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Rules Index | GM Screen | Player's Guide


Book of Unlimited Magic

True Names

Source Secrets of Magic pg. 238
The magic of true names rests on the principle that if you know someone's name, you have power over them. After all, to name a thing is to describe that thing—but to accurately describe a thing, you have to understand it, and if you understand it, you can control it.
Rarity: Rare
The older and more complicated a thing is, the more likely it has more than one name. A single person acquires many names: names they inherit, names they're given at birth, names they choose, and nicknames bequeathed by others. The magic of true names, however, postulates there's a final, secret name—a true name known to no one, or to only a few—that best represents us in all our complexity.

True names might have been assigned by the gods when the cosmos was created or generated by natural processes, and are unique like fingerprints. Most people never learn theirs, and they might not even be aware they have one, but masters of this magic spend countless hours in study divining these names, recording them in long lists, and using them to summon, command, dispel, or otherwise dominate their enemies.

The Nature of Names

Source Secrets of Magic pg. 244
For the purposes of true name magic, names are divided into three categories: public names, private names, and true names. Public names are what we call something when we don't have a more specific name. They're often just words—like “grass” or “a giraffe”—but they also include aliases and nicknames. A public name can be given without consent, which is how spellcasters who rely on names work magic on those they don't know, improvising a nickname or simply referring to the target with a noun, like “elf.”

Private names include most birth names, given names, and chosen names. They're not necessarily a secret, but at the same time not everyone knows them. They're confidential, and knowing them means you can better understand—and influence—the individual. Places, animals, and other objects can be given private names by individuals and communities. A mountain is just a mountain, but when those who live nearby see in it the image of a protective goddess and begin to call it the Stone Mother, that mountain has now gained a private name known only to this community.

A person, place, or thing might have many public or private names, but it can have only one true name, which perfectly represents its essence. Depending on their culture, individuals may not even be aware of theirs; a child who grows up in a society without knowledge of true names could live their whole life relying solely on private names and never even suspect they have a true name, let alone know what it is! But in cultures where this magic is common, most people know their true name and take steps to protect it. They keep their true name secret, revealing it only to their most trusted loved ones. An individual might first be told their true name by someone knowledgeable in magic, who finds it for them via research. But in other societies, individuals are given their true name by their soulmate, who knows this name without being told. Knowing your own true name gives you a deep, introspective insight into yourself that allows you to understand your own motivations and psychology, helping you self-actualize and avoid dissociation and anomie.

True names, by definition, encapsulate everything an individual is and has ever been. They are the essential kernel of a person, and that means they do not change. But life, magic, and the world are mysterious and unpredictable! There are a few individuals who go through an experience so transformative that they become, for all practical purposes, a different person at the end of the story than they were at the beginning—and when they change, their true name changes with them.

Learning True Names

Source Secrets of Magic pg. 244
True names can be discovered or learned in many ways. A few rare secret societies might have “namers” among their number whose sole job is to teach long lists of true names to fellow members through rote memorization and practice. But for most, the discovery of a true name is the result of extensive research—though the form that research requires is difficult to predict.

True names are sometimes found recorded in the personal diaries or grimoires of long-dead spellcasters. Organizations known for combating certain types of creatures compile lists of the few true names of their enemies they've managed to uncover. The true names of angels, demons, and similar creatures can rarely be found in prayers dedicated to that entity or in chants that protect against them. Occultists sometimes use deep meditative trances—potentially assisted by hallucinogenic drugs—to cast their minds through the cosmos and receive a true name through bizarre epiphanies. Those who serve and understand nature also know that the true name of primal and First World entities is encoded into the world itself—in tree rings, geological strata, and the pattern of snow on the ground—just waiting to be deciphered by someone who knows what to look for. For a lucky few, a true name just comes to them spontaneously as a sign they've found their soulmate. All these are examples of information that can be uncovered using the research subsystem.

Using the Research Subsystem

Source Secrets of Magic pg. 245
When finding the true name of a specific individual is key to the story and time is short, use the research subsystem. Set the level of the library equal to the level of the creature whose true name the PCs are trying to find. Consider the types of strange and fanciful libraries you might use for such a story. For instance, imagine the player characters are searching for the true name of a phistophilus (also known as a contract devil), in order to rescue an NPC from the consequences of an infernal contract. You might build an infernal library in Cheliax or some other region where knowledge of devils is common, or maybe even in Hell itself! Such a library might have guardians and traps aplenty, but also the potential to learn even more true names from the various contracts therein.

Simplified Name Research

Source Secrets of Magic pg. 245
Sometimes the GM doesn't have time to create a library or use the research subsystem, but nonetheless would like a PC to be able to research the name of a particular entity for story reasons. In that case, they can use the Learn Name downtime activity. Since the knowledge of a true name essentially puts that creature at the namer's mercy, this activity can't reveal true names by default, but it might lead to clues regarding a creature's true name.

Using True Names

Source Secrets of Magic pg. 245
Certain spells, feats, and items have the true name trait. This trait means they require you to know a creature's true name to use them. But even without these specialized abilities, knowing a creature's true name gives you certain advantages. If you know a creature's true name, you have a +2 circumstance bonus to the following checks.

Namer's Codex

Source Secrets of Magic pg. 246
Namers have hidden their special techniques, spells, and items for millennia.

Feats: Reveal True Name
Spells: Catch your name, compel true name, invoke true name
Items: True name amulet