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Thread: Nomenclative Magic

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    Ettin in the Playground

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    Jan 2009

    Default Nomenclative Magic

    I've been thinking of a type of setting where all the magic is based on Names of things, leading to strong use of nicknames by people. It's roughly based on the idea that one is (in an ontological sense) one's connections to others, and that one's Name is the representation of those relationships, so by knowing someone's Name, you can manipulate them. Also has a strong sense that you cannot change your name without a massive internal, ontological shift. This is based on some real life cultures and views that I can't fully elaborate on without violating the forum rules, so I won't go into the exact inspiration.

    Comments on internal logic and consistency. Not sure if this would really work for an RPG or not, but something I felt like getting feedback on.

    Basic Rules/Ideas
    1. All magic works because of a nomenclative Connection between the magic-user and the target.
    2. To use magic, someone must both have and know their own Name.
    3. The closer one really Knows something or someone’s Name, the more effectual the magic is. The less of one’s Name one really Knows, the less effective the magic.
    a. With things, the more precise a Name, the better the magic works. Calling a topaz a Rock is technically correct and could work, but Gem works better, and Topaz would work best. But if you didn’t know it was a topaz and just guessed it was, that wouldn’t work since you wouldn’t Know. Even if someone told you it was a topaz, unless you had strong reason to believe them your magic might not work since you still don’t truly Know.
    b. With people, the closer to a person’s actual Name, the better. So just knowing it’s a human allows some stuff, but knowing a nickname helps more, and really Knowing their actual Name would give almost complete control.
    4. A Nameless is someone without a Name. A Nameless cannot be impacted or sensed via magic, nor can they use magic, since there is no way for a Connection to form between them and another.
    5. Even with a clear Connection via a perfectly known Name, using magic still takes a tow on someone akin to physical labor and can take practice. Using magic essentially works a mental/spiritual ‘muscle’, so someone can get more stamina and finesse with practice. It is not less ‘work’ to do something via magic than it is to do it physically, but it can be faster. So you can start a fire, or move a wheelbarrow worth of bricks, via telekinesis in a few moments, but afterwards you’d feel a lot more tired from moving the bricks.
    6. You can target yourself with magic, but the usefulness is limited. E.g., you could heal yourself with magic, but it would drain you correspondingly, so you’d be equally weak after the healing as before (although you wouldn’t have to worry about lingering effects like bloodloss, infections, etc.). You could fly yourself up a building, but you’d feel just as tired as if you climbed (but it would take less time.)
    7. Magic can do anything a person, with the proper tools, equipment, or knowledge, could do. In effect, it can usually manipulate it, move it, break it, or restore it. But it cannot do something sufficient to make something have a different Name. E.g., you can use the Name of Fire to burn something, but you could not tell a Leaf to become burnt, since that would change what the Leaf is, changing it to Ash. (Well, you could get it to become charred a little using just the Name Leaf, but the power would falter once it would start to change its Name—since that would break the Connection.)
    BUT note the magic-user doesn’t need to have the knowledge or tools, and using it as magic is a different skillset. Someone could be really strong and move bricks easier, but it’d still make them as tired until they used to moving things via magic.

    #5-7 are to put some limits or consequences on it to make it usable in a system. The 'tiring' is somewhat inspired by the exhausting effects of overuse or stretched use of sympathetic magic in Roethuss' Kingkiller books.

    Consequences and Extrapolations and Clarifications

    For most things, the name of the type of thing is sufficient to work magic on them. If you know the word Brick, you can know a brick’s Name well enough to manipulate it via magic.
    For sentient beings, it is trickier. Knowing the word Mankind allows one to do general magic that can impact a person (except Nameless), but the effect is limited and weak and cannot be particular to that person. E.g., you could make a warning signal for if anyone approaches, or send a blast of force to damage anyone in an area, but you couldn’t target a particular person unless you knew more about their Name.

    For this reason, most people use nicknames or pseudonyms. However, these have to be somewhat linked to the real name, or it can cause internal confusion that makes it hard for the user to work magic. While not impossible to use a true alias, if you start to really internalize and go by that alias, your mental condition will make it hard to work magic since your grasp on your own Name will start to slip. Or at least that’s what happens to most people; in theory someone could maintain their Name perfectly while using an alias long-term, but it’s hard.

