's needed to make a spell sound fantastical. When describing the spell, try to avoid the most mundane descriptions, and choose those less immediately obvious. For example, while "Fireball" does accurately describe the spell producing the ball of fire, it is hardly flamboyant. Take a second to think of alternate or related words that can be used to describe the same thing. In this case, such words as Flaming, Blazing, Incendiary, Conflagrating, Scorching, Burning, Searing, and Lambent, as well as Sphere, Orb, and Globe, are also appropriate substitutes for "Fire" and "Ball". "Searing Orb" sounds far more exotic than "Fireball".
A common spell-naming convention, especially as regards the more egotistical or famous creators of spells, is that of appending the individual's name to the front of the spell's title. For example, an infamous pyromancer named Sazzlemun may very well have created the Searing Orb spell, and named it "Sazzlemun's Searing Orb".
Spell creators sometimes add certain extravagant descriptors to a spell's title, particularly if especially proud of the spell, or excessively egotistical, as many wizards are. For example, if Sazzlemun was particularly proud of his Searing Orb spell, he might add such a word as Excellent, Magnificent, Superior, Superlative, Brilliant, Triumphant, etc. to the spell's title. It might therefore have been named "Sazzlemun's Triumphant Searing Orb" in this case.
Spell, Incantation, Dweomer
Another common spell-naming convention is the actual referral to the spell as being a spell, placed before or after the main description. For example, Sazzlemun might have named his Fireball spell, "Sazzlemun's Searing Orb Spell" or "The Spell of Searing Orbs". Alternately, he could have chosen to use a different word, such as Dweomer, Charm, Glamour, Weird, or Incantation, etc.
Making magic memorable does take imagination and a little thought, but the result is always worth it, can entertain both you, the DM, and other players, will certainly enrich the game, and perhaps even garner some additional XP for roleplaying.
Anyone can say "I cast a Fireball! A ball of fire flies forth and strikes my target!", but if you can state something like "I invoke Sazzlemun's Searing Orb! A ball of vivid green flame spirals swiftly through the air, shrieking, the scent of brimstone in its wake!", you've just made the tired old Fireball exciting, and magic as truly magical as it should be.