6 Ways You Can Use Names To Enhance Your Campaign – Part II

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0073

  1. Use A Naming Theme For Groups Of NPCs
  2. Re-Use Names
  3. Base Names On Interesting Attributes
  4. Use Names To Add Humour To Your Campaign
  5. Use Anagrams For Clues & Puzzles
  6. Sources Of Names

Readers’ Tips Summarized

  1. A Newbie GM’s Story
  2. Re-Use Monsters
  3. Speed Up Combat With A Stopwatch
  4. Tip For Finding New Players: The RPGA

A Brief Word From Johnn

Early Issue

As promised, this week’s issue is a couple of days early due to a weekend commitment. Issue #74 will appear in your Inbox a week from Monday.

I’ll also be a little delayed in responding to your emails– but don’t let that stop you from sending your tips in and sharing!

DMG Is A Great Book

I’ve been re-reading the D&D 3rd Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide, and I must say it’s got a lot of great GMing info in it–even for non-D&D GMs. Next time you’re in your local game store, flip through the table of contents and then skim any sections that catch your eye (I recommend chapters 1, 4, 5, & 6). You’ll pick up a tip or two, or at least be reminded of a technique you might have been neglecting.

Warm regards,

Johnn Four
[email protected]

6 Ways You Can Use Names To Enhance Your Campaign – Part II

[Tips #1 – 6 can be found in Issue #72]

Use A Naming Theme For Groups Of NPCs

For special groups of NPCs, pick a naming theme to make your game more interesting. For example, in the movie “Reservoir Dogs”, the main characters were given names based on a colour theme: “Mr. Black”, “Mr. Pink”, and so on.A naming theme is great because it gives you an instant set of clues to work with. Your players will be immensely satisfied when they figure out that there is a theme, and they’ll enjoy keeping an eye out for future names that match it.

Once the code is cracked, you then have the option of throwing in some red herrings–NPCs whose names correspond to the theme but aren’t actually members of the group.Themed names are especially effective for villains and their flunkies. The theme will act like a hook for the players to latch onto and make the bad guys more vivid in their imaginations.

Brian, a tips reader, suggested using a naming theme for a single individual as a way to make your games more interesting. In the movie “The Saint”, for example, the main character uses a different alias for each mission–each name based on a Roman Catholic saint. You could use the same technique to single out a special NPC in your campaign.

Examples of naming themes:

  • Types of snakes
  • Types of bones
  • Plant types
  • Exotic weapon types
  • Car makes and models
  • Famous people (in our world or in your game world)

Re-Use Names

There are several possibilities when you consider re-using names. Many campaigns and genres tend to follow the convention of creating a unique name for everything in the world: people, places, and things. Often, this helps the players leave the real world and immerse themselves in the gaming world.However, consider re-using names for specific effects:

  • Tie names to game world history (see Tip #4, Issue #73)
  • As a reward (commoners name their children after heroic PCs)
  • As a penalty (commoners name their dogs after evil PCs)
  • Story hooks (for example, an evil NPC shares the same name as a PC)
  • To distinguish a society (one society uses a pool of common names while all the others tend towards unique names)

Base Names On Interesting Attributes

Depending on your campaign’s style, consider basing some names on an interesting attribute of the person, place, or thing. This can help create instant story hooks (the Golden Glow Forest, City of Lost Treasures), and NPC hooks (Bogdar the Undefeated, Nathan Demonfriend).Often, these types of names stand out more clearly in players’ minds, which can help with planting clues, making your stories and NPCs interesting, and creating a fun atmosphere.Here are a few items for you to use as an ideas checklist:

  • Single word names (One-eye, Sniper)
  • Multi-word names
  • Subtle or obvious name? (Do you need to meet them/see it/go there first to understand why?)
  • Self-picked or assigned? (Self picked names are usually positive while assigned are often derogatory.)

I think basing one’s name on an attribute or hook would also be a good way to build a reputation, especially in societies without mass media.

Use Names To Add Humour To Your Campaign

Many books and movies use funny characters to help relieve tension. You can do the same thing by creating NPCs with humorous names and personalities. When you want to lighten the mood, give these minor NPCs a brief cameo appearance and then move on.You can also use humorous names to further vilify the bad guys.

A funny name will give the PCs something to mock and scorn. It works for professional wrestling–it can work in your campaign too.A subscriber, Spikie, sent in these two names, which illustrate this tip well. He has a local, evil mage called Reigna Terror, and a brutish city guard named Emince Pain.

Use Anagrams For Clues & Puzzles

Following the same vein as Tip #7, you can use anagrams of names as clues and puzzles in your campaign. For example, perhaps the villain uses anagram aliases to disguise himself?The North American TV show “Lone Gunmen” has a rogue character who uses anagrams of the name “Lee Harvey Oswald” as aliases. The main characters discover these aliases in email addresses, signed guestbooks, invoices, and so on, which act as clues during episodes to make them aware of her presence.

I recently read an interesting book about alchemy. Many alchemists during the Middle Ages created many experimental chemistry “recipes” in an effort to turn lead into gold. They protected their recipes from rival alchemists by writing their work in code and masking critical parts in obscure, mystical passages of gibberish.You could have your NPCs employ the same technique using names and anagrams. Secret communications could be signed with anagrams.

