The Art of the Small—Fluff here! Get your hot crunchy fluff here!Written by LanJemWezz - Published on January 27, 2012
Let the New Year ring in new ideas in gaming!
And welcome back to the series that takes a 20 on a Spot check to find role-playing cues in the finer details of the D&D game. Here we forge ahead while never fully taking our focus off the rearview, continuing our look at naming conventions and how understanding a class’s title in context of the world it exists in can inform our role-play.
Parte El Numero Quinto: “How do you say ‘classic portrayal’?”
“Do you believe in magic?”
Clerics are the go-to healers in D&D. But too often they are not allotted the full recognition they deserve. True, they can heal others, among other things, but first and foremost they are conduits through which their deities communicate and interact in the game world—take that essential part away from them, and they’re no longer clerics. They are “rechargeable magic items,” if you will, “wielded” on the material plane by the god whom they venerate, though the “damage” or results they bring about vary from cleric to cleric. While the title “cleric” is a good catchall that identifies all the basic traits a person of this profession would embody, calling them as such and self-referential statements as such only serve to pigeonhole them as healers (something everyone already understands about clerics), and doesn’t open the character or the game up to further RP developments. Many clerics belong to priestly orders that strive to see to a particular end. Players should also mine any resources on their cleric’s deity, adapting a saying, motto, or creed from the deity’s dogma, or adopting a new in-world term for cleric that they go by from the information provided (e.g. clerics of Deneir in Forgotten Realms are called “glyphscribes”). By reciting this info in-game or creating a routine of referring to our clerics as, “[Name] of [Name of Priestly Order]” we are inviting the DM to seed his adventures with references, clues, and mysteries pertaining to the party cleric, or for players at the table to press for the meanings and leanings behind such colorful role-play without resorting to, “Healer! Who’s got the healer?!”
Druids are the backwoods cousins of clerics in D&D. While they also wield divine (or nature) magic, their emphasis is not so much on healing. So too are they less clannish than the average cleric. Because being a druid is more of a lifestyle than a profession (a distinction shared between the barbarian and the fighter also), their social status is more nebulous than the cleric’s. How they form relationships and the way they interact with the world is more determined by their neighbors and the environment they find themselves in. A druid in the desert might work to nurture oases and create a greater balance between the dry and the lush, in turn making the environment more habitable and creating a greater sense of reliance between the druid and other settlers, though placing the druid at direct odds with the desert’s naturally destructive tendencies (sandstorms, locusts, etc.) Conversely, a druid in a forest rapidly being harvested for wood might work to prevent needless felling of trees, an act that places the environment’s reliance on the druid at odds with those who populate it. Either way, the druid is a galvanizing force in the world where he exists (after all, efforts at promoting natural balance aren’t as fervently pursued where balance already exists), thus showing the significance and bearing that the title “druid” carries extends beyond the statistical (or crunch) and into the societal, environmental, and economical (or fluff).
While clerics derive their social status from the deities they serve, and druids from the environments they are placed in (making the class titles they bear less or more relevant to the kind of role-play they inhabit), sorcerers derive their social status (or “RP cred”, if you like) from their reputation. Because the sorcerer is more of a freeform spellcaster, as opposed to the wizard who must often use planning and elaborate strategy to be successful, she finds success in the moment, as her more immediate, impulsive spells and answers for things come out of such situations and are embedded in her design as a class. This suggests the sorcerer’s reputation may be in constant flux. Playing a sorcerer is the player’s best chance at sorting through all of one’s bipolar tendencies at whatever pace suits the player. In D&D, the name “sorcerer” might carry the same connotation as that of “saboteur,” “lawyer,” or “journalist”—one who is considered dangerous and not to be trusted, unless they’re fighting for your cause. Of course, terms like “mage,” (derisively) “hedge wizard” and “wilding,” or “spellhand” could all be used in place of sorcerer, the best name for the class in-game stems from the reputation garnered by the one who bears it.
Say the word “wizard” in most settings and listeners are likely to know exactly what you’re talking about. In D&D though, they are stereotypically the crusty, robed, learned ones, mixing eye of newt with the blood of a virgin, and casting spells out of dusty tomes laden with archaic text to enchant or immolate their adversaries. Whether wizened sage or traveling spell-for-hire, there are already many names for wizards that the average D&D game supplies in full: illusionist, necromancer, abjurer, and transmuter, to quote a few. Still, there are many of those for whom such titles hold no meaning (i.e. the “generalist wizard”), and so the issue is made clear. What do we call them? Easy though it is to gravitate toward stereotype, there is a kernel of truth at the heart of every one. Wizards are set apart in the D&D world by nothing else if not their inquisitive nature. What else would drive a person to so plum the depths of the natural world as to make the unnatural a reality? An insatiable thirst for learning. While all wizards ought not to be characterized as vacuous seekers of knowledge led only by their lack of all that is knowable, choosing to play a wizard without coming to terms with this characteristic of the class would be folly. Among his daily routines a wizard might be regarded as “teacher,” “master,” or “instructor,” even outside of a school setting. As scholars, wizards would naturally have knowledge in other pursuits, such as history, law, or the physical sciences, thus garnering them the titles “historian,” “judge” or “barrister,” or an equivalent of “scientist” or “professor” that works for your game.
This way, when we ensure that even the smallest and sometimes most overlooked details of our characters are accounted for, the larger specifics and “things that really matter” will jump out at us even more. And we would do well as players and DMs to manage how we use names and titles in-game, for a name holds great power: either to build up or to tear down; to act as a placeholder or illuminate a world.