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Setting: True Names

TheSpecktre, who plays Knostril asked:

So a Primordial’s true name is like Entish? Telling the story of that individual? :P

That’s an interesting question and it’s not far off the mark actually. The Truth is that True Names are far, far more complicated than that – they form part of the fundamental base code of the universe, and are heavily linked to Divine Magic.

First off, a True Name isn’t a story per se, and it’s not just Primordials who have them – practically everyone alive, dead or otherwise does. Often, a True Name is referred to as a “Soul Name” because it’s something living, conscious beings tend to have, but the label is inaccurate. True names have been at least established as existing for entire species, important locations, philosophical concepts and even, Gods – none of which have singular souls, and some of which aren’t technically “alive” by any practical definition. In addition, it doesn’t just describe their history, but their future as well.

A True name is more like a series of definitions describing the thing in totality than a story. It’s called a “True Name” because it indicates a thing so specifically it only describes them and nothing else in the universe. It’s not just comprised of words, because words carry intent and broad implications that can change within a culture over time. It’s more specific than that, including its own ideas and concepts to provide an objective specific context that gives the words meaning. In fact, a true Name often contains more information than could ever be practical. So usually what you perceive as one is an abbreviated, simplified version of the real thing, interpreted by complex magics to apply your will to the real thing. This limits your ability to use it, but you have to in order for it to have any practical applicability. The thing that makes True Names useful and powerful instead of obscure bits of arcana nobody can interact with is the spells used to access it essentially define it as a mathematical variable, which you can alter by including it in an equation.

The way this works is heavily abstracted, but most scholars agree that True Names are, or are the result of a very pure, very powerful form of divine magic. Most beliefs are vague or conflicted or uncertain enough that they create very little impact on reality unless you have a lot of people believing in concert, but a True Name so completely encapsulates the idea of a thing that all ambiguity or uncertainty is by definition lost. When you gain such a transcendent understanding of some facet of reality, you wield almost surgical power over how it is expressed in the universe. Some say this is how the Gods function, others suspect it might be something beyond even them.

What is less ambiguous is that having a True Name doesn’t just command things, it can change them fundamentally. Major changes tend to be difficult in that they require rewriting and re-contextualizing a huge amount of information, and generally a mortal brain just doesn’t have the processing power to do that even with magical interpretation, but straightforward changes  in behavior, high level functions and attitudes are often “simple” enough to be practical. Where by simple I mean complicated as all hell but not so complicated that powerful mages can’t find a way to use them.

That’s why True Names are often used just to influence powerful beings, rather than to reshape oneself into a God; that and there are really good reasons to limit what you do with them. Firstly, you’d have to have nearly the mental capacity of a God to attempt it, second, if you did you wouldn’t be stupid enough to try fundamentally rewriting yourself because you’d understand the extraordinary risks involved. Risks including defining yourself out of existence by including a contradictory term. Or screwing up the way you interact with the universe in the exact wrong way that you tear a hole in the fabric of spacetime. Or even just altering the way you think, damaging your interpretation of your own name, causing an infinite feedback loop twisting you into a self-contradictory fractal abomination that cannot and should not exist. Among other things.

To be the kind of person who could use a true name to a significant fraction of it’s potential you’d have to be either a God or something more than a mere mortal – even the magically powered icons would have difficulty doing something really drastic without external aid. That’s not to say they can’t get said aid or collaborate with one another, but they rarely, if ever do. To do it yourself you’d have to  not only be supernaturally intelligent (an ancient dragon lord perhaps), able to harness the power of multiple minds working in parallel (say, if you took control of the Collective Unconscious on Wyrmweb and forced its users to think for you) and have an incredibly strong will (the kind it takes to rule a galaxy). And that’s a rather low estimate for a minimum baseline on my part. Luckily, people like that are pretty few and far between.

To give you one last idea of why this is a good thing, imagine a God and a Primordial who know one another’s True Names having a duel. Now Imagine every atom in a universe exploding at the speed of light, while the speed of light itself deteriorates into nothing as all sensibility and reality breaks down into pure, literal chaos. There is potentially no difference between those two scenarios. For that reason, a lot of people praise Ioun, god of Knowledge for making it really hard for people to use True Names.

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Categories: Setting
  1. The Specktre
    December 8, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    Kinda what I was expecting, or rather it might be more accurate to say I totally get where you were going with this–plus a bit more!

    Great stuff! Thanks for taking the time to write that out! =D

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