Saturday, December 26, 2015

What Do Your Verbal and Somatic Components Look Like?

In most D20 fantasy roleplaying games, spells have three components; a verbal component, a somatic component, and a material/focus component. These are the things every spellcaster needs in order to turn their willpower into reality, whether they're charming the town guard to let them pass, or summoning aid from the far reaches of the ethereal planes. Clerics and wizards, druids, sorcerers, and others all have these three requirements in common.

However, if you want to make your magic user truly unique, try describing what these components look like to your fellow party members.

"What did you cast?" What does it LOOK like I cast?
In posts like How To Roleplay During Combat and Dungeon Master Alchemy: Turning Stats Into Story, I recommended that players with spellcasting PCs describe the effects of their spells instead of just saying the name of the spell. However, the effect is just one half of a magic user's action. In fact, focusing on the effects instead of the components is sort of putting the horse before the carriage.

Develop Your Spellcasting Style

If you were playing a martial character, you'd ask yourself certain questions. Questions like:

- What is my weapon of choice?
- Who taught me to fight?
- How long have I been doing this?
- Do I use a particular fighting style, or did I make up my own?

Just because your weapon of choice happens to be the primal forces of the elements, or psychic attacks on the free will of your enemies, that's no reason you can't go through the same steps.

That isn't how wizard's duels work!
For example, say you're playing a wizard in Pathfinder. You've examined the prominent wizard colleges in Golarion, and you decide your character graduated from the abjuration program in Nex. So, you have an established school, with a long history of both powerful tradition and innovation in the magical arts. Your instructor was a pragmatist, who often tested your reaction times by flinging objects at you, and then when you were more established, throwing magic at you without warning. You were average in power, but developed a unique flair for deflecting elemental spells. Because you were used to reacting quickly, your somatic components are short, sharp gestures instead of wide, sweeping ones.

Alternatively, say you were a conjurer who graduated from the arcane college in Korvosa. An arrogant caster, your imp familiar is imperious and impatient, a tiny reflection on your soul. A master linguist, you make sure to always use the correct language of the plane you're summoning your creatures from. Infernal for devils, celestial for heavenly beings, and abyssal for when you need a slavering demon horde to come to your aid. Perhaps your imp intones the spells simultaneously, adding an echoing resonance to the magic as you connect a space on the material plane to the far reaches of the ether where you are calling forth minions from.

Stand Out From The Other Casters

There are so many different flavors you can add to your magic. If you want to make your next experience unique, or just jazz up your current one, you might consider using some of these spices.

- Language: The language you use for different spells can make a big difference. You could also use language as a way to reflect certain metamagic feats. For example, you might speak your incantations in Ignan in order to let loose with a maximized burning hands.

- Directing The Magic: When you move your hands, what are you doing? Do you mimic the motions of the spell, or do you simply direct it as if you were practicing a more martial art form? When you cast Black Tentacles, do you jam your fingers upward, mimicking the motion of the conjured tendrils? When the cinder flies from your finger when you cast Fireball, do you open your hand violently to trigger the detonation? Or are your motions more like a kata, using your entire body to summon, control, and direct your spells?

- Special Effects: A spellcaster's power comes in a variety of different flavors, and that can add some tell-tale signs that power is about to be unleashed. For example, if your magic user has arcane tattoos, or a divine birthmark, do they glow when she casts spells? Does the air stir around the sorcerer as he unleashes bolts of raw power? Do a warlock's features distort, taking on a cast similar to her heritage when she calls upon the dark power of her pact?

Presentation matters.
These are just a few ways you can stand apart from other spellcasters when it comes time to showcase a unique art. Everything from casters who speak their spells in rhyme, to those who incorporate their motions into an interpretive dance, are an option. So, if you want your casters to stand out, give us more than a twist-and-flick when it comes time to make your magic.

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  1. This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. Although I started with D&D way back when one of the most formative games for me in reference to magic and how it works was Mage: The Ascension. Because every spell works exactly the same way mechanically very many people leave out how they work flavor-wise.

    As I mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts I ran an NPC caster that desperately didn't want people to know he was a caster. So he would use his magic in subtle ways, incorporating this verbal and somatic components into everyday actions. Actually using lockpicks to cast the knock spell. I did a serpent based Monk/Sorcerer once and the movements from his snake style would be his somatic component and his spells like say scorching ray would take the form of a serpent, a slithering snake of flames in this case.

    But there are many ways to make spell casting more dynamic and it is always good to touch on these things in a game, at least I think so.

  2. This does remind me of my concept for Warlock in DnD 3.5
    He was focused on getting the most from his Eldritch Blast - by feats and spending all invocations on blast shapes and essences. And the trick is, his blast did not look like rays of energy, but like weapons. Every essence was a diffrent looking weapon, that he seemed to pull out of thin air and launch with flick of a finger. He was an arrogant bastard, standing with one hand behind his back, just waving the other to send around those magical blades.