Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A rose by any other name...

One of the most contentious elements of T&T is and always has been the spell names. These tend to be somewhat humerous and based on the effect of the spell.

"Take That, You Fiend!" (TTYF) is a perfect example. It sounds exactly like what it is, a combat spell that does damage to a single foe. The exact form of the spell is left to the individual player to describe.

A certain other game tends towards such rather prosaic names as 'Magic Missile". This conjures a glowing magical dart which never misses it's target.

Jack Vance in his Dying Earth gave us "The Excellent Prismatic Spray".

This last is the one I find most inspiring. It is a spell name to work magic with. A TTYF spell might be renamed "The Crawling Doom of Karnath" and summon a swarm of cockroach-like beatles to devour the target, stripping flesh from bone. "The Evervsion of Inards" would do damage by turning the target inside out. "The Acidic Arrow" would launch an arrow of acid to disolve the victim. All of these and more would function in game terms like a TTYF, only the name would be changed.

In a game I ran in college, which started as house rules for OD&D then slowly became a new game in it's own right, all spells had their own new and unique names. Part of the fun was creating new names for old favourites like "Fireball". All mage spells had spoken, gestural and material components. The material components could be prepared ahead of time and often bore a clear association with the magic of the related spell. Thus a "Tanglewebs" spell had as its material component a small ball of spiderweb.

If spells are considered to be a bit unique to eachg mage or guildhouse it is not a problem that they have different names than the ones in the rule book. As long as the mechanics are clear and at hand, it doesn't matter what the spell is called.

I found that re-naming spells, and giving players the option of doing so in T&T brought a lot more creativity to magic. Players took delight in developing "signature" styles of magic. One mage based all of his spells on insects, another playing an Ice Witch wrote up ice and cold based special effects and descriptions. When the Ice Witch cast a "Tanglewebs" spell it did not create a mass of sticky spiders web, but instead a wreath of hoarfrost and ice.

Is "Wall of Thorns" a bit to plain and generic for your game? How about "the Raising of the Impenitrable Bramble-hedge" in its place?

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