Spellcasting Combat Narration for D&D
image credit: Ben Wootten
So I was gonna include this in my other article on narrating combat, but it proved far too lengthy, so I made this into part 2!
Combat is easy to describe compared to narrating spell attacks. I ran into this problem last session when I was getting into detail telling the barbarian how they tore off an ogre’s head but then the druid just kept using Fire Bolt and I kept defaulting to “you shoot a bolt of fire at his face.” I’m going to try and vary things up with these lists and help everyone else in the process! I am organizing them by energy type.
Mode of Attack
Half of a spell’s attack is how the caster shapes their spell. The same spell can look very different with every casting if you have a creative DM. Feel free to switch it up each time it’s cast, or vary the same spell when cast by different characters of different classes.
Generic shapes and terms that will launch from the caster’s hand.
Helix, Spiral, Beam, Erratic, Mote, Bolt, Stream, Blast, Burst, Blade, Arc, Miasma, Cloud, Eruption, Wave, Cone, Missile, Rune, Glyph
Energy manifests from thin air a foot in front of their instrument as they play
Energy is shaped like ribbons of written music that ripples towards enemies
Several tiny motes of energy appear with each note sung or played. Each point of damage comes from a mote hitting the opponent (rolls a 4 out of a d6, 4 of the 6 note-motes hit)
Energy falls from the sky or emerges from the ground as the cleric prays
Beam of energy originates from holy symbol
Spell attack should highlight that the cleric is granted their powers from a greater power, don’t have the energy come from their hand/finger. Have the energy come TO them, and then be thrown at the enemy.
Energy is shaped like an animal.
Energy rushes forth from the surrounding wilderness and zooms past the druid and toward the foe.
Much like Cleric, energy shouldn’t come from the caster. It should come from elsewhere before being thrown at the enemy.
Fighter (Eldritch Knight)
Energy blasts from their bound weapon pointed at the enemy.
Energy fires from their mouth as they yell.
Energy surrounds their weapon and is used in tandem with it (if close enough)
Monk (Way of Four Elements)
Literally just watch Avatar: the Last Airbender and do that.
Most Paladin spells are smite-based, so they usually happen when an attack hits. Otherwise, let the energy come from a higher power like the Cleric.
Energy bursts forth from within the creature hit
Energy surrounds weapon right as the strike lands
Energy falls from the sky or erupts from the ground
Honestly, most Ranger spells often seem a lot like man-made traps like Cordon of Arrows (arrow traps), Fog Cloud (smoke grenade), or Grasping Vine (slipknot trap). But otherwise, Play it like the Cleric where the energy comes from a higher power.
Energy takes the form of the Ranger’s animal companion or an animal they associate with.
Spells seem to cast automatically whenever the Ranger is in a tight spot, almost as if nature itself is protecting them. The Ranger gives an approving nod whenever this happens in thanks.
Rogue (Arcane Trickster)
Energy is always accompanied by a shimmer of glitter
The Rogue plays with the energy over their fingertips as they whistle before casting the spell.
Energy enchants one of the Rogue’s daggers and casts the spell by tossing the dagger at the intended location or target.
Sorcerer (Draconic Bloodline)
Energy takes the shape of a dragon of your bloodline.
Energy surges forth from your breath
All energy takes the shape of your bloodline dragon’s energy type, regardless of the actual energy type. For instance, a sorcerer of a blue dragon’s bloodline that casts Burning Hands or Cone of Cold keeps the energy type but shapes the fire and cold damage into the form of a bolt of lightning.
Sorcerer (Wild Magic)
Energy takes on many random forms, never under the full command of the Sorcerer.
Energy erupts from random places in the environment when the Sorcerer calls upon them.
Energy bubbles and fizzes with all energy types (but mostly the one called upon), as if a piece of Limbo was thrown at the enemy.
Your energy shimmers with iridescent colors and showers enemies with sparks of glitter.
Warlock (Great Old One)
Your magic corrupts and twists the flesh of the target of your spell, regardless of the energy type.
Energy takes the shape of the unholy symbol of your patron.
Energy shoots forth from your magical wards, arcing towards your enemies.
You conjure a short-lived elemental of the energy type you need. It soars at the enemy.
You weave the glowing threads of fate in the palms of your hands, tweaking reality to cast your spell.
You enchant an object to exude the energy and toss it at the enemy.
I mean, you just sorta blast them. That’s what this school’s about.
Your spell usually spawns two or three illusory copies. When the attack misses, the enemy simply managed to dodge the right duplicate.
Your energy takes the shape of a skull screaming as it flies toward the enemy
You transmute the energy out of the surrounding environment and fire it at the enemy
So if half of a spell’s attack is the shape and travel of the spell, the other half is when the spell hits. I organized this list by energy type, as different energies will do different sorts of things when they hit a creature. This is mostly a collection of interesting effects, colorful language, and examples.
Your bolt of fire singes their armor (burning cloth, blackening leather, discoloring metal)
A tiny bead of fire explodes on contact
Showers them with red sparks
Your attack leaves behind a billowing trail of smoke
A fast-travelling meteor of flame soars from the sky towards the enemy.
Your flames leave blisters and cracked skin in its wake.
Your fire blackens the enemy’s flesh
You freeze the moisture in the air into icy daggers that fall onto your enemy
You freeze the water in their blood to damage them
Their skin turns blue and numb
You literally hurl a snowball at them.
