Five Tips for Crafting Party Names
From Johnn Four
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #295
- To Name Or Not?
- Lead The Naming Process
- Assigning The Name Yourself
- Make The Name Important – Use It Often
- Sources Of Inspiration
- My Approach To Setting Creation
- The Over-Resting Problem
- Online Resource For Practicing Accents
- Voice Software For Long Distance Roleplaying
- phpBB And WordPress Updates
- More About Springheel Jack
- Songs For Inspiration
To Name Or Not?
Does your group of players desire a name for their band of PCs? Do you want them to have one? The party name is a classic RPG element with roots in legends, fiction, and stories (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Knights of the Round Table).
Before you suggest or authorize a name for your group, note that party identity can be a boon or a bane. It can serve as a great GM tool that adds fun, drama, and a sense of accomplishment. A poorly chosen name, however, can diminish sense of disbelief, distract players, and conflict with campaign themes or session mood.
For example, what group of players could resist puffing their chests out when the King proclaims The Justiciars Of Vengeance have saved the realm? Alternatively, imagine the GM’s frustration when the A Team name starts to change toPCs’ personalities to match that of the 80s TV show.
Some reasons to craft a party name:
Some groups have unity problems. The PCs might have different goals, difficult personalities, diverse backgrounds, or poor teamwork. A party name can focus a group and bring them together.
A good name can influence or guide party decisions and character actions. It becomes a GM plotting and guidance tool.
A good name adds a sense of flair and style to your campaign. It becomes something worth defending and upholding for the PCs, and an element to design and plan around for GMs.
After the campaign ends, party names are often remembered first and help trigger memories and campaign stories. The party name might even become synonymous with the campaign and become its major identity.
It’s faster referring to your group of characters in-game, out of game, and in your notes by a party name than by listing each PC’s name. A party name is also more compelling than calling them The Group. 🙂
Some reasons not to craft or approve a party name:
A poorly chosen name ruins the flow and mood of game sessions.
Some genres and campaign styles don’t work well with the party name concept.
If the benefits of having a party name are already established, there’s no need to craft a name, especially if there’s a risk the name might counter some of those benefits. For example, if the party is tight and working well as a team, but then a heated argument erupts when deciding a party name, it would be wise to forestall the naming.
Lead The Naming Process
If the group already has a cool name and everyone’s happy with it, skip this tip. If the name has yet to be decided, or, if your players are having trouble coming up with ideas, read on.
If you want the group to have a name, then accept the possibility that you might need to lead the process. If a player doesn’t champion the cause and push the issue so that a name is culled and picked, then you need to take on this role yourself.
First, you need to figure out how the name will be picked and who wants to do the picking.
- Does the group want a name? Take a step back and objectively consider whether a name is even desired. If not, drop the issue and game on–there’s no sense upsetting players.
- Does the group want input? Sometimes, the players just want the name to emerge naturally during play. Other times, they want to brainstorm and pick the name themselves. In some instances, your group will be happy with whatever you decide.
If your group wants to consciously pick a name, then help where you can with idea generation and feedback. You might consider asking them between sessions if they just want you to assign the name.
Also discuss how the name will be decided. If it’s group consensus, will it need a majority or unanimous decision?
Figuring out the logistics of the group naming process might seem like work, but it’s quick to poll your group, and figuring out the protocols at the beginning will save time and smooth out the decision-making process.
If you have a good feeling about things, you are also welcome to stand back and let it happen without working out the who and how. If you have decided a group name is a good thing though, intervene when you feel it’s time and work through the steps above.
Assigning The Name Yourself
If you’ve been tasked with crafting the group name, consider these tips:
- Now or later? Unless you have reasons for picking a name now, feel free to take your time and let some gameplay unfold before choosing a name.
- Start with a theme. To jog ideas, pick a theme first, then look for the right words. Example themes:
Prophecy. If your game involves a prophecy, give it a name, reveal it, and then name the group around it once the PCs know they’re involved.
Background element or event. How did the PCs come together as a group? Do the characters have commonalities in their backgrounds?
The villain or campaign conflict. What are the characters struggling against or striving for? A group of heroes should be named after their accomplishments, and crafting this name before the victory is like throwing down the gauntlet for your players.
Principles. Do the characters share common principles, ethics, beliefs, morals, or alignment? Name the group after the principles they’ve chosen to uphold.
Patron. Who the PCs are is often reflected in whom they work for and why.
- The party name should be used in-game, so pick something that won’t break character, sense of disbelief, or mood.
- Keep a notebook with you as names might come to mind outside your planning time.
- Pick the noun first. It’s often easiest to first find a word that describes who the characters are, their role in the campaign, or their situation in the game world. Then, pick a modifier word–an adjective. Are they avengers, heroes, protectors, judges, seekers?
