There are a lot of mechanics in Dungeons & Dragons that do not have much flavor to them, but when given the right amount can completely change how the game is perceived and played by those at the table. My experiences detailed here all relate to 4th Edition D&D, but the ideas can easily apply to any RPG that’s out there. I first started to realize that something magical could be done with the 4E class features at GenCon last year while playing in a delve run by Jeremy Crawford. I sat next to Jared from Head Injury Theater who picked the WotC pregenerated warden and I picked the pregen druid, but quickly we realized that I’d need a mini to represent my druid’s wild shape form.
Jared, for reasons that are entirely his own, had a perfectly sized and hilarious looking Pokemon toy (pictured) that he offered to me and it was quickly dubbed the “Shmoo”. The hilarious image of a giant Pokemon running at incredible speeds through the dungeon, combined with my impromptu penchant for yelling “SHMOO!” whenever my druid took any actions, quickly made this a memorable session. It hadn’t really struck me at the time that the unique flavor given to my character’s standard wild shape ability is what made things that much more interesting. On top of that, I took note that Jared had latched onto the snowy white coloring of his character’s portrait and had built the entire feel of his character around it – whenever his warden marked a target he described handing the creatures a snowy white rose. This simple, entirely visual element added to his character’s mark introduced a world of detail about the character.
More recently, I’ve started playing occasionally in an Eberron game run by E the Geek’s Dream Girl and I decided to try this idea out again. My character is a Xen’drik drow warlock following the dark pact, and as such I’ve decided that any creature under the effects of my warlock’s curse is covered in small, shadowy spiders that don’t harm them until an attack of mine hits them. On top of that, when a cursed creature is killed my character gains the effects of the dark spiral aura pact boon, at which point the shadowy spiders drain the body’s soul and proceed to slowly saunter back to me as fattened and lazy shadow spiders. Sure the effect is slightly goofy, humorous, and a little bit grotesque but I figure those are good feelings for my warlock to inspire. The additional effects that I did not anticipate is that this makes my warlock’s curse class feature feel a lot more unique and gives it more of a presence in each encounter, and that now if I need to flavor any of his other powers I have a solid grounding in the game to base them on as long as they include shadowy spiders and a flair of the grotesque!
Almost every class in 4th Edition has a defining feature that is used regularly and lacks a good amount of detail to really define it – the defender’s mark, the striker’s quarry or curse, and the leader’s healing. I’ve found that many players who have a leader character have already started to define the healing in a unique and descriptive way, most likely because this ability is typically used on other player’s characters and is a much more personal interaction than those between the PCs and monsters. My proposal is that the next game of 4th Edition that you play in try to spice up your character’s abilities in a similar manner. If you’re playing a fighter try carving a letter into the clothing or fur/skin of each creature you mark, or if you’re playing a swordmage have arcane chains secure around the target of your aegis that tighten when it attempts to attack anyone but you. This philosophy can go well beyond simple class features to race benefits and paragon paths, but I feel the basic class features are the elements that are the most lacking in flavor and are the most used in the average D&D game.
I’d love to hear about any other unique interpretations for game effects that people have experienced or implemented, and of course if you try this out please let me know how it works out!