Dragon 394 - Customizing Your Game: Reflavoring Powers

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Dragon 394
Customizing Your Game: Reflavoring Powers

by David Gibson

Every power comes with its own flavor text. That's one key to fine-tuning your character.

Talk about this Article here.




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This is a reasonable article and is exactly what I've been doing all along.  My shadar-kai warlock is based upon my 2e human shadow mage whose soul was touched and tainted by blackflame (around level 6 I think). 

However, I also hope that this article means that they are FINALLY going to implement this into the Character Builder along with the other customisation options.
Seems fine, if a little... obvious...  Reflavouring is more of an official option for some classes than others, of course.  Druids, in particular, have a lot of options in the flavour that their Beast Forms and powers therein take, because there's no limit to what the beast can be.  Similarly, Ranger Beast Companions are mostly flavour within a given category.

It requires a solid role-playing group, though, and to a lesser extent, a permissive DM.  I've not been able to find a group yet which runs to more than 'I use Encounter Power, 26 vs AC' and occasionally making non-serious jokes about what happens when missing horribly.  It's still a fun game, but in a different way.
Harrying your Prey, the Easy Way: A Hunter's Handbook - the first of what will hopefully be many CharOp efforts on my part. The Blinker - teleport everywhere. An Eladrin Knight/Eldritch Knight. CB != rules source.
I've played games where the narative effects of failure are a collborative effort by the players and DM.  It's surprising how much fun it can be.  4e rigid system can make this much harder but you can always use description to fudge the rules e.g. describe the PC as having been beaten to the ground but everybody accepts that in mechanical terms he wont be treated as prone and wont need to spend an action to stand.  The difference between being winded and not if you like.

I reflavoured my curse to involve conjuring a mote of blackflame in my target's soul.  When they die and the Daughter's Promises feat kicks in, the flames ignite, consuming the victim and burning any enemies next to them.  I also used arcane admixture to add fire to Curse Bite so that full on necrotic blackflame can ignite to burn all my cursed targets.

I'm testing a hybrid assassin/warlock build to try and recapture more of a shadow mage feel and the assassin shrouds can be reflavoured so that the target's own shadow works against them (also in keeping with quite a few assassin powers).

I think people who care less about optimisation usually care more about flavour and put a lot more thought into their descriptions.
Seriously, did this need to be said?

Really?
Seriously, did this need to be said?

Really?

Not to you, probably.  You've been playing the game for years, no doubt.

But there are folks who are still learning the game, and this is a great article for them. I deal with a lot of new players, and quite a few of the people I talk to end up feeling constrained by the rules.  An article like this helps to catch them up to the speed of people who have bene playing for years by letting them know that its ok to change flavors.
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Plus a lot of players will try to convince DMs that changing energy keywords doesn't matter in the slightest.  It's nice to see them recognise in print that there are mechanical reasons to be cautious - it deflects some of the heat off the DMs who are inexperienced and cautious.  It's also nice to see that a player who isn't tanking elemental feats can be allowed to change the keyword without a major impact on the game in some cases.
A good reminder of the flexibility of the game. I am cool with that. Reflavoring should not even be subject to DM approuval. But redesigning will and is mixed up here in a melting pot of an article. 

Sorry David, but this article does not only treat with Refulffing. Reflavoring is not taking Cloud of Steel, turning it into  some Cloud of Flame dealing Fire damage. This is redesigning sorry. There are Feat that will benefit Powers called Cloud of Steel and need to stay named as is and Fire damage is a considerable change having an impact on the game and that does not simply change the flavor of it. Ask a Troll... Changing the name to a limit could be okay if it involves nothing. Dont take Dual Strike and call it Cleave thinking it will now be affected by Feats benefiting Cleave for exemple. As long as it remains first and foremost Dual Strike named differently okay.

