“Where’s Ice Ball?” your player asks frustratedly as they look over third level spells for their Sorcerer from the Arctic regions. And maybe it’s a pretty good question.

During your session zero it’s great to see players excited over their backstory, and it’s fun to tie that into your campaign world. But why shouldn’t it extend past the biography section into spells and abilities? You can encourage more role-playing by allowing your players to “flavor” their spells and abilities. In our example of the Sorcerer from the chillier regions when he chooses a 3rd level spell, why should they have to settle for a fireball spell? You can let them take an iceball spell just using the same stats for the spell but dealing cold damage.

That’s an easy one, but you can allow other flavors to most abilities. For instance I once had a character who was a tiefling monk. When he employed a flurry of blows, his initial attacks would be standard punches, then he would spin around and use a tail whip as a flurry of blows. Is that “rules as written”? No, certainly not, but the to hit and damage didn’t change, the only thing that changed was the description of the attack, which now matched the character and gave him some identity.

All of this is a variation of the idea of instead of saying “no, because” to a player request, you can instead reply with “yes, and…”. It’s a way to encourage player involvement in your world throughout the campaign. It isn’t without its risks though. Once some players realize this kind of customization is possible they may try to excessively use it to their advantage. If you have “min-max”-ing players they may try to flavor all their damage spells to use force damage simply because there are less creatures resistant to force than those resistant to fire. My advice in this case is to handle it outside of game by just discussing with the player your ideas about emphasis on story, and ask them to try to be reasonable about their requests to change spell damage. It’s usually better to have a short honest discussion than trying to impose new rules about limits on flavoring.

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