NPC Name Tips and Resources

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #330

NPC Name Tips and Resources

From Johnn Four

Group Lexicon

Names are a primary game element. They provide a lexicon the group shares to help identify what you are talking about. Imagine the confusion if NPCs didn’t have names and you only referred to them indirectly: Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third. 🙂

[ Who’s on First? by Abbott and Costello ]

Some general naming tips:

  • Pick serious names if you don’t want NPCs to become one- dimensional.
  • For recurring NPCs, pick memorable names. If names are hard for the GM and players to remember, it becomes frustrating while you scramble through notes, and gameflow and immersion suffers.
  • Pick names that our pronounceable. Say names out loud before the game. If you can’t pronounce them, your players won’t, either.
  • Be consistent. Strange names are prone to shifts in pronunciation, especially if they’re not well-known or remembered and you need to read out loud from notes. Consider creating a pronunciation hint or guide, or spelling names phonetically.
  • Spell them out for the players. Break out of character for a moment while GMing and spell names out loud for any record keepers and note-takers. Pick your timing for this as you see fit, but it’s important that interested players get accurate information for future consistency.

Players often refer to notes and game logs to remind themselves about who they’ve met and who they know about.

You want to avoid confusion due to mis-spelling and inaccurate notes – unless that’s your intent for puzzle or gameplay purposes.

Prepare Names In Advance

You need to create names primarily for two occasions: while planning and while GMing.

Planning

You can speed planning up by having lists of names crafted in advance. Instead of wracking your brain trying to think up each name as required, you can just pick one from a list and move on.

I research names for my games on the Internet. For example, in my current Greyhawk game, I hit a few Greyhawk websites and copied name lists from resources, downloads, forum posts, and so on. For a Birthright campaign, I looked up historical Earth names.

Next, I put name lists in a spreadsheet with a random function. Hitting the F9 key gives me a random name fast and simple.

In-Game

While GMing, how many names do you actually need to create during a typical session?

It depends on the type of game you are running, the genre, and where the PCs currently are (like in a dungeon vs. a city). However, chances are you don’t need a hundred names. Make a best guess. Mine is 10. Make that the number of names you need to prepare for yourself before the game. Why take a long time to conjure up 1000 names when you just need 10?

In addition, with only a small number to deal with, you can craft a cheat sheet for yourself that includes a small number of names for each common culture or race in the game.

For example:

  • 10 Veluna male names
  • 10 Veluna female names
  • 10 streetwise nicknames
  • 10 goblin names
  • 10 orc names
  • 10 female elf names
  • 10 male elf names
  • 10 dwarf names

Name According To Genre

Nothing breaks immersion faster than a name from the wrong genre or world. Han Solo the wizard, Bob the vampire, and Bilbo the car mechanic are names that might derail game sessions. It’s ideal if your players respect the game and give it the same dedication, passion, and enthusiasm you provide, and goofy names can ruin your hard work.

Create A Cast Of Characters

Document names as you use them to keep your games consistent. One of the best tools I’ve found for name documentation is the cast of characters.

A cast of characters is a simple list of names and notes put on paper, in a chart, or in a spreadsheet. You can expand on this tool in a few different ways as well:

Mind Map

If you remember pictures better than bulleted notes, use mind map notation to not only track NPC names, but their relations, connections, personalities, and otherin-game info.

I used to think mind mapping was just drawing lines and circles. However, these sample mind maps illustrate the technique’s full potential:

http://www.buzanworld.com/mind_map_gallery.asp

Full Contact Sheet

Using a chart or a spreadsheet, you can add as many bits of information about your NPCs as you like. I use OpenOffice spreadsheets to track basic game data, factions, PC-NPC attitudes, encounter areas, links to the NPC entry on our group’s wiki, links to the NPC in the MyInfo software I use, and more.

Check it out: (OpenOffice Format, 41KB; Warning: contains Temple of Elemental Evil spoilers.)

Cast of NPCS

Index Cards

You can buy 100 cards at the dollar store. Each time an NPC pops into existence in your campaign, take out a card and write their name at the top. Store the cards in a box and file them alphabetically. Each time you come up with more information about the NPC, take out the card and make notes on it.

