Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Power of Names

On the OSR discord I had some musings on a leveling system where you gain levels when you gain a name. From there I started brewing ideas for it.



The Bestowing of Names

When you receive a Name you gain a feature, increase your HP by 1d6 and roll you're attributes. If you roll above an attribute, increase it by 1.

Any nickname, title, honorific or what have you cane be a Name if it has the right power behind it. This power can come from several sources.The feature can get from a Name must be thematically appropriate. You can't give you're self a Name.

  • Gaining a reputation in a sizable town that most of the population knows about.
  • Having you're current reputation in a sizable town be overshadowed by something else.
  • Gaining a noble title.
  • Rituals a union of like-minded individuals are employing upon you. (literally Union Rituals but with added titles.)
  • With a month of time and instruction from a master.
  • Magic can bestow a name on you, but at what cost.
  • Dragons can give you Names simply by calling you something, you generally don't want this to happen.


You start the game with two names. One is you're True Name which allows you to have an Identity and a second one based on you're background.

Names can be bestowed on a group of people like an adventuring party, in which case everyone in that group will gain a Name relating to that shared group's identity. People keep group Names if they stop being active members, but lose them if they separate themselves from the group. New members don't get the Names associated with their group by default.

Glory

One straight forward way to get a name is to find out what the largest most impressive thing to do in a particular town is and do it. This can mean slaying the local dragon, going in and out of a near by hell-hole in one piece. It doesn't have to be something the town will like either, you can burn down the orphanage or pee on the mayor and that will give you a Name, it will however start showing up on wanted posters thought. The feature you gain from a Name can be a disadvantage and will always reflect the act that caused the name so be weary of that.

You don't actually have to do anything cool or impressive, you just need to get a town to believe you did something impressive. This is it's own challenge because if you steal credit for something than you have to deal with whoever you stole credit from, if you want to orchestrate a crisis that you can come in to save, that also takes effort and has plenty of opportunities where it can fail. If you are found out than you might gain the Name of Lier, Charlatan or something similar, which will increase you're stats but also give you the special feature of "can't tell the blunt truth", instead of something beneficial. As it can't be a name you've given your self, you can't just waltz into town claiming to be The Dragonslayer, you need to get npcs to start calling you the Dragonslayer of their own accord.

There is also a natural ceiling to how many Names you can get, because once a town has a Name for you it will continue referring to you by that name. If you want a new Name from somewhere that you already got a Name at, you need to do something bigger than what you did previously or something more scandalous. So you're best to increase you're power and renown is to either traveling from town to town preforming great deeds or preforming strategically large and larger deeds in a single town over a large time. Also if you have a wanted poster hanging up in every village, you're growth will be stifled because everyone in the region will refer to you by your outlaw Name, this is intentional on the part of the government. Also people will treat you with suspicious if you don't give you're name unless are immediately offering to solve whatever local problem the people here are having.

Professional Secrets

All specialized skills that would require yo go to a college or become an apprentice to a master also have require Name, which you get either with you're diploma or from you're master once you're ready. Thus, all blacksmiths have the Name of Smith and the Dr. of a doctor has metaphysical power behind it. This applies to magic users as well, and the difference between casters and carpenters is one of degree than of kind. Making any craft from a sword to a table is as much an enchantment as cursing someone, except the power is infused slower and subtly over a longer period of time, making it more reliable, stable and not dispellable. The smith also won't age rapidly from creating a fine weapon, at most he get's tired from it*.

Gaining levels doesn't make to much sense if you look closely at it in many rpgs. Into The Odd handily solves that problem by throwing the concept out all together**, but it also means that it doesn't have a handy way to represent characters gaining new skills. You could simply rule that you use downtime to learn something, but than there's still a little voice in my mind bugging me how this isn't representative of reality if I feel the times it takes to learn things are off. So my solution is to make my elfgame not work like reality but by something like story logic.

Incantation

Incantation has two requirements that need to be filled for it to work. First you can only target specific Names, and second the incantation needs to be successfully communicated. It can be communicated in any way, from speech to writing to interpretive dance as long as the recipient of it is able to understand it.

Unwilling targets of incantations get Will saves. Except it they are unstable and you use their True Name.

Sigils are specially prepared symbols that can store Names within them, unlike normal speech or writing that reference Names. Traditionally they are placed in scrolls or runes but it varies from culture to culture. If a nobody(see Lost Names) comes in contact with it than they will get that name instantly.

Due to the first requirement, you usually can only use your magic on specific individuals or the first member of a certain group or profession as those most often share names, and it's really difficult to incant animals or foreigners. If an incantation doesn't find a valid target, it will float around in the either indefinitely until it does.

