Magic is an amazing tool to give a sense of wonder to your players. But, what if your players already know the ins and outs of regular DnD magic? How can you recover that sense of wonder and mystery? I recently read Kobold Press’s Deep Magic, a DnD 5e resource full of amazing ideas to extend the magic of your campaign setting. Inspired by that, here are my five tips to make magic in your world deeper, cooler and more mysterious!
1. DnD magic can be more than spells
Yep, you read that right! We’re all so used to seeing regular spellcasting that we sometimes forget we could expand the magic system! And I’m not just talking about magic items and fancy class features. Let’s look at magic tattoos, for example! Being able to wear your magic on your skin has huge worldbuilding implications! You can no longer strip someone of their magic items (unless you skin them, I guess), but spellcasters will no longer be able to completely hide either. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything has rules for magic tattoos, I was so excited when I saw them!
Another way to expand on DnD magic is using runes or hieroglyphs. Writing down your magic will probably take longer than a regular spell. That extra time and effort could translate into more powerful effects, too! It’s an awesome way to up the stakes. It’s also a great way to integrate the magic system with the story and the worldbuilding. For example, scribes will suddenly be even more valuable than before! Kobold Press’ Deep Magic book has rules for runes and hieroglyphs, and they’re an amazing tool to better integrate your magic system with the story.
2. Come up with extra character options!
The official character options are designed for a generic fantasy world —one size fits all. And that’s ok for some games, but different settings usually have different needs! Start by thinking about the main themes of your campaign or world. Then, make sure that there are at least some available character options that reflect them. For example, if you’re running a grim dark setting you might want to add some extra warlock patrons or darker cleric domains. Or, in a noble-bright world you’ll probably want more paladin oaths and subclasses that don’t feel as evil.
Now, creating a subclass is hard if you’re not a game designer. Fortunately for all, Deep Magic has tons of them! Do you have a player who wants to play a lawful good necromancer? The white necromancer subclass is for you! Want to have some time shenanigans? The prescient knight’s got you covered! Heck, there’s even a cat domain for all you cat people!
3. Invent new spells for your setting
That’s somewhat related to the previous tips —and it’s also way easier than creating a full subclass. Every world is different, so it makes sense for your world to have its own spells too! The first step is knowing the main themes of your campaign setting. For example, if you have a darker setting you might want some kind of shadow magic. If your story centres around vengeance, you might have some kind of blood magic. On the flip side, a campaign in a forest will probably need deeper nature magic. You could also ask your players what kind of magic they’d like to have! This will make them feel more engaged with the world —but make sure their suggestions make sense and keep a degree of balance!
Not sure how to go about creating new spells? Deep Magic has a bunch of new spell categories that will take your DnD magic to the next level! The winter magic category is a must if your campaign setting is a cold place, and the cloak of shadow is great if you have an edgy PC in your group (and we all have them)! My personal favorite is uncontrollable transformation —use it to transform yourself into something… you just don’t know what it will be until it happens!
4. Create new NPCs and creatures that use DnD magic
The vast majority of worlds with magic will have spellcaster NPCs, so don’t forget to include some now and then! Yes, those spell lists can be tricky to remember with all the thing you’re juggling as a DM, but it’s worth it! It will give magic a real place in your world (instead of it just being a power tool for your players). Make sure that every NPC is clearly distinct in their own way of using magic too! Giving them spells related to a single theme is a great way to do it —bonus points if the theme is linked to the NPC’s backstory. For example, someone who considers themselves a coward will have several spells that let them run fast, or teleport away.
Magical creatures have a similar function. Animals are part of nature, so if nature uses magic, it suddenly becomes a fundamental part of your world (instead of being a man-made thing). Make sure you give animals magical abilities that can come in handy with their routines! Another way of doing it is coming up with the magical ability first, and then thinking about which kind of creature would use it. Nothing like some magical reverse-engineering!
I love creating NPCs and creatures, but sometimes time just won’t let me do everything by myself. That’s why Kobold Press’ Deep Magic has a bunch of pre-made NPCs and creatures (including constructs!) to make your session prep easier. They’re all related to magic, and the NPCs come with personality traits and a backstory, so just by putting them in you’ll make your world feel more alive and you’ll have some new plot hooks for your players!
Magical plants are amazing too! Check out this post for five tips to create magical plants.
5. Foreshadow magic abilities using traps and items
Introducing a magical ability mid-campaign can be tricky, especially if you have spellcasters in your party (and most parties do). After all, a group of barbarians probably won’t realize that the necromancer has a new way to raise the dead… it’s all “things to kill” to them! But why is it tricky, you might ask? Well, if you’re introducing a new magic ability it’s probably because it’s relevant to the plot. And this means that an evil guy will probably use it against the party. If the players don’t know this ability is possible – and get a serious setback as a result – they might think you just came up with it on the spot. And they might feel like you’re not playing fair as the DM.
So, how can you do it? Well, say that you’ve established that telepathy is impossible in your setting, but the Evil Faction discovers a way to do it. Before having your players fall into their telepathic hands, you could have them trigger an ancient magical trap that uses telepathy. Maybe it twists their thoughts until they hurt, or it uses their worst memories to create illusions. Whatever the effect, they’ll know that telepathy is actually possible (plot twist!). And because it’s an ancient device, they’ll know you didn’t just come up with it on the fly. Just make sure the Evil Faction’s telepathy follows the same rules as the trap’s, and you’ll have some great foreshadowing for the big showdown!
Deep Magic has a bunch of arcane traps ready to use if your inspiration needs a little push. And it also has a table with “oddities for every occasion”, which I find very fun —it’s basically a random table with minor magic items, and they’re all weird in some way or another.
Deep Magic by Kobold Press
If you hadn’t realized yet, I’m a big fan of Kobold Press’ Deep Magic! It’s full of new ways to use DnD magic, both by adding new stuff and expanding on already-existing spells. It has tons of content to give more character options to your player. This includes subclasses for many of the core classes, as well as over 700 new spells! And of course, it comes with a bunch of DM tools, such as dark magic, extra subclasses that need DM and group approval (remember to have a session 0!) and much more!
So make sure you check out Deep Magic to take your campaign’s magic to the next level! And if you’re looking for a place to run your campaign, or develop a crazy magic system of your own, World Anvil has you covered with our worldbuilding software and campaign manager! Create a free account now!