I am always on the lookout for ways I can make magic seem more…well, magical, in my tabletop games. In most systems the use of magic seems very mechanical, and undercuts the mystery of using mystical power to shape reality. The Vancian systems of D&D are perhaps the best example of a very mechanical approach to spellcasting and magic. So much so that players are often more concerned about the spells behind the magical effects they encounter, than the wonder of the effects themselves.
In my current D&D 5e campaigns especially, where the characters live in the aftermath of a magical Cataclysm**, magic is not always as mechanistic as the PHB would lead you to believe, at least for other species. To explain the very formulaic Vancian style system, I’ve labelled the arcane spells in the PHB as “new” magic. While pre-Cataclysm mages could simply bend raw magic to their will, post-Cataclysm mages discovered that if they didn’t follow rules for safe methods of casting, the magic would often backlash and harm them or the folks around them. Where spells were previously highly individual creations, now they were rote, with little variation between casters.
Using that as a base, then, allowed me to look at how other species would approach magic, especially in the wake of the Cataclysm. Since the Fae are such a key element of my campaign world (and one which both my campaigns are going to encounter soon), I knew I wanted Fae magic to heavily conflict with how my players might understand magic to work. So the first thing I decided was that the Cataclysm had not harmed the Fae ability to manipulate magical energy. If anything it enhanced it, as the resulting magical contamination brought magic energy levels closer to what they were in the Fae Wylde. The remaining Fae were much increased in power and ability, and took no time at all in reverting to their previous tricksy ways.
My first encounters between my players and the Fae are going to be relatively benign; some of the small folk playing tricks on them, unseen, over the course of days or weeks. Ideally I’ll tailor those tricks to the characters and what they are doing at the time, but it’s also helpful to have some tricks on standby, in case I need a random faerie effect, or I need to show the players something happening to an Dungeon Master Character. So here is a list of Fae Trickery I put together for my campaign, so I’d always have some mischief at hand. Nothing listed here is directly harmful, nor does anything on this list reference specific spells from the PHB or other sources. If you are using these, or making up your own, feel free to very vague about how the effects are created. If the party wizard breaks out detect magic, you can be very non committal and make it clear that for whatever reason, these magical effects don’t seem to be following the usual rules. Most of all, have fun with them; the Fae certainly would!
- Whenever a character speaks, instead of speech, animal noises come forth. This happens regardless of which language a character is trying to speak. Especially fun if multiple characters are affected. Make sure to allow the players to speak to you, but characters can only communicate with animal noises.
- Pick your favourite colour, or one you know the player hates. Their character’s skin is that colour until their next long rest. Or hair. Or eyes. Or and hair and eyes.
- Until their next long rest, everything the character drinks tastes like warm vinegar.
- Until their next long rest, everything the character eats tastes like unseasoned oatmeal.
- Upon examination, the character discovers all their mundane belongings have been switched with those of another character. Extra trickery: they have been switched with those of a nearby (within one mile) Dungeon Master Character.
- A songbird follows the character around until their next long rest. Whenever that character tries any sort of diplomacy or persuasion, the songbird bursts into dirty limericks featuring whomever the character is trying to charm.
- The character wakes to discover brightly coloured fungus has grown over parts of their body (how much and what types are up to the DM). The DM can decide what, if any, effects the various fungus might have. The effect is not painful in any way and clears up by the end the character’s next long rest.
- Pick up to three pieces of a character’s mundane gear. These pieces of gear are now animated, acting with a will of their own. Feel free to give them distinct personalities, which are perhaps at odds with the character. If this is an item or items the character has mishandled in the past, perhaps the item bears a grudge? This lasts until the end of the character’s next long rest.
- Until their next long rest, the character “hears” inanimate objects. The character can understand all inanimate objects within 20’, which turn out to have a surprising amount to say; their hopes, their dreams, complaints about misuse, and so on. This may make mundane chores like chopping wood (or starting the fire with that wood) absolute horror shows. No one but the character can hear these voices.
- Until their next long rest the character is swarmed by small woodland creatures and songbirds, who try to assist with every task they attempt. Animals like rabbits and squirrels will try to help, and the birds will whistle a jaunty tune to inspire the character in their task. None of this will be truly helpful, of course, especially for the party rogue…
I’ll come back and add to the list, but you get the idea. In each of these, I’m not at all concerned with what spells create the effects, as there shouldn’t be a direct connection between “human” magic and what the Fae can do. Though it would certainly be fun to hear the party wizard try to explain away his chartreuse skin and striking emerald green hair.
Have a faerie trick of your own? Drop them in the comments!
**In short, Elves from the Fae Wylde opened a Gate to the Kingdom of Cotterell approximately 1000 years before the events of my campaigns. They couldn’t close it, and the Night Fae they were fleeing poured through after them, leading to an unexpected war with reluctant but necessary allies. Almost five hundred years later, the Elves and other races came up with a plan they thought would close the Gate. They were right, but the resultant explosion of magical energy blasted a caldera hundreds of miles across centered on the Gate location, and swept the world with a wave of tainted magical energy. This event became known as the Cataclysm, and resulted in world-wide devastation, magical contamination, and the people of Cotterell pulling back into coastal cities to survive the now hostile lands crawling with magically-created aberrations.