Sunday, January 8, 2023

OSR: True Names and Binding

It is common knowledge among the peasantry that you should never tell a Wizard your name, because if they know your name, they can control you, steal your good Fortune, bewitch you and do a variety of other things.  Most of these folk beliefs are not true, but one is. 

You never tell a Wizard your real name.


Mortals accumulate names as they age.  You're born Jonathan Smith, but later your parents might start just calling you Jon.  Your friends might start calling you Big J or Jack.  When you get older you might get a job and become Supervisor Smith.  When you become a father, your offspring will call you Father, Dad, Daddy or Pa.  When your children get a bit older, their friends will call you "Mr. Smith" or "Mr. Jon".  When your children grow up and have kids of their own, suddenly you're Grandpa or Pop-pop. 

All of these are your names, but the first one is the most important to us.  This is your True Name, also called a Red Name or a Blood Name.  It is the name that forms the bedrock of your identity, the name you hear when you think of yourself.

If a Magic User knows this name, they can use it to influence you.  If a Wizard knows someone's name, if the Wizard targets you with a Charm, Fear or Illusion spell, you have disadvantage against the save, if there is one.  If they target you with a spell that requires a Saving Throw, you have disadvantage on the save.  Additionally, they get a bonus to Scry you if they know your Red Name.   

The way to avoid this is through the use of a Gray Name.  A Gray Name is an alias that refers to you and that others use.  Others might even think it is your real name.  It's not, however.  Knowing someone's Gray Name provides no benefit to enchanting or finding them with magic. 


Wizards accumulate names, just as mortals do.  However, one thing that can happen over a long time is that your True Name can change.  If a Wizard is gifted with a long life or manages to extend their life through the use of sorcery, then they will come to think of themselves differently than if they were like other mortals.

As such, a Wizard's True Name might not be "Anton Grevaine" as he was born, but he might come to think of himself as Emerik Enchanter. 

Wizards are also notorious for using many aliases and even concealing some as if they were secret, or hiding behind layers of fake identities.  The Wizard tells you his name is Adamus, then confesses his True Name is Ezik, but then that turns out to be just as false.

artist unknown


Dragons are known to name themselves after the greatest treasure they own.  It is said that this is because Dragons do not name their offspring when they are born.  But this is simple nonsense.  Dragon parents name their offspring, just as any parent would.  Dragons taking the name of their greatest treasure is simply their method of choosing a Grey Name.

This is why young Dragons are often named something vaguely silly and overblown, such as "The Winged Terror" or "Bronze Boneeater", as the Dragons feel the need to use a Grey Name even before they have established themselves or built themselves a decent horde. 

You might be surprised at the use of Grey Names among Dragons, but this is because it is surprisingly common for Wizards with more ego than sense to try and bind Dragons to their will.  Despite the many stories of this going ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE, most of them true, this still fails to dissuade many young Wizards, drunk on their first Major Arcana.

by Clint MacLean
Demons, Angels and Spirits:

Outsiders often have many names.  The more names they have, the weaker they are.  A Demon named Gristlebane Boneweaver Alfred Coppereye Farcino Blackstar is much weaker than an Angel named Sabine Alushaliel. 

The most powerful spirits have only one name, which they often conceal.  The Queen of Air and Darkness, the Winter Queen, the Snow Queen, the Lady of Frost and Stars, these are all proper ways to address the Sovereign of the Winter Court.  But if you call her "Mab", then be prepared for her eye to fall heavily upon her.

All Spirits and Demons, even Angels to a much lesser extent, seek to become more powerful.  They do this by shedding their names.

Outsiders are immortal and cannot truly be killed.  If destroyed, they return to the Well of Elysium, where they are reborn as beings of pure sentiment.  A Demon might be born a mass of pure rage, or hate, or greed.  An Angel might be born uncontainable love, joy, hope.  Other Outsiders gather up these unbound creatures and bind them by Naming them. 

Once Named, an Outsider cannot be renamed.  It can only have Names taken from it.  Spirits make bargains with the hopes that they can convince those who they serve or aid to take one of their Names.  This ritual weakens the Binding and allows a Spirit to become stronger. 

The only way an Outsider can gain new Names, besides through death and rebirth, is if it violates a pact.  If an Outsider swears a pact and then violates it, the Outsider reverts to it's previous, unbound state.  This creature will be essentially mindless and usually destructive.  A being of pure love and no intellect might not sound dangerous, but that's only because you've never seen one loose in a city before.

In such cases, if an Outsider can be contained, another being can bind it by naming it.  This process dramatically reduces the power of the unbound Outsider, while also restoring consciousness and intelligence.


Binding is a magical ritual that allows a magically-talented or otherwise empowered being to force another creature to obey the binder's will. 

Bind Creature
Base DC: Varies, see below
Materials Needed: Varies, see below

Allows you to bind another creature and force it to serve you.  The only real requirements for this ritual are a Magic Circle to contain the creature you are attempting to bind and the will to try it.

This circle can be anything from a simple circle of chalk on the floor to an elaborate construction involving representations of the Elements, the Senses, the Cardinal Directions and much, much more.  Generally, the more elaborate a circle, the safer it will be.  Even if you fail to bind a Creature, if you made a good circle, it will still be trapped. 

Once inside the circle, you must force the creature to obey you.  You do this by making COG checks, as opposed by the creature.  If you succeed on 3 checks, then you bind that creature.  If the creature succeeds on 3 checks, they resist any attempt to be bound.

Each time you fail a check, you must roll on the Failed Ritualism Check table below.

If you know a Creature's True Name, you only need to succeed on one COG check. 

If you are attempting to bind an Outsider, you must guess which of it's names is it's True Name.  Choose wisely. 

Note that Wizards and magically-gifted mortals can be bound, but non-magical mortals (ie Vanilla humans and other non-magical races) cannot.  No one knows why this is, but it is an iron law of the universe. 

Failed Ritualism Check:


1- The circle breaks.  The creature you trapped is free!
2- The creature gains an advantage.  It only needs to win 2 checks to prevent you from binding it. 
3- If you knew the creature's True Name, you suddenly don't.  The creature stole the knowledge from your mind. 
4- The creature learns one of your names.  List all your aliases, common titles and variations of your name, along with your True Name.  Assign them all numbers and roll.  The creature learns that name.
5- The circle reverses, trapping you inside it.
6- The creature and you become intertwined.  What affects one of you affects both of you.  This immediately ends the ritual.

by Campell White

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