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I didn't know what "nova" meant at first, but I've seen it enough in context to infer that it means "doing a ton of damage in a short period of time."

How was this term coined? How was it popularized?

EDIT: It looks like the term isn't as common as I first thought. It must just be in the communities I'm involved with (D&D). Essentially a nova-based PC is one that can expend a large amount of a limited resource all at once in an attempt to do massive amounts of damage. This would commonly be used when building an assassin type character.

I had guessed that the term was just metaphorically referring to a supernova, but it seemed to be used frequently enough that it may have a specific origin.

Here are a few examples.

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Er, could you provide a link to context? I'm not sure that this is so much a common term as it is a metaphor related to the process of a star going nova (but perhaps I'm not poking around the right corners to have heard it as such). –  AceCalhoon May 16 '11 at 20:12
    
I thought the same thing but I have seen it used multiple places in the DND-4e forums and in Brian's Answer to one of my recent questions. –  dpatchery May 16 '11 at 20:35
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Maybe you should still put an example of some sort in the actual question? Otherwise it's really vague for a question (to me at least) –  mirv120 May 16 '11 at 21:05
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Going nova means not only to do large damage in a short amount of time but also depleting a large chunk of resources to do it. A D&D caster who "goes nova" needs to rest and recover spells if he wants to be effective again. –  Zachiel Feb 8 '13 at 17:49
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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The reason that this astronomical term is used to describe a particular kind of attack comes from the "nova flame" or "nova blast" of the Fantastic Four's Johnny Storm ("The Human Torch"). This was a power that could do astounding amounts of damage in a single burst, but leave the hero spent and powerless for a time. The term was picked up and used in Champions, and then spread from superhero RPGs to other forms of gaming.

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Not true. Those names come from the term supernova, which is the scientific term for when a star explodes. The term first came from SCIENCE! –  dkuntz2 May 16 '11 at 23:01
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Though it is originally a stellar term, its occurrence in RPGs is almost certainly derived from the comics use of that term. –  mxyzplk May 16 '11 at 23:21
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@DKuntz: Oh, probably. But their use in gaming went a progress. Just as the term "munchkin" doesn't refer directly to the little people of Oz, but to little kids playing D&D with high-pitched voices and the kinds of characters they liked. It's a more accurate derivation. –  Jadasc May 16 '11 at 23:26
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This is the most useful answer so far (+1) so I've edited it to address the issue. –  Dave Hallett May 17 '11 at 7:32
    
This is what I was looking for. The term as it relates to science is relatively obvious, but this gives it a solid origin in the RPG/comic universe. –  dpatchery May 17 '11 at 11:43
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It's a very common term, actually. Basically when a Star has hit White Dwarf Status, and it accumulates enough hydrogen to start a chain reaction, it creates a huge Hydrogen/nuclear explosion. SuperNovas are powerful enough to oushine any other celestial object, for a brief time. Nova's have been reported for at least 500 years.

The term took off from the astonomical context, to be paired with any event which had a huge, instant out pouring of energy.

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supernova and nova, tho' related terms, are not in fact the same phenomenon. You've conflated the two processes. –  aramis May 17 '11 at 18:31
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A nova is a star that is flaring brightly. The term originally derives from the latin novus, meaning new, with nova being the feminine form; the irony is that a star in nova is in fact not a new star, but an old one.

In terms of comic attacks, it's used for (usually) bright, showy, and either flame, energy, or explosive blasts. All of which are reminiscent of the stellar novas.

Note that a supernova is a terminal event; a non-supernova nova is a transient phenomenon which is usually not the death-explosion of a large star. A nova is usually a small dense star flaring due to accumulation of fusion fuel stripped from a larger, but less dense, companion, which flares at a certain critical mass.

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