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Describing Spells Like Matt Mercer…

Ever since I watched Matt Mercer DM in Force Grey, I’ve been thinking: wouldn’t it be cool to have a list of Mercer-esque descriptions for all of D&D’s most common incantations to hand come game night?

The chance of me being able to ad-lib something as evocative as Matt’s description of tongues, when the target’s voice box lights up at the moment of casting, or even the blazing white bolts of arcane energy he describes bursting upon the chest of the enemy, when one of his PCs casts magic missile, are slim.

But it shouldn’t be too hard to prepare one or two lines for each of the spells I know my players have in their armoury, ready to wow them with some cool narrative description when the moment comes. Such a list of descriptions would also be a fantastic resource for me to share on the blog, for others to use….

What does a spell look like? (Art by WOTC).

As always, time limited my creativity, and I never got around to doing this. When I’m DMing, I’ve usually got enough on my plate with designing and writing the adventure (I also tend to publish them… a major time commitment!), and sometimes my prep on how best to run the adventures with panache and pizazz, for the maximum enjoyment of my players, is sadly left by the wayside.

Luckily, I recently discovered that one proactive gaming company has gone ahead and done all this hard work for me (and for you too!), meaning I can scratch this time-consuming task from my things to do list.

dScryb is a service for GMs that provides ready made boxed and flavour texts for commonly occurring fantasy RPG elements, such as places, monsters and spells. The texts are written by professional writers and arranged by categories on their website, from where they can simply be plucked and dropped into your game. These texts not only save DMs time and headache (I love writing, but I can’t always be arsed to come up with a florid description of every pond and gravestone the players are going to encounter!), but they also provoke new ideas with little details you’re unlikely to come up with by yourself. While many of the texts are available to subscribers only many are free, so I so suggest you check out the Dscryb website and see what value you can extract from it.

20 Spell Descriptions for your D&D Game

Right, getting back to spells, and dScryb have given me permission to share some examples of their content and create a little resource here on Hipsters & Dragons, as per my original intentions some years back! So here are some of my favourite dScryb spell descriptions that I think are almost bound to find use on your table… the ones with asterisks are actually members-only content, that dScryb has kindly released to be shared with Hipsters & Dragons readers.

Bless

You flick holy water from your fingers, and it scatters into sparkling light that drifts against the wind toward those you protect. The blessing you grant settles about their shoulders like golden cloaks before vanishing.

Call Lightning*

Your voice booms like distant thunder as you speak aloud the words to wield the storm. Above, the sky opens, dark clouds swirling at your behest. You smell ozone and rain, and every hair on your body stands on end. You feel the energy in your teeth, in your eyes, roaring in your ears. Then, with the fury of the tempest, you unleash it, and where you command, forks of blue-white lightning strike. The air fills with crackling energy and clouds of debris as the lightning strikes again and again.

Darkness

As you finish the incantation, an inexorable cold seeps from your chest, through your arms, and leaves your fingertips. A shadow, like a cloud across the sun, passes over you. The shadow deepens and extends, fingers grasping and catching the light. Darkness falls, deep and sudden—yet it responds to your touch, answering your call.

Eldritch Blast*

You spit an alien word imbued with power like a curse, and it leaves your lips tasting foul. Energy from your spell follows the path of your crooked finger and explodes out from your hand in a crackling beam toward your foe.

Entangle

You gesture to the ground beneath you, and with a burst of sudden activity, weeds and vines spring forth. The roots wind their way toward your target, snaking up limbs and overtaking the terrain with ease. The vines split stone and sunder earth, knocking aside obstacles.

Feather Fall*

Wind whips along your face, causing tears to spring from your eyes as you plummet toward the unforgiving earth. Robbed of your usual volume, you manage to stammer out an arcane syllable, and all at once your descent becomes easy and slow, and you bob back and forth on the air just like the fragments of down lazily spiralling all around you.

Find Familiar*

You carefully prepare your material components: charcoal, incense, herbs, the small brass brazier inlaid with images of roaming, running beasts of all kinds. You kneel before the brazier as you set it alight, the incense and herbs fragrant, the charcoal smoldering. You speak aloud the incantation, losing yourself in the coalescing cloud of arcane energy, reaching out beyond the veils that divide this world from the next, and those beyond, to seek out a companion. With the remains of the herbs and charcoal, you write the runes with a trembling hand, encircling yourself and the still-smoking brazier. The presence draws closer, closer—and then you see it, manifesting before you, taking physical form. Your new familiar.

Finger of Death

A strange and otherworldly cold rises in your gut—a clawing nausea follows. You feel the chill extend into your limbs, creeping into your fingertips. You extend a finger, pointing to the creature, and in a flash of virulent smoke, the sensation leaves you, imbuing the target with pure necrotic energy. Before your eyes, the creature begins to wither.