Incantation can change mutate or corrupt the Names and their meanings or features, it's much to crude for that. The subtle art of storytelling is what can do that.

Stable beings are defined as those that aren't unstable. Unstable beings are ghosts, demons, magic users, illusions, gods, and people under great amounts of mental duress.

Compel

You can command someone to do something within their power as long as it doesn't go against one of their Names. For stable beings this costs 1 attribute point, for unstable beings it costs 1 HP. If you have their True Name you only need to spend 1 HP to compel stable beings, nothing to compel unstable beings.

Generally killing friends and family goes against most people's True Names, and acting against a person's core values, and there would be more restrictions based on the more Names someone has. People however have no mystical obligation to follow their Names. There are no incantations that can force a Doctor to break the Hippocratic oath, but the same Doctor can commit as much malpractice as their free will or the Shadow Caster standing over their shoulder desires.

Demon Names are generally not meant for this plane of existence, so despite how they would things like things to go, they can be compelled to banish themselves from this world. Very pious people can compel demons without any formal training to the annoyance of formally trained incanters.

Shift

You can move a Name from one place to another. For 1 HP you can swap two Names, for 1d6 HP you can move one Name from one target to another. You cant Shift to and from any valid Incantation target, yourself and sigils. Names can be shifted from sigils to people without expending any HP.

Acts attributed to someone with a specific Name will be remembered as having happened to the person who currently has that Name. So if John the Dragonslayer, has is second Name stolen by Jill the Witch, every will remember Jill slaying that dragon instead of John. Observant and informed people can recognize that these memories are false fairly quickly. John and Jill both know that Jill didn't slay the dragon, but Bob who lives across town might not notice the change in memory, especially if the event happened a while ago.

Dub

You can give someone a new Name or place one into a sigil. If you spend 1 HP you create a weak False Name that lasts until it's exposed to doubt about it's reality or the target falls asleep. False Names don't effect attributes or HP, but can change . If you spend 1 Attribute point than you can create a strong False Name that exists until a mystical condition is fulfilled. You can give someone a real Name by burning 2 max attribute points.

Erase

You can make weak False Names disappear with barely a thought. You can erase a strong False Name by spending 1 HP, and preforming some gestures in reference to it's mystical condition. You can annihilate a real Name by burning 1 max attribute point.

Call

By spending 1 HP you can call a creature to you. If they are stable beings than they will feel that they now know where you are, how to get there and have the desire to get there. If they are unstable they will instantly appear before you.

You can set a Name you have to allow others to use this ability on you. You can prevent being teleported from this, if you're not being called by an incanter.

Demons are always pressing in from the other side waiting and listening, so calling them is easy.

Lost Names

When you lose you're name bad things can happen. If you lose a name that isn't you're True Name than you're not that messed up. You lose the feature you gained from that Name, you lose 1d6 max HP, and 1 max attribute from the attribute most relevant to that Name, or a random one if none make sense. Everyone(including you) will have a hard time remembering things relating to you and that Name, you don't lose any memories they are just more difficult o access. Like trying to find old things in the attic, it's there but you need to spend a bunch of time or get outside help to get in. You are weaker than you once were, but you remain yourself.

Yes this can mean that you lose attributes and HP amounts that are entirely different from what you gained from that Name. I don't mind this, and even like that someone who lost a Name is diffrent from how they were before they had that Name. If it bothers you than write down the HP and Attribute gained next to each Name.

If you lose you're True Name than everything than all the same rules apply except the feature you lost is having a living and flexible human identity. Without it you have to make due with the other names you have, meaning that you can only be related to in terms of those other Names. So if John the Blacksmith lost the name John, he would just be the Blacksmith and would only be able to interact with the world in terms of worked and unworked metal, hammer and tongs, iron and steel. His ability to form and maintain relationships that don't relate with his craft would cease, but he still has human social needs despite not being able to put into words that he has them or having the concept of self necessary to understand that he has them. Those with multiple Names are have to consciously switch between them as the True Name is what keeps all the parts of the mind running cohesively between each other. So if the Blacksmith who was once john is the Blacksmith Dragonslayer, and a conversation about anvils changed into a conversation about dragons, he'd have to pause a moment to do so, and his posture will viably change from that of a reserved and careful Blacksmith to that of a triumphant and devious Dragonslayer. If you don't have a unique Name than  magic that tries to track you might pick up someone with a similar Name instead, so divining for the Blacksmith can result you the one who was john or any other Blacksmith instead.

