We interrupt our scheduled discussion on the Golden Rule to bring you this quick tip instead:
It is a peaceful day in Townsville, the birds are chirping and the trees are green. You wake and dress, kiss your wife/husband/Dead God goodbye and set out to work at THE SHOP. After polishing the counter and arranging your merchandise the bell over the door chimes to let you know you have your first customers! There are four of them and their armor and gear is impressive to behold (even if their swords are suspiciously blood-soaked and you’re pretty sure the one in the leather just stole your “OPEN” sign).
They approach, and their leader proclaims, “Merry met, shopkeep. We are the Long Shots, on a sacred mission of impressiveness from the King himself. What do you call yourself?”
A bit audacious, but you’re glad for the money. So you reply, “Why thank you, sir! I am…” but before you can answer, a voice interrupts, “Oh, crap. I don’t have a name for him, man. He’s not important. He’s just a shop keep. What do you want to buy?”
Wait… what? Who said that? Was that… was that God? Are you there, God? It’s me, the shopkeeper. Please give me a name!
When it comes to giving names, I follow three basic rules:
1.) If the players will interact with it – even with their swords – it should have a name.
People, places, monsters and even roads and streams. They all have names in the real world, so they should in the fantasy world you create. Even the lowly goblin in its distant warren has a name it goes by among its clan. Now I’m not saying that you should go out of your way to provide each and every monster with a name (that’s what rule #3 is for) but any that might speak or that the players might try to engage in social combat with absolutely should. They do not have to be deep and meaningful, a simple one will do but as long as you don’t go overboard. Giving people and places names adds to the ambiance and makes the game more immersive.
Even your adventuring party should have a name – I like to have a townsperson (especially a tavern keeper or an early “quest giver”) ask the group what they call themselves. It makes it easier for you to refer to the group at large and makes the group more memorable.
Which sounds better?
“Y’all break camp and head north toward the big city. As you’re crossing a small creek, a group of goblins attacks you from the woods. Roll initiatives!”
– or –
“The Long Shots break camp for the morning, heading north toward the walls of Mellionne. In the Mithweald forest, just as you cross over Mill Creek, you’re set upon by a band of goblins. As they rush down the bank they shout the battle cry of the infamous Ghaal clan!”
For added immersion factor, you could have your monsters mourn their fallen friends when they die – especially if they kill the “leader” of the encounter. If the party is mopping the floor with the Ghaal clan’s scouts, how much cooler is it to have the remaining goblins run away when the Shaman dies? “They’ve slain Chib Bleak! Retreat!” Which would the party really rather have? A few experience points and another crude stone axe or the fear and respect of an infamous goblin tribe?
2.) Keep the names simple, memorable and authentic.
I am certain there are goblins named “Bob”, and a glance at a map of the United States will show more than one Townville but boring names are almost worse than no names at all. This is a fantasy game, give your places and people fantasy names! But tread carefully here. As cool a name as Je’shaarat Mi Paa Kotanaa is for the Goblin cheif, if the Bard is going to sing about how the Long Shots vanquished him, maybe keep it to Mi Paa for the sake of simplicity.
Likewise, keep it authentic. Again, Townville is fine for Pennsylvania but elves tend to be a bit more wordy with how they name their capitols. Melionne sounds more authentic and provides a better immersive atmosphere.
3.) When in doubt, have a list on standby.
I promise a comprehensive list of what I carry in my bag as a game master is coming. When it does, you’ll hear all about my gaming folder. In it, I keep a list of “common” names for my setting. There are literally hundreds of websites dedicated to providing names for people and places, but I use this one for people and items (Anything under Mythology and Ancient is good for places and items). I take the results and dump them into a text document formatted into three columns and labeled at the top with what they are. I have one for places, one for items and several for people – usually a list for elves (French and Greek are good ones), Dwarves (Slovak and Russian!) and one for humans. When my players encounter a random monster and ask its name, I just glance down at the appropriate list and I’m all set.
Don’t leave items out of the love, either. While +1 Longsword is an accurate description of what it does, I’d much rather own the impressively named Ghaal Cleaver with the same stats! As with people, giving things a name makes them important and makes the party feel more connected to them.