Your spell leaves them covered in a layer of frost
A buildup of ice covers where your spell hit. (it’s easily shattered once they move, though)
A blast of icy wind and rain leaves them shivering.
A crack of thunder pummels your foe
A high-pitched, deafening shriek focuses itself on the target
A thin trail of blood races from the foe’s ears from a sound no one else can hear
The enemy falls to their knees cupping their hands over their ears, gritting their teeth
You buffet the target with waves of thunderous sound
The ground shakes with the force of your spell. Brittle glass objects nearby shatter.
Lightning comes from the sky to smite your foe
You all smell the faint odor of ozone before a bright bolt of lightning streaks toward the target of your spell
Before your enemy can blink they are showered in electrical sparks followed by crippling pain
The enemy’s back stiffens as the powerful current of lightning surges through them
Your attack leaves a permanent web of lightning shaped burns all over one side of their body
Your blast of lightning causes their skin to rupture as it travels through their body
Your acid sizzles as it burns a new, unnatural color into their skin
The attack melts their flesh, leaving them permanently disfigured at the site of the spell
Your spell’s acid causes blue fire to burn where it hit their skin, and bleaches their armor and belongings
A rancid smell fills the foe’s nostrils as the acid bubbles on their bare skin, burning through the simple cloth of their shirt.
You spew a poisonous cloud from your mouth at your opponent
A spectral viper or insect is flung at the opponent, biting them and filling them with magical venom
Your index and middle finger each grow a poisonous fang which you sink into your opponent’s arm (melee range spell attacks only)
The enemy’s mouth fills with a foul tasting liquid which forces its way down their throat
Your target’s flesh bubbles and boils as a black ichor sputters from the spell’s origin
The foe’s flesh festers with magical disease as boils and wounds quickly cover the affected area
A skeletal hand wriggles free from beneath the earth, flying towards the target
An incorporeal undead shrieks as it flies from your finger toward the enemy to deliver the spell’s effect
Black energy swirls around your arm before launching towards the enemy as if it had a life of its own
Your iridescent blue magic enters the target’s body and afflicts their soul, making them momentarily dazed as their eyes glaze over.
A holy light shines from the skies to harm your target, regardless of time of day or obstructions
A halo of radiant energy surrounds your head and blinds the target as they gaze upon it
Enemies that aren’t of your alignment hear the whispers of your deity moments before being enveloped in a blinding white light
The foe’s eyes and mouth emit warm light and they howl in pain
A blade of radiant energy slashes through the victim, leaving a trail of blinking motes of light in its wake
The enemy’s skin blisters from the raw positive energy surging through them
So essentially this whole post was a creative writing assignment for myself, but I hope that it gives you guys new creative ideas for new spells or new ways to describe existing spells! They don’t much affect the mechanics of the spell at all, so most DMs I suspect will be fine with most of these descriptions if you want your character to cast spells a certain way.
How to Make Likable NPCs?
The title is self-explanatory. This one is on the request of @lori-dragons. So here is some advice I’ve got about how to make your NPCs likable.
Number 1: Have them give free stuff.
Ever played Dragon Age? I used to joke about how it’s dumb that you can get NPCs to fall in love with your character just by getting them gifts. “How unrealistic” I thought. Then I played D&D and found out that if my NPC gifts FUCKIN’ ANYTHING to a PC, they will fall so desperately in love with them.
Everyone loves getting stuff for free. So if you have an NPC gift your PCs something, a health potion, +1 sword, armor of fire resistance, ANYTHING, they will instantly be liked by your PCs. The more stuff the NPC gifts, the more he will be liked.
Example from experience: A reoccurring character I have is “the Doctor.” Basically a weird Plague Doctor that seems to be running EVERY alchemy shop, although no NPC seems to notice this. Suspicious right? Creepy dude, everywhere at once. Must be bad news. Except he keeps gifting the Party potions for free. So they just ignore all the red flags that he’s probably not trustworthy.
Number 2: Make NPCs pets or children.
Guaranteed success. A cute animal, even if said animal is an owlbear, if you present it as cute and nice, the Party will LOVE that thing. This is FULL PROOF with 99% of parties. Children, not so much. As a player, I always tend to distrust children and try to kill them cause kids are fuckin’ creepy and weird. But that’s just me. Your Party might actually be DESCENT HUMAN BEINGS. Who knows? Haven’t played with any of those before.
Number 3: Other traits a likable NPC can have.
The following traits I can’t describe in thorough detail, so you’re getting it in list form.
An NPC that is kind and supports the Party but is very naive about the darker parts of the world. Example: bright eyed squire to the Party fighter who just idolizes heroes.
A very sexually promiscuous shopkeeper. Not someone who hits on the Party. That is how you get PCs to DISLIKE an NPC. Rather, an NPC who makes it clear he/she is open to be hit upon.
An NPC that loves to fight. Parties love this. Someone who is NUTS about fighting and dying in an honorable way, while flaying your enemies with their own spines.
Insane wizards/alchemists that are absolutely batshit. I had a sorceress that invented drugs and lost all control of her power while getting high. Or a wizard that is batshit insane about people breathing more than 1 breath per 5 seconds. Just crazy wizards. Parties love crazy wizards.
Keep in mind, there’s more to making an interesting NPC. The above just talks about making LIKABLE NPCs. There’s a LOT more on how to make good villains, or just generally interesting NPCs. And if you folks want, I will post thoroughly about that. But I will leave that up to you. Hope my advice was useful to you all.
The Unfair DM