When plotting, pull out cards for the NPCs involved and lay them out on a table, or tape them to a surface. Arrange them in piles, beside each other, touching each other, or in any configuration that would help you craft encounters and plot adventures with them.

Subscribe To Word Of The Day Lists

Word of the day lists are awesome name generators. Each day, you receive a word and a definition. Many words in English make interesting NPC names suitable for many genres, including fantasy, sci-fi, and modern. Some words won’t make good names, but when you receive ones you like, paste them into a list.

Another cool feature of word of the day lists is you can use the definitions to hook NPC personalities upon. Not only do you get a potentially great name idea each day, but you also get ideas about who the NPC could be.

For example, her are some words and their definitions from the word of the day list I subscribe to:

skosh (skosh) – A small amount; a little bit.

paisano (py-SAH-no) – A pal, buddy. A fellow countryman.

boodle (BOOD-l) – An illegal payment, as in graft.

miscible (MIS-uh-buhl) – Capable of being mixed together.

caustic (KAW-stik) – Capable of burning or corroding. Highly critical; sarcastic.

ode (rhymes with code) – A lyric poem celebrating a person, event, thing, etc. written in an exalted style.

monody (MON-uh-dee) – A poem in which the poet laments someone’s death.

epopee (EP-uh-pee) – Epic poetry or an epic poem.

palinode (PAL-uh-noad) – A poem in which the author retracts something said in an earlier poem. epithalamion (ep-uh-thuh-LAY-mee-on) – A poem or song in honor of a bride and bridegroom.

dandle (DAN-dl) – To bounce a child on the knees or in the arms. To pamper or pet.

exiguous (ig-ZIG-yoo-uhs) – Scanty; small; slender.

quaggy (KWAG-ee) – Marshy; flabby; spongy.

galen (GAY-luhn) – A physician.

hermeneutic (hur-muh-NOO-tik, -NYOO-) – Interpretive or explanatory.

roscian (ROSH-ee-uhn) – Of or related to acting.

schlub (shlub) – A clumsy oaf.

maven (MAY-vuhn) – An expert, connoisseur, or enthusiast.

yenta (YEN-tuh) – A busybody or a gossip.

iris (EYE-ris) – A rainbow.

rapparee (rap-uh-REE) – Any freebooter or robber.

Some lists you can subscribe to:

Quick Name Tricks

Here are a few tricks for creating NPC names, taken from the Roleplaying Tips Weekly archives.

  • Spell words backwards
  • Look at food ingredients
  • Use foreign languages – Internet translators, or foreign language dictionaries (which you can purchase cheap from dusty corners of used book stores)
  • Phone books
  • Baby name books
  • Draw names from similar reference books. For example, use horticulture/plant name books for elven names, engineering books for gnomes or hi-tech cultures, history books for a specific culture
  • Credits lists in your RPG books
  • Use random draws of scrabble tiles

Internet Name Resources

Here are some links to name resources from the Tips archives, courtesy of the Roleplaying Tips GM Encyclopedia:

Graphic of logo used as divider

A Brief Word From Johnn

Know Of Any Card-Based RPG Tools?

I received this request for card-type RPG tools from a Tipsreader. If you have any suggestions, please e mail me at [email protected]

Johnn,

I’ve been on the hunt for card-based RPG tools, enhancements, aides, etc. I think any idea that reduces the bulk of gaming materials that a player/DM has to carry around is worth looking at.

Could you put out the call to see what card-based ideas/items people have either found on the Internet, in stores, or developed themselves?

Here’s an example of the kind of tool I’m looking for:

Inspiration Cards for Writing and Roleplaying

http://www.burningvoid.com/rpg/2001/icards.php

Thanks, Mike

Have a great week!

Cheers,

Johnn Four
[email protected]

Graphic of logo used as divider

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

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

240 Names

From Lord Skudley

The following list is from a name generator I created using names from the US census of 1990 and some name sites found on the web. The generator, by default, will generate 10 male or female names (both first and last) for the nationality you choose from a dropdown box. This generator can be found at: http://community3e.com/resource.html packaged with the Rumor Generator.

