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  1. #1
    Wirt's Fourth Leg Cirias's Avatar
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    Names That Confer Power: True Names, Demons etc...

    So, I have a bit of a dilemma. I'm planning to riff on that old concept of demons having "True Names" which, if someone learns it, allows the speaker to command/defeat the demon. In my world, it's going to be magic-users who have True Names, which in turn allow the speaker considerable control over their actions. The only dilemma I'm encountering is how to balance this power in a believable way. Basically, a magic user will usually have one person who knows their Name - that person is usually a commander, a mentor or someone in a position of authority. But I also want to use these Names as titles that the magic users display proudly and attach notoriety to. In a hierarchical setting, like an army or a navy ship, only the commander may speak the magic user's Name. But outside of that structure, how do I prevent just anyone from having unlimited control over any magic user they choose?

    The only way I can see to do it is to split the title and True Name out, so they are not the same thing, but I quite like the idea of them being the same. I'd love to hear some creative suggestions!

    Thanks in advance!

  2. #2
    The magic user has a true name, but in order to get power over them you need to get the rhythm and intonation exactly right when you cast the spell. Mess that up and the spell could backfire on the caster. Hence knowing the name alone is no use, as you don't know precisely how to speak it. Hope that helps.

  3. #3
    known as Noumenon no more Andrew Leon Hudson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by martin321 View Post
    ...knowing the name alone is no use, as you don't know precisely how to speak it.
    As a variation, perhaps in your culture's written language they don't record symbols for vowels (there are real world precedents of this, I'm sure, but I don't remember which). So my "true" name, powerful illusionist that I am, would be recorded in some stylistic manner such as N'm'n'n or NoMoNoN or something similar, but only when seen written down, leaving precious ambiguity over the pronunciation. This would be a general fact of the world, something that is true of princes and paupers and everyone between.

    Confessing one's "true" name to another is thus rendered, on a social level, a mark of extreme trust. Ignoring magic for a second, there are already any number of ways you could play with this. It occurs during weddings, funerals, birthing rituals, but always preserving the ultimate privacy despite the witnesses, etc. What else? Perhaps platoons of soldiers group-share as a bonding experience; long term business partners, spies and their contacts--any people who seek some unbreakable certainty regarding the identity of another person--may eventually confide in each other something they know no-one else knows.

    At this point, even without resorting to the notion of magic you have a system that is ripe for power-struggles and betrayal at every level of society; it could be desperate housewives backstabbing each other when the friendships sour. If you add in magic on top of that, you have a new-level justification for caution--or, if magic use is secret or just about to surface for the first time, a new-level exploit that no-one else is prepared for.

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    You could also just add in something extra

    You could add an extra item that is required in addition to the true name. A phylactery of sorts-- perhaps it was something that was taken from the mage at birth and given to the commander. Perhaps something the mage must willingly give that is considered precious to him/her like an artifact or vial of their blood. But you need both to make it work. Having the phylactery alone would not suffice, nor would the true name. Thus the commander would need both to command the mage, and the mage could still utilize his name as a title which others could speak. In fact, you could even play with the idea that carelessly using a mage's true name actually confers power to the mage temporarily bolstering their spells' abilities and damage, and the phylactery makes the user immune to the effects of the mage's magic (like a dispel effect). In other words it could even be a symbiotic relationship where the commander empowers the mage, making the mage want to protect the commander. And if anyone else carelessly tried to use a mage's name, the mage could blast them with an even stronger spell for their disrespect. This would also allow the secondary item to come into play-- perhaps decoy phylacteries that people would think they had command over the mage but did not, etc.

    Just an idea

  5. #5
    Registered User StephenPorter's Avatar
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    Just as another option, you might do the inverse of martin's and Noumenon's suggestions and have the written form of the word be necessary, but confusing. English certainly has it's share of confusing spellings, and Japanese can also have the same thing written in a variety of different ways. So you might know how to say the name, but not how to spell it.

    Although I do have a problem with doing things that way. It would only be a process of elimination for anyone who really wants to have control over a mage. Sure, the specifics of the name may be ambiguous, but how many different possibilities are there for something like that? Not infinite, that's for sure. Someone could easily hire/con a bunch of destitute orphans to say/write the various possible forms of a guy's name until they hit on the right one, and only the orphan would suffer the consequences of misspeaking, if there are any. So that makes me lean more towards Amel's suggestion which seems like a more functional solution.

    You could also say that only one person can have control over the mage at a time. So if the commanding officer has control over the mage's name, then no one else can use it. Otherwise you could have conflicting commands that the mage is required to obey. Like, "protect the king," and an assassin gets his true name and says, "Kill the king." A computer would just crash, but what would a human do? (Which might make an interesting story on its own.)

    How about another option? Only other mages can make use of a person's true name, but doing so also negatively affects their own magic. Or maybe they have to be close to the mage to use his name, thus speaking it means nothing unless you have the mage right in front of you. You could also say that the name alone itself doesn't have power, you must also have some intimate knowledge of the person's true nature, like having some kind of psychic connection. The name is just a trigger. Without understanding, it means nothing.

