Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What's in a (Spell) Name?

Melf. Tasha. Bigby. Leomund. Drawmij. Otiluke. Tenser. Evard.

Other than being famous D&D wizards, what do all these folks have in common? They’ve got spells named after them of course, spells like Tenser’s floating disc, Otiluke’s reslient sphere, and Melf’s acid arrow.

D&D spells that include proper names are rich in history, both because of the real-world story behind a particular name, and the in-game myths that surround the famous wizard in question. For example, the spell (and 4E ritual) Drawmij’s instant summons was devised by Drawmij the archmage, who was a founding member of the conclave known as the Circle of Eight. And in the real world, Drawmij is of course the talented and famous Jim Ward’s name spelled backward. Jim, a player’s in one of Gary Gygax’s games, once remarked how darn useful it would be to have a spell that would summon misplaced but owned articles to hand. And so it came to be.

Spells that bear a creator’s moniker have been part of the game nearly since its inception. However, there’s an argument (given some, but not complete, heed during 4th edition design) that eponymous spells speak to a specific D&D setting. To include eponymous spells in the core game is actually anachronistic for games that take place in settings that don’t include those wizards in its history. The argument goes that in order to avoid anachronisms across all the possible potential settings DMs might create for their campaigns, all such eponymous spells should merely become spells, which would mean that Melf’s acid arrow, for instance, should just be acid arrow, Bigby’s grasping hand would be grasping hand, and so on.

The counter-argument goes something like this: Eponymous spells are part of D&D. Wizards created these spells, and to strip those iconic spells of their names is to actually do damage to the story of D&D. If a particular DM wants to strip names from spells, then she can do so simply by indicating those spells are not part of her game, or to the extent they are, different (or no) names are associated with those spells. But D&D has lore all its own, lore which is part the game’s identity, and eponymous spells speak to that. Besides, is it so hard to believe that ancient archwizard’s spells have spread via a panspermia-like migration of dimensional travelers over the millenia?

What do you think?

Should eponymous spells be part of the core game?

No, eponymous spells should be presented with the settings they’re appropriate too.

Maybe a few, but eponymous spells should be restricted.

Yes, eponymous spells should be part of the core game because that’s what D&D is.

Yes, and in fact, add more than before! How about some spells by Emerikol, Entreri, and Blackstaff?

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