Reflavoring is simply put, changing esthetics of Powers or items to better fit your liking.  Refuffing will not alterate any mechanical element of the game. Refluffing is turning a Cloud of Steel into a power producing a blast of flame generating some heat, while staying as is and dealing Untyped W damage. Refluffing a Longsword into a Dagger remains a Versatile Heavy Blade with a weight of 4 lbs and not a Thrown weapon. The blade might be shorter since its not a mechanical element given with precision so at best it could be a Long Knife. But it would never count as a Dagger for the purpose of meeting prerequisits that a Longsword really is, that is,it would not qualify for Light Blade Expertise Feat or Daggermaster PP. 

That is what is reflavoring, other than that would be redesigning. From re-colouring Spells  to spraying visual effects to sprinklings olfactory etc...as long as it changes nothing to the game it remains just reflavoring. 

This article mixes concepts and blurr things up and then dump in the DM courtyard for approuval. 
All under the liberty flag of Reflavoring.

Let me ask, Why making a Feat like Arcane Admixture if anyone can modify powers keyword and damage type ?

Plague
I encourage my players to consider re flavoring their characters powers, if it helps to solidify the 'theme' that they have for that character. With that being said, I discourage tinkering of any sort if said tinkering is only to improve or increase tactical advantages.
My rule-of-thumb is if it doesn't make sense for the back story, theme, or 'feel' of the PC, then it's not admitted. That's not to say that I'll never allow it for that character, it's just not suitable at this time. For example, I put the onus on the player to role play over time the reasons why his wizard's spells are losing their "native" keywords and gaining thunder or lightning in their place.
Ultimately, This seems to make for a more enjoyable role playing and Tactical experience for my players.
In a similar fashion if the player has a character with a reflavored power 'out of the box' at 1st level, they are often viewed as gifted, special, or different (i.e. dangerous) from others of their vocation. This adds exciting role playing opportunities as well.
My Player's have expressed their appreciation for this freedom of customizing their PC's, and understand when re-flavoring is not immediately accepted. With this said, I need to point out that I've been fortunate enough to play with the same core group for the past 15-ish years, so we're pretty comfortable with each other (through 2nd, & 4th editions).

Reflavoring is difficult to do because the D&DI Character Builder makes it illegal.

It is absolutely impossible to rename the class powers, and less possible to rewrite their flavor texts.

That means, the character sheet that you actually have, the one you must read, consult, and must refer to by name when the DM or other players have any questions about the character or a particular power - the character names and descriptions that you must think in when actually playing a reallife game - that character has no flavor options.

Looking at a printed sheet that says the exact opposite of what you want it to say erodes efforts at sustaining alternate narratives. Personalizing your character is like running up an escalator that is going down at a faster speed.

A large section of the CB subscribers have been calling for the CB to refluff for years now. The designers know people want it. It doesnt seem hard to do - just fill in your own text box and display it. Done. Yet it hasnt happened yet.

They did it for items, yet for some reason, absolutely refuse to do it for anything that actually relates to your character concept. Why?

I hope the CB is about to make rewriting powers legal - soon - either to support the 'core' Dragon article or else the article is effectively announcing a design decision.

It should have happened two years ago. Im glad, it is happening now. If it is happening now. 

Seriously, did this need to be said?

Really?



It does. I have a (former) DM I'm pointing this article out to as we speak. People who might be used to other games or previous editions of D&D might not understand this concept.

I might also add that it's nice to get articles that aren't "crunch" or "fluff" in Dragon. Features like this are a cool addition to the magazines.
Seriously, did this need to be said?

Really?



It does. I have a (former) DM I'm pointing this article out to as we speak. People who might be used to other games or previous editions of D&D might not understand this concept.



I think he said this about reflavoring strickly. We had enought sources about it not to need a full article dedicated to it. What the article really tries to say, is that you can also modify a power in any matter you like with your DM approuval. You can give Cleave a second attack if DM want. Or have Freball dealing Acid damage instead. Just dont call this reflavoring. This is Houserule redesigning that affect mechanical element of the game. Nothing wrong there too. But its more of Creating House Rules as iexplained in DMG 189.

A the good old PHB emphased it, When you need to know the exact effect, look at the rules text that follows.. meaning the fluff remains upthere and the effect below..


