MASK OF THE "PHANTASMER": Another Example of Good "French Vanilla" D&D

I think I have sorta two "styles" to my D&D. The first is a love of the "phantasmagoric"  like Through Ultan's Door and the second is what I've called "french vanilla". These elements are not mutually exclusive either. A crypt adventure is an easy way to overlap the two.

So what is "french vanilla"? I mean it to be a well-executed take on a familiar experience. Just as "french vanilla" ice cream is often a well-executed take on just regular vanilla. The flavor is enhanced, it might be served is just the right proportion, the texture is often richer, creamier, or heavier, and it might be served with an enhancement (coffee or a wafer) that adds to, but never overpowers the vanilla flavor itself.

In terms of D&D, I believe it can be very helpful, especially for new DMs or DMs of new players, to use well-understood touchstones but apply a twist to them in order to maintain a true fantastical sense, but eliminate the need for game-halting explanation. To wit: players want to play D&D not listen to your fiction. And people's vocabulary of the fantastic has expanded with the advent of video games and the popularity of many fantasy media properties. Using "french vanilla" elements also helps a group get more mileage out of books and material they already have at hand. See my post on turning OD&D Level 1 & Level 2 Random Encounter tables into something more fantastical.

Title: Phantasmer: This re-skinning trick can also be applied to player classes as well. And it is just such an example that kicked off this post. Recently I was involved in a game run by Ben L. of Mizirian's Garden in this game we were given Level 4 pre-gen characters. I picked the magic user and was delighted when I looked down at the sheet:

Title: Phantasmer

Awesome. Sounds like a very illusionist-y magic user. And given Ben's love of the Dreamlands also really works with the setting instead of just "magic-user", "wizard", or the original "theurgist" (although I love that word). Then I jumped to the spell list:

Light/Darkness (1)
Charm Person (1)
Mirror Image (2)
Phantasmal Forces (2)

Again- brilliant! Ben has done some great starting spellbook work before. And I've fully adopted them my go-to for magic users in my games.

But look at how simple spell selection from almost any version of D&D, plus an evocative title drive a nice, novel feel to a well-understood class. And there is no need to laboriously work to create an entirely new class or spell list just to evoke an illusionist feel. ✣ The simple spell selection here encapsulates that with its manipulation of light, use of charm, duplicative images, and the ability to evoke phantasms.

Ben really caps it off with a couple of key items that again support a fresh take but are better flavor descriptions of common magic items:

Prism Amulet of Caz (as +1 ring of protection)
Serpentine Kris (as +1 dagger)

Again nothing crazy. But much cooler to imagine and say.

Well done Ben! I most certainly will be adding this as a potential MU take whenever I get around to assembling my house rules doc: Serpent Song

Last Words: This is not a pro-3d10x10-orcs-in-a-hole/anti-art-punk position. In fact its quite the opposite. It's urging DMs to art-punk their orcs, but just don't work too hard for the maths and instead "stat as". Here are my "orcs":

THE NAMELESS LEGION: Soldiers robbed of their names and now forever walking for conquest as restless shades who know no end; when they march, they carry a disorienting fog with them and when defeated weapons, armor, at body turn to an hour-glass fine black sand; summoned it is said by building two doors of polished onyx with silver hinges (stat as "orc")

When I've looked at the actual illusionist class, I get the sense that someone was actually trying to just make a more powerful magic-user class.



  1. I like this concept! I think this is a strong framework for doing light work to mix things up in your descriptions as a GM

    1. Yup, that "light work" is a key element. Because I sometimes think too much advice leans on hours of prep instead enough to get the game to the table.