Saturday, April 11, 2020

I is for Ixalan - My entry for the "To Boldly Go" #RPGBlogCarnival

My dear friend and digital brother Gonzalo is the host/protagonist of this month's RPG Blog Carnival, titled To Boldly Go, and themed around planes of existence, both from D&D and Magic: The Gathering. It's combined with the Blogging A to Z Challenge, but with my geologic rhythms I would have never been able to follow through with it...

But when it came to "I", I couldn't skip it... And not only because I am egotistical, but because I is for Ixalan, one of my favorite Magic: The Gathering settings/planes to date, which is saying a lot!

Of Ixalan I absolutely LOVE the Merfolk, which seem to me like the most solid tribe, culturally and anthropologically speaking: you can sense their traditions, culture, and history just by looking at the illustrations, and the fact they are so synergistic in-game adds to the feeling.

Speaking of their culture, the language comes to mind, of which we get a glimpse only through their names.
Out of sheer obsessive-compulsiveness, I noticed the names were always recycling the same syllables, other than always being composed of three syllables. This got me thinking that their names follow some sort of convention and pattern (apart from the declared intention of following the names of the great nine rivers of Ixalan), and made me think that, from a role-playing perspective, players wanting to create a Merfolk character would stick to this convention.

From here to what I envisioned, there's quite a big leap, but it's just too satisfying for the rules-tinkerer inside me: racial bonuses based on character's names!

So for this entry I will present a draft for an Ixalan Merfolk race, with a few shared traits, and most of the rest coming from the choice of character name, or syllables that compose it.

Ixalan Merfolk Syllables

Analyzing the names of the nine river heralds (Tishana, Kumena, Pashona, Vuhana, Mitica, Notana, Falani, Tuvasa, and Kopala), I came up with nine syllables, each with a few variations.

  • Na/No/Ni
  • La/Ra/Li 
  • Sha/Sho/Sa 
  • Ti /Tu/Ta/Te
  • Vu/Va
  • Ku/Ko/Ca
  • Ha/Hi
  • Pa/Fa
  • Me/Mi
Associating each of them to an "element", a class, and an associated ability (roughly inspired by the characters and what they have in common) I came up with this
  • Wood, Warrior, Dexterity - Na/No/Ni
  • Water, Wizard, Intelligence - La/Ra/Li 
  • Wind, Shaper, Wisdom - Sha/Sho/Sa 
  • Jade, Mystic, Wisdom - Ti /Tu/Ta/Te
  • Mind, Scholar, Intelligence - Vu/Va
  • Gold, Leader, Charisma - Ku/Ko/Ca
  • Monkey, Expert, Dexterity - Ha/Hi
  • Rock, Protector, Constitution - Pa/Fa
  • Sun, Tyrant, Charisma - Me/Mi
This already gives meaning to the names (using alternatively the element or the class, such as Tishana being either "Jade Wind Warrior" or "Mystic Shaper of Wood" or any other combination), and also some bonuses.

To go with a bonus to the ability, I came up with a few thematic bonuses. At first I thought to just make them stacking, since I wanted the syllables to be repeatable once in a name, considering there are variations to the vowels and not only. But then I thought it would be cooler if the repetition would just give something cooler.
To avoid missing out on these cool effects and kind of forcing the repetition, I would allow a feat that would make you take an extra syllable chosen from one that you already have. Just once.

  • Na/No/Ni: Your Dexterity score increases by 1. You have proficiency with a weapon of choice that doesn't have the heavy or two-handed property. You can use Dexterity instead of Strength for the attack and damage rolls with the chosen weapon.

    Taken twice: As a bonus action on your turn, you can give yourself advantage on a weapon attack roll. Once you use this feature, you must finish a short or long rest before you can use it again.

  • La/Ra/Li: Your Intelligence score increases by 1. You know the Shape Water cantrip.

    Taken twice: When you reach 3rd level , you can cast the shield spell once per day. When you reach 5th level, you can also cast the mirror image spell once per day.

    Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for these spells.

  • Sha/Sho/Sa: Your Wisdom score increases by 1. You know the Gust cantrip.

    Taken twice: When you reach 3rd level , you can cast the catapult spell once per day. When you reach 5th level, you can also cast the warding wind spell once per day.

    Wisdom is your spellcasting ability for these spells.

  • Ti/Tu/Ta/Te: Your Wisdom score increases by 1. You have resistance to necrotic damage.

    Taken twice: You have advantage on all Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws against magic.

  • Vu/Va: Your Intelligence score increases by 1. You have proficiency in two skills among Arcana, History, Nature, or Religion.

    Taken twice: You gain expertise with the chosen skills, which means your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make with it.

  • Ku/Ko/Ca: Your Charisma score increases by 1. When you use the Help action to grant advantage in combat, the friendly target can be up to 30 ft from you.

    Taken twice: You can use the Help action as a bonus action on your turn.

  • Ha/Hi: Your Intelligence score increases by 1. You have proficiency in one skill and one tool of your choice.

    Taken twice:
     You gain expertise with the chosen skill and tool, which means your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make with them.

  • Pa/Fa: Your Constitution score increases by 1. You gain proficiency in shields.

    Taken twice: When a creature you can see attacks a target other than you that is within 5 feet of you, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on the attack roll. You must be wielding a shield, or be able to cast the shield spell.

  • Me/Mi: Your Charisma score increases by 1. You have advantage on Charisma (Intimidation) checks.

    Taken twice: When you take the Ready action, you can make another friendly creature perform it, instead of you. When the trigger occurs, you can take your reaction to make the designated creature perform the chosen action.

As you can see, most of the abilities are borrowed from other races, or sometimes classes, with the exception of the last one which is basically a reinvention of the Warlord, from my beloved 4e D&D.
The rest of the racial entry is much more simple, as you can see below.

Ixalan Merfolk

Ixalan Merfolk have varying abilities that come from the spirits evoked through their names.

Syllables: You can compose your name out of three syllables, with the possibility of repeating one of them. You gain the bonuses associated to the chosen syllables. You can't choose a combination that would increase by 3 an ability score.

Age: Merfolk reach maturity early, around 10 years of age, but can live up to 200 years.

Size. Mefolk are slightly shorter than humans, averaging about 5 feet tall. Your size is Medium.

Alignment: Although depending on their names and therefore on their place in society merfolk can tend towards chaotic or lawful, most of them favor neutrality when it comes to choose between good and evil, with the exception of protectors and tyrants, which respectively tend towards good and evil.

Speed: Your base walking speed is 30 ft and you have a swimming speed of 30 ft.

Amphibious: You can breathe air and water.

And that's it! I hope you have fun making up your own crazy merfolk as much as I do!


  1. How in the Blind Eternities did you notice about those syllables? It took me two years noticing how "ber" shoed up in the three primordial dragons of Eberron, hahaha, I would have never been able to notice such a pattern in nine names!

    This mechanic for naming and getting attributes is awesome... I may not use for merfolk, though, but it certainly had my imagination juices started!

    And of course, thanks for joining!

    1. Heheh thanks! It's just because I am obsessed by Merfolk, so I was reding the planeswalker guide, the flavor text of cards, and by reading the names I noticed they all had similar sounds, then noticed same length of three syllables, and only then I started to go and look for patterns. The idea has been sitting in my Google Keep notes for ages!

      It could be cool for a race that is actually connected to the magic of true names, or for a campaign that does this for every character.

      Also, all of the "taken twice" effects could double up as feats that would require the corresponding syllables, just noticed. But maybe I would allow just one "Extra Syllable" feat per character, or they would become crazy.

      With one such extra syllable, Kopala does in D&D what it does in Magic: making his friends harder to hit! There is a specific clause on "Pa" that allows this kind of thing, cause he is my favorite of the bunch. :)