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I have seen a lot of people say that the Truenamer does not work (such as this answer placing Truenamer at the bottom tier) or that it's terrible.

As far as I can read and see, though, it seems to be very strong as a caster type. At low levels it doesn't much more or less then a low level wizard, but at higher levels it becomes quite strong. The Truenamer has the power to alter reality and bend the rules of time in a single round with a skill check that can be modified heavily in his favor of DC 15 + 2xHD or CR of target. At level 1 you have +7 to your True speak check and your DC for a CR 1 or Ally is 17.

I don't see the problem. So what's wrong with it in detail?

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You're confusing the fluff with the mechanics.

The fluff of the truenamer is awesome, taken from all sorts of stories1

Unfortunately, the Truenamer handbook shows us that this brilliant promise of narrative isn't particularly well supported by the rules, which were likely unplaytested and only lightly edited. This mainly stems from two of the class features which suffer from lack of choice, poor scaling, and a few really horrible class features.

In summary, imagine a warlock with less choices who had to make an increasingly harder roll to contribute minimally throughout the day. Yes, it's possible to make one barely functional, but with the same effort dedicated to any other class, the class can excel in what it was designed to do.

Poorly edited:

On personal truenames:

What kind of bonus? Well, pg. 200 lists it as untyped, and pg. 196 says it's a competence bonus. Beats me.

This is an easily seen example of the lack of care or editing put into the class.

Poor Scaling:

[Truespeak is] A trained-only INT-based skill that you'll need to keep maxed at all times. Pretty much everything a Truenamer does requires a Truespeak check, and the typical DC is 15 + (2 × CR) of the target. Yes, this means that the typical DC goes up by 2 every level, while you can only add 1 rank every level. This is just as annoying as it sounds, and it means that you'll be spending a disproportionate amount of time trying to boost this check . . . then trying to figure out what to do with the check once you've boosted it.

Therefore, most of the character's resources will be going towards optimising a single skill that, without that devotion, is completely unusable and scales even worse. The fact that it scales with target CR, which tends to be a ... not entirely random number... just compounds the problem.

The "item changing power" also suffers from this odd scaling:

The DC to speak one of these is 15 + (2 × CL), where CL is the caster level of the item. If the item is nonmagical, the DC is a flat 25. Yup, that means that you'll have an easier time affecting the little trinket that the apprentice mage enchanted than the nonmagical thing he started with.

The two Law of X class features: the name of "suck"

Law of Resistance (LoR): The first Law of WotC Hates Truenamers, this is an annoying little rule that makes Truenaming harder as the day goes on. All those utterance DCs I gave you above are just for the first time you use any given utterance during the day. Each time you succeed, the DC of that particular utterance increases by 2, though (in a rare display of mercy) failing doesn't increase the DC. Yes, this is kind of a pain to keep track of. Anyway, I think this is intended to keep you from just using your utterances at-will, but it basically means that low-level or unoptimized 'Namers will have a hard time doing anything past the first combat of the day, while optimized 'Namers will basically just ignore this until they actually have to roll to Quicken. It's still annoying.

Law of Sequence (LoS): The second Law of WotC Hates Truenamers, this Law will be the bane of your existence. The LoS says that you can only have one "copy" of an utterance active at any given time. This means that if you have, for example, Knight's Puissance active on your Warblade buddy, you can't cast Knight's Puissance again on your Crusader buddy until the first one runs out, nor can you cast Reversed Knight's Puissance on the Bulette you're fighting. If you've never played a Truenamer, you might think that the LoR is worse than the LoS. You'd be wrong. I consider the LoS to be one of the single worst-designed parts of the entire Truenamer chapter, and you can quote me on that.

Thus, in a class designed around a few repeatable effects, every time the class tries again throughout the day, regardless of target the effects are harder to pull off. Think of a psion who has to pay extra power points after the first use of a power in a day. This was intended as a "limitation of spells per day" ... but no evidence is given to show that it actually managed to adventure and contribute in a group.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, there are no workable mechanics for the truenamer, and the truenamers require huge amounts of optimisation to even be "playable." They cannot "do one thing well" and without weapon or armor proficiencies, nor hitpoints nor a good BAB, can they even readily contribute to combat. If, at the end of the day, anything a class may want to do may be done, better, by another class... the class is poorly designed.


1 See A Wizard of Earthsea by LeGuin.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I completely agree from an optimisation point of view. Have you by chance played one? I'd like to know if it's as bad in practice as it sounds in theorie... \$\endgroup\$
    – Andy
    Jun 23, 2014 at 13:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have had the chance to play one and it worked out realitivly well but you are right on all points it is not very easy to use true-naming effectively but it has a lot of prestige classes that can help it and the powers provided are very utilitarian and I did not find myself tripping over my true-naming DC's until above level 15. The other class features do allow for a very knowledgeable support character if you don't already have a bard or wizard. As for the power difference, At low levels I was able to keep up as every time I spoke we got a huge boon to combat, and could do that about 3/day. \$\endgroup\$
    – Pro756
    Jun 23, 2014 at 16:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Each utterance was use able about 3/day before it became highly un-reliable, I found myself with a 16 Int. (+3), Skill Focus True Speak (+3) and 4 ranks +10 to the check was able to aid my allies and de-buff my enemies unless they were several challenge ratings above us then I was still able to buff my party. \$\endgroup\$
    – Pro756
    Jun 23, 2014 at 16:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Pro756: You might want to turn your comments here into a proper answer. (Yes, it's perfectly fine to answer your own question.) Answers based on actual gameplay experience are (nearly) always a good thing. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 3, 2016 at 11:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Pro756 If you're still interested in writing that answer, I'd especially like to know which prestige classes you're referring to, because as far as I know there are no prestige classes that advance Truenaming at all. Were you perhaps using a house rule that spellcaster prestige classes also work for the Truenamer? \$\endgroup\$ Sep 17, 2019 at 3:27
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The existing answer cites the specific issues well, but having come out of playing a Truenamer (and being so offput by the experience that I have even created a rewrite of the class that I use for my own games), I would like to give a look into what the problems feel like.

