Learn What the Words Mean, Dammit!

A Rant About Game Publishers

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It annoys me when pubishers don't bother to get the terminology of D&D right when they say or write things. I'm taking about rules text, not flavor text or dialogue. When you pay someone money for a book with rules matter in it, there is a reasonable expectation that (a) they understand the rules well enough to expand upon them, and (b) they make an effort to use the rule terms properly when expanding upon those rules.

The rules for D&D are very precise in their use of certain words. If an effect gives you a bonus that doesn't have a type listed (morale, enhancement, circumstance, and so on), it's always meant to stack with every other kind of bonus. Game-term sizes are always printed with a capital* letter so you know it's referring to a game term and not just a descriptive term ("You see a large orc standing on the battlements" vs. "You see a Large orc standing on the battlements"). The class names mean something, so when I say he's a sorcerer I mean he's a sorcerer, not a wizard or a bard, nor do I use it to mean "generic arcane spellcaster." The school names mean something, too, and I see mistakes made all the time about one in particular.

The PH** and the OGL system reference document define what an enchantment effect is.

    Enchantment spells affect the minds of others, influencing or controlling their behavior.

So enchantments affect minds. That's why it drives me crazy to see a description of an item that says something like this:

"This gem bears an enchantment that allows the bearer to fly...."

Or a spell that says this:

"This enchantment causes a large volume of stone...."

Gems don't have minds. You can't cast an enchantment spell on a gem. (You can craft a gem as a magic item to cast an enchantment spell, but that's not the same thing.) Stone doesn't have a mind. You can't "enchant" it to do anything.

This is a holdover from 1st and 2nd edition, where magic items were created with the enchant an item spell and we were lax with the use of the term "enchantment" and used it to mean "any sort of spell in effect." Nip this in the bud: don't use the word "enchantment" unless you mean an actual enchantment-school effect. "Enchantment" means a very specific thing in 3E D&D, and that's a benefit, so don't corrupt the usage and muddy the terms. You wouldn't go to a Korean-American political meeting and start a speech with "I have always been interested in the welfare of the Latino community" because "Korean-American" (or "Asian," to use a broader term) and "Latino" have specific meanings in English, and confusing them makes you look like an idiot (at best). Likewise, don't confuse "enchantment" to mean "spell."

(And yes, before you point it out, I know the DMG magic weapon properties say "This enchantment makes a weapon...." That's an error.)

Related to this topic is a mini-rant about something I've seen in some D20 products and even on the WotC web site (it may appear elsewhere on various D&D boards and stuff, but I don't read those as often): the term "enchantment bonus" on a weapon. That's flat-out wrong, and doubly so. First, as mentioned above, enchantments don't affect items. Second, "enchantment" isn't a type of bonus, it's a school of magic. For a pretty comprehensive list of bonus types, turn to page 177 of the DMG. Notice how "enchantment" is not a bonus type. The proper name for a bonus that increases the "plus" of a weapon is an enhancement bonus.

I realize that "enchantment" and "enhancement" are very similar words, but good lord pay attention to what you're writing and at least proofread it! Otherwise some day somebody is going to write rules for "enchantment bonuses" to weapons, and I'm going to have burn someone in effigy. Probably Ricky Martin,

Other mini-rants about terminology:

Don't use the term "sorcery" to describe arcane magic. Officially, "sorcery" doesn't have a meaning in D&D. Informally, I use "sorcery" to mean "magic that originates from people of the sorcerer class" (and, equally informally, I use "wizardry" to mean "magic that originates from people of the wizard class"). The official generic term for "stuff having to do with arcane magic" is "arcane."

"Sorcerer" is a class name. Don't use it to mean "a person who can cast arcane spells." It means "a person of the sorcerer class." You wouldn't use the term "cleric" to describe any divine spellcaster, so don't use "sorcerer" (or, for that matter, "wizard") to describe any arcane spellcaster. The generic term for "arcane spellcaster" is "arcane spellcaster" or "mage."

Don't use the word "sorceress" to mean "a female person of the sorcerer class." You don't say "wizardess," "fighteress," "clericess," "druidess," or any other feminine forms of class names, nor do you feminize racial names ("elfess," "halflingess," "dwarfess," and so on). It's best to just not use the word "sorceress" at all.

Speaking of races, turn to page 74 in the Player's Handbook. See the names in the first column for the racial languages? Use those names as-is. Elves speak Elven and dwarves speak Dwarven, but gnomes speak Gnome (not Gnomish), orcs speak Orc (not Orcish), and so on. Likewise, a sword forged by an orc is an "orc sword" (not an "orcish sword"), and a device made by a gnome is a "gnome device" (not a "gnomish device"). In other words, the adjective form of a race (with the exception of few like draconic, dwarven, and elven) is simply the race's name. A club made by a giant is a "giant club" (not a giantish club), and so on. Tolkien's elves speak elvish and his orcs speak orcish, but D&D elves speak Elven and D&D orcs speak Orc.

(Note: I'm not saying that Tolkien is wrong to use the words he did. Far from it. I'm saying that in D&D (and from that, D20 fantasy intended to be compatible with D&D), the adjective form of orc is "orc," not "orcish," and elves speak "Elven," not "Elvish.")

Now turn to page 242 in the DMG. See the weird names under "Special Materials"? Read it. Remember it. Live it. It's "adamantine," not "adamantite" or "adamantium." (Of course, someone just pointed out to me that it's listed as "adamantite" in the Hardness table in the PH, and in the PsiHB. ::sigh::) It's "mithral," not "mithril" (again, different from Tolkien). I remember it as "my pal, mithral."

As the Hawaiians say, "I'm pau." (That means "done".)

I added the subheader for the title of this rant so people understand that I'm talking about people who publish D20 products and can't get the terminology right. Say whatever you want it your home game, do whatever you want in your home game, but if you're trying to present a new spell, feat, magic item, monster, or other D20 rule to other gamers at large, you should make an effort to use the game terms properly.

* For those who read the earlier draft of this rant, yes, it did say "capitol." I always get that wrong, but normally I have Word correct it for me. But I didn't compose this rant in Word, so Word neglected to catch it for me. ;)

** Yes, the 3rd edition D&D Player's Handbook is abbreviated "PH," not "PHB." There are only two words in the book's title, and neither starts with "B." It also came out before the Psionics Handbook (which most abbreviate PsiH), so it has precedent for the "PH" abbreviation.