4E Flavor – Powers Overwhelming?

As a DM in my high school years, I was often expected to be the one to provide an unlimited source of flavorful descriptives when it came to combat. This was never an issue for me because I always had a passion for describing the gruesome actions of a bunch of hardened warriors tearing through a slough of rampaging monsters. By contrast, I found that when my fellow players took center stage as a DM they would struggle as if they were trying to speak a language that they only knew how to write. However, this was only a minor issue for us as we often had players who were interested enough in the overall story arc that a lack of flavor text was only a minor consequence of running with an otherwise creative DM.

But nowadays, with D&D 4E, we have been given a plethora of built-in flavor text that can be used interchangeably by DM and player alike. When you made combat oriented choices for your character in previous editions the extent of your choice was normally picking a spell or a weapon, and then figuring out how good your character is at using that spell or weapon. There were many options for customization in those editions, but there was little guidance in how to use those options. In 4E, you already have the flavorful description of your character choices written there on the page. In a previous edition you may have cited that you are making two melee attacks against the hill giant, you can now choose to either read off, or modestly elaborate on, the description of your actions as you take them.

This addition allows the player to easily take up the burden of the descriptor without stepping on any potentially sensitive DM toes. To take it another step further, any after effect of the power is easily built upon by the DM as he already has a solid context as to what the player has done. When the player states that he can shift three squares as an effect of his strike, the DM can elaborate and describe how he uses the distraction of his attack to quickly slip into a more advantageous position.

As a player, you can implement this strategy almost immediately in any given campaign. When you are called to take your turn read aloud (or paraphrase) the flavor text of the power you are intending on using, and then state the name of the power and the target. After rolling to hit, and rolling damage, be sure to notify the DM of the aftereffects. Even if he isn’t the type to go into detail on every action in combat, at least you’ve given him the opportunity.

DM: It looks Durgen has won initiative against the orcs. You may go first.

Durgen: Very well. As minor action, I will call my spirit companion, a voracious spectral wolverine! Next, my spirit companion will lash out in a savage attack! Filling my allies with an ancient ferocity! I cast “Call to the Savage Elder” against the orc with the sword, it’s an encounter and allow my spirit companion to make a melee attack. If it hits, I deal damage and until the end of my next turn, any ally adjacent to my companion gets a +5 power bonus to melee damage.

DM: Okay, roll to hit.

Durgen: Natural 19, not quite a crit, but it’s still a 26 vs Reflex.

DM: That’s a hit! Your spirit lashes out, and your allies can feel the savagery of your ancestors within them!

As a DM, it may be a little trickier to get all your players on board with this. As long as you can get a few of the players to do it some of the time, it will likely catch on with the rest. One question I often ask of my players is, “what does it look like when you cast the spell?” They tend to gawk at me for a moment, and then it clicks that the answer is right in front of them in the text. I normally start out by only prompting them for daily spells or particularly exciting attacks or actions, and they normally catch on within a few sessions.

DM: The orc responds by taking a powerful swing at Durgen’s spirit animal. He hits with an 18 vs AC, and deals 12 damage. Your turn, Xeyla the Sorceress.

Xeyla: I’m going to cast Reeling Torment on that orc in the back.

DM: Okay, I’m not familiar with Reeling Torment, what does it look like?

Xeyla: Oh, it’s a daily, and it says, “Your hold on your enemy’s mind lets you move your foe, tormented by spasms, around the battlefield.”

DM: Sounds pretty nasty, what does it do?

Xeyla: If I hit, I can slide the target three squares at the start of each of its turns until it makes a save. I have an 18 vs will.

DM: That’s a hit, how much damage?

Xeyla: 22.

DM: Okay, it’s the orc’s turn, would you like to slide him?

Xeyla: Yes I would, I’m going to slide him into the defender.

DM: The orc is so heavily tormented by the mental overload from your magics, he is unable to help doing as you obey, walking himself right into the clutches of your Goliath ally!

When going into full detail with your combat descriptions you’ll likely want to avoid sounding like a broken record. In lower levels, you will often have battles where at-will powers are repeated ad nauseum. When you get to this point in a battle, the desired approach is usually to try to take turns quickly since many of the more interesting parts of the fight are likely to be over. This is a great time to avoid elaborate descriptions and to get right to the point of finishing the combat. There are a few ways of handling this, but I prefer to let the DM summarize the actions until something a little more exciting rears its head.

Incorporating the flavor text into your games may not be entirely necessary from the outset, but it can play a key role in making the game immersive enough to leave the players hungry for the next battle. Don’t be afraid to emphasize those encounters and before long you’ll have a pack of enthralled players leering over your dinner table.

[tags]dungeons & dragons, d&d, rpg, role playing games, 4e, powers[/tags]

3 thoughts on “4E Flavor – Powers Overwhelming?

Add yours

  1. You bring up some good points about engaging players with flavor text. I like to think it’s just a kick in the pants to get slower players rolling.


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