I'm a new DM leading a 5e campaign with new players. Most of the characters, who are a cleric, two druids, and a fighter, do not gain weird new powers when they level up.

But the barbarian (still level 2) chose the Path of Ancestral Guardians, and when he gets to level 3, he unlocks the "Shaman King" spirits. I don't know how to explain that in a "narrative" way.

I was thinking to have a random spirit enter his body while he is still level 2. He should not recognize anything at first, just his axe feeling lighter.

Later in the game the spirit will come out and help the barbarian while fighting. Later on the spirit will "grow" and acquire his old power and wisdom more and more, so I can explain the power-ups and "Consult the Spirit" (level 10 ability), and will eventually remember his past, as a great barbarian who fought something cool.

Is this the right way to explain this feature?


closed as primarily opinion-based by goodguy5, NautArch, Sdjz, KorvinStarmast, András May 28 at 19:00

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Unfortunately, this sort of question is entirely opinion-based - there's no real "right" or "wrong" way to explain how the mechanics of a new feature suddenly appear on level-up. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 28 at 20:16

The key thing to understand with level-up is that it is the “Eureka!” or “aha!” moment—the point when everything you have been trying, testing, studying, and practicing “all comes together” or “clicks” for the character, so that they can actually use it.

As the quotation marks might hint at, this concept isn’t exactly foreign to real life, at least as far as English-language idiom is concerned. We have phrases for this kind of thing because it’s something we experience, though it is rarely as clean as D&D level-up.

The other thing to keep in mind is that characters are doing a lot of things that don’t get explicitly mentioned during game time: they exercise, or practice, or care for equipment, or whatever else, and maybe it gets mentioned a little bit, but it is mostly in the background.

The two of these things combine in an interesting way: you can freely have a character level-up, gain some new ability, and then say that some parts of that ability were starting to be seen before the level-up, it just was one of those things that didn’t get mentioned ahead of time. Suppose, for example, the barbarian had not told you they were planning to follow the Path of the Totem Warrior: you could easily still say that they had been noticing the effects of this spirit before leveling up. That helps to explain it, and helps to make the game feel a little bit more “real.”

But since you do know, that’s even better: you can throw these little bits of detail into the game now, and it will make their level-up seem even more “real” when it happens. That’s great!

So yes, you have a great idea, and this works perfectly well

It is not the only good way you could do it. You could also have something more sudden happen in-character, a spirit suddenly showing up, or they go on a vision quest, or whatever, but this way is good. You have exactly the right idea, and timing it for 2nd level is perfectly correct. Congratulations on an excellent approach to this question, I think you are learning to DM very well.


Consult with your player first.

Your player may have an idea of how they want their ancestral guardians to manifest, which might be very similar or different than what you have in mind. Discuss the feature with them out of game and see if they have any opinion on it. It can be as easy as asking: "Hey, you've got that Ancestral Guardians feature coming up next level. Any thoughts on what that will be like for your character?" If they don't have any opinion on it, they've essentially given you free reign to do exactly as you've outlined in your question.

If the player does have a more concrete idea of how they want their ancestral guardians to manifest and grow in power throughout the course of the campaign, make sure to keep that in mind as you plan out the narrative. You can still use your own ideas as a base, but the player will probably appreciate it if they see you using their input to help flavor the story of their character's growth.


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