PHB Flavor Text: The next section of a power description gives a brief explanation of what the power does, sometimes including information about what it looks or sounds like. The flavor text for acid wave appears here as an example. A power’s flavor text helps you understand what happens when you use a power and how you might describe it when you use it. You can alter this description as you like, to fit your own idea of what your power looks like. Your wizard’s magic missile spell, for example, might create phantasmal skulls that howl through the air to strike your opponent, rather than simple bolts of magical energy. When you need to know the exact effect, look at the rules text that follows. 

RC Favor Text: The next entry inan adventurer powers description, in italic, briefly describe what the power does, from the perspective of the character. This material helps narrate what the power is doing in the game world. Players are free to invent their own descriptions of powers, sprinkling them with details specific to their adventurers or the campaign setting.


HoTFL, HoTFK  62 Flavor Text: The next line, in italized text, briefly explains what the power does, from the perspective f your character in the world. This material in intended to help you narrate what your character is doing when he or she uses the power. Feel free to invent a description of the power yourself, sprinkling with details specific to your character.
I don't think I'm alone in wanting this article incorporated into the character builder in the form of being able to edit the names and flavor text of powers and feats.   
I'm scratching my head at the responses to the article here; I was expecting more along the lines of mysticbelmont's post.  After all, the PHB itself talks about reflavoring, I didn't think we needed more examples.
Yeah. Also, in case the PHB didn't make it clear enough to you, and this Dragon article still has you scratching your head, you can reflavor your powers.
I don't think I'm alone in wanting this article incorporated into the character builder in the form of being able to edit the names and flavor text of powers and feats.   



I'm hoping that the main reason why they have relased an article about refluffing powers is precisely because they intend to incorporate it into the Builder.  It has been a long time in coming.
Now I was under the impression that radiant and necrotic were not inherently good nor evil.

So while evil clerics might move towards getting powers fueled with necrosis, their radiance is still simply the strength of his resolve for an evil deity and thus they continuing to be able to assert his dominance, in damage, against undead. This is where some reflavoring might come in to adjust names and flavor text to be more selfish or malicious aligned though.
Yeah. Also, in case the PHB didn't make it clear enough to you, and this Dragon article still has you scratching your head, you can reflavor your powers.

Heh. Apparently the CB designers didnt read the PH. *teasing*



I agree with Plaguescarred. Fluff and crunch must cohere. If you have fire flavor, and you take a power like Cloud Of Steel. You cant just say, Cloud Of Steel does fire damage.

The power would have to be something like 'alchemical fire', that is, 'water-fire' that blends the two elements into a mystic substance. Or 'mithril fire', 'mage fire', 'fey burn', 'black flame', or whatever.  It would disintegrate rather than burn. May even be cool to the touch. It just cant behave like normal fire. 

Now I was under the impression that radiant and necrotic were not inherently good nor evil.


So while evil clerics might move towards getting powers fueled with necrosis, their radiance is still simply the strength of his resolve for an evil deity and thus they continuing to be able to assert his dominance, in damage, against undead. This is where some reflavoring might come in to adjust names and flavor text to be more selfish or malicious aligned though.



I always simplified as: Necrotic damage is channeling energy from the Shadowfell, and radiant is channeling energy from the Astral sea. Since the Astral Sea is the home plane of most (all?) gods, its easy for divine classes to channel energy from there. Nothing about good or evil energy. 



[<()>]Proud Brazilian. Typos are free bonuses. 

I'm hoping that the main reason why they have relased an article about refluffing powers is precisely because they intend to incorporate it into the Builder.  It has been a long time in coming.



Really hoping you're right.  Somebody earlier mentioned the disconnect that happens when you have to use a character sheet full of "official" stuff but trying to roleplay something else.  I do that fairly often, and even when I manage to convince my group that I'm playing a necromancer, the word "shaman" keeps screaming up at me from my sheet.  Drives me crazy.
Really hoping you're right.  Somebody earlier mentioned the disconnect that happens when you have to use a character sheet full of "official" stuff but trying to roleplay something else.  I do that fairly often, and even when I manage to convince my group that I'm playing a necromancer, the word "shaman" keeps screaming up at me from my sheet.  Drives me crazy.



