The blood drained from my face and a wave of dizziness rushed over me as I sat in a sweltering box of a room in Poland. I frantically unwrapped a candy, my only hope for anything that resembled salvation, while Dolly Parton played over a crackling speaker and a neon sign reading “EAT. SLEEP. RIOT. REPEAT.” buzzed with electricity in the background. This is the story of me getting my first tattoo, and all of it was just to demonstrate that getting a tattoo can be a very memorable and unique experience. Through the next handful of words I’ll be teaching you how to design your own fantastical experiences for PCs to acquire DnD magic tattoos.
Todays Article Will Discuss:
- Creating a Parlor for Magic Tattoos in DnD
- Designing a Magical Tattoo Artist for DnD
- The Hardware and Tools Used for Magic Tattoos in DnD
- DnD Magic Tattoo Options
Creating a Parlor for Magic Tattoos in DnD
The first thing we’ll be designing is the parlor itself, since it’s most likely the first thing that you’ll describe to your players. Although tattoos have been around for 1000’s of years, the “parlor” concept is a fairly modern invention (as far as I can tell from Wikipedia articles anyhow), so the good news is that you have lots of leeway and creative liberties when designing it.
When designing most of my scenes as a DM, I use a rough 5-step framework when coming up with descriptions that I’ll give to the players. I wrote an article about it a few years ago, which you can read here. It’s a quick read and may be helpful when actually preparing your magical tattoo session!
I’m not going to walk through every single aspect of designing a magic tattoo parlor, but here are a few questions to get you started!
How prevalent and common is magic in your world, and how does that relate to tattoos?
A tattoo parlor in a high-magic world will likely have enchantments or arcane devices to enhance the customer experience (remember your goal is to build a fun and memorable experience) such as a mirror that allows you to see different tattoo designs and placement on yourself before you get it. On the other hand, a parlor in a low magic world will probably be fairly similar to a real life shop.
How large is the parlor, and how many people can get magic tattoos at once?
Is it a large building with multiple expansive rooms, or is it built out of a tavern’s broom closet?
Consider the core functionality of a tattoo parlor while you’re designing it. No matter the direction you end up going, you’ll likely need the following things at a bare minimum (you can greatly expand on this list if it has the space):
- Tattoo Area – this could be a chair or a desk or anywhere where somebody is actually going to receive their magical tat
- Waiting Area – either for friends or prospective clients. It could be a single wooden chair or an elaborate lounge
- Supply Storage Area – cabinets, toolboxes, pocket dimensions, the possibilities are endless
Where is the tattoo parlor located?
Is it in a beautiful marble building in the fancy upscale part of town, or is it a rundown shack outside of the coal mines? This decision will probably impact the condition of the parlor’s interior – but not necessarily!
Does it have any unique features or décor?
In my home dnd game, the magic tattoo parlor was combined with a hookah bar because… well just because that’s what I wanted to do (and remember that you never need any reason more than that). Maybe your shop serves BBQ, or maybe its interior is designed like a palace garden? You don’t necessarily need to have a crazy unique twist, but it can help make it more memorable and give it some flavor.
You may also want to consider that many tattoo parlors have TONS of artwork lining the walls. You can use this as a small but easy way to demonstrate the style of tattoos that the artist primarily works on.
Designing a Magical Tattoo Artist for DnD
So with the actual location out of the way, the next thing we’re going to build is the artist themselves. Below you will find a few questions to get some ideas swimming around in that calcium vault of yours. With more important or recurring NPCs, you would want to consider things such as ‘what are the NPCs desires and motivations‘ or ‘how do they tie into the overall plot‘, but since the artist is likely a minor one-time NPC I’m not going to go into that level of depth.
What tattoos does the artist have?
This is not necessarily a given, but you can pretty much assume that someone who has devoted their life to perfecting the art of tattooing will have at least few of their own.
What is their temperament and general disposition?
