Sitting down to a game of Dungeon World, I don’t know what playbook I am going to pick up, but I do know that inspiration struck me in the Misdirected Mark chat room the night before and there is a flavor I have planned for whatever character I grab. Blade Singer. I don’t know what it means yet, although I have some images in my mind of valkyries singing as they descend with swinging swords from the heavens. I’m thinking through the play books as I look them over: the fighter, that one’s pretty clear as the blades work. Maybe she is trained by a fighting school where they associate each movement with a different note, and as she fights her moves create the song she sings. There’s the bard, another logical choice. She uses her songs to mesmerize opponents and then attacks. The thief might hum the steps of the acrobatic dance that turns her in to a twirling whirlwind of blades, appearing from the shadows and then whirling away again, leaving her prey in fear of those soft notes. The paladin sings righteous hymns of her faith as she hacks her way through evil, hair streaming with brilliant shine as her blade rises and falls. Magic users would have been more difficult for this particular thought, but I had some ideas about singing my spells. In the end, though, I picked up the barbarian.
A day later, I was listening to the episode zero for WEPAS Streets of Avalon, and in the midst of the discussion of how the setting plays as low magic they discussed how they were handling all the spell based 5e classes. Despite the low magic setting, in a party of four there is a Druid and a bard. It’s fun and inspiring to listen to them reskinning what we usually use as flashy spells into low magic equivalents with the same effects. It got me thinking: how do you make a reskinning successful?
Start clear and simple, so that you can be flexible in your implementation
I knew my blade singer would incorporate singing into her fighting. Somehow it was going to influence how she fought, joining song and sword. How I was flexible on implementing it — there are a lot of different ways to accomplish that basic goal.
Start with a strong central concept
Your concept is the reason you’re reskinning to begin with, so make it something interesting that appeals to you! If you don’t have a strong theme for this reskin, you’ll find yourself grasping when it comes to describing actions, or on the fly flavoring of your skills or spells. For my blade singer, her primary influence is the interaction of song and sword, which meant where she came from had to create the kind of background that would give that to her. As I built on the sword that could whistle as it swings, the wind became an influencing factor, leading me to wind swept grass plains and nomadic people who travel them. It helps in this case of course that Dungeon World in particular, based on this playbook, tells me that wherever I’m from, it’s not around here.
Why did this thing come to be?
Once you’ve applied your central concept so that you know how it will be used in play, know why it’s come to pass. If your rogue is really a thieving hedge mage with no actual useful spells but the “magic” that can occasionally pick someone’s pocket or open a lock, fantastic! But why doesn’t their magic work like everyone else’s? Why does it sometimes fail in different ways? How do they do this hedge magic—is it something that was passed on through their family as tradition and superstition? Maybe then none of it is magic at all, they only think it is. Or maybe there are other superstitions they feel are important that don’t actually do anything. For my barbarian, putting her people in a place where they function as hunter gatherers, making her a hunter who runs fleet footed across the plains to take down a deer or engage in battle, these things lend to her joy in battle and her song.
Involve your concept in your descriptions
Both for yourself when you are creating the character, and when you describe your actions at the table. When Galdera takes her first swipe through the air with her sword, it begins the song that she echoes back at it, creating a union of voice and blade, mind, body, and sword. I don’t “take a swing” at a goblin, I run at it like the wind through the grasses of my homeland over the mountains, my sword singing in harmony with my battle song as I bring it down on my adversaries.
Do you have any favorite reskin you’ve done on a character class or playbook? Any other thoughts on successful reskinning?