    This also means it’s hard to completely lie about your identity, since someone could use magic on you to test if you are who you say you are.

    Note, though, that Knowing someone’s Name means really Knowing it with certainty. Most people called Bob are really named Robert, but presumably nobody knows that for certain. So a Bob with the real name of Robert would be impacted better if someone thinks of them as Robert, but since that person doesn’t really Know (just believes) that Bob is Robert, they don’t actually Know the Name enough for perfect magic.

    As an implication, parents usually strive to keep anyone from knowing their child’s name. (Go into detail later about Naming.) To use the example above, most Bobs are not named Robert, but some variation thereof or with an extra, arbitrary sound added: Robert-gah, Nash-robert, or Ribert.

    Another implication is that some skills are generally lacking overall. There are not surgeons in most societies, since it takes less experimentation to heal via magic. The society hasn’t had the motivation to learn medical science.

    How is someone Named?

    Nobody is really sure how Things got their name. They are established and known.
    But as for people…

    When someone is newborn, they are Nameless. A Nameless is, in a sense, ‘sticky’ for a Name when newly born, inherently seeking Connection with others. How long someone is 'sticky' can vary, but it usually fades within the first year. If someone goes without a Name until they are one year old – which is hard, since it’s rare a baby survives that long without some name being put to it, even a nickname that may become its name – the ‘stickiness’ wears off. Getting a name after that is extremely hard. Some people try to raise Nameless because they are useful, as magic ignores them, but it's generally frowned up culturally and Nameless are stigmatized. They are either extremely rare or kept hidden.

    For this reason, the parents will declare a name while touching the child, and that becomes the child’s name. If this doesn’t happen, others could Name the child. The Name is not truly held to the child until they become old enough to understand it as their own Name and accept it. Though usually a child only knows its nickname, lest they tell their real Name to others before they know better.
    Once a child is old enough, they are told their actual Name so that they can work magic.
    But note that the child can be impacted by magic even though they don’t know their own Name, as long as they have a Name.

    Names, once held, can change, but it is rare and can only happen by a strong Connection between two beings, a connection that changes them on an ontological and nomenclative level. Often becoming married, having children, or some similar act will create a strong enough Connection that their Name changes. Someone aware of their own Name automatically knows when it changes, though someone ignorant of their Name will only feel that something changed.
    For example, if Ribert marries Saraz, his Name may well become Ribert-wed-Saraz; although a sham of a marriage without true Connection would not do so.
    Most socities have religious ceremonies centered on events or life connections that should yield a change to Name.
    In rare cases, devotion to a religious order or other society can alter one’s Name. For example, many monastic orders have someone renounce their old Name and Connections, to forge a new one to the society and god. (Doing so does not always work; there is usually a religious ceremony, but it's not the ceremony itself that changes the Name, but the person's mental state and acceptance of a true change to their internal self and thus their Name.)

    How prevalent is magic?

    Most people know some magic. Something to help with chores around the house, or light a fire, or heal minor wounds.
    Magic takes practice to get good at, so most people focus on other things and skills, but it's not just scholars or traditional wizards who are 'magic-users'.

    Most militaries have a 'black ops'-esque branch that employs Nameless as assassins, spies, or saboteurs. Due to prevalence of magic, many important places are warded to set off alarms when someone enters; those alarms would ignore a Nameless.

    NOTE: Nameless are somewhat inspired by the Gray Men from Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time, and somewhat by Drabs from Brandon Sanderson's Warbreaker,


    Here's some inspirations, noted and not noted
    Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time (namely Gray Men)
    Patrick Rotheuss' Kingkiller (namely sympathetic magic)
    Brandon Sander's Warbreaker (namely Drabs)
    general ideas of Intent and Connection in some of Sanderson's cosmere novels (just some neat stuff on names here)
    general idea that to Name something means to Know it and have power over it
    some real life views related to names, ontology, and views of what it means to be a person
    Last edited by JeenLeen; 2021-03-30 at 02:03 PM.