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How to use "True Names" in roleplaying

Aeris Winterood

First Post
I want to get the pc's involved with powerfull fiends in the campaign and am wondering how to use or introduce "true names" in the campaign.

I am not sure as to how to handle this. How they come across them, what exactly they may hold (power wise) over a fiend....

If anyone has ever used them, can you please tell me how or what means you used?
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First Post
Evening :)

Generally the concept of a truename is used to grant the user of that name great(er) power over the named thing.

I've seen this treated as running from being a requirement for summoning, binding and controlling demons in some games, through to working similarly to a power component for such spells in others.

IMC I tend to use truenames as a means for adding a background to dealings with the larger supernaturals; so using the truename becomes a very powerful bonus to your dealing with them (whether through bonuses to spell use, spell penetration or just to skill checks when dealing with them) - meaning powerful to the extent of making the difference between a roll (of whatever type) being passable by a 10th level character rather than by a 20th, so its kind of a requirement unless you're high level or just reckless :)

The background really comes from the research required to find the truename; this is all leafing through musty tomes, deciphering the hieroglyphs on ancient tombs etc. All the good research that your PCs should be doing when working out either who the villain is, or how to defeat them...

For the good guys it can work the other way around; telling your ally your truename is a sign of great trust etc.

Essentially it all runs back to the underlying myths around these things, and there are various around. It all stems from stories like that of Rumplestiltskin, wherein knowledge of names gives power over the fey (or whatever, depending on the story). There are other myths that cover things like people always hearing if their truename is called aloud. Its also very similar to the concept related to witchcraft/witchdoctors etc. where hair or nail clippings or the like are either required or grant greater effect in working spells on people.

I seem to vaguely recall one concept of magic (from a book i think, rather than a game) wherein all of magic was based on truenames; everything had a truename and knowing it gave you power to create or destroy that item. (i recall that the term was to make or unmake, and unmaking things was ABadThing...)

So, in short, look around for myths regarding true names, or work with the ones you already know, and work them into your game. Rules that might be related are...

Require the name to cast some spells (summoning on powerful entities?)

Grant bonuses to some spells, or lower saves against those spells (enchantments and dominations, but also the banishing type of spells)

Maybe a bonus to dispel magic if you can identify and name the caster? Same for dispel evil if you identify and name the target?

Bonuses for scrying someone, ability to overcome nondetection type effects? (personally i'd use the truename as a requirement to scry by name alone, but thats just me...)


First Post
Aeris - A couple of ideas I've used:

A fiend gets no Spell Resistance against a spellcaster that knows its True Name. They still get a Saving Throw, if applicable.

True Names are, obviously, not easily found. Fiends go out of their way to destroy anyone that has ever learned theirs. They also desiminate 'false' True Names on a regular basis.

There was a geherleth [sp?] in the Planescape setting that was actively compiling a book of every fiendish True Name, so as to completely shaft both the Hells and the Abyss.

I often connect a 'fallen' fiend's True Name to the 'angelic' name they once held. The key to finding the name, then, is often ancient, heretical, religious tomes.


First Post
Ah yes, getting your hands on a true name.

First you (the DM) need to decide who or what will have truenames. This really boils down to; does joe the farmer have a truename? or only the powerful, immortal types. This can drastically change the methods for getting truenames.

For instance; joe's truename is unlikely to be recorded in some great grimoire (unless you run a classically mythological game, in which case you might need to go find the Norns to find it out, or similar...), this may mean that joe himself doesn't know his true name - in which case powerful divinations are the way to go.

If, on the otherhand, joe and others like him don't have truenames, these can be reserved for mighty beings. Good candidates might then be;

Fiends, Devas, Intelligent (old) Undead (Vampires, Liches, Mummys and the like), Dragons, Fey etc.

I also include living but effectively immortal mortals (if you can follow the logic; I have very old but not undead characters in my campaign, but they are still mortal, just not really subject to aging...)

This can lead to different forms of truename in different cases;

For a Fiend or a Deva, they likely have the name they use in front of mortals (essentially a stage name) which will likely be in common. Their truename would then just be their realname, which would be in the appropriate language. You might like to rule that on the Prime, this works as per your rules for truenames, but on their home plain, its just their name... (might add some more flavour?)

