Your Magic Sucks

A while ago, I wrote an article about describing your combat. People like to think that role playing and combat are two separate things, but they don’t have to be. The way your character fights says something about them too. Does your fighter hammer away repeatedly with their sword, relying on their strength to batter away the enemies defenses? Or do they dance away from their opponents sword, spinning underneath their blade to stab forward under their guard? Both of those are very different and very visually pleasing.

What about magic, though? People often fall into the same trap. “I cast magic missile.” Roll some d4s. Done.

There isn’t much that actually feels magical about that. It’s banal and kinda boring. If you play the game to just roll dice and kill things, that’s fine. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that if that is the thing you enjoy. It is a game, after all. People are totally able to play it for different reasons. If you’re interested in a narrative focus, however, let’s chat.

When it comes to flavoring your magic, there are a few things you can consider up front. Just as those two fighters in the above example operate in different ways, so will your magic users. Let’s start with a simple question: Where does your magic come from?

If we’re looking at DnD 5E, there are some mechanics built into that question. Lets stick with the major arcane classes for some examination. Wizards are casting spells due to book learning. Sorcerers have some bloodline things going on. Warlocks have patrons. This is a great place to start with some flavor.

Your wizard read some books. That’s cool. What books did they read? Did they study at a great library? Did they stumble upon an ancient text by a mad mage from ages past? Did they find their spells on crumbling ancient obelisks? Let your brain really wander. It’s a fun thing to figure out.

What’s up with your sorcerer bloodline? Are you descended from the god kings of long ago? Does that demon blood in your veins fire your magic? A Warlock’s patron almost writes itself. Who are they and how did you get bound to them? This is all great backstory waiting to happen.

What does this all have to do with casting magic in game? A lot. Knowing where your magic comes from can really help to flavor it. Let’s go back to magic missile for a moment. Using a spell born of demon blood versus one you found on crumbling stone monoliths would likely look very different. Does it smell of sulfur and look like hellfire? Is it recognizable as the dead magic of an ancient civilization?

Maybe it looks like little skulls, purple bolts of energy, or shards of wood that burst from a nearby tree. Does it have a sound? Does it have a smell? What does it look like when it impacts? These are the type of questions that keep me up at night.

The more your flavor your magic, the more it’ll guide the spells you pick. What makes sense for your sorcerer with the blood of a god king? Magic might be heavily contingent on the sound of their voice. A sleep spell might be reminiscent of psychedelic soft whispers. A fireball might form from their voice itself.

Flavoring your magic is something that goes a long way to making it feel…well, magical. Giving it context and feeling really helps the narrative of the game and will work it’s way into NPC reactions, character interactions, and more. Do you have any favorite spell flavorings? Pop them in the comments. I’m always looking for more inspiration.