My necromancer is a psion. He has control of a few spectral undead which he uses to do his bidding, though he tends to fall back on three of them. He can channel energy to briefly empower them, and he also has a couple of other ghosts which he barely controls and can only call upon rarely.

(I got a tiefling necromancer mini and had to make a character to use it. The reflavoring works fairly well, though I sometimes slip and fall back into psionic speak.)

There is a mental gap between knowing you can change the fluff text of a power and knowing you can completely rechristen it and make it your own. I've been playing for years but until 4e I never made the leap to customizing my powers to fit my character.


Sorry David, but this article does not only treat with Refulffing. Reflavoring is not taking Cloud of Steel, turning it into  some Cloud of Flame dealing Fire damage. This is redesigning sorry. There are Feat that will benefit Powers called Cloud of Steel and need to stay named as is and Fire damage is a considerable change having an impact on the game and that does not simply change the flavor of it. Ask a Troll... Changing the name to a limit could be okay if it involves nothing. Dont take Dual Strike and call it Cleave thinking it will now be affected by Feats benefiting Cleave for exemple. As long as it remains first and foremost Dual Strike named differently okay.


I agreed. Renaming powers to gain feats or side benefits would be breaking reflavouring.


Weapon power damage is very different though than energy damage in 4e. IF weapon damage were an energy/damage type ("My longsword strike deals 12 weapon damage") it might be more permissible to change that.  


However, dropping into my comfortable role as Devil's advocate, currently nothing in the game resists "weapon damage" as it is  essentially untyped. Every other damage type can be resisted, so the theoretical cloud of flame would be more useful in a troll fight but become less useful in a red dragon or fire elemental fight. And as long as the player isn't conveniently reflavouring their powers to match the current situation is that a problem?


But, if you're changing energy damage to energy ray of frost to ray of acid does it break the game?


4e can be a little power heavy. Unlike earlier editions they can't just make a single definitive fire power or acid spell and just let multiple classes have access to that power. Instead you need a power for each and every class, which takes-up a lot of space in a book for what would amount to duplicate mechanics.


Wizards and the like are poorer examples of this, as they have so many powers already. You can ussually find something that fits. Classes with fewer powers and less variety (seeker, runepriest) can really benefit from creatively describing their powers and very, very careful customization (with DM approval).


 


Let me ask, Why making a Feat like Arcane Admixture if anyone can modify powers keyword and damage type ?


Well, that feat lets you add a second keyword and damage type making it much more likely to bypass resistance. If you're dealing fire and cold you're prepared for anything (and still qualify for frost cheese feats). There's nothing quite as fun as fireballing elder red dragons. Oh, the look on their faces...

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I should ask CharOp. I was under the impression Arcane Admixture was the easiest way to get a desired damage type. Apart from Magic Items. Probably the cheapest and most reliable way too...

Frost Cheese and or Radiant Mafia becomes a LOT easier to pick up on if you can just reflavor a Power to say... deal Cold or Radiant damage, without any major trick. 

It would not make the Feat obselete, only certain powers can get this treatement but it would loose some of its shine i guess. 

What do you guys think ?
I like the article, shame it follows the fluff filled Shifter article, and that what it suggests can't be done in the new online CB. I'd love that to be implemented in the character builder.
One of the very few house rules I have set for my group is one i got from Mike Mearls, in that, a player can rip out any keywords and replace them when they take the spell.

So if I have an Ice Mage in my party, and they have ray of frost, and they want to also take Magic Icicle (Magic Missile), I have no issue with that. The character history, background and RP is stronger for it.
It's possible it could be abused with feats like Bitter Cold. (When you hit a creature with a cold wizard power, that creature also takes a –2 penalty to its Fortitude until the end of your next turn.). But then, you could take Chilling Cloud and still have all your At-wills be cold based by the book, so I don't see anything broken. It's also possible that I could throw the group up against a white dragon, and watch the wizard scramble. But he would know the risks if he specialized so much.

