Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Creating Interesting Spells (Part 1)

There are a lot of boring spells out there.

- Just about every damage spell leaves me wanting more (magic missile).

- Too many spells that don't scale will by level (sleep).

- There are so many spells with only an affect and no real cause (cause light wounds).

Now, this isn't so much a problem, but I've found these sort of spells to be incredibly lame lately. Why? Because they lack either creative use and/or don't create interesting play.

Take Sleep. Sleep is way too useful at early levels and way too useless later on. It can't scale, makes it a no brainer choice to either prep it for the day or leave it at home. The only time there's much of a choice concerning it is during those intermediate levels where the dangerous threats may or may not fall into the less than 4HD range. Other than that, it's only a matter of when to use it and when not to use it.

Magic Missile is another one. What is a magic missile? Is it just a source of damage? Can I use it to ring a gong from a distance? Of course, the DM can make a ruling, but explaining how that damage is caused inspires much more creativity and interesting play than the whole "I fire magic missile at the orc."

There are better ways to make combat spells. Take one recently unearthed from Agrivaina last week:

Rhyme Or Death  – Forces the subject of the spell to speak solely in rhymes. Failure to complete a couplet with a recognizable meter when speaking aloud results in the subject taking 1d6 points of damage. Lasts until the subject successfully completes 1d4 rhymes.

While I may be gloating. That's an interesting spell. It can inspire, while not creative use necessarily, but interesting play. It adds another element, rhyming, to the game table. Not only that, it's both useful in combat and out. It can keep leader-types from giving effective orders or forcing them to suffer damage, for instance. Similarly, it can make anyone look like a complete fool, reciting bad poetry or cause them to run around screaming in pain - probably both.

Here's another, also from Agrivaina:

Animate Figurine – Animates 1 miniature figurine per level of the magic-user. The figurines have 1 hp and will serve the magic-user without question. When working together, armed figurines may cause damage with a die type equal to the number of figurines at work (1, 1 point; 2, 1d2; 3; 1d3; 4, 1d4; 5, 1d6; 6, 1d8; etc.) The magic lasts at most 1 turn.

While I only really talk about damage dealt in the description, being animate figurines, it's easy to jump to other tasks other than combat, depending on the shape of the figurines, such as picking a lock or scouting out a lit room/hallways. Yes, there are still some rulings for the DM, such as if the figurines can communicate back, but I tend to design spells like that on purpose, allow individual referee the fun of interpretation.

[Next time, I'll talk more about non-combat spells]


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  2. That rhyme spell is flavorful, but I think it is a bit too much player skill for me. I think I would just stay quiet, because I couldn't compose verse if my life depended on it.

  3. Brendan, I totally understand your point of view with that spell.

    I figure, D&D favors people who are good at all sort of things, like planning and running numbers, why not flowery poetry.

    The damage might be a bit much, and might need to be toned down. I'll see what happens during play.

  4. I'll let PCs describe the more boring spells as they please, and if the description makes sense, I'll allow it to have additional side effects. For example, if a PC describes their magic missile as a solid projectile slamming into people, I'm fine with it having mass and force for other purposes as well.