The Words of Self: Demonic Epithets in In Nomine

by Eric Alfred Burns

The following is a suggestion for a non-canon variant to the Word rules for In Nomine.

"Hm, I thought as I dropped the kitty corpse into a burlap sack, tied it off and shoved it up into the chimney. I wonder if I could wrangle a promotion out of this mess? 'He Who Disfigures Small Animals?' I shook my head. Too over the top."
-- "Dark Dream," In Nomine, p.24.

Most Celestials, whether Angels or Demons, aspire to having Words of their own. They look to have a concept of the Symphony inexorably bound to their being, to embody a Word of their own forevermore, tying their fortunes to that Word's significance to all humanity. However, where Angels can only have Words, Demons have the possibility of promoting themselves as Words. A Demon can earn an Epithet.

Epithets are specialty Words. Even as a Demon reflects on his own personal Symphony to the exclusion of the universe, so can he actually exalt his personal Symphony, forcing the Symphony as a whole to acknowledge him in an act of supreme selfishness. Epithets are not as powerful as true Words -- instead of binding the Demon to a concept of the world, the Demon becomes forever associated with an action or distinguishing feature.

Epithets are declarations to the Symphony, announcing a specific feature of the Demon that the Demon is known for. Epithets are Words in Helltongue, even as other Words are, but they always follow the syntax of "He or She Who Performs A Task," when translated into other languages. So, instead of becoming the Demon of Knife Murders, a Calabite might become "He Who Strikes With Stilettoes" or "She Who Slashes Throats in the Night."

The Mechanics of Epithets

Epithets are far more restricted than true Words. Where a Word embodies a concept that can exist throughout the Symphony, an Epithet is a concept that sticks to the Demon himself. As such, Epithet-Bound Demons need to constantly reinforce their Epithet wherever possible, especially among other Demons. Instead of growing more powerful with the significance of the Concept to humanity and the Symphony, Epithet-Bound Demons become more powerful with greater fame (or infamy) for themselves. The more that He Who Scrambles Light and Fluffy Eggs becomes known in Shal Mari as a breakfast chef, the more powerful he can potentially become.

The Words of Self: Demonic Epithets in In Nomine

The problem is the fickleness of fame. Say Jequil, "He Who Strikes Down Malakim Where They Stand," destroys a powerful Malakite of War in a battle he was expected to lose, and the Media broadcasts the fight throughout Hell. Jequil returns to Hell with great pomp and majesty, and as the throngs cheer his name (or at least know of his deed), he feels the Epithet swell in power inside him. Well, the day after his return, Jequil is yesterday's news and no one wants to hear it all again. In order to maintain his strength and position, Jequil needs to get back to Earth and take out some more Malakim. Ofanim won't count unless they're filler (that boost his legend) in between Malakim. Jequil's Epithet specifically refers to killing Malakim, and so he's got to constantly promote his image as a Malakim killer to effect longer term Epithet growth. Only when his deeds are so well known that his reputation persists even after a few days can Jequil begin to relax. Even then, he will constantly be looking for Malakim to kill, lest he lose ground in Hell's communal consciousness.

Epithets follow the general rules for Words in the Game Master's Guide, pp.21-33. In particular, Epithets gain and lose Word-Forces the same way that regular Words do, by gaining and losing importance in the Symphony. The advantages to Epithets are twofold -- first, a smaller or more discrete population can have a greater than normal effect; a powerful Demon with a well known Epithet in Hell can gain enough Word-Forces to become a Significant or Important Word (in Forces and power, at least) where a full Word-Bound Demon would need to make an impact on the Symphony as a whole. If a Demon's Epithet becomes known in the Corporeal realm (by Humanity), his power can swell quickly indeed. Secondly, an Epithet can be frivolous in nature and still yield significant power. The Demon of Dandruff Chunks In Brushes will have a Trivial Word unless a major miracle occurs. "She Who Leaves Chunks of Dandruff in Peoples' Brushes" can become quite powerful if her exploits become well known. As with Words, an Epithet-Bound Demon may count his Epithet's Word-Forces when figuring out how much Essence the Demon can hold. Further, Demons with five or more Epithet Word-Forces may receive a new rite related to his Epithet. With ten or more Epithet Word-Forces, a demon may receive a second rite and actually give one of his rites to Servitors. (Servitors of an Epithet-Bound Demon are generally called Groupies by their fellows, and have little status in Hell.)

