Monday, April 29, 2013

Flavorful Features

Art By Matt Cavotta
Last night while hanging out with one of my oldest friends, we started to chat about Dungeons & Dragons/Pathfinder and talked about what classes were our personal favorites. Usually, we'd mention how we liked the mechanics of one class or the concept of another.

One of the classes that I mentioned was the Wu Jen from Oriental Adventures and Complete Arcane. While this eastern-flavored spellcaster wasn't the best class in the world, it had a certain feature that I've always found interesting: their Taboos.

For those of you who might not know what I'm talking about, I'll elaborate. For a Wu Jen to maintain their supernatural power, the character must abide by a number of taboos that might seem weird and inconsequential to other characters but are vitally important to the Wu Jen. If the character violates one of their taboos, they cannot cast any more spells that day. Some possible taboos include:

  • Cannot eat meat.
  • Cannot own more than they can carry.
  • Must make a daily offering (such as food, flowers, or incense) to one or more spiritual powers. 
  • Cannot bathe.
  • Cannot cut their hair. 
  • Cannot touch a dead body.
  • Cannot drink alcohol. 
  • Cannot wear a certain color. 
  • Cannot light a fire. 
  • Cannot sit facing a certain direction. 

While this class feature has no real mechanic effect beyond causing a Wu Jen to lose their spellcasting ability for the day if they don't abide by them, these taboos add a mountain of flavor to the class. They help make the Wu Jen a more exotic and mystical spellcaster than your average Wizard or Sorcerer. 

As I think about the Wu Jen's taboos and what they add to the class, I started to think about some "flavor" features that I could add to some of the classes in Dungeons & Dragons/Pathfinder. Probably the first that came to my mind was for the Sorcerer class.

For those of you who are not familiar with Pathfinder, the Sorcerer class is an arcane spellcaster who derives their magical abilities from a mystical bloodline of some sort. When you read the descriptive text for the bloodlines, they touch on the fact that the Sorcerer might have some physical sign of their bloodline. I decided to take this descriptive text and flesh it out into a "flavor" feature for the class.

At 1st level, the Sorcerer manifests a minor sign related to their bloodline. This would be something that isn't to noticeable, but would show there is something off about the Sorcerer when it is noticed. For example, a Sorcerer with an Abyssal Bloodline might smell like brimstone or have a faint reddish tent to his or her skin. At 5th level, the Sorcerer manifests a moderate sign related to their bloodline to represent the further awakening of their inner power. Continuing with the previous example, the Sorcerer's eyes might turn completely black or a pair of tiny horns might start to grow from the Sorcerer's forehead. At 10th, 15th, and 20th level, the Sorcerer manifests a major sign related to their bloodline. Now, the Abyssal Sorcerer's horns might grow larger, their skin could change to a dark red tent, their tongue might split and become forked, or they might start to grow a fiendish tail. 

While these signs would have no actually mechanic elements, they would help reinforce the strangeness of the Sorcerer and why society might look down upon them or mistrust him. Also, it helps to further distance them from the Wizard. 

I have a few more ideas for flavor features for the other classes, but I still need to flesh them out more. I really like these features because they help make each class something more than just a bundle of mechanics and abilities. You can even add some flavor features to the races to help emphasize the roles they play in your campaign world. The sky's the limit really.