Source: Tome of Magic
Last week, we looked at the Shadowcaster, a class from Tome of Magic that tends to get a bad reputation as a useless class but, while somewhat underwhelming, does have some real merits that give it use as an NPC class, if nothing else.
This week, we stick with the experimental grab bag that is Tome of Magic, moving on to the Truenamer. And of course, with any experiment, there is a chance for failure. This is Tome of Magic’s failure. I’m telling you right up front, this thing is the absolute worst class WotC has ever put out, and the one class that is really and truly broken. Not underpowered. Not overpowered. Broken. As in nonfunctional.
Now that that’s out of the way, like the Shadowcaster, this is another class that got absolutely no support past Tome of Magic. All truenaming-related material is fully contained on pages 198 through 285 of Tome of Magic, again including the class, feats, prestige classes, spells, magic items, monsters, organizations, and plot hooks.
So, let’s start with the flavor, which is actually very good and the reason the class is such a disappointment. Truespeak is a cosmic language of unfathomable power, the language of creation itself capable of rewriting the universe. It is the most obscure, primal, fundamental form of magic there can possibly be; an entire branch of arcana dedicated to unraveling the secrets of reality.
Truenames have a long-standing tradition both in mythology and in the genre itself. There is no greater hold over someone than to know their truename and command them by it. In Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark, you can end the campaign by learning the truename of Mephistopholes, archdemon and lord of the 8th layer of Hell and skipping the final boss fight entirely by calling out his truename, bringing him to his knees, at which point you can command him to leave to the farthest corners of the multiverse, never to return, or even become your thrall and turn over control of the eighth layer of Hell to you.
So the Truenamer really has an awesome legacy to live up to. Let’s see how it completely and utterly fails to do so.
How it works:
Roll a skill check. If you pass, you cast a spell. That’s truenaming in a nutshell.
Truenaming introduces a new skill, Truespeak, which you roll every time you speak an utterance (translation: cast a spell). It’s an intelligence-based skill, and of course it’s only a class skill for the Truenamer (though there is a feat that lets other classes get it as a class skill). You cannot take 10.
The utterances themselves are, again, essentially spells. They have the same structure, with an effective level, spell resistance, and similar effects. Saves are based on half your Truenamer level rather than any sort of spell level, thankfully, since the highest-level utterances are 6th-level.
Utterances are split into three categories; the “Lexicon of the Evolving Mind,” which are basically spells that affect creatures and range from 1st to 6th level, the “Lexicon of the Crafted Tool,” which are basically spells that affect objects and range from 1st to 5th level, and the “Lexicon of the Perfected Map,” which range from 1st to 4th level. You have a separate pool of utterances for each of the lexicons, and each becomes available at a different level; Evolving Mind is your bread and butter, available at level one. Crafted Tool is first available at level 4 and Perfected Map is first available at level 8.
As stated, you roll a Truespeak check to speak an utterance. The DCs for these effects are as follows:
Evolving Mind: 15+2 x the target creature’s challenge rating.
Crafted Tool: 15+ 2 x the target item’s caster level (or 25 if it’s nonmagical)
Perfected Map: They did not print the DC. How in the world do you manage that? In a class that is entirely centered around, “roll a skill check to cast a spell,” what abomination of bad editing allows the omission of the friggin’ DC of an entire subcategory of spells? I’m beginning to believe the rumors that the staff was drunk when they slapped this thing together.
Now, they did release errata, and in it they set the DC for Perfected Map utterances as 25+5 x the level of the utterance, with an additional +5 if the location is magical, but this is not the sort of thing they should have to put in the errata.
Also, Truenamers do not have spell slots. Instead, every time they use a given utterance successfully, the DC to use that utterance is increased by two until eventually it becomes so difficult as to be impossible.
Another quirk is that for any utterance that has an ongoing duration (like, say, the vast majority of them), you cannot use that utterance again until the duration ends. So, if you use an utterance that inflicts 2d6 energy damage a round for five rounds, you cannot use that utterance again until those five rounds are up. You don’t get a great many utterances to begin with, and if you split your utterances between buffs on allies and ongoing effects on enemies, you can easily find yourself left with no options save your lowest-level spells.
And that goes poorly with another quirk of Truenaming that could have actually been cool. Evolving Mind utterances have two different effects; one when spoken normally and the other when spoken backwards, which tend to be the opposite of each other. Take Knight’s Puissance, which can either grant a target +2 to hit for five rounds or impose a -2 penalty to hit for five rounds. Now, at level one, when you only have one utterance (and no equivalent of cantrips, mind), that means that you speak your utterance once at the beginning of combat, and you’ve got nothing but a crossbow for the next five rounds. Joy.
