What If A PC Was A Living Spell?

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0917

What If A PC Was A Living Spell?

RPT GM Josh J. shared this cool idea:

Hey Johnn,

I was wondering if you could help me with an idea.

I saw in an email a while ago you mentioned having a living spell as a challenge to be overcome by the PCs.

That got me thinking.

Hang on, maybe I could roll a character that is a living spell?

It has stayed in my head as just that simple idea, and I am unsure on how I would make it work besides just re-skinning a race and class to fit.

I was hoping you might have some ideas/thoughts/input on it.

Neat idea, Josh! Here are some Musings on it.

A Simple Format For Living Spells

First, recall the short, universal three step approach I took for living spells:

Step 1. Origin

Decide how the Living Spell was created. Use the origin story to theme other aspects, like appearance and drive.

Step 2. Manifestation

How does the spell manifest in your game? What properties does it have? Do you want it to be interactive like a monster, or something passive like a hazard? What’s its appearance? Are there any conditions on if and when it appears?

Step 3. Impulse

Give your Living Spell a drive, a purpose, a behaviour. This helps you roleplay and run the spell.

You can use all three steps not just for spell design but for character creation too!

Consider The Player

Next, who will be playing the Living Spell PC?

I have players in my campaign I would not hesitate to collaborate with to flesh the stats and idea out. I would trust them completely to maintain game balance.

If you are blessed this way too, you could enlist the player’s help to build this thing out.

Also consider whether the player would enjoy this angle for a PC.

Is It A Secret?

I’m always looking for a twist or secret to apply to any game piece.

Does the player know their PC is a Living Spell? Does the character know?

You could pull off some crazy Sixth Sense plotting here.

Maybe all PCs but one are Living Spells and they don’t know that except for the non-spell PC, who you ask to roleplay this as a secret from the others.


Always consider the rulebook as part of your Agile GM Toolkit.

Can you use any existing rules to stat the Living Spell Character out?

For example, does your game system have templates? D&D 3.5 had dozens and dozens of monster templates you could overlay onto monsters and PCs.

Does your game system have character classes? Maybe you can find a fan-made class you can easily tweak. For example, if the spell is Prestidigitation, maybe you can convert a Sorcerer or Charlatan type class for your purposes?

What about monsters? Does any creature exhibit the type of features you’re looking for? Use that for base crunch and tweak to suit for game balance and flavour.

Does your game system have bloodlines, dark patrons, or rituals? Feats? Powers? All these are possible ways to instantiate special abilities conferred to the PC from their Living Spell status.

Last, look at a blank character sheet. Look at each box for inspiration on how you can translate your idea into game mechnics.

As always, simpler is better. If stuck, go simple and tweak as your campaign progresses.

Give your player a heads-up that the magic is unstable and their character might undergo changes without warning (as you and the player work out any game balance and game un-fun issues between sessions).

Why Are They Special?

Consider how your other players might feel if just one character is special.

The spotlight could get delightfully bright as the Living Spell PC explorers the corners and boundaries of possibility.

This could upset other players who do not have story halos over their PCs.

You could make each PC special in some way to fix this. Or you could bring the other players in on it in some way that makes the game personal and fun for them.

Just adding drawbacks to the Living Spell PC will not work. It still makes the PC special while the others are not.

So do give thought as to how you can balance spotlight and halos.

Focus On The Story

If this character were in my campaign, I’d explore whether I could make it 90% about the plot and just 10% about the crunch.

For example, if modern D&D, maybe I’d swap a feat out with the power of the living spell. As the PC grows in power, the feat changes as well, once per adventuring “tier”.

In addition, I might give the character an immunity or resistances. For each, I’d give a vulnerability to something else for easy balance.

For the story, I’d work with the player on the origin story. Then I’d try to integrate that story with one or more campaign plot threads.

Last, I might make the situation an Impending Doom. For example, if the character does not fix their status and become a normal person again, they will permanently become a Living Spell and cursed to a location or some other undesirable condition.

Or you could turn it into a positive and offer encounters and adventures that help the player learn to grapple with their condition and harness it better.

No matter what though, as mentioned, I’d seek player input and then minimize the crunch and maximize the story.

Hope this helps, Josh.