Friday, September 22, 2006

Technique: The Magic of Yevaud's Name

"You are a very young wizard," the dragon said, "I did not know men came so young into their power." He spoke, as did Ged, in the Old Speech, for that is the tongue of dragons still. Although the use of the Old Speech binds a man to truth, this is not so with dragons. It is their own language, and they can lie in it, twisting the true words to false ends. . . "Is it to ask my help that you have come here, little wizard?"

"No dragon."

"Yet I could help you. You will need help soon, against that which hunts you in the dark . . . What is it that hunts you? Name it to me."

"If I could name it -- " Ged stopped himself. . . .

"If you could name it you could master it, maybe, little wizard . . . Would you like to know its name?". . . .

"But I did not come here to play, or to be played with. I came to strike a bargain with you."

Like a sword in sharpness but five times the length of any sword, the point of the dragon's tail arched up scorpion-wise over his mailed back, above the tower. Dryly, he spoke: "I strike no bargains. I take. What have you to offer that I cannot take from you when I like?"

"Safety. Your safety. Swear that you will never fly eastward of Pendor, and I will swear to leave you unharmed. . .

A grating sound came from the dragon's throat . . . "You offer me safety! You threaten me! With what?"

"With your name, Yevaud."

Ged's voice shook as he spoke the name, yet he spoke it clear and loud. At the sound of it, the old dragon held still, utterly still.

[Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea]

Ms. Le Guin is a very wise lady. Names ARE magical. And they are potent, potent tools in the hands of role-playing gamers.

When you name something in a role-playing game, whether a character, a house or inn, a city, or a sword, you make it just a little more real, more substantial, to everyone else. A sword found in a tomb? Big deal. The Sword of Seven Shadows found in the tomb of Aras-Ekbar? That's something special.

When you introduce something new to the shared fiction you are creating with your group, name it! It will create a connection between the others at the table (and yourself!) and the fictional element.

You can do some pretty neat tricks if you get creative with your naming. For instance, you can assign different earthly languages to cultures in a fantasy game. One group that I'm currently playing in keeps a Mongolian to English dictionary at the table. Any time we need a name for a character or a ship or an island, we dive into the dictionary and pull one out.

Assigning different cultures to different languages creates auditory differentiation between the two cultures in a recognizable but pleasingly subtle way.

Or I go to Chris Pound's Name Generation page, or the super cool Random Name Generator (which uses US Census data), to generate pages of names that I bring to the game table. Whenever a name is needed, I grab it off the list, making a quick note next to the game about who or what is getting named.

When you have a list of named characters generated from the technique, you can perform a version of a more advanced technique that the Durham 3 have been talking about quite a bit lately: reincorporation.

When you want to bring in a character, run down your list and see if anyone of the characters you've previously introduced would suit the role. If so, bring the character back and reincorporate it into the fiction. The other players will love you for it!


Iskander said...

Reincorporation is immensely satisfying - it's a universally good thing, no matter the creative agenda.

Keith said...

Naming is power my friend. I have this dictionary of words in 25 languages that I use all the time when I am searching for something...

Also not naming something gives it power too. Calling someone or something by their title can inspire awe, dread and fear with people at the table. It is easy to do and stresses that everyone there is not ALLOWED to know the name.

I used this technique effectively with the King's Hand in an early CoS game I ran. He was known only as The Hand. He was never addressed any other way. When finally one of the players grew the stones to ask his name, I replied (in character), "I have no identity outside my office. I am the Hand of the King. His mighty fist and his velvet glove. I am an extension of him and that is all you need ever know."

Guy said...

I name things last, because the name should resonate with the character and also have the right "Twang!", it takes from 5 to 30 minutes.

I'm curious what brought about the recent slew of posts on your part.

paul said...

There is also important power in naming conventions.

Anonymous said...

Reincorporation -- yes, all the time. I call it recycling. Good for your gaming environment!

-Lisa Padol

Michael Moore said...

I really liked your choice of material for this posting. Leguin's Earthsea is the perfect vehicle to drive home to power of names and the effect they can have. The Earthsea archipelago is teeming with life and mystery, all of it inter-woven with the foundational axiom that to truly know the name of a thing, is to master it.

Such a strong paradigm for our own world today! It is also one that I find constantly recurring in the nooks and crannies of every day life here in "Mundania" (to mix Xanth with Earthsea, and be guilty of mixing oil and water).

I chose Yevaud for my login "persona" long before I knew the full implications of that choice. In 1990 it just sounded cool... now, seventeen years later, it has become the representation of my spiritual essence - a glimpse into the truth of my soul for those readers who care to stop, remain silent, and simply listen...

Yevaud. There is power in names.

-Michael Moore, a.k.a. Yevaud
(Seattle, WA)

Anonymous said...

I named my Bearded Dragon Yevaud.... When I first got her, I was hearing all my friends tell me how they named them after LOTR characters, and shit like that... Made me roll me eyes really.... So I took the name from my favorite book growing up.... And yes, there is power when the name is spoken....