- Sometimes, an abstract name works best. This doesn’t pin the party into any particular role or promise anything on your behalf. It doesn’t judge the PCs either, which some players might appreciate. For example, The Iron Fist, The Green Shields, The Winding Path.
Make The Name Important – Use It Often
Once a name is picked, often after much angst, debate, and thought, be sure to make all the effort worthwhile. Fortunately, making the name important not only rewards the players, but it helps with planning and design.
- Out of game, use the party name in session logs, campaign notes, and casual discussions with players.
- If you use a message board, Yahoo! Group, wiki, or some other online gathering place, name it after the group name.
- Gear the game world toward group name use. This will make the PCs and players more comfortable with using it.
Bureaucracy might require forms with the party name on them as the primary identifier
Restaurants and appointments might use the party name
NPCs use the party name for introductions
Signs, posters, announcements, heralds, and criers all use the name
Patrons, employers, lords, and important folk use the name
Villain declarations–in speeches, curses, and parley, have villains use the party’s name
- Be sure to give and use other group names
Scribes, sages, and historians speak of previous heroic and villainous groups by party name
Rival groups of NPCs have their own party names
Allies should use party names
Give cults, sub-cultures, clubs, and social groups party names
Sources Of Inspiration
Picking the right words for a group name is tough. Sometimes, every name feels cheesy. You might also be suffering from writer’s block. Here are a few sources you might consider for researching good words and examples:
- Song Lyrics
- Atlas – use the index
- Colours – http://www.hccweb.com/manual/hccmanA.html
Have you had a great group name in the past? Heard of one or read one? Please send in your group name ideas and I’ll post the list for all GMs and parties to use. I’d also love to hear your group naming tips. Thanks!
A Brief Word From Johnn
RPG Advocacy Document Coming Along
In late 2005, I requested links and tips for helping parents decide whether RPGs are ok for their children to play. Many of you sent in your tips and links–thank you! Leslie Holm has pieced together all the feedback into a giant document, which I’m now going through and will make available as soon as I’m done.
RPG Shop Offers Cash Back
Whether you support this e-zine by purchasing from my RPG Shop affiliate store, or you reach RPG Shop through other channels, here’s some news you might find of interest:
“We have just implemented a 5% customer cash back offer. Every customer who buys something will receive 5% put on account for their next order. In short, it is an additional 5% discount. That means our prices are 20% or more off retail pricing.”
Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters
Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!
My Approach To Setting Creation
From Kaspar Lundsby
Some time ago, I wrote the following for the website I’m creating for my RPG campaign setting.
My Approach To Setting Creation
It is my opinion that magic, monsters, and pointless adventuring dominate existing role playing settings to such a degree that magic loses its aura of magic, monsters become cannon-fodder, each monster is distinguished from the other only by its looks and durability, and adventuring becomes a way of living a good life with loads of riches and status gained by taking on diverse assignments without much risk involved. After all, the adventurer is a hero.
Because of this, I have stated the following principles for myself to follow while creating my setting:
- Less is more. If magic is rare, it is no longer common, and therefore more wondrous in nature. Similarly, if fewer kinds of monsters exist, they become truly monstrous to the common populace.
- A hero is not something you are, but something you become. Obtaining the state of “hero” is a reward gained by performing heroic actions; it is not something you become through destiny alone. I find it much more interesting to follow the actions of the hero-to-be than to follow the established hero.
- Actions have consequences. This principle applies to characters as well, but a setting is often shaped by the consequences of actions. For example, culture is often based on religious doctrine. However, this is almost never the case in role playing settings….
The Over-Resting Problem
From Diego Virasoro
I started to GM about a year ago with a group of 5 players. I’ve been learning a lot both by making my own errors and learning from the collective wisdom present on the Internet.
Still, I am facing a problem I cannot easily find a solution for: over-sleeping/resting characters. In D&D, resting gives you a chance to recover spells and hit points. Currently, my problem is spells. By resting after each encounter, my players can unleash on each monster a massive array of spells that easily kills it.
I came up with a few ideas against it, but they were not enough:
- The game has a mechanism built-in to prevent this, such as having to wait one full day before recovering spells. But by using a simple spell like Rope Trick, or moving to a less dangerous area, they can wait as long as necessary with no problems. Rope Trick puts them in a new empty dimensional world where they can rest for 1 hour per spellcaster level, or twice that if, as in our case, they have the Extend Spell feat. So yes, there are built-in mechanics, but they are easy to circumvent.
- The dungeon is dangerous and so they might meet random monsters by waiting too much. In our case, this is again resolved with Rope Trick, but generally there are always safe areas in a dungeon that PCs can go to, like inside a room with a secret door, with a watch set. At most, they can leave the dungeon and come back the next day.
- A simple trick in a GM’s sleeve would be to put a time limit on quests, and I definitely plan on doing that. However, that’s something that can only be used once in a while. It would look awkward, I think, if each dungeon had some reason for having to be completed within a certain time.
