So, we’re not going to finish Dragon-Guarded Land by tomorrow. Looks like May is when it’ll be out. We’ve finished the text except for a few small edits, but we’re still waiting on some art and then I have to do layout. Then to get proofs from some print-on-demand services, and we’ll be ready to go.

But there’s one more important point: we don’t like the name. The name of this game has given us trouble since the beginning. We started with Destiny, which was too generic and, we later realized, too much like FATE. We used Loom for a while, but that was opaque and also a LucasArts trademark. We moved on to In a Dragon-Guarded Land, which we’ve lately shortened to Dragon-Guarded Land, because we liked the poem “The Realists” by W.B. Yeats. That title is misleading, opaque, and pretentious. While we love pretension, the other two are deal-breakers.

So we’ve been trying to come up with a better title.We have a few options on the table right now, but before I talk about them, I should talk about what the game is about. A title needs to say some of who, what, where, why, and possibly when and how, and so you need to know more about this game than the little we’ve said. We began this blog after the bulk of development for this game had been completed, so the idea of more open development hadn’t even occurred to us.

So, the game that, for want of a better title, I will call Dragon-Guarded Land is a game designed for telling stories of classic epic-fantasy-heroism. Probably our three biggest influences were Star Wars, Avatar: the Last Airbender, and Exalted, with a dash of Sabriel and Dune to taste.

The game is big, and so the mechanics are big; as Vincent Baker has pointed out, task resolution vs. conflict resolution is different from scale, but this game uses both conflict resolution and a pretty big scale. You get to narrate freely, getting dice towards your ultimate roll-for-victory when your narration hits on your traits. Two flavors of resource get to influence both your total and your ability to narrate consequences to the conflict, too: Destiny, for upholding your cardinal virtue, and Doom, for acting against it. But all of that is relatively familiar.

Where we think we’ve innovated is in creating Arcs. At character creation, players chose an Arc for their character, either from the long list we’ve created or from their own fecund imaginations. These are simply a list of three things that must happen, and three things that may happen, to the character. When these things do happen, that is how characters grow in narrative clout and get all powerful-like. Complete your Arc, and you get to say your story is done. You may chose a new Arc and begin a new bit of your character’s destiny, or just retire that character and make a new one.

So there’s a kind of carrot leading you towards your destiny, rather than a stick pushing you towards it. But that’s half the story. The nature of your opposition is also very important. There’s a Norman Mailer quote that guided us through the design:

Ultimately a hero is a man who would argue with the gods, and so awakens devils to contest his vision. The more a man can achieve, the more he may be certain that the devil will inhabit a part of his creation.

A character’s villains, then, are just that: the character’s. They mirror. They present a twisted image of heroism, and if all goes according to plan, they reveal just how thin the line is between the hero’s virtue and the villain’s vice, before ultimately falling to the hero’s blade.

So what do we name this game? Our themes have had to do with roads, journeys, becoming, etc. Two current top contenders are Becoming Heroes and Road to Glory. I’ve been trying to figure out something to do with mirrors, too, to focus on the villainous aspect.

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  • Will

    What about _Morally Ambiguous Non-deterministic Hero’s Story_? Seriously now, how about something using tain? China Mieville wrote a great short story about human doubles (vampires in this story) trapped behind the tain of a mirror. If that’s too opaque (and it might be) I’d go with something along the lines of _Road to Glory_.

    • I just had to look up “tain”, so I’m gonna go with “too opaque” (or reflective, har har).

      • As in… stealing cows?

        • No, that’s the definition I already knew. Apparently it’s also the silvering on a mirror.

    • A good suggestion, as Derrida also wrote on the Tain of a Mirror. Player characters are a reflection of the player, themselves. Or, at least, some small portion of the player.

  • My suggestion Ultima Ratio Regum, or “the last argument of kings.” This could be interpreted in many ways, and is also of historical import; King Louis XIV had it stamped on all his cannon. Beyond this, though, there are several other reasons.

    Whilst this is an immediate recollection, we can also look deeper at the phrase. As war is the last argument of a nation, so too should it be the last argument of a player character; the point of role-playing is not simply to hit things with sharp objects until they stop moving, but to project yourself into a character who has dreams, desires, and fears. Generally a chief desire of a character is to stay alive; combat is a terrible way of ensuring your continued existence.

    Your character may even be the type who likes to shoot first and ask questions later, but even then it is your final argument: dead men are terrible at rhetoric.

    Even more than that: argument and debate are an essential part of any role-playing experience. The player characters will each have their own motivations, and these may be in conflict with each other. Ultimate does not necessarily mean final, but it can also mean pinnacle. As for the kings: is not each player character a king of their own destiny in the game?

    And, finally, this would fit a proposed Latin naming convention. 😀

    Pardon my, probably incoherent, rambling: it’s been a long week. I hope this makes a modicum of sense, though.

    • Or even a play on that: Ultima Ratio Herois?

      • That could certainly work. I think the reference might be lost with that far removed a statement. Hells, most might not even get Ultima Ratio Regum.

    • FWIW, Kit’s the only one enamored of the latin naming convention. 😉

      • And to be fair, I just like it, I’m not enamored of it.

        • Anonymous

          I don’t know about Latin names… they usually connote a specific historic setting, be it antiquity or the middle-ages, where latin was a dominant language (Ars Magica being the one that springs to mind, as well as some self-published stuff that was just a bit above home-brew level).

          Given that your game is a system without a pre-packaged setting, it would be Latin for the sake of Latin. A title I may have to google is not a good move from a marketing standpoint.

  • A good suggestion, as Derrida also wrote on the Tain of a Mirror. Player characters are a reflection of the player, themselves. Or, at least, some small portion of the player.

  • “Becoming Heroes” and “Road to Glory” are really, really, really generic. Lemme think ….

  • Oh. Duh. “Feat of Clay.” Or you can spell it correctly if you like puns less than I do.

  • Fred Hicks

    The Devil Will Inhabit
    Destiny’s Mirror
    Destiny & Doom
    Destiny, Doom, Devils
    The Devils of Destiny

  • If you’re dealing with how similar a hero and their villan can be, then you have the whole word of edge-related phrases open to you. Knife-edges, narrow roads, balance etc.

  • Another suggestion, from Sean:

    From The Life of Galileo:
    “Andrea: Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero.
    Galileo: No, Andrea: Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.”

  • I have no experience with branding or game naming, so I make no claim that any of these are good.

    Hero’s Road
    Making of Legends
    Birth of Heroes
    Hero’s Crucible
    Walking Glory’s Verge
    Between Glory and Doom
    Legendmaker’s Shadow
    What Once We Were
    Shadowed Road to Glory
    What Villains We Could Be
    Villain in Me
    Legacycraft
    A Hero’s Demons
    Hero’s Bearing
    (The more I consider it, the more I like this last one since it touches on many meanings: mein, conduct, a period or capability of producing or bringing forth fruit or young, and the amount produced, a course/aim/direction, a sense of one’s position/situation/orientation, a support/guide for a reciprocating mechanical part, a part that bears friction, a heraldic name for a coat of arms/device/emblem/charge, sense of bearing a load, or part of a beam that rests on a support)