Newbie DM had another great post today about how he created a Jurassic Park Dilophosaurus (the “spitting dinosaur”) by replacing the the flavor text of a Drow Sniper [DDI]. This allowed him to come up with a unique and interesting monster without having to do the work of coming up with the mechanics and figuring out the creature’s level. This is awesome thing for DMs to do, since it saves time and encourages imparting a uniqueness to their world. NewbieDM called this process “re-skinning,” and I think it’s applicable to characters too.
The easiest re-skin for a player is to take a popular race and replace its name (and maybe change up a class feature or ability bonus). For instance, if I were to make a 4e version of Avatar, I’d make a Na’vi by starting with an Elf and coloring them blue. Then I would look around for a tall race and see what abilities, speed, etc they get for being Large and sorta meld that with the elf, making sure it’s balanced.
Classes are a little harder. I could make a Gospel Choir Leader by re-skinning a Bard to use the Divine power source instead of Arcane. I suppose there’s a lot of flavor and mechanic that comes from the power source and so it may not just be a matter of renaming all the powers. You could re-skin the flavor of a class by changing all the power names. For instance if you had a Harry Potter 4e campaign, the character might have the at-will spell Expelliarmus, which is just a renamed Magic Missile.
The piece of re-skinning I like best was already covered by Newbie, and that’s adding or changing keywords of powers. For example Ice Blast = Magic Missile + Cold keyword, or Poison + Thundertusk Boar Strike = Poison Cobra Fang Strike. This allows you have some flavor without breaking a class: e.g. Ice Wizard, Shadow Warlock, Flame Rogue. Of course one should keep in mind that some classes really fit or don’t fit into a role. For instance the Paladin is already a radiant defender; it might be weird if his powers were instead thundering. Also it might break a game if the party’s powers were all fire based and they campaigned exclusively in ice caves. Presumably the powers’ keywords were chosen as they were for a reason; if you change them do it for flavor and the setting, not to break the game.
Not only can the people be reskinned, but feats and items can be renamed to fit the campaign. If you’re playing in a bronze age setting, arrows can be made of flint and swords can be made of bronze (but otherwise have the same stats). I think in a regular campaign magical items should be renamed anyway to fit their owners or campaign history.
Anyway, you all should definitely check out that article on www.newbiedm.com and post in my comments and his if you’ve tried this change of name or keyword and its worked out well (or horribly)!