Male Names

English

  • Steathford Naquin
  • Hollis Quintana
  • Rickey Kahn
  • Thorndike Hutchings
  • Tolland Marroquin
  • Lenny Linares
  • Brain Burney
  • Ullok Dawkins
  • Friduwulf Francois
  • Esteban Rea

Scotch-Irish

  • Cathaoir Caolan
  • Malvin Nathraichean
  • Sruthair Britschgi
  • Meadhra Allebach
  • Tier Anderson
  • Gilmore Bigelow
  • Beth O’brouwer
  • Morrissey Clennan
  • Beiste Ynbristow
  • Rowin Mcgillespie

French

  • Karlis Merit Royal
  • Aleron Lemanneville
  • Darcy Laverrell
  • Harbin D’romain
  • Ancil Les Karcsi
  • Karcsi Page
  • Manville Merit Rousset
  • Guerin Albaric
  • Burel Romain
  • Vardan Laburcet

German

  • Maynard Vonderry
  • Drud Vonbogohardt
  • Lorenz Luiginw
  • Wilmod Vonulrich
  • Dedrick Vonalrik
  • Fremont Vandermisha
  • Hanz Derkostya
  • Bren Vonandrya
  • Binge Derlaurentij
  • Adelhard Nicolai

Russan

  • Ilya Vanderrickard
  • Oleg V’hartmann
  • Burian Vanderjakob
  • Petenka Burkhart
  • Edik Vongerard
  • Dimitri Vasya
  • Nikita Vandertusya
  • Jeirgif Foma
  • Nikita Karol
  • Cheslav Yurochka

Spanish

  • Patricio Josue
  • Hector Delmar
  • Aurelio Degli Blas
  • Natalio Macario
  • Garcia Porfiro
  • Cornelio Donambrosi
  • Gualterio Del Alessandro
  • Nataniel Abramo
  • Ramon Primo
  • Salomon Ferdinando

Italian

  • Donatello Gervaso
  • Pascal Del Humberto
  • Guido Degli Palben
  • Ugo Armando
  • Lucan Zacarias
  • Fabroni Lucio
  • Galtero Donarturo
  • Este Pietro
  • Donatello Corradeo
  • Gaetano Donato

Greek

  • Aesculapius Erkerd
  • Alcyoneus Othmann
  • Arion Peppi
  • Agestes Rald
  • Alcmaeon Alwin
  • Adrastus Adalwen
  • Artemus Adel
  • Ander Ailbe
  • Cole Hobbard
  • Anchises Ardal

Scandinavian

  • Thormod Sigvat
  • Buri Munin
  • Thord Thjalfi
  • Jan Olin
  • Illugi Birger
  • Tyrkir Lars
  • Vili Ilmari
  • Hamar Jormungand
  • Paavo Lars
  • Hallbjorn Lukas

Oriental

  • Tanjiro Shen Nikki-Rai
  • Chen Nikki Zi-Toshiro
  • Kaemon Kado Zi-Botan
  • Sachio Keiji Suzu-Morio
  • Kenjiro Yasuo Zi-Raidon
  • Li Kentaro Lirong-Renjiro
  • Kaemon Kin Zi-Taro
  • Cong Saniiro Zi-Shen
  • Cong Dai Jin-Li
  • Reizo Yukio Zi-Kong

Indian

  • Aditya Adeben’fahime
  • Akshobhya Anzety’upala
  • Tsekani Gahiji’jivanta
  • Memphis Lateef’azale
  • Vivek Sahan’lazize
  • Rishi Bhaskar’dameer
  • Ottah Menes’debbani
  • Bali Fenuku’mehadi
  • Chuma Sekani’kerani
  • Hasin Khaldun’isis

American Indian

  • Kono: Miwok name, meaning unknown
  • Siwili: tail of the fox
  • Nodin: wind
  • Chayton: Sioux name meaning falcon
  • Ocunnowhurst: Cheyenne name meaning yellow wolf
  • Vaiveahtoish: Cheyenne name meaning alights on the cloud
  • Ohitekah: Sioux name meaning brave
  • Muraco: white moon
  • Nawat: left-handed
  • Etchemin: Algonquin name meaning canoe man

Femail Names

English

  • Autumn Landers
  • Gerald Vann
  • Johana Oates
  • Naida Edmonds
  • Deena Sinclair
  • Kira Borden
  • Adelaide Millard
  • Coletta Viera
  • Son Hamer
  • Cassaundra Chu