For Undead and my "preserved" characters, I'd use their truename as simply being their _real_ name. If they're 100s or 1000s of years old, this name could well have passed into the dimmer depths of history, and as they grew in (suypernatural) power, this link to their old, fully mortal days could grant the appropriate power over them...

Dragons and Fey I would treat similarly to Fiends and Devas, though its frequently morein keeping with the feel of these beings for it to be a non-mystical power that the name might hold over them. I think back to the old rules for subduing dragons, and can see a "dragon code of honour" which precluded stamping on and then eating someone who had the "courtesy" to address you by your proper title... Similarly the root myths about the Fey are scattered with tales of them being confounded by use of their real names. (of course these are all just variations of the same root theme, so repetition is no great reinforcement).

Working from your decisions on the sources and nature of truenames, you can see where they might be found. Probably most interesting is the possibility of the truename of powerful undead (or my preserved characters) being found in "random historical documents", like censuses, diaries of old aquiantances etc.

Leads on to interesting plots involving working out just _why_ all these minions of the lich are hunting for the people who found this dull, pointless old book...


First Post
MonkeyBoy said:
I seem to vaguely recall one concept of magic (from a book i think, rather than a game) wherein all of magic was based on truenames; everything had a truename and knowing it gave you power to create or destroy that item. (i recall that the term was to make or unmake, and unmaking things was ABadThing...)
Earthsea, by Ursula leGuin. Part of the plot revolved around an attempt to secure the Truename of a dragon. Very Good set of books!


First Post
A fiend gets no Spell Resistance against a spellcaster that knows its True Name. They still get a Saving Throw, if applicable.
Excellent, straightforward suggestion. Also, you can allow a True Name to bypass any Range restrictions on a spell against that target. (That's also a great use for locks of hair, personal belongings, etc.)
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MonkeyBoy just inspired me.

One of the problems I have had with this concept is that it's an all or nothing sort of thing. If only higher beings have true names, that means that they must have created and then hidden them. Not a bad idea for an epic spell, though.

Everyone POTENTIALLY has a true name, but if you have not discovered it, it is unrealized. Joe Farmer is just that, and likely always will be, as society and superstition, and the need to get the crops in, will prevent him from finding it. No great spiritual awakening here. Elves would be born knowing them, tribal cultures would gain them upon reaching adult hood, ect. Perhaps knowing your own name is essential for Arcane magic.

As far as the effect, SR does not apply not only if you know the name of your foe, but also if you do not know your own name, no SR OR saves. How many times in literature and movies do the average joes get affected by magic? EVERY time. only PCs and important NPCs ever even get a decent struggle off. A king can be mind controlled, where as the wise old grandfather of the PC's love interest at least struggles a little. This would go a great way of simulating such things.

You could also compare the relative power of a creature vs the power affecting it. If you know someones true name and you are a level higher, you could cast a spell Extended for free. Three levels and you could maximize it. Or just add or subtract 1 from the save per level. It could also give you a flat bonus to all CHA checks, like Sense Motive and Intimidate.

Learning true names could also be class related. Druids know the name of all natural things, because it would be a wilderness lore check. Knowledge religion would give you feinds, celestials, and undead. Arcana would get you abomanations, constructs, dragons, ect. The check would have to be set per individual, as some feinds of equal type are not always of equal power, as an example.

It would be interesting to see how simplified it could be made. Doing it in D20 could get cluttered real quick.
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First Post
In the Black Company books by Glen Cook, true names had a similar effect to what has been mentioned previously, but also could rob a mage of their power if used in the proper fashion by someone of power.

The does lead to a interesting ramification, the mages in the BC books, especially the powerful ones went to great efforts to make sure nobody knew their true names. This frequently involved wiping out anyone who might possibly have known their true name. The Dominator wiped out pretty much the entire country he was born in.


what i never get about this sort of thing is how the true name gets out in the first place... i mean how did anyone discover the dominator's true name?


First Post
Olive said:
what i never get about this sort of thing is how the true name gets out in the first place... i mean how did anyone discover the dominator's true name?

Well they didn't discover his true name and had to take him down the hard way, suffering substantial casualties and collateral damage (most of the remaining Black Company were wiped out).

