Cool Words for Gamers (system neutral)
And now for something completely different!
This book clocks in at 72 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page dedication, 1 page introductory quote, 7 pages blank, 2 pages advertisement, 1 page author bio, 1 page acknowledgements, leaving us with 57 pages of content, laid out for a 6’’ by 9’’ standard, meaning you can fit up to 4 pages on a given sheet of paper when printing this one. It should be noted that the book comes with jpgs for the cover and an .epub and .mobi version as well, making it easy to use in the context of e-readers.
After a brief preface, we begin with exactly what this says on the tin – rarely used words that can enrich your vocabulary. Why should you bother? Simple: Our language obviously does not only influence our own social interactions. Within the context of roleplaying games, it illustrates very much how linguistic conventions and the use of words shape our perceptions of reality.
You see, as human beings, we all have certain associations with certain words and the words we use, while conventionalized by social standards and languages we speak, ultimately, our languages differ in crucial ways from person to person – even within the context of the same language. A rather famous example for this would be the linguistic concept of degrees of category membership – is an ostrich a bird? If so (yes, it is), is it a better bird in its “birdiness” than e.g. a nightingale or a sparrow? Our concept of “bird” is arbitrary and yet we use it every day – because that is how language works. It categorizes infinite, disparate phenomena in information-clusters whose meaning we can convey with at least moderate accuracy. It is a necessary tool for any kind of society to work.
Many of our disputes in daily life, both domestic and in a professional context, can be traced back to misunderstandings, to people not being sufficiently precise with the language they employ and the associations they may elicit. In roleplaying games, this issue is exacerbated and may be most famously illustrated by the old tale of the gazebo, misunderstood by an increasingly desperate player as a monster. This by now famous and classic meme/anecdote obviously puts its fingers on a crucial part of roleplaying – it is almost entirely contingent on the mastery of language. In more rules-heavy systems, we need to know syntax and semantics of the system; in any system, regardless how rules-lite it may be, we require language and an understanding of language in order to create the shared imaginary worlds in which our games take place.
It is evident, then, that each individual will have a different idea of what exactly is happening, how everything looks like, etc. – and yet, there is a consensus regarding some aspects of what is happening. The task of the author and GM/Judge/referee/etc., then, would be to create vivid descriptions and prose that manage to set the neurons of the players ablaze with excitement, each in their own way.
Nothing is as frustrating as reading a per se interesting adventure that sports horrid prose; similarly, there is nothing as frustrating as not getting the elaborate, flowery prose that the GM employs – as such, this book can be considered to be a true help for PCs and GMs alike – GMs learn about strange and archaic words, while players can read the book to lower the chances of suffering from a gazebo-moment.
Chances are, for example, that many a roleplayer may know what an “adyton” is, but even with my extensive reading and expertise under my belt, I was not aware of the meaning of “agruw.” I knew what a “chamfrain” was, and “chthonic” is a word we read rather often, but I had never even seen the word “dandiprat” before. Why should you care about such words? Well, for one, immersion; secondly, to improve your writing. Thirdly, perhaps because you want to expand your active vocabulary. There is power in words, and if you’re like me and enjoy reading e.g. the old Icelandic Sögur in the original, or if you e.g. enjoy Catherynne M. Valente’s flowery prose, Voltaire’s or Wilde’s wit, you’ll know that there is beauty in the written word, in the properly phrased happenstance.
Now, if you believe that I’m just pulling the importance of language out of my academic behind, rest assured that I am not: Gary Gygax himself was known to use language to convey hidden characteristics in names – if you knew where to look. Hence, the final chapter of the book is devoted to “Gary’s Clever Names.” We take a look at pregen names and what they actually mean, which makes this book a rather interesting piece of linguistic gaming archaeology: Take, for example “Cloyer Bulse the Magsman.” As most gamers versed in old-school games will know, magsman is an 8th-level title for the thief. Here’s the thing: Did you know that “Cloyer” denotes either a pickpocket’s accomplice or the guy who blunders into a bunch of thieves and demands a share? Did you know that a “bulse” is a package of diamonds or gold dust? Or take the grey elf fighter/magic-user Ycore Rixie: This fellow may well be suffering from delusions of grandeur – “Ycore” means chosen/elect, while “Rixle” means “to rule” or “to have dominion.”
The book comes with a suggested further reading list, which is nice to see.
A drawback of the pdf-version here is that the book has no bookmarks, which represents a comfort-detriment. I’d suggest getting the PoD-version, particularly since it makes for nice reading when you put in on the table and a player has to wait its turn or has already finished the obligatory pizza during the lunch-break. For the pdf-version, you should probably detract a star from my final verdict.
Now, unlike pretty much every other book I’ve reviewed, this handy little booklet by Creighton Broadhurst is highly contingent in its appeal on whether you value cool words/language etc. If the idea sounds boring to you (which it frankly shouldn’t, but I’m not one to judge), I can understand that. If, however, the idea sounds exciting or interesting to you, then this is very much worth getting! Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.
You can get this cool pdf here on OBS!
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