DM Tip #4: What’s In a Name?
I am a big fan of names. Names of people, names of rivers names of cities, names of anyone and anything. Over the years I have become quite good at whipping up names on the spot, but even today at times I will stumble over a name for some town or person that I wasn’t expecting the players to encounter. Fumbling over such a thing may seem small, but it can definitely pull players out of the game, even for just a moment.
What I started doing a long time ago was coming up with names outside of the game. I kept a list in a notebook with the names of cities, people, mountain ranges, castles, and rivers. Whenever the players would decide to talk to some random person, I wouldn’t have to think about a name, I had one ready to go. The barkeeps name is Sendral. The mountains to the east, those are the Highbacks. The boat you are on, it’s the Emerald Wave. Being able to rattle off a name without missing a beat helps the game continue to flow and keeps the players immersed in this fantastic world you are all creating.
You don’t need a lot of names either. I enjoy them, so I have lists of hundreds, but all you really need for a night of gaming is about a dozen or so of a couple different groups. The ones I tend to to focus on are names for men, names for women (and in a fantasy setting it is easy for names to be any gender type), cities, and natural places such as lakes and mountains.
You don’t need to come up with some great background story for these names either. In many ways these are throw away scenes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring these people or places back into your story. In fact, if you use a name off your list, I would advise jotting down a note or two about the name. That city guard, Alris, what was her attitude to the players? What did she look like? Now, if the players pass through this small town again they can experience a familiar face, making the world seem more vibrant and alive.
My last word of advice is this, don’t agonize over these names. Many Dungeon Masters try to come up with the coolest sounding named they can. While that may be great for a major villain or a city that the players will spend a lot of time in, it isn’t necessary for those random on the street people. Just like real life, lots of people will have simple names, names that aren’t all that memorable, and names that don’t sound like they are the lead character in the latest big screen film. Keep it simple, because as always, this is supposed to be fun.