Fireball

The red seed of light zips through the air faster than you can blink. You see its trace against your eyelids as you shut them against the fiery blast that roars as a result. Opening your eyes, you still see traces of the crimson bead’s path toward its deadly end.

Fire Bolt*

Cupping your hand as if delving into a sack of grain, fiery particles begin to alight in your palm. With a sudden flourish, you hurl the fiery motes at your target, their size and intensity growing as they speed along with unearthly accuracy.

Healing Word*

With a single word of the divine tongue, you request the healing power of your god. The answer to your plea comes swift as glittering motes surround the wounds and provide some small relief from the pain they cause.

Hypnotic Pattern*

You take a glowing stick of incense and wave it in several squares, creating an imaginary cube within which you carefully find the center with the component, as if placing a candle in a lantern. When you’ve managed to get it just right, a brilliant kaleidoscope erupts in the air which you direct, whirling and twirling, dazzling those around which it roams, before it suddenly winks out, leaving them blinking.

Mage Armor*

Your final gesture of casting this spell before touching the target is like casting a net, and in some sense that is its effect. Glowing fibers drawn from the weave of magic briefly appear to enmesh and entwine, like someone walking into a wall of webs. These blue-white filaments swiftly vanish, drawn into body where they protect it like armor.

Polymorph

The caterpillar cocoon in your hand feels cold and brittle, and as you complete the incantation, it crumbles between your fingers. A strange sensation overtakes you—that of an inspired artist, a sculptor fuelled by sudden creativity.

Sacred Flame

Though it resembles flame, no heat emerges from the raw blast of coruscating divine energy flying forth from your outstretched hand, the might of your faith conjured to lay low your enemy.

Shatter*

You draw your hand across your body, mentally arranging invisible threads of the weave of magic into straight lines, as if strung on a guitar. As the last gesture of the spell, you take a fleck of mica and strum those strings. In answer to your spell, a piercing shriek rings out, and objects shatter as creatures squint against the noise.

Spike Growth

As you pronounce the words of this spell, you spread your arm out toward the area as if casting seeds. As the magic takes effect, a new environment takes root there, growing up into a forest of hidden danger.

Sleep

You whisper the singsong words of this spell and look at the targets with eyes half-lidded, willing them to feel tired, hoping its magic lulls them into slumber. As the last component of the spell’s casting, you rub the fingers of one hand together as if dusting off sand, rub one eye, and yawn.

Suggestion*

You speak to the creature as your hands subtly complete the series of esoteric gestures. With your mind, you tug at the creature’s spirit, veering them toward a course of action. The creature blinks, then nods. Of course! That’s what they should do.

Zone of Truth*

The creature starts to speak, but stops suddenly, as if the words have caught in their throat. They try again with the same result. You smirk, and the creature grunts in frustration—they cannot lie here, not with the effects of your magic present.

So there you go… a pretty great start for any DMs keen to start employing narrative spell descriptions on their table. If these are valuable to you, you can go ahead and become a dScryb member to access descriptions of virtually every spell in the Player’s Handbook.

What Else Does Dscryb Do?

As well as digging around Dscryb for boxed texts you can use in your adventures, Hero Members can request descriptions from the Dscryb team for their characters or NPCs, or submit their own boxed texts to be edited by their writers for publication.

I think the coolest thing on their website though is definitely the Cartographer section that pairs stunning maps with boxed text scenes to create a really rich location for your Dungeons & Dragons adventures. It’s actually pretty rare to find maps and words combined and this interactive format is really inspiring. Check out the Village by a River free example.

An interactive map by Rusty Maps, for Dscryb.com

Disclaimer: dScryb helped pay for my time in compiling this post. All opinions are my own.

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2 Comments

  1. Frederick Dale Coen

    I like the descriptive text for spells as a concept, but in play I would only trot them out for a critical hit, or a supremely powerful spell. Otherwise, spells get a description “in passing” much the same as the eighth sword strike this round. (That’s especially true for cantrips!) So yes, I’ll delve into my adverbs for a critical axeblow to the noggin, and I’ll do the same for the Firebolt that critically hits, describing the splash of liquid fire across the target’s face or the charhole burned straight through the target’s armor, thigh, and into the ground behind. But the other six Firebolts already thrown this fight? Nah. Each time they whip out Disintegrate? Yeah, probably!

    (While I’m thinking of it, another good time for one of these descriptive texts might be the *first* time the character uses the spell. That makes it new and exciting to cast for the first time, and maybe rewards the player for switching up their prepared spell list…)

    • duncan

      Agreed… you can’t describe every casting of a cantrip in a unique way!

      Although for new players, I think it’s cool if you do as many as possible. The effect is going to wear off a while, so diminishing returns for describing each magic missile.

      Description for casting of a new spell is cool… if you know they have the spell!

      The other thing I thought of is asking players to describe their own spells. Hey, why not delegate when you can, right!?

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