Scotch-Irish

  • Honor Keegan
  • Honora O’brockway
  • Christa Boreland
  • Siubhan Tighearnach
  • Robina O’scot
  • Dervorgilla Cowen
  • Edina O’oney
  • Fia Mcnaughton
  • Feenat Mcbostrom
  • Niamh Cullo

French

  • Cadence Channing
  • Aubine D’algernon
  • Nadine Masson
  • Harrietta D’gifford
  • Marianne Lavail
  • Karolina Rust
  • Jacquenetta Dennis
  • Angelika Cort
  • Coralie Leroy
  • Marianne Merit Tyeis

German

  • Winifrida Ardal
  • Rilla Waller
  • Irmuska Tabbart
  • Linda Benat
  • Hertha Adalrik
  • Odiane Oleg
  • Aloisia Alek
  • Isana V’roman
  • Albreda Pavlya
  • Tibelde Meino

Russan

  • Allochka Vonbittan
  • Kisa V’egon
  • Galya Hackett
  • Tania Vonrodrik
  • Lyudmila Derjohann
  • Marina Ilya
  • Sinovia Levka
  • Ranevskaya Roman
  • Lyubochka Fyodor
  • Galenka V’fadey

Spanish

  • Delcine Sabino
  • Fonda Prospero
  • Alejandrina Fabio
  • Conchetta Isidoro
  • Jakinda Dontulio
  • Mendi Alessandro
  • Bella Egidio
  • Agueda Doncecilio
  • Marisol Guglielmo
  • Filipa Giulio

Italian

  • Viviana Enrique
  • Constanzie Degli Turi
  • Ghita Isidro
  • Baptiste Desiderio
  • Angelia Oliverios
  • Guillelmina Giancarlo
  • Bambi Pascual
  • Carmelita Donugo
  • Constanzie Degli Giuseppe
  • Ysabel Guglielmo

Greek

  • Calandra Lambrett
  • Charissa Bernardyn
  • Galatea Ald
  • Coretta Alarick
  • Alyssa Jaye
  • Gregoria Lamarr
  • Melantho Rico
  • Calliope Alarick
  • Dorothea Hewlitt
  • Elpida Aric

Scandinavian

  • Anrid Asgerd
  • Hlif Rungnir
  • Russu Knud
  • Kriemhilde Kalman
  • Asvor Sveyn
  • Auduna Garm
  • Borgny Gilby
  • Astra Royd
  • Annalie Karl
  • Lovisa Bjolf

Oriental

  • Kioko Yukio Kyoko-Torio
  • Sachi Kenjiro Jun-Saburo
  • Midori Kuan-Yin Zi-Kuan-Yin
  • Zhi Saniiro Taka-Lian
  • Xinqian Takeo Sakura-Cong
  • Huiying Kado Zi-Toshiro
  • Bo Shoda Zi-Roka
  • Chiko Akeno Zi-Rei
  • Kimi Li Zi-Rai
  • Michiko Nikki Zi-Manzo

Indian

  • Esmake Ata’samvarta
  • Emarat Seth’dirayat
  • Sarmadee Anish’badieh
  • Indumati Jumoke’varunani
  • Shasti Bhaga’marit
  • Sitara Kantu’sarama
  • Amurra Nephthys’abhirati
  • Sakari Apophis’gauri
  • Fitnat Aswad’nassiat
  • Bizre Badru’genoubee

American Indian

  • Eyota: great
  • Chimalis: bluebird
  • Nahimana: Sioux name meaning mystic
  • Algoma: valley of flowers
  • Ptaysanwee: Sioux name meaning white buffalo
  • Ayita: Cherokee name meaning first to dance
  • Wuti: Hopi name meaning woman
  • Aiyana: Forever flowering; eternal blossom
  • Chu’mana: Hopi name meaning snake maiden
  • Kolenya: Miwok name meaning coughing fish

PvP (Player vs. Player)

From chrysaetos

http://www.roleplayingtips.com/readissue.php?number=328#R7

In response to kurtiswarr’s tip on discouraging PvP: cursing the characters not to attack each other is putting the wheelbarrow before the chicken, so to speak. PvP is not an in-game problem; it’s a problem in the (usually unspoken) social contract between players.

