Spell descriptions in D&D. Making magic feel alive!

Spell descriptions in D&D

Spell descriptions in D&D are often hard to make magical. We all too often go to saying that ‘you cast x and the thing happens.’ So why not make spells more interesting?

Spell descriptions in D&D can make spells personal, increase engagement, and increase roleplay from players if you make them interesting.

We have already talked about the basics for descriptors here, but we will go more in-depth today for spell exclusive tips.

Using the 5 senses

The basics of any description is to use the 5 senses. You do not have to use them all at once, but you need to elicit feelings for at least some of these emotions when giving spell descriptions in D&D.

The 5 senses are:

  • Sight
  • Smell
  • Sound
  • Touch
  • Taste

If you describe a spell, you might not use touch or taste, but you should almost always include sight and one other sense. Using these senses will help the spell seem more alive. Here is a great example.

A player casts guiding bolt at an enemy. It is a standard first level cleric spell, so it will be common in many games. This common spell can be completely unique to the player and make them tailor the magic to make it their own.

Instead of just saying that a player casts guiding bolt, a cleric of death could cast a black bolt. This bolt when it hits the target seems to give off a black aura, and gives off a pull. A pull to make your next attack easier to hit the target.

This spell now has a somewhat creepy vibe to fit that death cleric domain, and it isn’t just visual. The players feel the pull of this creepy black bolt.

If you want, you could add more based on that cleric’s god or personality. You could make the enemy smell like rotten flesh for a brief period or just give the bolt a rotten scent as it whizzes by the players, or even have a screeching sound.

For the sense of taste, that is a bit harder to give to any spell. Usually taste would only work on spells that target a person, but you can add taste to a fog spell. A poison cloud would obviously have a taste, and even a fog cloud can taste like water.

Using the 5 senses are the easiest ways to make a spell come alive, but you need to keep in mind who is casting the spell and how to tailor it.

Tailoring spells to individuals

Spell descriptions in D&D are not all the same. That black guiding bolt that pulls players toward the person isn’t how every guiding bolt looks. You might have a lawful good cleric give a golden guiding bolt that highlights where a target’s guard is briefly down instead. This gives a sense of order instead of creepiness, and is tailored to the individual.

Tailoring spells isn’t necessarily hard, but it is important. You need to consider that player and their personality when tailoring spells, and using the 5 senses are great for making spells a player’s own, but you can also make it more interesting.

A bolt is boring, so why not make the guiding bolt look like it has a skull on the front for the death cleric. We can make beams of light radiate from the bolt for the good cleric who worships a sun god, or make the bolt an arrow for those who worship a god of archery.

We can change the shape of what spells look like to a degree to make each spell seem unique. This makes each spell an individual’s own and not easily identifiable in a scripted video game.

There is a lot more to go into, but once you start tailoring spells to individuals they will want to tailor these spells themselves. After all, who would you rather describe your unique cool spell? You or the DM? Obviously you would! Or at least, this personal take on your spell makes you want to have the DM get it right.

This personalization encourages roleplay and will naturally make your players more excited to cast spells and engage in the world. There is something that you want to avoid when describing spells.

Too much spell description

Spell descriptions in D&D can enhance your game, but there is a point where spell descriptions can become more of a nuisance than a benefit. There is a lot that you can get away with, but don’t let your spells become a negative in your game.

The main way that spell descriptions in D&D become negative is through adding too much, or repeating the same description the exact same detail.

After you have started to describe spells and see how they enhance your game, you will want to continue doing so. It is only natural to describe spells instead of just having enemies and players roll, resolve, and be done with spells, but it can be much worse.

Imagine if you are a player and hear the exact same description for Faerie Fire for the 5th time. It has lost it’s luster and is extremely boring. In addition to being boring, it is taking up far more time than what would normally happen with just a ‘it succeeds’ or ‘it fails.’

If you have already described a spell, only use basic terms to keep the individuality, but avoid the boredom. A great example is when you describe Faerie Fire for the 5th time, don’t talk about how it wreaths the opponents and outlines where to strike. Just state that the familiar purple flame outlines the affected enemies.

Too much spell description in D&D can cause disinterest, but how should you handle players describing their own spells?

Players Describing their own spells

We already talked about players starting to personalize their own spells to encourage roleplay and engagement, but we haven’t gone over how to handle it.

With the caution already placed in describing spells too often, you might be concerned about players describing their own spells too much. This could be through a new spell or through the same spell for the 10th time. So should you be cautious about your player describing their own spells?

If you are at this point, then spell descriptions in D&D have already enhanced your game, personalized spells, and encouraged roleplay which is awesome! The great news for you is that if your players are describing their own spells, they won’t repeatedly describe spells in the same way over and over.

As a DM, we have the problem of describing many events happening at once. We can default to describing the same event in the same way because we have other concerns. We get lazy, and that is completely understandable when you have so much to focus on.

The players don’t have this problem.

If a player describes their own spell, then you will hear how the same spell is used in a different way almost every time. It takes a lot of courage and work to describe spells, so the players want to describe their spells in the best way possible. They want to look cool, and won’t just repeat the same description over and over.

At this point, your job is done. The players will now describe their own spells, not get bored with the descriptions, and will make your game far more interesting!

Conclusion

This is just a short addition how to give spell descriptions in D&D since our article on How to Use Descriptors in D&D already covers a lot of the basics.

There are still some differences that needed to be covered with spells since they really can enhance your game more than other descriptors. Unlike combat or other actions, some players are constantly using spells. These spells seem generic, and if left to be generic the players will not get too attached to their character or class.

That is what makes spell descriptions in D&D so special!

Your players are able to customize any spell, and make themselves really get immersed into the world of D&D.

While this is short, I still hope that this article gave you a good idea on how to use spell descriptions in D&D to enhance your game!

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This has been Wizo and keep rolling!

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