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    Since the number three seems to be common in fantasy, I've invented three rules for this. I call them "The Three Rules."


    ~The Three Rules~

    The name has to be said in a way that is obvious to the name owner.

    The name has to be said while making physical contact with the name owner.

    Both parties must consent for the phenomenon to occur.



    And there should be some cost to controlling a name owner. Maybe the controller experiences a perpetually increasing pain, but the rate at which this pain increases correlates with how bad the controller's heart is; in other words, the more evil or malevolent the controller is, the less time they are able to maintain control.
    Last edited by kamalayka; November 20th, 2013 at 01:23 AM.

  7. #7
    known as Noumenon no more Andrew Leon Hudson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kamalayka View Post
    Since the number three seems to be common in fantasy, I've invented three rules for this. I call them "The Three Rules."
    First off, let me salute your deadpan delivery.

    ~The Three Rules~
    And once again.

    The name has to be said in a way that is obvious to the name owner.

    The name has to be said while making physical contact with the name owner.

    Both parties must consent for the phenomenon to occur.
    I see some problems here. Because I've presumed from the outset that manipulating this feature of the magic system is intended to be a negative act, I'm going to articulate them from the point of view of Blofeld confronting 007. If the OP's intention was that there be a benign application of this magic as well, I'm struggling not to correlate it with voluntary slavery, even if the duration is short.

    Your first two rules seem to be solely defining the technical ways in which name-power can be assumed: I must say the name clearly, while making physical contact. If I don't do these things then I'm not actually doing anything but saying "Mr. Bond" while stroking my fluffy white cat. Really, these are not rules so much as facts, since I can't disobey them.

    The third "rule" is, at least, on the verge of being a rule, since it deals with the potential for consent or its lack. However, what it actually presents is another highly limiting fact--consent is mandatory for occurrence. So, if to take control of Bond's mind I must touch his skin, say his name and have his permission, in my assessment the three rules effectively mean that duplicitous use of this magic feature is not possible. Unless Bond is cripplingly stupid. Yet here he is in my volcano, uninvited.

    Unless...

    Unless, the world you being set up incorporates willing de-willing as an everyday event. I think it would take some serious work, but there could be interesting story potential in a social system where voluntary "slavery" is a core value. Perhaps there is a religion to which adherents must commit one day of their week to complete subservience, for example, or the police forces are able to place suspects and witnesses under more than merely arrest in pursuit of the facts. In such an environment, there are clear circumstances in which a person might give over their reins to a person with duplicitous intentions, since it is now brought into the context of everyday deceit and manipulation.

    To take the police example: imagine that, on the first day of school, every child pledges their allegiance to the crown/state/flag/whatever. For many of them this is the end of the story, but in each case this is, in fact, the initiation of a spell which is only completed when another person touches them and says their control-name, true-name, or again, whatever. Should a person commit or witness a crime, they can be compelled to tell the perfect truth on the stand (but only after exercising the freedom to do so, or to lie, beforehand... prisons can always use more perjurers!); should a person be convicted of a crime, they can be compelled into service for the duration of their punishment. Further, convention has it that pledges must be spoken as either a statement of honesty (witnesses) or atonement (criminals), which begin the casting of fresh control spells for use in any future situation.

    Notice, however, that there is no provision for permission here. The sole "rule" would be the greater social one: that access to a person's trigger-name should be limited to persons granted trust regarding this grave power. Obtaining a person's key-name is thus made at the core of social transgression, which in turn opens up different degrees of miss-use. As a symptom of decadence amongst the elite (the people who know the truth of the name game) you could have orgies in which everyone is slaved to the host, or the equivolent of car key parties - everyone's leash-names go in the hat, see who reads you out...

    And there should be some cost to controlling a name owner. Maybe the controller experiences a perpetually increasing pain, but the rate at which this pain increases correlates with how bad the controller's heart is; in other words, the more evil or malevolent the controller is, the less time they are able to maintain control.
    This comes back to the problem I have, and which I'm trying to suggest contexts to help avoid. The most obvious, perhaps the only obvious use of this power is nefarious, in which case why would anyone consent to participation? Also, from the writer's point of view, I would question undermining evil's power quite so much as this. Strong adversaries make for satisfying challenges to overcome, but if the evil wizard is barely able to stand at the end of a good bout of evil-doing sooner or later he's going to get his ass kicked good.

    Beneficial powers should be hard to attain, as the process represents character building. Deleterious ones should be relatively quick and easy (massive over-generalisation, I know), since they represent the power-wielding, seductive path. The big kid bully starts with height and weight on his side, pushes the other kids around all through their school years; the reedy nerd studies judo for ten years and lays the bully out on prom night. Clarence could have poisoned his lunch money back in second grade, but then he'd be as bad as Mean Joe was...

    ...but now he's dating Mary from the cheer leading squad...


    ...as Blofeld once said...
    Last edited by Andrew Leon Hudson; November 20th, 2013 at 05:31 AM.

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