The best way to discourage PvP is to tell the players, not the characters, that you don’t want to deal with a bunch of PvP in your game. If you want to introduce some in-group tension, there are better ways than through antisocial behavior resulting in physical conflict.

Ideally, this discussion should take place before the game even starts, but it may be something that just comes up. “My character would” isn’t a valid excuse; you’re in control of your character, not the other way around. If you think your character absolutely must kill his erstwhile buddy, then either talk it out while out of character or find a reason why he shouldn’t.

Pop culture is full of pairings that generate friction without coming to blows. C-3P0 and R2-D2 come to mind, as a comical example. Legolas and Gimli had a friendly rivalry running through most of the books. Conflict makes characters interesting, but the conflict must be minor enough not to act as a wedge in group cohesion.

[Editor’s note: I agree with chrysaetos, but I think establishing game expectations as early as possible, be they for PvP or not, is the key. You could have a great deal of fun pitting your characters against each other (and fun is the greatest good here), and the right DM can make his adventures soar with that kind of conflict for fuel. It’s rare, but I welcome this into my games as a player or as a DM, as long as I know about it to begin with. ;]

Online Noire Comic

From Kate Manchester

re: http://www.roleplayingtips.com/readissue.php?number=329#R1

Here’s a great series of comics in the Noir genre, though the most current ones are stalled.

Super Natural Crime

Villain Ideas

From Kit Reshawn

People act how they think they should. Even if they fear or feel they are wrong in their actions, they will rationalize that this decision is the best one they can make. Dictators through history have killed millions, but none of them did it because they believed it was wrong.

Who are you more afraid of, the 200-pound ruffian who is trying to steal a loaf of bread from you but knows it’s wrong, or the waif who believes with all her being that you stole her baby? What is each capable of? In answering that question, I fear the waif.

The same is true for villains. Righteousness is the greatest cause of all, making heroes from cowards and recruiting new blood with each step forward. This does not mean that every villain has to be doing horrible things and believing he’s right, and sometimes having the party encounter the reluctant villain creates a lot of complexity and enjoyable roleplaying situations. What will the PCs decide if they finally break up the bandit ring plaguing the king and find out that he is a Robin Hood character?

But, usually you want your villains to be someone the party can hate, and that can be tricky. A baron who plots to start a war is perhaps 100% loyal to his king and country and has an unblemished reputation. Why would he do this? Well, the barbarians just over the border are a plague on society and hardly human anyway. It is his duty to remove the threat they pose to the kingdom by exterminating every last one of them, down to the last baby. In his mind it doesn’t matter that there is a recent treaty with the barbarians, because you cannot trust what those animals say anyway.

This is a better villain than the guy who wants to open the gates to hell and let the underworld devour the world of the living. He is dangerous because he believes that what he is doing is the only solution to the problem, and that he is acting in the best interests of the nation. Because he has a good reputation and is attacking an age old enemy he will have an easy time getting support from others even as he commits atrocities. Should the party ever corner him he will never surrender and will become dangerously unpredictable as he takes every risk necessary to win.

By doing this you give your bad guys much more personality, and you create believable NPCs. Players will remember the bad guy a lot better if they are able to understand why he did what he did, even if they completely disagree with his actions.

Things to keep in mind:

  • If you have these villains, then magic that harms evil creatures/people probably won’t work on them. Using the D&D alignment system, they would probably be considered some sort of neutral alignment. It is best to just forget alignment completely and realize that people do what they do because they think it is right, and sometimes they are wrong.
  • It is ok to have purely evil villains sometimes, but they should be rare. The best pure villains are demons or devils. Alternately, you can have a person who is doing what he thinks is right, but what he thinks is right is anything that gives him what he wants.
  • Don’t give every villain a sob story. Yes, it may be cool to have your bad guy be bad because some group killed his sister when he was only 7, but if you have a sob story for every villain it gets old fast.
  • Try to give most villains some ‘good’ traits. Perhaps he gives money to poor children, or has a zoo full of cute, fuzzy animals he has saved. This is a great way to introduce the party to the fact that the bad guy has more to him than just the main plot, and may even get them interested in learning a lot more about him.