What's In A Name?

     One fairly common feature present in many works of fantasy is the concept
of a wizard's ``True Name''. This is furthest developed in Ursula K. LeGuin's
``Earthsea'' books. Knowing a wizard's Name gives you a degree of power over
the wizard. Generally, this allows you to temporarily (or, in some worlds,
permanently) strip him of his power, while at the same time making him
completely subject to your own spells! Such Names may be incorporated into the
GURPS magic system with very little trouble. Depending on exactly how the GM
chooses to implement Names, the effects on wizards' roles in the campaign may 
be minimal or extreme.
     There are two major elements to Names which occur almost uniformly in
works of fantasy that incorporate this concept:

1. The Name must actually be spoken aloud and in the presence of the wizard.
There is no effect (or perhaps even a negative effect) if the name is not
spoken perfectly. Usually, only one attempt may be made to Name a wizard during
each confrontation: it is unclear, however, if this is because there are some
magical rules covering the subject, or because incorrect names tend to cost the
life of the Namer!
2. While stripped of magical abilities, a wizard who has been Named may still
take physical actions, generally without any restrictions. In most fantasy
works, wizards tend to flee the scene when they are Named, and wait for their
abilities to return - which generally occurs at some unspecified later time.
     In GURPS terms, the first element above suggests that a particular Name
is best represented as a skill. A low skill probably indicates that you have 
done some research on the person in question, and that you have a guess at that 
person's name. A high skill indicates that your research is more extensive, and 
has resulted in a small list of likely possibilities for the Name - and you 
have good reason to suspect one more than all the others. It is probably best 
to impose the restriction that points spent on Names must come exclusively from 
research. Time spent with the person in question could be included here, in 
conjunction with other research, as it could provide clues about that wizard's 
personality and simplify the research process.

New Skill:
Name (Wizard) (M/H) No default. This is skill in a particular wizard's Name. The exact game effects can vary (see below), but there are some common modifiers (these are cumulative): +2 for the Voice advantage. -2 for the Stuttering disadvantage. -1 to -4 if the Name is in a language you do not speak, or in a language you know below IQ level (note that this could also make the research much more difficult).

Effects of Names

One way to portray the game effect of Names is to simply state that speaking a wizard's Name temporarily strips him of the ability to cast spells, and provides a bonus to all spells cast upon him. This is very true to the genre, but may be considered somewhat harsh from the point of view of game balance, as a typical mage will be left with very few options. It has the advantage of being very easy to implement - no further discussion is necessary. For those who find a complete loss of power too harsh, there are some other options that are reasonably easy to implement. One option is that the Named wizard casts all spells as if everyone interacting with him has some degree of Magic Resistance. Note that this is not the same as a penalty to all spells cast by the Named - the effects differ noticeably in the case of Resisted and Area spells. In addition, there is a bonus to spells cast upon the Named by the Namer. As well, the ``Rule of 16'' is eliminated with respect to Resisted spells cast upon the Named by the Namer, so that resisted spells act at full skill level in the contest of skills! Naming a non-wizard can be treated the same way (although the MR will not be of much use), or the GM could choose to disallow this altogether, depending upon the background. If the non-wizard has the Magic Resistance advantage, the GM could allow the successful pronunciation of his Name to reduce the level of the advantage by the same amount. A suggested formula for the precise level of MR that the Named feels is Will/2 plus a spell modifier, where the Will is that of the Namer and the spell modifier reflects the Namer's skill with magic. One suggestion for this spell modifier is to set it equal to the total number of spell levels of the Namer divided by two hundred. Other possibilities include the number of spells the Namer has at level 21+, the Mass Combat ``Magic Points'' commanded by the Namer, or any other measure of the Namer's magical ability that the GM feels suits the campaign. If this modifier seems like too much work, feel free to eliminate it! A suggested value for the skill bonus given to the Namer for casting spells upon the Named is Will/3, where again the Will referred to is that of the Namer. This bonus only applies to spells which directly affect the Named as their subject: Missile or Jet spells, or Shape Earth to bury the Named, would not receive the bonus, but Deathtouch and Shapeshift Others would. A similar bonus applies to attempts by the Namer to affect the spells of the Named with spells such as Dispel Magic and Ward. It is not clear how long these effects should last: fantasy works tend not to be precise about this. A few possibilities are: 1. The effect lasts until the Named and the Namer are out of each other's presence for a specific amount of time, set by the GM. 2. The effect lasts for a number of seconds, minutes, hours . . . equal to the skill bonus that the Namer gained, or to the amount of MR gained, according to the formulae above. 3. The effect lasts until either the Namer or the Named loses consciousness. This could be sleep, stunning, or death. A critical failure on the Name roll might have no effect, or penalize the Namer. A suggested effect is that the incorrectly Named wizard gains an effective MR against spells cast by the Namer (not against everyone, as when the Name is pronounced correctly), equal to half the MR which the incorrectly Named wizard would have had to deal with had his Name been stated correctly. The GM should tailor this to his own campaign.
Rather than having the Name skill represent the chance of speaking the Name correctly, let it directly represent the likelihood of resisting any spell cast by the Namer. If this method is used, the Name (Wizard) skill acts exactly like a Spell Shield: it automatically attempts to resist all spells cast upon the Naming wizard by the Named wizard. Also like a Spell Shield, the normal resistance roll may also be made (if the spell is normally Resisted). The ``Rule of 16'' for the Namer to cast a spell upon the Named is modified to be a maximum skill of 16 or the Name skill, whichever is greater. This is easy to implement, but produces a slightly different effect than the first method, and is more appropriate for personal protection from a particular wizard than it is for stripping that wizard of his power. The Shielding method for Names could be altered by making the Name skill represent personal knowledge of a wizard, rather than a particular name. No actual pronunciation of a Name is necessary - this can be viewed as knowing the wizard's ``style'' and how best to counter it. The Name (Wizard) skill should then be changed to a Personality (Wizard) skill. The Voice and Stuttering modifiers would no longer apply, but Empathy might add +2. Time spent with a wizard would be more important for skill purposes than would library research. This would very appropriate for a campaign where magic is a personal thing, but would tend to encourage (even more) paranoia in mages!