Furthermore, even as the metaphoric meaning and associations of Words can expand their significance (and the Word-Bound's power), Epithet-Bound can use their Epithets metaphorically as well. So, Westa, "She Who Beats A Dead Horse," can keep her Epithet fueled by publicly clubbing fallen stallions, but she can also keep her reputation alive by loudly championing causes long after their issues have closed.

The disadvantages of Epithets over Words are many, however. First off, while it is easy to promote one's Epithet, it is a constant process. If an Epithet-bound Demon fails to reinforce his reputation as it relates to his Epithet among those who know of him, he will lose Word-Forces quickly. Further, even as a Word-Bound Demon can be destroyed if his Word is destroyed, so can an Epithet-Bound Demon be destroyed if his reputation is destroyed. If Alania, "She Who Dominates C.E.O.'s," makes a Balseraph her enemy, that Balseraph can spread rumors and false evidence showing that Alania is actually submissive with C.E.O.s or never met any in the first place. Even if untrue, the damage to Alania's reputation can strip her of Word-Forces as per p.28 of the Game Master's Guide -- even to Alania's own destruction. And finally, while Epithets can yield rites, they are not true Words and therefore Epithet-Bound Demons never receive special Attunements or Powers related to their Epithet.

Epithets and Words

Obviously, an Epithet is considered inferior to a Word. While an Epithet is the purest expression of a Demon's own selfish vanity, it can't compare with embodying a true concept in the Symphony. However, an Epithet still represents being set above one's fellows and a significant increase of power and prestige in Hell. Furthermore, Epithets can be expanded into true Words the same way that Words can be expanded into more powerful ones (as per Word-Promotion, GMG p.30). Indeed, when two or more candidates for an Infernal Word all prove to be worthy of the Word, Lucifer will often give all the candidates Epithets related to that Word, instead. So when there is a contest for the Word of Tormenting Small Animals, a Impudite might become "He Who Disfigures Small Animals," and a Djinn might become "She Who Maims Small Animals," while a Habbalite becomes "He Who Tortures Small Animals." Lucifer then generally keeps an eye on the various Epithet-Bound. The one who best promotes his Epithet (if he's lucky) then gets promoted into the Demon of Tormenting Small Animals. His former Epithet is absorbed into the true Word and no longer applies. And those Epithet-Bound who competed with the new Word-Bound Demon all become de facto servitors of that Demon, as their Epithets require them to promote his Word.

Of course, both Lucifer's ire and his fabled sense of humor can fall upon Demons through Epithets as easily (or more easily) than through true Words. Epithets are clearly easier to grant after all, requiring less power. So Lucifer might humiliate a Demon with an Epithet ("She Who Seduces Cattle," "He Who Enjoys Licking Balseraphs' Boots Clean," and the like) or actually use an impossible Epithet to destroy an offensive Demon entirely. One Calabite who offended Lucifer was given the Epithet "He Who Slays Archangel Michael Celestially." The newly Epithet-Bound Demon then had to either try to slay the Archangel of War in Celestial Combat or let his reputation for slaying Michael fall away to nothing, causing his destruction.

Demon Princes and the Epithet-Bound

An Epithet-Bound Servitor is in a unique position for a Prince. It's not enough that they perform actions that fuel their reputations. Their actions have to become known to a sufficient population to fuel their reputations. As a result, Demon Princes have a lot of leverage with the Epithet-Bound. By controlling their access to the throngs who revere (or fear) them, they can control how strong their Servitors' Epithets are.

Of course, a Servitor's Epithet often fuels his Superior's Word anyhow, and that Servitor's fame will also work to strengthen the Prince's Word, so it's often in the Prince's best interests to promote his Servitor's Epithet. And Servitors who aren't promoted by their Prince will start finding ways around their Prince to strengthen their Epithets -- which their Prince's enemies will exploit wherever they can.

Angels and the Epithet-Bound

Angels can't be bound to Epithets. The supreme act of selfishness involved in declaring yourself a concept in the Symphony is alien to the essential selflessness of Heaven, and the Seraphim Council would never even attempt such a thing. (It is thought that the attempt would fail, regardless.) Epithet-Bound are generally Heaven's adversaries, as a result. It is a mixed blessing, since knowledge of a Demon's Epithet usually tips Angels off as to the Demon's intentions. When "He Who Sets Fires To Convents" comes to town, the Angels of the area know to set guards at the area's Nunneries, for example. However, the driving need for Demons to feed their Epithets make them dangerous opponents.

