The Alexandrian

My current layout project is taking much longer than I anticipated. (It always does.) I should have some more recycled material posted to cover the next few days and then hopefully it will be done.

For today, I’m going to just briefly reflect on just how powerful and effective re-skinning can be. It’s an important part of the DM’s toolkit. And although it’s often talked about in terms of saving prep time, I think it’s arguably more important that re-skinning can so trivially take something familiar and recast it as something mysterious, enigmatic, and evocative.

Although re-skinning has become something of a hot fad over the past couple of years, I first encountered it way back in 1990 when I read an article in Dragon Magazine that dealt with re-skinning spells. (Magic missiles are great for this: You can describe them as pretty much anything.) I think it was issue #162, which would have been my very first issue, but I won’t swear to it and I’m away from my Dragon collection at the moment.

What brought this particularly to mind today was a recent re-skinning I did in my Ptolus campaign:

The creature rears up, plunging its clawed hand into its own chest. It rips out a gob of flesh and hurls it down the length of the chamber. It strikes the wall and spatters. Small globules of white, turgid flesh writhe and bound up into blasphemous creatures of lumbering, squelching flesh…

That’s an osyluth summoning 2d10 lemures. My players were so distressed by this unfamiliar ability that I actually had difficulty finishing the description due to the outcries emanating from the table.

Okay. That’s all I’ve got for today. More tomorrow. And lots more in the near future. (I hope.)

Osyluth - Monster Manual

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3 Responses to “Thought of the Day: Re-Skinning”

  1. Barad the Gnome says:

    Beautiful. I am a big fan of what you call re-skinning. I really like the way you used it in this case. Nicely done.

  2. Keith Davies says:

    I suspect you’re looking for an article from Dragon #200, “The Color of Magic”. It describes how to make (largely) superficial changes to descriptions of spells cast and includes examples for Illfrith the Ice Queen and Grimfang (“goblin magic-user, shaman of a small tribe that uses spiders of various sizes as guards, mounts, and totem animals. All her spells have an arachnid theme”)

  3. Justin Alexander says:

    Yup, that’s the ticket. Thanks for tracking that down, Keith.

    Now that I’m back in the same room as my Dragons, I think what crossed my brain’s circuits was actually the “Game Wizards” column from issue 162, which opens with:

    Dungeon Master: You are walking through the tunnel of bones when the spot beneath you erupts and knocks you off your feet. Over a dozen large, undulating, insect-like creatures pour out, snapping and crushing the dry bones like twigs. Each monster is as long as your arm, with a sickly yellow fluid dripping from its mandibles. As you lay there, one slithers over your leg and goes for you face.

    Player: Quick! Let’s get out of here! I attempt to fling the thing off me and run back down the tunnel.”

    Which was emphasizing that even giant centipedes can be terrifying if you handle the presentation correctly. The familiar can be turned into the unexpected if you drape the right description over it (instead of hanging a label on it).

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