Learning Names

The standard method for this is research. This could, and probably should, include actual literature searches, divination spells, spies, and many other techniques. This can be handled using the standard GURPS formula of 200 hours of study per character point, but since you will not likely have a teacher, this will usually be doubled to 400 hours! Alternatively, Name research could be handled using a method similar to spell research. GM's should feel free to occasionally add additional time penalties, or to state that some of the time spent in research was completely pointless - after all, the wrong sources will not help at all! Finding the name of a powerful mage who has covered up his or her past could easily take years, but might well be worth the effort. Instead, a GM could permit the existence of the following spell: Determine Name (VH) Special Allows a mage to magically determine another mage's name with the casting of a single spell. The caster must have some way of specifying the subject - this could be a distinguishing mark, an unusually mode of dress, a use-name, or ``that guy over there'' if he is in sight. This spell is resisted by the intended target's IQ + Strong Will + 2 x Magery, and no wizard may attempte it more than once - ever - upon any other given wizard! Note that the Rule of 16 is in force here, making the spell extremely difficult to succeed with. The victim need not be present, as this spell uses the ``Long Distance Modifiers'', but note that if the victim is not visible to the caster, the standard -5 penalty applies in addition to the Long Distance Modifiers! A success with this spell gives the caster 1/2 character point in the victim's Name (Wizard) skill. Further improvement must come from use or research. Any 16 rolled while casting this spell should be treated as a failure, and a 17 or an 18 as a Critical Failure, regardless of the caster's skill. On the other hand, Critical Successes with this spell do not overcome the victim's resistance automatically. Any Critical Failure with this spell reveals the caster's Name to the intended victim! The GM may choose to assess the usual Critical Failure result as well. Time to Cast: 1 day. Cost: fatigue equal to twice the victim's IQ + Magery. This is not revealed to the caster until the spell is cast! Prerequisites: Magery 2 and either Analyze Magic, Seeker and Telepathy, or 10 other Name skills.

New Advantages:

The concept of Names allows for three new types of Unusual Background: Difficult Name 4 points Your Name is particularly difficult to pronounce - perhaps it has a dozen syllables, or is in a long dead dialect whose pronunciation is generally unknown. Your Name is treated as a Mental/Very Hard skill, and all rolls for research (or the Determine Name spell) are at an additional -2. This could also represent a character who has been in suspended animation for over a century, or one who was born in a distant land - the GM should require a detailed explanation. Unpronouncable Name 8 points Your Name simply is not pronouncable - not even by you! It is possible that certain powerful supernatural beings could attempt to pronounce your Name, at the GM's discretion. Usually, though, time spent researching your Name will be wasted. Larry Niven's Warlock is an example of a fictional character with this advantage. The most obvious explanation of this advantage is that your parents were powerful mages, and they intended for you to be a powerful magician from birth. No Name 10 points As above, but you actually have no Name, and nothing can ever reveal otherwise! This may not be appropriate in some campaigns.

New Disadvantage

Named varies Your Name is known already, to someone or some group of people whose intentions for you are less than lily-white! The value of this disadvantage depends on the size of the group of people who know your Name: Single individual -5 Small group (20 or less) -10 Medium group (21 -100) -15 Large group (101+) -20 Household word (everyone in the GM's world) -30 Add -5 points if the individual or individuals in question are, or include in their number, wizards who would be capable of locating you and casting spells upon you. If you have an Enemy disadvantage, and you are also Named to that Enemy, then -10 is added to the base value of the Enemy before frequency-of-appearance modifiers!

Campaign Examples

It is strongly recommended that the GM carefully consider the impact of Names before implementing them. Some slight changes could produce extremely different results. The Personality option for Shielding mentioned above is one example of this - could a mage in such a world ever fully trust anyone, or would he always wonder about the real motives of his acquaintances? Consider a campaign where the Draining technique is used, critical failures on Names have penalties as described above, Names may be used on everyone including non-wizards, and the Determine Name spell does not exist. Names probably would not greatly affect the role of magic, since Names are hard to find and risky to use. Since anyone could be victimized if his Name were known, use-names would be universal - only extremely close friends and family would know an individual's True Name. This world would quite likely be similar to the ``default'' version of magic presented in GURPS Magic. However, if it is assumed that the Determine Name spell exists, and that it is modified so that critical successes do automatically overcome resistance, the nature of magic could be greatly changed. Since enough tries with the spell will eventually obtain a critical success, circles of wizards would become very powerful in comparison to independent mages. The larger the circle and the less known about it, the more power it would have; circles would become huge and very secretive - perhaps all members would wear identical hooded robes to foil Determine Name attempts by preventing their enemies from identifying a subject for the spell. A circle might even require knowledge of a member's True Name before entrusting him with any of their secrets, and apprentices would not be taught anything without first revealing their Name!

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20 April, 1995 -- by Michael J. Barber & Sean ``Dr Kromm'' Punch