Or, references to important things in scrolls, books, databases, and emails could be made in anagrams.Another neat anagram use, as submitted by Brian D., is to take the theme or symbolic nature of a character and make their name an anagram of that. For example, in Brian’s Vampire: the Masquerade game, he was playing a Tremere (mysterious, treacherous), used the theme “trickery”, and turned it into the name “Kirt Recy”. Many players will thrive on using this as a basis for PCs names, or discovering this hidden message in NPC names.

Sources Of Names

  • Phone books (rip pages out of old ones, or find ones from small communities for portability)
  • Atlases
  • Ingredients labels on food products
  • Dictionary (pick a word and scramble the letters)
  • Baby name books (many are categorized by ethnicity/language, popularity, occupation/activity, emotion, and gender; and many have explanations of the meaning and/or history of the name too)
  • http://spitfire.ausys.se/johan/names/default.htm
    • a good online generator: male, female, fantasy, sci-fi, orc
  • http://spitfire.ausys.se/johan/workshop/
    • has links to name software
  • The Everchanging Book of Names (highly recommended)
  • Excellent group of names links

Tips Request For Issue #75: “Plot Twists”

In issue #69, Max B. treated us to some great plot twist tips. He discussed how GMs could take standard old stories and twist them around to surprise the players and keep stories interesting.

I think that this topic deserves its very own issue. So, do you have any tips, tricks or techniques for twisting plots and for making “old stories” new again?

Send your tips to: [email protected]


Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

A Newbie GM’s Story

From Mark S.

[Johnn: I particularly like the way Mark gets into a player’s shoes and develops a campaign from there (see end of second paragraph). Good advice for new and experienced GMs.]

Hi There,

I’ve been roleplaying for about two years now, and for the last month and a half I have been running my first game as a GM. I hope to help other newbies by telling them what steps I made.

I’ve previously written some short stories and published them on my web site. I had an idea for a new story about three months ago and decided that I wanted my friends not just to read the story, but to live it as well, so I stepped up to the GMs chair. I sat down and considered what I would want from the game if I was a player. I would want my character to have a past, a position in society, a goal to strive for and an adventure that is bigger than myself, with danger, courage and romance in a world that feels real.

I set the scene for everyone, telling them who they would be working for and asked for them to submit backgrounds. I gave them the chance to create a home village, or city and to choose a position to hold within the house they were working for. I created the background for the house and decided on each NPC’s interests. I created a city with many different aspects and a kingdom with different counties and cities, including the characters homes, each with its own trade modifiers.

I’ve written letters and created parchments with prophecies which have left the party pondering what is going to happen. I’ve also allowed trade and negotiations to be roleplayed rather than dice rolled so that players feel integrated with the story.

The backgrounds submitted by the players were key tools in guiding the main plot of the story. Out of six sessions so far, four have been mainly character plot lines leading into the main plot.

The players have enjoyed the game so far. Three characters have died already, so the players have a sense of mortality and consider their chances and tactics first rather than charging head on.

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Re-Use Monsters

From Todd R.

For GMs who feel downtrodden when their monsters are mercilessly slaughtered, try this tip:

Often, PCs knock out monsters without actually killing them, and undead scavengers may come along soon thereafter to “finish the job”. In doing so, some of these undead creatures make spawns of themselves, creating a creature even more dangerous than the original.

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Speed Up Combat With A Stopwatch

From Michael F.

Use a stopwatch, one with a really loud ‘tick’ if possible, to time the round a player gets to make a decision in. Every two or three rounds, shorten this time by a few seconds. Or, if they fail to hit, cut their time in half.

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Tip For Finding New Players: The RPGA

From Chris VT.

I just wanted to share with you my own personal experiences lately with roleplaying. Seven months ago my wife and I moved to another city (Saskatoon). That meant my gaming came to a rather abrupt halt because I lost my group. Fortunately, there is a great game store in town and a pretty active, but small, University club. I tried to get people to join my Harnmaster game.

I put up posters, did demos at the University club games nights, but to no avail. d20 has taken the world by storm. Especially RPGA events. I would show up and no one would play my demo full of prizes and everything while the RPGA events would gather two tables (of six players at each)!

To be honest, when I first went to the Club game night I played in an RPGA adventure scenario. I enjoyed it but thought I would try and enlist Harnmaster players that way.

Well seven months later and still no takers for Harnmaster. I still play in the RPGA events. RPGA is a great way to meet new gamers. The games are usually held at times that are advantageous to most people and you don’t ever game with the same group twice (well sometimes you do).

I have given in completely now. I am a Guild Level member of the RPGA (instead of the free Fellowship Level) and I am converting my Harnmaster stuff to d20.

My advice to people who are finding it hard to meet new gamers is two fold:

  1. Find a coordinator of RPGA events in your area and join them for one of their scenarios.
  2. Get a Guild Level membership and order a module to run at your local games store or Gaming Club. I can guarantee you will get some initial interest.
    Just in case you don’t know, Guild level ($35 USD) members get 12 magazines and an adventure plus other stuff. Unfortunately, the scenarios are 10 bucks American and I have played some pretty goofy ones as well as some real good ones. I am new and have not received anything yet so I can’t tell you about the quality except to say that this year’s adventure module that was sent out to guild level members was really, really good (I played in it).
[Johnn: FYI, here’s the RPGA web site for more info: Wizards If that link doesn’t work, try Dungeons & Dragons ]