As long as it isn't constantly being changed from Magic Icicle to Magic Flame Missile to Magic Acid Bolt before each different dragon fight, I'm ok with it.

Surprisingly, at level 10 now, and no one has reflavored a single power.

But changing keywords absolutely requires DM approval.
However, If a player wants to change Color Spray so instead of magic light, it's super shiny glitter that still dazes the opponents (without changing anything mechanically), that can be done by anyone, no questions asked. (Well a few, but we won't get into that.)

And if WotC is reading this, why put out this article now when the "Upgraded" character Builder can't reflavor or refluff or rename?
I felt a little like "open wound, insert salt".
Viva La "what ever version of D&D you are playing right now!"
One of the very few house rules I have set for my group is one i got from Mike Mearls, in that, a player can rip out any keywords and replace them when they take the spell.

So if I have an Ice Mage in my party, and they have ray of frost, and they want to also take Magic Icicle (Magic Missile), I have no issue with that. The character history, background and RP is stronger for it.
It's possible it could be abused with feats like Bitter Cold. (When you hit a creature with a cold wizard power, that creature also takes a –2 penalty to its Fortitude until the end of your next turn.). But then, you could take Chilling Cloud and still have all your At-wills be cold based by the book, so I don't see anything broken. It's also possible that I could throw the group up against a white dragon, and watch the wizard scramble. But he would know the risks if he specialized so much.

As long as it isn't constantly being changed from Magic Icicle to Magic Flame Missile to Magic Acid Bolt before each different dragon fight, I'm ok with it.

Surprisingly, at level 10 now, and no one has reflavored a single power.

But changing keywords absolutely requires DM approval.
However, If a player wants to change Color Spray so instead of magic light, it's super shiny glitter that still dazes the opponents (without changing anything mechanically), that can be done by anyone, no questions asked. (Well a few, but we won't get into that.)

And if WotC is reading this, why put out this article now when the "Upgraded" character Builder can't reflavor or refluff or rename?
I felt a little like "open wound, insert salt".



I agree.  Reflavoring I have an issue with, changing keywords makes some sense.  If the article had been more on changing keywords, I might have not of had an issue.

I should ask CharOp. I was under the impression Arcane Admixture was the easiest way to get a desired damage type. Apart from Magic Items. Probably the cheapest and most reliable way too...

Frost Cheese and or Radiant Mafia becomes a LOT easier to pick up on if you can just reflavor a Power to say... deal Cold or Radiant damage, without any major trick. 

It would not make the Feat obselete, only certain powers can get this treatement but it would loose some of its shine i guess. 

What do you guys think ?


It's the best RPGA legal way to get that for sure. 
And even in a reflavouring game with a liberal DM it's a good way to add a second damage type of choice.

While it's easier to proc frost cheese if you re-write powers its also possible to rewrite feats to change the energy type. They provide a good balanced baseline for a feat, lasting burn for example.

5 Minute WorkdayMy Webcomic Updated Tue & Thur

The compilation of my Worldbuilding blog series is now available: 

Jester David's How-To Guide to Fantasy Worldbuilding.

I agree.  Reflavoring I have an issue with, changing keywords makes some sense.  If the article had been more on changing keywords, I might have not of had an issue.



It is. Keyword reflect damage type and vice-versa. So adding or removing a damage type add or remove the associated Keyword, to the exception of Poison if a poisonous effect remain in the Power.




Seriously, did this need to be said?

Really?



Yes, yes it did.

Everybody else in my group takes fluff text as binding, written in stone, invariable, cannot be changed EVAR, and I know they aren't the only ones.

Is it legal to print these articles?  I want to make sure everybody reads it.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
Now I was under the impression that radiant and necrotic were not inherently good nor evil.

You're right. Even evil angels deal radiant damage. The author was basically repeating a line from, I think, the PHB, a dumb one.

I really like reflavoring in 4e, it's my favorite part of character creation. Of course I've played relatively straight characters, a Dragonborn fighter, a Longtooth Shifter Warden, a Human Wizard.

But some of my favorite characters have a twist to them.