- Similarly, you can prevent them from finding safe areas by closing the dungeon entrance behind them, but this can again only be used rarely. Currently, the result of all of this is, in my group, more and more players decide to play a spellcasters as soon as their previous character dies.
How have other GMs solved this?
Thanks Johnn and keep up the excellent work with RoleplayingTips.
Online Resource For Practicing Accents
After reading your interview with TT [ http://www.treasuretables.org/2006/01/interview-with-johnn-four ] I re-read your favorite issues and the one on 8 NPC Parley Tricks got me thinking. Long story short, I found the following web site: [ http://www.ku.edu/%7Eidea/ ]
It has sound files of people from all parts of the globe speaking English. You can search by region and listen to them speak. I’m going to use it heavily as I try to work on being able to talk in specific accents for different NPCs.
Voice Software For Long Distance Roleplaying
I was never satisfied with the sound quality of the various voice programs when there was more than two parties connected. For a long time, software had a problem getting to full duplexing (you can hear me talking while you’re talking–one party could talk, and others had to listen). That problem has been solved, but until recently, it was still difficult to get good sound quality with more than two computers/people in on the conversation.
There is at least one program now that has fixed that problem: Gizmo Project [ http://www.gizmoproject.com ]. Gizmo Project is free and allows (theoretically) unlimited connections, though I think their documentation says that quality begins to degrade after about 16 connections. Gizmo Project is getting better on the ease-of-use end compared to when I first used it. With a conference call, you’re limited to one hour per phone number you use, but you can usually choose another phone number to continue. (My group played with Gizmo Project for the first time recently and developed a procedure: if we forgot that time was going to run out and got disconnected, we incremented the telephone number by one and went on with negligible interruption.)
A broadband connection is recommended. It’s also a good idea to have headsets, since there can be some echo for everyone else if one person is using a microphone and speakers. (We had this situation with one computer, and the echo was manageable; more than one would probably have been problematic.) We have gone with Gizmo Project because we have people in four separate locations and multiple computers connecting from some of the locations, so we need more than five people in the conference call. I think the sound quality of the program is very good.
The combination of a high quality voice connection and an online virtual tabletop RPG (see list in Issue 282) makes possible a pace that is close to in-person gaming. Video is something we haven’t investigated yet–it’s probably doable to some extent, but we’re pretty happy with our current setup.
phpBB And WordPress Updates
From Scot Newbury
Happy New Year!
I was going through my archive of emails and wanted to pass along two quick items.
In the latest issue, phpBB was listed as an option for a bulletin board system in the feature article, but what wasn’t mentioned is that you need to provide your own hosting for it–an important point you might want to let folks know about.
Also, back in Issue #284, WordPress was mentioned as an option (happens to be my choice) and that they were working on free hosting. They are now providing that hosting.
More About Springheel Jack
What’s a horror game without a serial killer, eh? (Yes, I’m Canadian). The Springheel Jack name is one I pulled from the Stephen King short story, “Strawberry Spring.” In my game, Jack’s actually a Jill, a victim of the Infernal Queen (see the Infernal Queen poem) who kept her head (but still died) when an alert city guardsman came upon the scene and blew his whistle. Now Springheel Jack is on the trail of the Infernal Queen, killing young pretty women in an attempt to reduce the Queen’s supply of heads and to flush her out. The Springheel moniker comes from Jack’s amazing movement abilities (a staple of many Rolemaster spell lists).
Stephen King lifted Springheeled Jack from a real life legend of a Springheeled Jack that terrorized London in the 1800s. Here are a few links on the subject.
I’m sure most RolePlaying Tips readers, being as well versed in myth as they are, have heard of Springheeled Jack. For those few who might have never heard the legend, it would make great fodder for a Ravenloft or Lovecraftian based game.
Songs For Inspiration
From Edward Brush
I GM a small group of players, and read the article on using songs for inspiration. I found inspiration in the song Forest by System of a Down, and upon reflecting on it, I wanted to share other songs and bands that inspired me.
System of a Down – Forest, Question
Tool – A lot of their lyrics are vague, making them open for interpretation. Specifically, the album Lateralus has lots of alchemic/spiritual references. The singer also uses fascinating words, alliteration, kenning, and other nifty rhyme techniques. Songs: Stinkfist, 46&2, Third Eye, The Grudge, The Patient, Parabol, Parabola, Lateralus, Reflection. http://www.toolband.com/album/index.html
Dimmu Borgir – Lots of evil stuff sung by these guys. Their artwork and band pics can also be inspiring.
Marylin Manson – If you have a gothic theme you can use anything from Antichrist Superstar.
Nine Inch Nails – Good if you want a theme of self loathing/destruction, especially suitable for an antagonist. A final note, the German artist H R Giger is also a great inspiration for me. Check his website at HR Giger – The Official Website. In case you don’t know who he is, he designed the Aliens, Species, and some other nasty creatures from movies.