Even after death he continued to cause major problems as
detailed in "The Silver Spike", which had been driven in to his head to capture his soul and remained an artifact level source of power.

As far as finding true names goes, well people leave traces. It's not an exact analogy, but today imagine if you didn't hit THE POWER until you were in your 30-40 and then had to try and wipe out every scrap of paper or computer record that refered to your real name.

While there aren't that kind of records keep in a fantasy world there are divinations, legend lore, information gathering spells etc... which probably make it nearly as hard to wipe out any trace of your true name.


Re: What is Earthdawn?

Aeris Winterood said:
Can you elaborate on how Earthdawn uses true-names???
Earthsea, you mean? A mage must know the true name of anything if he wants to use magic on it. For example, to turn a goat into a cow, you must know the true name for 'goat' and for 'cow'. Also, speaking his true name renders a mage powerless. Wizards on Earthsea must spend large amounts of time learning the true name of as many things as possible; there are entire libraries recording true names. Yet, many of them are unknown. A person's true name is assigned to him by a person who has been very important in his life, when he reaches a certain age. It's secret of course, known only to him, the person who gave it to him, and noone else.

Aeris Winterood

First Post
What i am looking for...

I guess waht I am looking for is what kind of power would be held by knowing someones true name....

Can it make the subject be unable to save versus a Suggestion spell? Would the subject have to be a slave a 101 days?

I realize i can do all of this myself ( I appreciate the help) but I am curious as to how other DM's actually adjucate the usage of "true names" if any.


First Post
Excellent discussion!

Perhaps a character couldn't tap into divine or arcane spell casting without a true name?

What would be the benefit of a non-spell using character to knowing her true name (other than self defense)?

I liked the SR ideas; spell distance; and possible reduction in saves (would it be all saves? or only will saves?)

Aeris Winterood

First Post
Raises questions...

How about this... A non-spellcaster who invokes a "true name" can ignore Damage Reduction of the subject.... recieve +4 saves versus creature and +4 to atk.....

.... Makes the creature make a Will save (DC?) or be confused or stunned... (DC could be variable like DC15+ level of character invoking name)

I am actually hoping to get some rules set down for this.... any and all help is welcome!


First Post
Earthdawn is different from Earthsea. Earthsea is the world for the novels by Ursula leGuin, and Earthdawn is the world for the roleplaying game set in the pseudo-medieval fantasy era of Shadowrun. (oops, there goes a metaplot secret). It's ~4000 (I think?) years before the post-modern era in Shadowrun. Magic in the Earthdawn world works on the Mayan cycle (oops, there goes another metaplot secret); there are 6 'worlds' (eras) so far, our non-magical world being the fifth, the Shadowrun world being the sixth, and Earthdawn being the fourth - in a gross oversimplification, magic is only present in the 'up-cycles,' the even-numbered ages.

However, I'm not familiar with Earthdawn so I couldn't tell you how true names work. I can say, however, it has a much more arcane and mystical feel (as it seems to me, anyway) than D&D's number-crunching "OK, I attack with my magic longsword +1."

Back on the topic of true names, however, I'd suggest that they act as a planar binding, except you don't need a magic circle to keep the creature from attacking, and you gain a large bonus on your charisma check to negotiate - true names shouldn't give you absolute control, but they should make it difficult enough for the creature to oppose you that it wouldn't want it to be commonly known.
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Aeris Winterood

First Post
planar binding....

It would have to be a very large bonus if someone were to use a "true name" of an arch-fiend or so...... Or else why would such a thing be highly guarded...

Seyrn Lerramir

First Post
Also something to consider... Something powerful as an archfiend or other very very powerful npc type... may be AWARE when someone even UTTERS their True Name. This is a concept that I am fond of, though I've never put to use in a gaming session.

A prestige class I really have my eye on playing one day is the Eldritch Master. When they hit 10th level, they can hear it when ANYONE says their name on the plane they are on. Just their standard name.

Imagine if you were that powerful and someone spoke your TRUE name. That would be a flashing beacon. Or... could be :)

Just something else to consider. Speaking it without using it against them... could just make you a target to be eliminated. *mwahah?*

My two copper.

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