Now, let’s back up a step and return to another issue. Remember those DCs to speak utterances? 15+2 x CR for creatures, 15+5 x CL for magic items, 25 + 5 x UL for locations, with an additional +2 for each successful use of an utterance. So, if you’re a first-level character with 18 intelligence, max ranks in Truespeak, and Skill Focus: Truespeak, you’re looking at a +11 bonus. The DC to use an utterance on the lowliest goblin is 15, a 85% success chance. Not awful. Next casting is 75%. Then 65%. Then 55%. And you don’t have cantrips to fall back on, or any kind of bonus spells, plus this is a character who was really pushing that Truespeak check and utterances are generally much weaker than spells to begin with. And if your party runs into something like a hell hound or an ogre- a very difficult but not unreasonable encounter for a first-level party, particularly a large one- you start with a DC21 check as a first-level character and go up from there. A 55% chance of casting your spell at all, when your party really needs that spell support. That’s before any saves or spell resistance, mind.
And the DCs go up at roughly a rate of +2/level, when you only gain one rank per level, so you’re racing to get all the extra pluses you can through magic items and abilities, but most likely you’re not gonna make much headway through normal means, and you’ll always be in a situation where after three or four castings, you’re at less than a 50% chance of even pulling off your utterance against normal foes, let alone powerful ones, and even before that, it’s not reliable. Wizards avoid even a 10% spell failure chance, after all. Even if you make your Truespeak check, you still have to get through enemy saves and spell resistance, and the layered failure chance really stacks up. Even succeeding at three consecutive 80% chances of success is a 50/50 proposition, which tends to put Truenamers in a bad situation through sheer volume of dice.
As I said before, you don’t get a lot of utterances, so you’ll probably have only a couple higher-level utterances available to you, which you can’t reliably pull off, and which you can’t use successively because you have to wait for durations to expire, and are rarely anywhere near as good as comparable spells, so you’re frequently left to lower-level utterances which are already obsolete and you can’t use reliably either.
Though the real slap in the face are the metautterance feats. Empower Utterance, for example? +10 to the Truespeak DC. That’s got a good chance of being a -50% chance on what was a 75% chance to begin with against any enemy dangerous enough to bother using it against. Quicken Utterance? +20. Because really, a -100% chance to make what was already a DC 35 skill check is no big deal, right?
Though what really makes Truenamers broken rather than merely crappy is that… skills really aren’t a big deal in 3.5. There are a lot of ways to get big pluses short-term, some of the biggest being Guidance of the Avatar or Divine Insight, two spells that basically give you a large bonus to a single skill check within the duration. Then, there are things like Unearthed Arcana’s ridiculous item familiar, which can basically double your ranks in a skill. Like, say, Truespeak. Or you could just take Leadership to hire a posse that goes around and makes Aid Another attempts to give you a +lots bonus to Truespeak. So, the class is in a situation where normal means (even with a lot of scrimping and scraping) yield a flop that can’t reliably cast any given spell more than once or twice, and if you go all out to ramp up that Truespeak check up to the point where you can speak utterances at 100% success rates a dozen times each per day without much trouble.
Also, that DC is keyed directly off of CR, which begs the meta issue in that you pretty much tell the players the monster’s CR based on whether or not their Truespeak check passed. And for items, you have to know their caster level, which is such an arcane and trivial piece of information that it should never be referenced.
Though one of the most disappointing things in this pile is personal truename research. Oh, yeah, you can research personal truenames, which should be totally awesome, right? Well, just hole up in a library, get a friend to cast some divination spells (which is rather odd in and of itself; truename research requiring arcane spellcasting as what should be the crown jewel of the subsystem… a subsystem that trades arcane spellcasting for truenaming… And it’s absolutely required for research some of the time, making it impossible to even make an attempt to learn a truename otherwise.) and then roll a really high Knowledge check. If you succeed, you learn that creature’s personal truename.
Alright, you’ve got a personal truename, the mighty force that brought Mephistopholes to his knees just by being spoken aloud. And what kinds of power does this personal truename grant you over victims? +2 to save DCs and +2 to overcome spell resistance against that specific target. And you add +2 to the DC of that already unreliable Truespeak check you gotta make.
Okay, I know personal truenames can’t be something as awesome as enslaving demon lords, but come on, that’s pathetic. Knowing someone’s personal truename should at least give you a massive bonus to your Truespeak check, like +10 or something. At least then you’d have a reason to research the Big Bad’s personal truename. The guy’s probably got a much higher CR than anyone else around, so learning his personal truename lets you actually participate in the fight against him! Blech. Anyways, on to the mechanics of the class itself.