Low build flexibility

Truenamer is not a class for the faint of heart. Similar to a Monk, getting one to work half-decently requires an incredible amount of effort and optimization. Unless you're happy doing nothing but making knowledge checks, you need to dump an incredible amount of resources into your Truespeak check.

Other casters do not have to think nearly as much about how they build as a Truenamer. A Wizard can pick bad spells, sure, but at least he can cast those spells. A poorly optimized Truenamer has a very high chance of legitimately being unable to contribute at all. That's a far worse fate than an unarmored Cleric who only heals or a divination Wizard who only casts fireball.

As a result of this, Truenamers have a very hard time working outside of a very small niche, even with competent optimization. Planning out a build was really tough, for instance, because so many of my resources were spoken for with trying to keep my Truespeak up. I had to pick a race with an Int boost, I had to take Skill Focus, I had to take Quicken Utterance, I had to shell out gold for a Headband of Intellect and an Amulet of the Silver Tongue, and my multiclassing was heavily restricted.

As a comparison, while other casters certainly have a hard time multiclassing, they can do it a lot more freely than a Truenamer. That's true of other similar-chassis non-Vancian casters, too; I could make a lot more unique builds with a Wilder, a Warlock, or a Psychic Warrior than I could with a Truenamer.

Truenaming is inconsistent

Let's suppose, however, that you're going single-classed Truenamer. You're following the cookie-cutter guide to the build and have Truespeak for days.

You're still inconsistent.

Firstly, you have some additional vulnerabilities that most casters don't have to deal with. Intelligence damage hurts you more than a Wizard, skill check penalties from conditions like Shaken can throw you off, and you're just as useless against Anti-Magic Field as any other caster.

Second, it's incredibly rare that your Truespeak checks are legitimately guranteed. This is a hindrance at all levels of play, since utterances don't seem to be balanced around this. Utterances are, at best, comparable to spells of a similar level. However, those spells can be cast with guranteed effectiveness.

Even if you have a gigantic Truespeak bonus and you are facing an opponent with a reasonably low CR (not always guranteed - some monsters have inflated CRs and are thus disproportionately hard to utter against), you will still have a chance of at least failing when trying to use Quicken Utterance. In a system where casters of every flavor are generally expected to be able to tell the action economy to go sit in a corner, Truenamers can only do so with a certain percent chance. You're like a Wizard who has been forced to wear armor.

Perhaps, in the cold and sterile labs of balance calculations, this seems reasonable. However, it feels awful at the table when your party gets screwed over because you rolled a 1 when trying to utter an Inertia Surge. There's a reason arcane spellcasters don't ever use armor despite the spell failure chances seeming small at first glance.

Utterances are not worth the cost

All of these pains would be worth bearing if the things that a Truenamer could do were at least decent. Unfortunately, that's generally not the case. Certainly not past low levels.

Don't get me wrong - there are legitimately incredible 1st level utterances. Inertia Surge and Universal Aptitude are incredibly powerful abilities for a 1st level character, and they age pretty well into higher levels. There are even a few 2nd level utterances that I got a surprising amount of use out of.

At 3rd level and beyond for the Lexicon of the Evolving Mind, and at almost every level for the other two lexicons, the pickings are very slim. Most utterances are just rehashes of things a Wizard, a Bard, or a Psion could do much earlier. Psychic Warriors and Duskblades can even get a similar or greater amount of utility if built with the same degree of effort as a good Truenamer at mid levels. All of this without a restrictive random chance of failure and a set of convoluted penalties that build up over the day.

Conclusion

Don't get me wrong - the class is usable. There is a beating, working heart of this class that is compelling and fun. It's just very hard to get to past all of the flaws, and the effort required on the part of both the player and DM to do so is significantly more than the effort needed to just use or reflavor another class. Instead of houseruling away the Law of Sequence, the Law of Repetition, and the conflicting bonus types, just play a nerdy Bard whose performances are ancient and indecipherable poetry. Maybe even ask the GM if you can use Intelligence as your casting stat instead of Charisma. You will get something a lot more functional that scratches the exact same itch.

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The Truenamer is fine for low power games. The abilities represent a source of power that is difficult to manage effectively. Not all classes are trying to compete with the Wizard. While I can see that this makes a difficult and possibly irritating character to play, especially in a standard game, I do not see how it would be worse than playing a Commoner or an Aristocrat (as some have suggested elsewhere). The collective response to this character class demonstrates how one can become so enamored of a description or idea that disappointment over the associated execution can override one's ability to reason about the idea. If it had been listed among the NPC classes, the response to it would likely have been quite different.

The Truenamer is fine for what it is, but don't expect it to operate on par with the more powerful classes. But in a low magic game, with Adepts and Rangers at the top of the magical power curve, a Truenamer can get along just fine.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is this based on personal experience playing the class (or having another player in your group play it)? If so, you might want to give a bit more details about how you found the class to work in practice. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 3, 2016 at 11:57

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