Make Lists

Last session taught me that I really, really suck at coming up with NPC names and tavern names and whatever-the-heck on the fly. Sure, you could have a browser with some tabs open to name generators, but that takes time, too. Instead, I recommend stealing an idea from Apocalypse World and pre-making lists of anything you think makes sense.

Make lists of:
[li]NPC names
[/li][li]Surrounding towns
[/li][li]Significant areas (Great Fire Lake, Gresham Heights Neighborhood, etc)
[/li][li]Magical items
[/li][li]Tavern names (this is a must)
[/li][li]Whatever else is important in your setting

Anticipating an obvious critique that such lists can be too constraining, the obvious answer is: don’t let them constrain you. You can still come up with something on the fly if nothing on your list works. But it can be a very useful tool. You have to think on your feet enough as a GM in an emergent story game; if you can front-load a few things all the better.

After this and the Plot Maps thread, I like the way you think. (Technoir and Apocalypse World are great games to steal from.)

After world and character burning, I take the answer to “What’s the cultural analog?” and construct several lists of names based on that answer. I get male names, female names, surnames (if applicable; oftentimes they’re just patronyms), place names, and more. Then I devote one full page of my GM notebook section for that campaign to the lists of names. This helps me keep the flavor of the world consistent, so we don’t run into Torsten the tailor, Bjorn the cobbler, Haaken the brewer, and Jim the hosteller (because I couldn’t think of a Scandinavian name on the fly when the players Circled up an hosteller).

So, yes: make lists.


I agree that lists aren’t constraining at all. In fact, good preparation leads to better improvisation, I would say.

I have an Uzbek dictionary sitting on the table during my game to pluck words out of to serve as names. None of us know any better, so any word works as a name. I intend to write a list of actual names, too, but I haven’t taken the time yet.

Haha, I’m a bad one for introducing Jim the Hosteller to the game. I think pretty good on the fly for creating situations, but man, do I ever suck with names!

With the luxury of time, one can make very convincing names. If you want your names to have a foreign feel (ie. not using the same linguistic patterns and norms from your own mother tongue), and have a feeling of consistency, one thing I like to do is to create my own lexicons for the various in-game languages. This allows you to use similar word parts where applicable for meaning. It is not necessary to fill out many words at all for each lexicon – only invent and write down the ones you’ll use!

So, for example, I might decide that “Tor” is elvish for “island”. I would include the word “Tor” in every island’s name on an elvish map. Moving on to create other word meanings, “Silver Island” might become “Dela Tor”, and the “Isle of Light” might be dubbed “Tor al’Earbeth”. I could later use these word parts to create other names, such as the elf maiden Earbethela, whose name suddenly has meaning, much like our real names do IRL.

That’s one of the many reasons why I love Mouse Guard. :slight_smile:

He’s not kidding. One time I just wanted a drink of water, but Dustin demanded to see my list of tavern names first.

I’d add “Quirks and personality traits” as another good list to have. A character with one trait (He’s the blacksmith. She’s the mayor) is a plot point. One with two has potential. Even being the blacksmith who scratches his nose a lot can do wonders to help the table remember who this guy is.

I like that!