And some Demons have gotten very good at aggravating Angels, specifically to build a reputation in Heaven. After all, if the Heavenly Host makes a concerted effort to prevent the Demon from following through on his Epithet, then his reputation among them grows and so does the power of his Epithet.

Epithets in the Campaign

In an infernal or mixed campaign, Demon PCs may compete for Epithets as stepping stones to true Words. Princes and Princesses can also sponsor a PC for an Epithet as a reward for exceptional service (or to sidetrack a too ambitious PC's quest for more general power.) Epithets become a new level of reward and prestige between a Distinction and a Word, and a well thought out Epithet can enhance a PC's capacity for role playing.

If a PC gains an Epithet, it is up to the Game Master to determine how strong the PC's reputation is among the different populations who know about it, and therefore how many Word-Forces the PC has at any given time. If after several adventures the PC has done little to reinforce his reputation, the Game Master should reduce his Word Forces accordingly.

In an angelic campaign, Epithet-Bound become dangerous adversaries -- powerful demons with very specific agendas they're unlikely to bend on. An entire mission or series of missions can surround foiling an Epithet-Bound from performing the tasks necessary to fuel his Epithet.

Sample Epithet-Bound Character

"He Who Pours Salt into Wounds"
Habbalite Knight of the Black Order

Corporeal Forces -- 4

Strength 10

Agility 6

Ethereal Forces -- 4

Intelligence 8  

Precision 8

Celestial Forces -- 5

Will 12

Perception 8

    Suggested Word Forces: 9
    Vessel: Adult Human Male/4, Adult Human Female/2
    Role: "Major Corbin Rathbone," Military History Professor/3 (Status: 3)
    Skills: Chemistry/5, Climbing/2, Dodge/2, Emote/3, Fast-Talk/3, Knowledge (Military History/3), Medicine/2, Ranged Weapon (Pistol/4, Rifle/4), Savoir-Faire/1, Small Weapon (Knife/3), Survival/2, Tactics/3, Throwing/3
    Songs: Charm (Celestial/3), Dreams (Corporeal/3, Celestial/2), Numinous Corpus (Acid/3, Claws/2, Fangs/2, Horns/2, Tongue/5)
    Attunements: Djinn of the War, Habbalah of the War, Art of Combat, Knight of the Black Order
    Special Rite: Manage to introduce an actual salt into a corporeal injury without being caught doing it.

Forcas is an old and powerful demon in Baal's service. He has been loyal throughout his career, truly seeing Baal as the Rebel Champion who challenges the soft and weak Heavenly Host in the name of a purer, stronger God. And, over the centuries of service to Baal, Forcas has had many opportunities to test humanity and find it wanting.

While a strong warrior in his own right, Forcas delighted in tormenting soldiers who weren't strong enough to meet the battle. Finding that soldiers too injured to continue the fight failed the acid test of strength in battle, Forcas naturally demeaned them. After breaking the morale of any number of human soldiers following horrible injuries, Baal decided to reward his effective Servitor, sponsoring him for the Epithet of "He Who Pours Salt into Wounds." Lucifer concurred and Forcas gained his Epithet.

Today, Forcas diligently builds his reputation for kicking the weak when they're down. While he doesn't eschew literally salting bloody injuries (which led him to study both first aid and chemistry), he works far more effectively by exploiting embarrassments or mental anguish, adding insult to injury in ways that make a person's suffering intolerable. To that end, his current Role is as a Military History teacher at a Military Academy. "Major Corbin Rathbone" is subject to recall into the Army should it be necessary (and Baal want it), but mostly he works with students at his strict, one might say harsh military school. He is known for being a tyrant in his class, demeaning students who do poorly and questioning any signs of weakness publicly, turning natural concerns and homesickness into excruciating public humiliation. His reputation among the student body keeps his Epithet strong, as does the number of demons Baal sends through his school as part of building their Roles. These demons leave the school and spread Forcas's reputation throughout Baal's organization in Hell and on Earth, keeping "He Who Pours Salt into Wounds" strong.

Article publication date: October 13, 2000

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