What’s in a name? More than you might think.

We’ve all been there, describing the new store or tavern that the party has just rolled into, saying things like: “The proprietor is a portly fellow, balding, short. His name is…” *Ruffling through some pages, reaching for your phone that has the random name generator on it…* “William.”

Everyone knows that you don’t have a name for all of the roughly 1 billion people who aren’t players that inhabit your world, and that we absolutely need those random name generators. But everyone doesn’t need to know that this guy that they just met didn’t have a name until someone asked for it. Why? Because it lets them know that this guy that they just met isn’t important. If your players roll into a room and meet four guys, one of them who has a page of description and a name like Sir Illian Blackmane, and three other guys who are nondescript fellas with names fresh off your computer screen, guess who they are going to focus all of their attention on?

So, how do you pull a name out of a hat without clueing your players in to the fact that you just pulled a name out of a hat? Do about one minute of additional game preparation. Break out that random name generator and get a dozen or so good names – hit that generate button several times and get some names your happy with. Then write these down on a blank sheet of paper or an index card or something. Now you have a list of names already generated, and you can just take the top one from the list the next time you have to introduce the PCs to “mercenary number two.” Whenever you use a name from the list, write a brief reminder about who has that name out from that name on your piece of paper or note card.

I’m going to go take my advice now and right down some names for the faceless masses who live in my campaign world. Stay tuned for notes from session three of my Keep on the Borderlands campaign, which should be up in the next day or so.

Spoiler: word on the street has it that there will be two more players at the table today, so I may not be playing a party NPC, which would be awesome.

 

 

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4 thoughts on “What’s in a name? More than you might think.

  1. One session involved my party being beset upon by a pair of druid highwaymen. I hadn’t bothered naming them because I figured my party would fight it out. To my shock, they talked them down. They asked for names and I made up a pair on the spot.

    Interestingly, for being a pair of disposable and unimportant NPCs, one of the highwaymen went on to be a rather important NPC and the other was retconned as being an early appearance of a later Player Character (the other highwaymen was undescribed and never spoke allowing this substitution to be seamless).

  2. This is one of those handy ideas that should be obvious, but I rarely remember to do. I think I’ll go put a list on my iPhone.

    I usually pull an author’s name off the bookshelf near my gaming table, but over the years I’ve started to repeat myself. Of course that might just mean I need to swap books around 🙂

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