My Dwarf Shaman "Ghost Caller" was exiled from the evil fearing land of Impiltur for being cursed with the ability to call upon unclean spirits. I reflavored his spirit companion as a ghost and took a bunch of the spookier themed Shaman powers (Certain Threat, Wrath of the Spirit World, Remembrance of Hate, Spirit of Weakness).

I've never done the rename powers thing, mostly to cut down on confusion, but I have reflavored the means of delivery like the ghost above. Also with my two favoriest characters, Brudabon the Blood Tree, Vampire Lord and imminent God and his child and high priest Primal Seed, I did a lot of reflavoring while sticking to the rules. Brudabon is a big scary vampire tree (damphyr warforged breach warden) who eats lightning and craps thunder, and also people - eating that is. Instead of sword and shields he swings around his branches. He eats all his treasure and grows his magic items out. One magic item he grew was a Seed of War which sprouted into his child who is now running around kicking ass and spreading the word about his father. Primal Seed is a (wilden) monk who either hits things like daddy or tosses around more seeds for his flurry (sling and shuriken feats). They both are tons of fun.
Talking reflavoring, I have made a Dog in the CB a while ago as an NPC. Its in fact a stripnaked Kobold Monk with a collar and a medal as its sole possession. 

Everything filled in all conformity and fitting well, from Background Benefit to Skills, Feats, Powers, Apparence (Size Small) & History.  His Ki is his canine mindset. Everything. Except Languages which was NA. A very smart Dog comprehending a little bit of commun without much. Was great !

I am not sure this would have worked as perfectly in any other Eds of the game.  

Plague 
Seriously, did this need to be said?

Really?



It does. I have a (former) DM I'm pointing this article out to as we speak. People who might be used to other games or previous editions of D&D might not understand this concept.

I might also add that it's nice to get articles that aren't "crunch" or "fluff" in Dragon. Features like this are a cool addition to the magazines.



There was a GIANT debate on the DM forum a year back or so; with one side (i.e. not mine) insisting that the PHB only allowed you to chance the power's appearance, and not any aspect of your race, equipment, or class identifyablity.  While it eventually ended; it's good to see an article like this hammer out narrative freedom in such straight, uncomplicated terms.
Seriously, did this need to be said?

Really?



Yes, yes it did.

Everybody else in my group takes fluff text as binding, written in stone, invariable, cannot be changed EVAR, and I know they aren't the only ones.

Is it legal to print these articles?  I want to make sure everybody reads it.


Yes.  It's probably not legal to hand out photocopies/reprints, but one copy to hand around should be fine.
Harrying your Prey, the Easy Way: A Hunter's Handbook - the first of what will hopefully be many CharOp efforts on my part. The Blinker - teleport everywhere. An Eladrin Knight/Eldritch Knight. CB != rules source.
Fascinating to read the responses to the article. Personally, I found it awesome. I'm a long-time player -- mostly 1e -- and am just getting into the new 4e Essentials stuff, the Character Builder, etc. But the two sides that have formed are interesting...

To the people who think this article is too obvious: Good for you, long-time players with open-minded playing groups. I think it's great to encourage less-experienced players to make their characters more their own -- and the game more their own -- to do this stuff. You don't have to decide to do it later in your playing career because it's what you need to do to stay interested, or because you've learned how to tweak the game without breaking it. If people aren't already doing this a lot, clearly, the flavoring stuff in the Player's Handbook isn't sufficient to encourage them.

To the people who think it's OK to tweak keywords but not other game rules or content: That's fine by you, but that doesn't mean everyone has to play that way. I think it comes down to good DM'ing and how much you want your players to engage in the world you're building. There's room for both in this grand wide world, and I applaud Wizards of the Coast for encouraging that flexibility. D&D wasn't always so permissive, and this is hardly even that permissive.

To the people who think this is impossible because the Character Builder doesn't let you personalize text: I agree that more flexibility in the tool might be useful, but you can also annotate your printout -- or use actual character sheets. If you want your old-fashioned character sheet to have some technological flare, use... a mechanical pencil.
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