If you lose all you're Names, than you become a nobody. Everyone who knows, loves and hates you has forgotten who you are beyond a vague impression, a stranger even to you're self. You cannot be tracked by sorcery or by hound. You're footprints are not footprints, they are just indents in the ground. The sounds you're mouth produces are understood to be words only when attention isn't payed attention to them. A bored merchant can accept your money and give you goods, and people will respond when you greet them but not much else. You are also free to go anywhere without being questioned and do anything without being recognized for it later. Cats, children and madman can recognize you thought, the first because the rules don't apply to them and the later to because they don't grokk how the world works, and because they can recognize you they can name you giving you a new identity to their liking.

Big List of Features and How to Get Them

Aside from all the interesting options, you can also have a Name that grants you advantage on something related to how you got the Name, which I won't list here for now. I'm not sure I'm happy with this list at all, but this post is already getting very long, it'll do for now.

Features from Achievement

  • Danger Sense: Advantage when surprised in combat intuitive. 
    • Gained from the reputation of miraculously surviving an attack.
  • Brave: You don't need to make moral checks on anything less terrifying than a dragon.
    • Gained from showing bravery.
  • Favored Enemy: Attacks against a certain type of foe are enhanced.
    • Gained by committing war crimes against you're favored enemy.
  • Oath Breaker: You can fake taking an oath or signing a contract without giving the slightest indication of doing so, and are immune to magical retribution from doing so.
    • Gained from breaking an important oath.
  • Vampire: Gain 1 ration from 1 Strength of blood drained from the coerced.
    • Gained from great acts of cruelty and exploiting people.

Professional Secrets and Arcane Practices

If not stated otherwise, you need to go to a school or a master who has it.
  • Incantations: See Incantations section. These are all separate features that follow the same rules.
    • Compel: See Incantations section.
    • Call: See Incantations section.
    • Shift: See Incantations section.
    • Dub: See Incantations section.
    • Erase: See Incantations section.
  • Shadow Art: See my previous post. These are all separate features that follow the same rules.
    • Domain: See my previous post.
    • Edict: See my previous post.
    • Conjuring: See my previous post.
    • Enchantment See my previous post.
  • Burn Essence: See my previous post, but with the added not that it works with different magical arts at different price ranges. It's effectively a "cause random undirected magic" power.
  • Medicine: You know how to treat wounds, and what herbs and substances do what to the body. Can preform surgery.
  • Blacksmithing: You can forge things with metal given a forge.
  • Literacy: You can read and write and read between the lines of complicated texts.
  • Misdirection: You don't need to roll for subterfuge or slight of hand if you're target has their attention on something not directly related to what you're messing with.
  • Bushcraft: Can track and forage with advantage or something more mechanically appropriate if you have more details wilderness rules.
  • Pact Binder: If you mediate an agreement or contract between two parties, it's metaphysically binding. If someone from one side breaks it they take 1d10 damage and the other party knows instantly.
    • You can also gain this if you successfully mediate a conflict between two forces.
  • Animal Handling: With a steady gaze and calm voice you can calm animals you have no right to calm. With time to can train calm animals.

Blessings

  • Turning: Weak Undead will flee from you. Stronger Undead get a save not to.
    • Gained from a ritual in dedication to the god of undead-hating.

Curses

  • Liar: Cannot tell the blunt truth.
  • Coward: Always fail moral checks.
  • Spineless: Cannot go against a direct Order, but Advantage when following them.

World-Building

  • People generally give their secondary Names or powerless names to strangers, but will give their True Names once trust is earned.
    • This is convenient, because we all refer to random npcs by their profession or allegiances anyway. The GM doesn't need to come up with any names untill the players take an interest in a particular character.
  • People without True Names can continue existing for a long time in large cities or on the road without anyone noticing, and they inevitable snap and go mad.
  • Spys will send each other messages inlaid with secret commands that cause them to  write out a secret message for the spy to read. Once they wrote it out, they burn it to keep it secret.
  • The barbarians are nervous about the whole writing thing for completely sane and valid reasons.
  • More literate people are more vulnerable to incantations.
  • InfoSec Witches fight secret wars with Name-Stealing Sorcerers.
  • Fairies can mess with you're Name effortlessly and will do so capriciously.

*This is HP loss, which represents exhaustion from near misses. HP spent to craft things isn't tracked and doesn't actually matter, except to say that craftsmen are more vulnerable right after they finished something. I'm also going to rename HP to Stamina when I write my Oddhack, so that spending it is clearly exerting yourself.
**The design goal of ItO is minimalism not verisimilitude but shh...

1 comment:

  1. Very cool. I like the idea of levelling (or rather the benefits of levelling) being based more on in-game action, and your names-based system in particular encouraging social/political play like an xp-for-gold system encourages dungeon crawling.

    Also the magic that isn’t spells or magic items. Flavourful.

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