Re-skinning: Making Your Spells Lovecraftian
Here we are, at the beginning of a new road for Notes of the Wandering Alchemist. Over the past few months I have been hard at work reigning myself in and figuring out my limits, desires, and capabilities. For that, I think I have been successful and as such comes a need to return to some of the things I used to do. The key to doing that was frequency and direction. In that regard we have two monthly articles beginning in this early season of 2018. Here is the first, the return of re-skinning with a whole new direction. Each month, a Twitter-voted topic will feature in a re-skinning article. These topics will range from class tweaks to new monsters, but all take what you already have in your 5th Edition rule books and make them something more. Each of them will feature some ideas for you to use right away and will hopefully inspire you to re-skin your own things. Today we have Lovecraftian spells. How can you take your basic Player’s Handbook and make a list of spells for an eldritch tome or mad cultist? Let’s take a look!
Lovecraft & Your Campaign
Let’s begin by quickly going over where Lovecraft fits in D&D. Generally speaking, at least traditionally, it doesn’t. Lovecraftian tales are not adventures. They are horrific mysterious that leave you distrusting of the narrator and wondering what the point of it all is. There isn’t adventure or success. There is, in the end, only madness. However, D&D has it’s fair share of Lovecraftian influence, especially in recent editions. Both 4th and 5th Editions feature warlocks as a primary class and a patron that represents the types of beings from Lovecraft, Derleth, and other such authors. It has also featured numerous touches on the Far Realm and strange, aberrant monsters. These are much like the servitors of the Great Old Ones and Outer Gods, with minds and goals incomprehensible to mortal minds. D&D has no shortage of weird and it can be the perfect place for a pulpy, heroic, survivable Lovecraftian campaign. Just ask my players! Despite all that there isn’t often direction that way for players. The 3rd Edition had Lords of Madness, but that is as close as we have come. Good as a resource as it may be, I am here to tell you that all you really need to do is re-skin some spells, use the aberrant monsters you have, and just get weird. It helps to browse Cthulhu Mythos wikis too.
Tulzscha, The Green Flame
I start here for a few reasons. First I hope many of you repeated the cheer of “green flame!” in your heads just now. Second Tulzscha is one of the lesser-known Lovecraftian entities, but also classified as an Outer God more often than not. As such it is one of the greatest powers in the Mythos. Luckily there is also just enough info to make a campaign outline with, but not enough to wonder if you you need to do more research. Finally, and the most important reason, is the fact that Tulzscha is the absolute easiest to re-skin spells for. Why? It’s in the name! Tulzscha is an entity that draws its power from the world when summoned until it explodes into a fiery pillar and is shunted off back to where we would prefer it. Which for most mortals is, simply, not here. Its cultists tend to be used and discarded, unless they are granted unlife, and its flame is cold and life-draining. What we have here is a cursed flame that takes life and grants undeath to the most staunch priests. Perfect for D&D. Aside that, it is perfect for re-skinning. Immediately we need only pull out fire and necrotic spells.
- Fireball, firebolt, burning hands, flaming sphere, firestorm, flame blade
- fire shield
- vampiric touch
Your first question is probably why the first bullet has a bunch of spells. This is because they all act similarly. They are all attack spells in one way or another, and they are all spells that deal fire damage. In order to give this the flavor of Tulzscha you must start with description: green, cold, unsettling. These are flames you want to get away from on a cold night, flames that you don’t want to stare at but turn away and put out. Beyond that simply change the damage to be half necrotic. Reveal this descriptively the first few times focusing on how it seems to wither what is beneath it. Not because of desiccation or burning, but as if the life energy is being drained. Evoke previous encounters with wraiths and specters. When the spells set fire to things, just describe the box rotting away, a bush shrivels and dies, and other aging / decay effects. Fire shield is an even easier one, and a great one to reveal the initial weirdness of these casters or source of magic. Just turn it green and the PCs may begin to question why it isn’t the normal color. Perhaps they will think nothing of it, magic they’ll say, until hit with a green firebolt. The other side of the coin are necrotic spells. With blight we need to add a fire effect. This is initially done by just making the damage half necrotic. Then add ash, coals, and smoldering fire to the description of decay, especially when it targets a plant creature. The same damage tweak can be used for vampiric touch, but wreath the caster’s hand in flame. Act like it will burn and have it be ice cold, drawing out the life energy and burning with intensity despite the cold. Don’t forget that the fire damage should heal too, in this case!
Ithaqua, The Wind Walker
This is another great and easy to use Lovecraftian entity. It tackles some of the less weird, but easily grotesque, stories of cold northlands. Cannibalism, yetis, wendigo, and the like can all feature in the a story that features Ithaqua. It’s connection to the wind and cold also make for great manipulation of the environment to challenge your players with weather they don’t expect. Storms coming and going quicker than they should. As for spells, we start where we did with Tulzscha: a list!
- ray of frost, ice storm, cone of cold
- vampiric touch, chill touch
- thunderwave, wind wall
Let’s start with the obvious spells that are based around dealing cold damage. Like fire spells, cultists will readily wield these for their mad need to destroy that which is against their goals, against their god. There are two great ways to manipulate these spells for Ithaqua and you might want to use both, depending on the situation. The first is to make half the damage necrotic. It is not uncommon for these beings to destroy the life force of mortal souls. It is also a strong bridge to cannibalism and wendigo lore. The other way to go is to focus on the mad howls of wind that Ithaqua might make. Make the cold come from a north wind, adding breezes to the spell effects and making the affected hear that howl. Not just with their ears but deep in their souls. To hit the point home, make half the damage psychic instead of necrotic. If we do want to talk necrotic aspects we can look at necrotic damage spells. Vampiric touch and chill touch can be made to deal half cold damage. Add frost, ice, frostbite, and other things to descriptions to set it apart from the normal counterpart. What you do not want to forget are the wind-related spells like thunderwave or wind wall. Again you have a couple options. First is to focus on the cold and make half that damage cold. Second, focus on the howling of Ithaqua and make half the damage psychic. If you ask me, though, go all out. Take all the normal damage from those wind spells and replace the damage type completely. Make it half cold and half psychic. Really amp up the despair of being lost in a blizzard and the soul-piercing cry of the Wind Walker.
Expanding Your Spell Books
Above I have present over a dozen “new” spells by taking a Lovecraftian entity and re-skinning spells around them. Look to what the entity is known for or looks like and go from there. Look for related spells and tweak them to fit a tighter niche that Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, or Yog-Sothtoth fits. Some quick examples to keep inspiring you. Take Tasha’s hideous laughter and make it Nodens’ by adding an illusory nightgaunt that grabs onto and tickles the victim, much like the true minions of Nodens. Take web and spider climb and add Atlach-Nacha’s name to them. Instead of being simple spells, have them temporarily disfigure the user but having no other major mechanical difference. Spider climb might have horrific spider legs sprout from the caster’s torso while web might feature spider palps growing from the mouth of the caster as they spit the web out. Either one would give you eight glowing red eyes. After all is said and done, they disappear, but the effect is horrific and weird.
Let me know how you re-skin some spells! Made some from scratch? I have ideas and would love to hear yours!! Let us know on Twitter or in the comments below. Also, if you want to see these spells written out properly and some more themes to go along with them, think about becoming a Patron over here. While drafts and releases are reserved for higher pledges, I’m working on making sure all Patrons get their dollar’s worth. They will absolutely be the first to get PDF results from these articles and will get them for free even if they go up on DTRPG! Any questions about such thing, always feel free to drop us a line. Oh an share your ideas! We’d love to hear those too!