Let’s start with the skeleton. d6 hit die, medium BAB, strong will saves, light armor and simple weapons, 4+ intelligence skill points with what’s essentially the Wizard’s list. Though the lack of Decipher Script is utterly baffling considering the entire class’s oh-so-scholarly flavor.
Already, this is odd. We’re talking about someone whose entire shtick is talking to rewrite the fabric of reality, and they have medium BAB. Why? No utterance requires an attack roll of any sort, unless I overlooked some. The pictures of the Truenamer usually hold a mace or a spear, and a lot of the spells are buffs. It’s almost as if the Truenamer- the scholar’s scholar- is designed as a self-buffing melee type, a la the Cleric, rather than, y’know, bringing foes to their knees with a word like they’re supposed to.
Anyways, stats. Charisma determines the save DCs for your utterances (if you’re a build that cares about save DCs), and intelligence determines your Truespeak skill, which is all-important. There is no minimum stat to use an utterance. And, of course, if you go the “hit people with blunt objects” route, you need all your physical stats, particularly since you only get light armor. If you’re an elf, you get bows, and can skimp on strength and constitution, but stats are in pretty high demand since you most likely need physical combat as a backup.
Anyways, getting on to the class features, and skipping over those utterances for a moment. We start with (dramatic pause) knowing your own name! You get a +4 bonus to your Truespeak check when using utterances on yourself and you need all the pluses you can get. Another check in towards self-buffing melee. Other than that, you get skill focus a few times for Knowledge skills, a +2 for researching personal truenames, a few bonus feats, and four more substantive features.
At level nine, you get See the Named. A 1/day ability lets you make a Truespeak check using a personal truename you’ve researched to scry the subject for one round.
At level thirteen, you can use Sending three times per day. If you make a successful Truespeak check. And you know the subject’s personal truename, which again requires research.
At level seventeen (the level at which Wizards are getting their ninth-level spells, might I add), you get Speak unto the Masses. It’s the ability to use your Evolving Mind utterances to affect multiple targets. And you get this at level seventeen. Anyways, the DC goes up by two for every enemy beyond the first, and the DC is keyed off the most powerful member of that group. Just in case the DCs weren’t high enough for you yet.
At level twenty, you finally get something that at least has style, even if it amounts to squat. Say My Name and I Am There. Basically, you get a codeword you can teach your friends, and when they say that word, you can teleport right to them.
And then, there are the utterances. Where mysteries were the high point that ultimately redeemed the Shadowcaster as an NPC class, if nothing else, utterances are the last nail in the Truenamer’s coffin.
You get one Evolving Mind utterance per level, which means that early in your career, you’re pretty much in the same boat as the Shadowcaster with almost no spellpower to draw on. Except this time, it’s worse, because of lack of cantrips. By level 20, you have five Crafted Tool utterances and four Perfected Map utterances, one for each utterance level for both. You get your sole 4th-level Perfected Map utterance at level 20, making it your real capstone.
Now, for utterances, this class needs something cool, something new, something interesting, or at least something effective. And… it doesn’t get it. The effects are bland, boring, and not even very good. Let’s look at the unabridged list of 1st-level utterances.
+/-1 AC for five rounds, one-round immobilization or freedom of movement, +/-2 AB for five rounds, +/-5 on skill checks for five rounds, and either fast healing 1 for five rounds or 1d6 damage for a round (two if you concentrate).
And this would be a good time to mention that, unless I’ve overlooked one, utterances do not scale. That +/-1 AC for five rounds? That’s not “Grant a bonus or penalty of one to the target’s AC, plus one for every four caster levels, for five rounds plus one round for every two caster levels.” No, a 20th-level Truenamer using Defensive Edge still only gets +/-1 AC for five rounds out of the bloody thing.
And the higher-level utterances aren’t any better. Let’s look at what some of the 6th-level Evolving Mind utterances can do. Keep in mind, you get these at level 18.
The target must make a fortitude save or be paralyzed for one round. Cure a list of effects that Panacea, a 4th-level spell available to any 7th-level Cleric, could cure. +/-5 to attack and damage for five rounds. Break Enchantment. Dominate Monster- truenaming’s only compulsion/control effect, might I add, from a class whose text explicitly calls out the lowly Command spell as a form of truename magic- for up to a whopping five rounds IF you maintain concentration… good lord, what were these people drinking when they came up with this stuff?
