Friday, June 19, 2015

The Name of the Game

One thing RPGs need are names for characters, both player characters (PCs) and non-player characters (NPCs). Names can help make or break a game and certainly serve to convey the game’s tone. A good name can make a character more memorable and can reinforce or signal their personality or status, while a bad name can turn a character into a joke or even detract from the tone of the game. In historically based games names should follow the culture, country, and time period of the game. If the game is based on actual history then real historical people provide a good source of both names and NPCs. In a historical pastiche game, like D&D or 7th sea, real historical names can be used for the characters from the fictional not-Spain, not-France, or not-England countries in the game.
For my Honor+Intrigue game I’ve used many names, both real and historical. Any character I’ve prepped will already have a name and most of the time will have a picture and stats. For characters that are spontaneously created or who, for one reason or another, have not been prepped will often get a name. Names are one way to make the game feel more real to the players. Ensuring that all NPCs have a name (or can quickly be given a name) also means that the players can’t tell which NPCs are important based solely on how they are referred. Guard #3 is a quick giveaway that this NPC is unimportant and probably doesn’t know or do anything important. Whether the GM wants to signal which NPCs are important is a different question. Stylistically I like it if all, or nearly all, of the NPCs have a name, but in Honor+Intrigue the game mechanics and genre conventions differentiate NPCs as Villains or Heroes who have stats like a player character, Retainers who are somewhat less capable in general than a PC or a Villain level NPC, and Pawns who are significantly less capable than a Hero or a Villain. (Other games may refer to these less powerful NPCs as Lieutenants and Mooks or Thugs.) At the table I’ll frequently let the players know which sort of opponents they are facing in combat since those differences will strongly affect the players’ choices in combat.
For quick name choices I use tables organized by nationality. Since our game is set in France I have a large table of French names. A long series of adventures took place in Belgium and the Netherlands so I included a table of Dutch names. The Hapsburg Empire and Spain in particular is the big opponent for France at this time. England is a distant second. And from their trip to Florence, I included a list of Italian names. Once I use a name I put a check next to it or cross it off so I don’t accidentally use the exact same name.
When I have more time for names I often use one of several name lists I’ve found on the web. Although ints not solely historical, I found the “Fantasy Name Generator” very useful. You can go to the main link here or create your own links for a specific nationality. I created ones for French, Dutch, and Spanish.
I use the “Mithril and Mages” link to get names for fictional locations and to generate place names. Many people in the period use the naming convetion of FirstName of PlaceName. And nobles frequently use a naming convention of FirstName of Family Name, Title of PlaceName. You can generate nobles by getting a first name (often called Christian name) and a surname from the links or lists and then appending a title and a place name from the link.
Example:  I want to create a courtier as a minor opponent or obstacle for two of the PCs in my game who are courtiers. First I use the Fantasy Name Generators which gives me this list:
Timothé Larousse
Martial Ballesdens
Jérémie Lahaye
Rémi Figuier
Gaspard Boutet
Clément Mace
Fabien Robiquet
Wilfried Rodier
Alexis Micheaux
Matthieu Dupuis
I scan down the list to see if there is anything that catches my fancy. I may mix and match first names and surnames. If nothing looks and sounds right, then I generate a new set of names. One tip: say the name aloud a few times to see if it sounds as good as it looks. If the name of the sinister master villain causes giggles and snickers from your players when said aloud, well let’s just say that’s not the effect I was looking for.
I decide I like Fabien Robiquet. The names sounds slightly comical to me and Fabien reminds me of the old teen idol singer Fabian. Which sounds great for a courtier who is a fop or dandy. Next I use the “Mithril and Mages” link to generate a place name. I set the country to France and the number to 5 which results in this list:
I decide to make Fabien a Baron. I like the sound of Vierzon with the character’s name. So I add the French article “de” for of and I have Fabien Robiquet, Baron de Vierzon. That’s good, but remembering that nobles in France frequently had a “de” in front of their family name, I decide to add that to giving me: Fabien de Robiquet, Baron de Vierzon. After saying it aloud a few times, I decide to add a syllable “le” for the to change the cadence and I have the name of the PCs’ new opponent: Fabien de Robiquet, Baron de le Vierzon.
Next I’ll find a picture and fill out some personality, family background, and stats and Fabien will be good to go. But the rest is the subject for a future post.
So how do you like to create names for your PCs and NPCs?


Here a copy of the name list that I created for my quick name selection as well as the links I mentioned. Enjoy! 
Pick a name from the hat: Name List

Names and Locations for multiple nationalities:

French Names:

Here’s a couple of other name generators I’ve come across.

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