Wondrous Item auto-reject advice #16: Item's name is a real-world item name


RPG Superstar™ 2011 General Discussion

Contributor

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(Last year I compiled a list of things that would instantly disqualify your item. I'm posting them one by one as we approach Round 1 of this year's contest.)

16. Your item's name is the same as a generic real-world item.

Bolt cutter.
Hex key.
Spirit level.
Rock tumbler.
Tuning fork.

All of the above are cool item names. I'm sure you could come up with an interesting magic item based on these names. But you shouldn't, because each of these names already has a specific meaning on Earth, and creating a magic item with that name is just going to confuse players when they hear about it.

GM: "The dragon's treasure trove includes a bolt cutter, hex key, spirit level, rock tumbler, and tuning fork."
Player 1: "Wow, I've always wanted a bolt cutter, a magic glove that cuts in half incoming crossbow bolts!"
Player 2: "And I've always wanted a hex key for my witch PC, so she can channel her hexes to unlock doors!"
Player 3: "Can I use the spirit level even though my cleric doesn't channel positive energy?"
Player 4: "Does the rock tumbler stack with Improved Trip?"
Player 5: "I want the tuning fork for my bard cohort."
GM: "Guys, these are just the mundane items the dragon had, I haven't even gotten to the magic stuff yet."

(This is the reason why most prestige classes have two names, otherwise you could confuse the single-name prestige class with the common meaning of the word. For example, if the GM says, "Four assassins appear out of the shadows," the players may say, "Run, they all have prestige classes and we're only second level," even though the GM just means "guy paid to kill you" rather than "guy with the assassin prestige class." Unfortunately, some names--like assassin--are so iconic that we're stuck with them and have to accept this sort of ambiguity and interpret it in context of the statement, just as we interpret the many uses of the word "level" in context.)

You could be naming your item after a real-world thing because you're trying to be clever; this falls dangerously close to auto-reject reason #12: item is a joke. You could be naming your wondrous item after the real-world item as inspiration for a magic item that has a similar-but-greater effect; that's okay, but the name is still confusing. You may be coincidentally naming your item after a real-world item; you should avoid this by doing an internet search for your item name, just to see if a real-world equivalent exists (this is also a good way to avoid naming a major NPC "Conan," "Elric," or "Harry Potter" and getting mocked for it by your players).

You can avoid this confusion by adding more descriptive elements to your item's name, such as dragonscale bolt cutter gauntlet or hex key of dire escape. But it's best to avoid it altogether by changing the name so nobody thinks you're trying to be cutesy. Cutesy--even the perception of cutesy--may be fine for a home game, but it isn't RPG Superstar.


Just one question...
.
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What the heck is a spirit level?

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 7

Derek Vande Brake wrote:

Just one question...

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What the heck is a spirit level?

You know the carpenter's level, with the floating bubble in it? One of those.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Sean K Reynolds wrote:

Bolt cutter.

Hex key.
Spirit level.
Rock tumbler.
Tuning fork.

All of the above are cool item names. I'm sure you could come up with an interesting magic item based on these names. But you shouldn't, because each of these names already has a specific meaning on Earth, and creating a magic item with that name is just going to confuse players when they hear about it.

OK, so I think I might have violated this in my (already dead because it's a spell in a can) first idea:

Gozreh’s Baresman

Now, I did put the name of a god in front of it, but a baresman is certainly an Earth item which has some significant resemblance to my item. Is obscurity a sufficient out, here? (a baresman being the even ancienter name for an ancient religious implement called a barsom) Is adding the name of a character from Golarion's mythos a solution or problematic in itself? In retrospect I might add a third word to make it possible to strip it of its setting-specificness ala the SRD's Handy Haversack... perhaps something like Gozreh's Stormy Baresman, though that sounds a bit too cutesy.

Does any of this miss anything you were trying to get across?

Contributor

Wikipedia: spirit level aka bubble level.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

My two-cents...

Spoiler:
One piece of advice I've given before on submitting to RPG Superstar is to focus on what your item is first...i.e., pick the physical object. And choose something intriguing that you can then layer a magical effect over it. Let the physical object help guide you on what it might do...and who might have made it...and why...but just make sure you don't go into too much backstory. I think this can help you gain a lot of inspiration and a much tighter theme for your wondrous item.

Why do I bring this up? Because real world items are great for inspiring a wondrous item. Just don't call it the same name. I'm not suggesting you invent whole new nonsense words for your item. If it's a torch or a pair of gloves or some lockpicks, that's all well and good. Call them that. But give it a name that evokes something magical. Because an awesome, flavorful name is the very first thing that will get people interested in reading more about your item and what it does.

I'll point back to the item that got me into the competition. I chose a bunch of leaves. And Matthew Morris chose a tankard. But, by calling them the last leaves of the autumn dryad or the tankard of the cheerful duelist, it immediately makes them sound much more magical and intriguing. So, if you have an idea for a magical tuning fork, go ahead and call it a tuning fork...but put some other words in its name so it's not your average, run-of-the-mill tuning fork. Why is it special? Call it something special based on how you answer that question.

If you do that, you'll avoid this pitfall. Just don't get cute and create something like an iBard that lets you play back bardic music. As cool as such an item might be, I far prefer the twintone flute from the prior Top 32 items.


--Neil

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

Neil Spicer wrote:
Just don't get cute and create something like an iBard that lets you play back bardic music.

We get so many of those each year that I bet Sean has a future tip planned just for it and things like it.


With all respect to Sean, any GM who says to his players: "Four _assassins_ appear out of the shadows" isn't doing his job very well!

First rule of writing (and storytelling, despite the name, of which GMing is a modern variation) is: Show, don't tell.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8 , Star Voter Season 6

My two c-bils

Spoiler:
Basically echo what Neil said. The physical is important, but it should match the item. (law of sympathy?) I mean a 'glove of the cheerful duelist' doesn't have the same image does it? Or rabbits of the autum dryad? In the case of the tankard, I did have specific images, and then crafted the item around them. Now that's not to say the 'colonsocopy tube of black tentacles' wouldn't work (though I think that runs into another rule) but it should mesh as a whole, even if it is an odd whole.

Mike Stackpole said part of the hard part about writing the X-Wing books was avoiding the verbs 'force' and 'wedge' for reasons that should be clear. Same thing with wondrous items.

Hmm, a Numerian 'difference engine' that casts wish once a day...

Sczarni RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32

This is what tripped me up in Round 2 last year. I thought calling my crystal monster that undergoes a metamorphosis a crysalis was clever. Instead it was confusing at best.

Don't make this mistake.

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

Vic Wertz wrote:
Neil Spicer wrote:
Just don't get cute and create something like an iBard that lets you play back bardic music.
We get so many of those each year that I bet Sean has a future tip planned just for it and things like it.

Oh hey, whaddya know.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

Sean's like psychic or something!

Or he rocks so mightily that he has a roc carry him around in his Iroc... ;-)

/inside judge's joke


You mean, I can't make a Pizza Hut? I was going to eat it AND live in it!!!!!

Still, yeah. Also, no copyright infringement.

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