And that +/-5 attack and damage? Yeah, if you want to use that on one of your 18th-level allies, that’s a DC51 skill check that goes up from there! We’re getting into epic DCs. Climbing a cliff that’s upside down in the middle of a thunderstorm with just your hands is a DC30 Climb check. Turning a hostile enemy friendly in a single round is effectively DC45 (and that’d be more useful than the +/-5 most of the time). With a Jump result of 50, you could jump twelve feet into the air. You could hear a pin drop from the other side of a stone door. Going into the Epic Level Handbook, you can pickpocket a sheathed weapon and control your horse while unconscious and see the invisible and tumble up a vertical wall…
Or you can paralyze an enemy for one round. Fortitude negates.
Okay, so Evolving Mind is a flop. Maybe the other two lexicons are better. Let’s move over to Crafted Tool… of which there are ten utterances. Spread across five utterance levels. And Heat/Chill Metal is one of the second-level utterances (which you don’t get until 11th-level for Crafted Tool). Great selection. You can get things like Identify, which is very meh. Suppress Weapon and Suppress Item (3rd- and 4th-level utterances, available at 15th- and 19th-level respectively) suppress a magic weapon or item’s abilities for a duration of… concentration. Meh. This is really stinking up the court.
Maybe Perfected Map? You start getting those at 8th level, then get stronger ones when you hit levels 12, 16, and 20, and you get higher levels of Perfected Map utterances.
And you can start with… a fortitude save versus falling prone. Well… it’s an area effect, I guess. One can create or remove cover, which is about as interesting as it gets. One of the 4th-level ones (again, available at level 20) functions as the Gate spell, which can be ungodly powerful, I guess, being Gate and all, but it’s not interesting and only contributes to the class being a total mess.
What’s frustrating is, not only was the concept so awesome, but here and there, you can find hints of what could have been a really cool class. Incarnation of Angels can bestow the celestial or fiendish template on a target for five rounds. Now, if there had been more stuff like that, better considered, where the Truenamer can redefine what a creature is on a fundamental level, that could have been interesting. This could have been a kind of mad geneticist class, using truenames to temporarily rewrite creatures’ natures, so that you could pile on a few utterances (or preferably some better-conceived spellcasting mechanic) to rewrite the universe and turn your ally into a twenty-foot-tall four-armed fire-breathing monster with poison dripping from her claws or something, with the truename effects bestowing abilities and templates. But, that’s not what they put out.
And as a final slap in the face, there’s a section on truename spells. Not utterances, but spells usable by standard spellcasting classes that require a Truespeak check. In fact, many of these require you to speak the subject’s personal truename, and have effects that are actually scary. Spurn the Supernatural, for example, can suppress a subject’s supernatural abilities. Expunge the Supernatural can remove a supernatural ability permanently, so you can permanently rob a dragon of its breath weapon (though probably not, since fortitude negates and dragons have really high fortitude saves). There aren’t a lot of these spells, but the few of them that are actually decent are cool enough to show up the entire Truenamer class.
Now, if you still want to go ahead, good luck. In a traditional fighter/thief/cleric/mage team, expect to fill the cleric slot. Most of your utterances are of the support/debuff variety, but I’d advise focusing on support simply because you know what the DC for using an utterance on a fellow PC is going to be.
Know that most of your utterances are so mediocre that they probably wouldn’t be a huge deal if you were able to cast them infinitely in a manner similar to Warlock invocations. Still, you have to make a ridiculously high skill check to use them, so you need to get that Truespeak skill as high as possible. Skill Focus and magic items that boost your Truespeak skill are, of course, a must. Also, go into Unearthed Arcana and get an item familiar. It’s totally overpowered, but in the case of a Truenamer, it’s absolutely essential if you want a Truespeak skill high enough to be reliable. If that’s out, then you need every boost you can get; prepare to stick mainly to buffing yourself then switching to melee in combat.
At least some of the Word of Nurturing series is pretty much necessary. It’s your primary healing spell. It’s also your best damage-dealing spell, but it’s only on par with magic missile style spells and you need it for healing, so don’t go too nuts firing it off at the enemies. Also, keep in mind that you only add another +2 to an utterance DC if you succeed, so outside of combat, you can afford to slap on a +5 to the DC to extend Word of Nurturing’s fast healing, even if it takes you all the way down to a 5% chance to actually succeed. This lets you squeeze out a lot more healing that way.
Though in the end, my best advice is to lower your expectations. I’ve done a lot of futzing with this mess, and the only time it hasn’t been anything but a nightmare was one time when I used it as a sideline healing NPC, and that had some houserules in place that she could take advantage of to ramp up her Truespeak skill tremendously.
This class sucks.
Remaining classes: Ardent, Artificer, Binder, Crusader, Divine Mind, Dread Necromancer, Erudite, Incarnate, Lurk, Psion, Psychic Rogue, Psychic Warrior, Soulborn, Soulknife, Swordsage, Totemist, Warblade, Wilder.
Next Week: Soulknife