I have always considered naming things to be a hard and important task in tabletop RPGs, on both sides of the screen. Much of the flavor of a game setting is communicated via the names, especially for homebrew settings that don’t have extensive canonical literature with illustrations. Probably the largest effect of gaming on the non-gaming parts of my life has been the constant mining of everything I encounter for names. Novels, street signs, captcha forms, anything. Even when I was not actively gaming, I still kept lists of names. Dada’s little baby namer has also been a frequently used resource.

If you had any doubt about the power of naming in the real world, you need to look no further than our own little echo chamber.  Giving concepts like sandbox, megadungeon, agency, railroading, and tent-pole easily remembered names gives them power. Half of software engineering is probably built around managing complexity through abstraction and naming.

The power of the true name can also be the basis of magic in folklore and fantasy. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea is probably the most influential source of this trope in mainstream fantasy, but it also shows up in Cook’s The Black Company and Rothfuss’ recent The Name of the Wind.

Good naming for tabletop RPGs follows different principles from other media, mostly because the names are often communicated verbally rather than visually. Names that are too complicated will probably not stick. Also, players tend to have notoriously short attention spans for setting detail. One solution to this that can work with some groups is to allow players to name some things as they come into contact with them or if they are connected in some way with a PC’s background.

I just finished reading The Black Company, and I have to say I am quite taken with the simple naming style. Names include Croaker, Silent, Goblin, One-eye, and Elmo. I think this style would work wonderfully for D&D; it doesn’t take itself too seriously (if you try to make something sound self-consciously serious, I guarantee some other player will satirize it), and such names are easy to remember.

Despite all this, the name of one of my longest-played characters (an elf wizard in second edition) was lifted whole-cloth from one of R. A. Salvatore’s lesser-known non-D&D books (The Woods Out Back): Kelsenellenelvial Gil’Ravadry, or Kelsey for short. In my defence, I can only say that at least I didn’t name him Drizzt.

Magic item: Nomenmancer’s Wand

(2d4 charges)

The nomenmancer’s wand is a slender rod several hands long crafted of an unknown metal. If examined closely, it is clear that the wand’s form is like that of very elongated tetrahedron (a four-sided solid with triangular faces, one of which is the base). Tiny runes, symbols and characters cover the three long sides, fading into nothingness as they approach the tip.

The wand stores true names.

The wielder of the wand gains a +10 bonus to saving throws versus spells cast by any specific entities whose names are so stored.

The wand may also be used as a stylus to prepare a scroll of command. Such a scroll functions as the charm person spell, but only for the entity in question. No saving throw is allowed initially, though saves may be attempted later (based on intelligence) as per the charm person spell description. Creating such a scroll discharges the name. Command scrolls may be used by any class, much like protection scrolls.

Any entity that becomes aware their name is stored in a nomenmancer’s wand will stop at nothing to recover it.

Methods for recharging the wand have been lost to the mists of time.

4 thoughts on “Nomenclatura

  1. richard

    It may be a false friend, but I like how Nomos also means both field, or region (from which Nomad) and law (from which the Antinomian Heresy). Names are power, indeed.

    Thus: Satyrinomia ( illusionist spell): the caster may rename a character or thing. This new name may replace the True Name (only of sublunary creatures – the true names of demins, devils and other theological creatures cannot be changed), and if it suggests certain characteristics, those will be found in the one renamed (treat as a magical attack, allow saving throw once per day to shake off the effect of the name for that day only). Eg, if the caster renames another person “wormtongue,” that person will appear sly and dishonest to all those they meet, and will over time develop compulsive lying. The new name will cling to the person or thing for the duration of the spell, until the one renamed performs some ritual of purification, or until the death of the caster, as the DM judges.

  2. Brendan

    Great spell. I love the creativity involved, like figuring out the correct wording for a curse. Will definitely try to figure out a way to make use of this. I’m not sure if it should be an illusionist spell though. Aren’t true names more about essence, which is exactly what illusionists try to conceal with their art?

  3. richard

    That’s a philosophical question; I’m a bit confused about the line of reality where illusionist spells are concerned – some folks have illusions cause real damage, for instance. I rather like the “creation” power from Julian May’s Saga of the Exiles – it allows practitioners to make shadows and illusions and images of things, but given enough juice those things can be made solid and permanent. So your players never quite know what they’re dealing with.

    I pulled this trick on my group once, where the party MU recognised the spell the enemy was chanting and told his companions to relax – it was just an illusion. But then the enemy kept right on chanting after the spell was finished…

  4. Brendan

    I’ve never played an AD&D-style illusionist or ran a game where illusion played a significant role. I need to think more about how I want to handle this. The illusionist spells might make a nice corpus for the B/X elf to select from (rather than the standard magic-user list).


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