Are they pissed off and angry at life or are they happy go lucky? As a little thought experiment, consider a few different (stereotypical) people who have tattoos in real life. There are” tough guys” in biker gangs, punk rock skaters, free love hippie chicks, and military folks. Each of these people would interact with your PCs in a very different manner.
When coming up with your artist, consider the design choices you made for the parlor (and vice-versa). Typically you would expect the vibe of the shop to align with the artist’s personality, but you can have some fun results by doing the complete opposite as seen below.
Imagine a grungy shop in a bad part of town that you can only access from an alley littered with broken glass. Then the PCs get inside, and the interior is still kind of questionable but then they meet the artist who is the most prim and proper elf with a stick shoved so far up their butt that it comes out of their nose a little bit.
How do they speak?
I just went through Neil Gaimen’s MasterClass and he explains that one of the first things he does when designing a character is figure out how they sound when they talk which I think is fantastic advice (obviously… it’s Neil friggin’ Gaimen)! This isn’t necessarily limited to having a silly accent – though that’s always fun too. Try to think about the cadence of their sentences, slang they might use, or phrases they say all the time.
The Hardware and Tools used for Magic Tattoos in DnD
Okay, this is where things really get fun and you can lean into the whole “magical” aspect of magical tattoos. You could go very basic and just make an arcane equivalent of a modern tattoo gun or you can come up with a detailed extensive ritual.
Here are a few different examples that you could use as inspiration. Remember to get weird with it and that there are no wrong answers!
This is the most similar to a modern tattoo gun that I could think of. It’s an ordinary looking quill, but after it’s been dipped in magic ink the tattoo artist flicks the quill to activate it. Once activated, it starts vibrating powerfully and is ready to begin drawing a magical tattoo on the PCs. You could even add a little extra flair and design it so that after it’s been activated, the quill hovers on its own and the artist guides it telepathically.
This one is pretty brutal, but could definitely make for a memorable experience. A large syringe (like an old school, massive needle syringe that you might see in Bioshock) is filled with ink and plunged through the PCs chest into their heart. The ink is deposited and the veins over their whole body turn the color of the ink. Then, after a painful minute their veins return to normal and the tattoo slowly forms in the desired location.
This one is more pleasant, I promise. The artist places a stencil of the chosen design over the PCs skin. Then they grab a gritty paste made of crushed crystals and rub it into the stencil. The paste is heated with magical flames which causes it to harden and re-crystalize. After a few minutes, the stencil is removed and the hardened crystal mixture is washed off – revealing the desired tattoo.
This one is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, only instead of a scar it leaves a tattoo. You can add some arcane flair by having the branding iron start off in a simple shape, and then once its heated the artist whispers to it and it changes shape into the desired tattoo.
DnD Magic Tattoo Options
Tashas Cauldron has some magical tattoos that you can use (and other books probably do too, they reprint a lot of shit) or you can come up with your own.
The tattoo artist you designed will have their own specialty and style. Style refers to how it actually looks on the PC (think tribal vs. realistic vs. geometric, etc), whereas specialty refers to the magical properties of the tattoos they make. For example they might create excellent abjuration tattoos but are afraid of working on evocation tats.
If your PCs know about this encounter ahead of time, you may consider coming up with something unique for them (like modifying or boosting a class ability such as granting a Barbarian resistance to lightning damage while raging). However if they don’t know, or you just don’t want to go through that effort, cantrips or low-level spells are a great option! Also consider whether the tattoos are a permanent boost (potentially using an attunement slot) or whether they are expended once they are activated. Obviously permanent bonuses should be reserved for higher levels and should cost more.
So that’s what I’ve got for you today, hopefully some of these questions helped prompt some ideas into your head so that you can create your own unique magical tattoo experiences in your DnD campaigns!
Shout out to my Patrons Rachel Alexandria, Connor O’Keefe, Christian Duncan, and P0rtalW0lf for making this article possible. Thank you!
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