Friday, 12 March 2010

Panthro Says Silly Names Are Silly

I think I've reached a zen-like awareness of what I like and don't like in a game, and it can be communicated very effectively through the use of this graph:

That is, if a minotaur barbarian character in game X doesn't just attack people with his axe and try to gore them, but uses things like a "pressing strike", "swift panther rage", and an "opportunity gore", and there are no tongues in any cheeks, then chances are I will find game X very silly indeed. You can sum my philosophy up thusly:

If you can imagine people in the game world using a given phrase, it's good. If you can't, I want to hit the designer over the head with a shovel.

"I trample and gore the goblins while swinging my axe at them" is immersive and fun. "I use my swift panther rage ability!" sounds like what an 8 year old boy says when he's being Panthro from Thundercats in the school playground.

"I'll swift panther rage your goblin ass, fool!"


  1. Thank you. Hot tea has just emanated from my nose whilst reading this post.

  2. Haha! :D

    I totally agree and will add any name that looks like a Dictionary went through a blender and is virtually unpronounceable to the list.

  3. You mean you don't like rip-rage-strike-demon-vault-horror-plague wolves?

  4. My big pet peeves are medieval-style settings that have names with apostrophes in them and words where the plural is the same as the singular. The T'Skrang (from Earthdawn) fail on both counts.


    An oldie but a goldie. Watch out for NSFW language.

  6. I am unable to shake the mental picture I have that all 4E characters scream the name of whatever special move they are about to undertake while some form of psychedelic messiness goes on behind a close-up of their sweating, open-eyed face. Just like in the Japanese cartoons.

  7. "Immersion Destroyah Animu PUNCHU!!!"

    Rich vein of truth assayed in this post. Wasn't it Noisms who also came up with the "Fantasy/sci-fi authors are allowed one invented word" rule?

    @blizack: Why do people misuse apostrophes when the humble hyphen and the rarer Scrabble letters (Q, K, X, Z, V) are quite weird enough for any sensible purpose?

  8. While I agree, I also wonder how much of that, done properly, is behind the scenes. Medieval people didn't know say 'Hit Points', 'Armor Class' and 'Level' either.

    I gotta play devil's advocate here and say that if I were running a Japanese Anime Martial Arts game or a Giant Robot Sentai (Power Rangers) Superhero game, there damn well better be named attacks coming out of my player's mouths.

    Just a few weeks ago I ran a Sentai one-shot where the players decided they would each contribute a word or two to the name of the Blue Ranger's high tech cannon invention since the more names something has the more powerful it is (naturally).

    In the end the Giant Gecko Kaiju thing was defeated by the Hyper Chrono Gravity Wave Eagle-Eye Togetherness Particle Accelerator Cannon Type GO!

    Oh yeah!

    My word verification is 'Exoseate' - A type of Giant Robot cockpit design.

  9. Barking Alien: Don't get me wrong, tongue-in-cheek use of this sort of thing is fine. Love it.

    It's when it's po-faced and serious (as with *cough* D&D) that it becomes silly.

  10. one of the players in our group always creates a catchphrase battlecry for his PCs. I guess it's easier than coming up with dialogue although he is creative in his variations.

  11. Yes, the only way to really play D&D4, I've discovered, is to play it as if your character is some kind of semi-autistic combat monster who shouts things like "RAIN OF STEEL!" during fights, even if he's a thief, and is oddly constrained by a grid that no one can actually see.

    It's all very meta. ;)

  12. I have a couple of disagreements with where you're coming from. How is it any different than giving spells odd names, for one? For another, who says the names are actually used in-universe? I can conceive of some terminiology used by people within training, just as they do within real life martial arts, but even so. How is, say, Tide Of Iron a less suitable name for a sword-and-shield form than, say, "Northern Mantis Style"?

  13. I would agree that silly names are silly.

    But I think context determines their silliness "iron panther strike" or whatever would be inappropriate for my more traditionalist pulpy fantasy game, but I don't think it would for a a more wuxia or anime-inspired one.

  14. 1.shit-hot graph there noisms.

    2. Very funny

  15. I will say this: Having named attacks seems to make it easier for players to recognize the abilities of other players, and recall what they do. In a cooperative environment like 4e intends, this can be really useful. I'm not too well versed in the way memory works, but it seems like the names would cut down on "and what does that do again?" which was already teeth-pullingly awful with all of the various situational bonuses and quirky abilities in play.

    Also, players will recall another player's more impressive tricks, which adds a nice degree of spotlight time to their major strike. A couple of my players had abilities that elicited excitement and cheer from the others when deployed, because they were recalled as being particularly effective and/or nasty to the enemy.

    This doesn't excuse the sillier names, which can get pretty bad - presumably because of the the necessity of naming every power and the necessity of having something on the order of, what, 100 powers per class, at least? All with unique names.

    I admit with some hesitation that when I was writing fan material for 4e, though, there was a certain thrill to arriving at just the right name for an ability.

  16. I played as a Bard in a 4E game a short while back. One of my powers was called "Vicious Mockery". Yes, it's kind of a silly name. No, it wasn't assumed that my character said that aloud in-universe.

    How it went down: I'd say to the DM, I will use my Vicious Mockery on [enemy]. Then, as I rolled the 20, I'd extemporaneously let fly some sort of random insult and we'd call that what my character was saying in-universe. Some of them were good, some not. The DM actually occasionally gave me bonuses for good zingers and penalties when my jibes sucked (and they really did sometimes).

    I think, ultimately, that the name of the mechanic is just a shorthand. What happens in-universe is more a function of role-playing - good role-players can get creative and describe what's occurring, other folk just yell "Leeeeeeroy Jenkins!"

  17. partially agree, Noisms but...

    the scene in Drunken Master 2 where Jackie Chan fights drunk while his Mother (or Aunt?) yells the names of his moves - "Washing rice at the brook" and "Angel pisses" were my two favourites - was classic comedy gold.

    Just depends on whether you want that drunken master feeling in your uber-serious Carcosa game, I suppose.

  18. I've never felt D&D to be a serious game, 4ed less so. Harn is serious, EPT is serious. D&D is half way to Paranoia. Sure, 2nd Ed folks think it's serious but that's the main reason 2nd ed sucks so hard.

    I understand were you're coming from, but 1) growing up on Kung Fu action theater. 2) knowing my D&D is Thunder Cats and other 80's cartoons.
    3) there being more tangible qualities to hate 4ed for. I just can't get behind this post.

  19. This actually covers what isn't rockin about 3 and 4 ed, namely characters dont describe a rout, or a parry, or a flanking maneuver, they just recite a bloody ability on their sheet...