Saturday, February 24, 2018
Names are the Hardest Part of DM-ing
Coming up with effective names is a challenge for any narrative medium, and this is no less true when it comes to running entertaining role playing game campaigns. Names can make or break a game session. Unlike other media, the challenge in role playing games doesn't solely stem from a need for verisimilitude. Not every game requires realistic names, and some games are better with silly names. It all depends upon the group you are with.
The real challenge comes in coming up with names on the spot that are both serviceable and memorable. You can create as many write ups for NPCs as you want in your game master prep time, but I can guarantee you that your players will often ignore the NPCs you've given deep backstories in favor of interrogating "random street urchin 6" or "Kobold number 5" for hours of entertaining game time. Entertaining game time...if you get the name right. Otherwise, the session might spiral into metagaming or groans. You have to both know what kinds of names fit with your group's temperament, and be quick on your feet. No one wants to wait 5 minutes while you look through Gygax's Book of Names or as you hit generate on a random name generator until you get the right name.
I'm not saying that I'm a master at this particular skill, but I do have one piece of advice for game masters both novice and experienced. Feel free to include your players in the name creation process. Don't feel that you have to do this work alone. If your players want to interrogate "random street urchin 6," as them to come up with a couple of names. These names won't always be great, but they will usually fit with your group's desires and are frequently memorable.
I am currently running a campaign entitled "Tinker, Tailor, Dwarf, and Spy" that takes place within the D&D Known World setting's (aka Mystara's) Grand Duchy of Karameikos. The fact that I am calling it the Grand Duchy will give grognards some hint as to the timeline I've set the campaign in. The Known World setting is a wonderful mashup of various cultures that might not seem to fit on the surface, but which work as a sandbox for freeform gaming. Sure, there's a society with peak Roman Empire governance placed between a proxy for the Eastern Empire and a Feudal society inspired by medieval Poland, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and a dash of the Holy Roman Empire. To the north is a country based on Naples, to the far north are the Germanic and Viking states. To the south is fantasy Hawaiistralia Reality TV island. It's a chaotic place, but if you buy in it can be wonderful. My players' characters haven't discovered it yet, but the "reason" why the countries are so chaotic in makeup in "my Mystara" is because one of the Immortals is preserving the dying cultures of our Earth and placing them on Mystara's surface, must as he places Mystara's dying cultures in it's Hollow World.
Anyway, one of the freedoms that a world like this provides is that almost any name is fair game, and here is a list of the names we use in my game with their alignment, race, and class. Some are canon names from the sourcebooks, but others are just ours.
Duke Stephen Karameikos (LG, Human, Fighter (Cavalier)) -- Ruler of Karameikos and the founder of the "Duke's Tinkers" who are Karameiko's secret police, the organization the player characters work for.
Duchess Olivia Karameikos (NG, Human, Thief (Mastermind)) -- Stephen's wife and the actual Chief of the Duke's Tinkers, she is known only as "The Weaver" to all but the most trusted Tinkers.
Kraeyg Lyste (NG, ??, Thief(??)) -- The publicly known head of the Tinkers about whom very little is actually known. They appear to have the ability to change shape and are careful to cover their tracks. They keep detailed documentation of all members, and potential members, of the Tinkers and rival organizations.
Festival Master Quarch (N, Human, ??) -- He runs the King's Festival in the northern town of Stallanford. Stallanford has no mayor, so Quarch is the nearest thing.
Alaric (CG(E), Human, Cleric) -- A priest of the Church of Traladara who has forsaken his oaths to serve The Iron Ring and who has become a priest of Orcus. (Deceased?)
Dinae (LE, Bugbear, Ranger) -- Dinae was once a tracker and wrangler for the Iron Ring who captured slaves for the organization and answered to Alaric. He has recently been turned into an asset in the service of the player characters.
Sharaen Vlatovski (N, Human, ??) -- A human woman who was married to a Kobold named (xxx) who had been forced into service to the Iron Ring by Alaric. She infiltrated Alaric's hideout by allowing herself to be captured, she was about to assassinate one of Alaric's lieutenants and free her husband when the PCs arrived. The PCs know that she is married to the kobold, but are unaware of her skill set. When the PCs return to Specularum, she will find Kraeyg and enter into service in the Tinkers.
Bukie Bimblebritches (N, Halfling, ??) -- He and his brother Howie own the Inn, Stables, and Gambling Hall in Stallanford. They are quite wealthy.
Felix Fentsworthy (N, Human, Thief(???)) -- He is the local fence in Stallanford and the head of its "band" of thieves. After all, you can't call 6 people a guild.
As you can see from the list above, my players can be a little punny, but not too punny.