Monday, October 19, 2009

Magical Monday - Personalized Magic

A friend of mine played a gnome wizard who had great names for his spells. "Tree Burner" I think was burning hands and he called magic missile "Rat Killer" cause that is what the gnomes back home used it for. The other players would implore "Cast magic missile!" He'd reply "Sorry, I don't have that spell". They'd sigh and yell "Rat Killer!" "Oh, that one, but there's no rats around here? What, you can use it on things that aren't rats? Wow! That could be really useful." :)

That's fun and makes magic more than just mechanics. Jack Vance novels and elder RPG materials such as Arduin have great spell names. I use those names for the odd scroll or treatise on spells characters run across. But it's too much work to rename all existing spells. Even if I did every caster would still be using the same name diminishing the mysterious and personal nature of magic I'm hoping to foment.

Pondering this I came upon what I believe to be the perfect solution to naming spells, don't. That is when a character researches or discovers a new spell I'll describe what the spell does but naming it will be a duty of the player. It's their spell after all! If they are stumped, I'll offer Vancian spell naming tables which they can roll on or simple peruse for inspiration. 90% of players will guess what the spell really is and use the name from the PHB. But, that other 10% will come up with some weird shit. Like numbering all their spells, "I cast 642 at the darkness". Or draw symbols on index cards and hold them up, "I cast this".

I also encourage players to personalize their spells with embellishments and small modifications. Fireball's flames being purple, or for an air mage it would be a lightning ball, or instead of big whoosh of fire the appearance is of cavorting fire elementals, or "Back home we used this spell for slash & burn agriculture and thus call it Tree Burner". The Colour of Magic and related articles at The Vaults of Pandius are great sources for this.


  1. I am not sure if anyone has even gone so far as to rename spells in any of our campaigns but many players enjoyed customizing the appearance of their magic (especially magic missile as it is so ubiquitous). It is a very cool idea though and I will see what people think of it.

  2. It has long been a practice in my campaigns that each player starts with a single custom spell.

    Basically, in order to graduate from Wizard's College or apprenticeship, you need to have been able to create an original spell. These spells are always first level, continue to grow with the level of the character (making them useful whether the PC is 1st or 21st) and not known to anyone else unless the creator passes it on.

    Also very common are modified spell appearances, effects and other little nuances that add a little more magic to D&D's somewhat unmagical (IMHO) spell system.

  3. I like to keep fairly dry spells as a start (generic), but have the real "mystery" of the magic come with their own modifications, in my case through spell components that each player tries to use.

    I do like the sentiment and I'll have to think of some way to bring that into regular gaming, that level of personalization.

  4. Such a simple and elegant idea!

    I also dig Barking Alien's idea about starting with at least 1 custom spell.

  5. I like wild sorcery as the spells that come from it are filled with possibility. At one point in a campaign my sorcerer came across a troll and cast magic missile, long story short my sorcerer ended up killing the troll by hurling a cone of destructive kittens at it.


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