Thursday, March 11, 2010

Silly Names

Eric Minton over at The Mule Abides recently commented on some of the great (IMO) -- if silly -- names in my current Arandish Campaign PC party.  While I cannot take credit for any of those names -- Uncle Junkal's, Innominus' and Barbarella's players all named themselves -- I nevertheless must confess I have my own penchant for silly names.  I love comedy, especially silly-sounding names, yet like Mr. Minton, I often feel torn about this impulse, because I do not want silly names to completely interfere with or puncture the "reality" of the game-world of Ara.  I still want to be able to grip and frighten my PCs and their players as well, and too much joking around can erode that sense of imminent danger and horror that makes D&D so intense sometimes.

With thanks to Eric for spurring me to think about this, I have been able to recognize a few trends in my own naming conventions:

I like SILLY names -- really absurd ones like Rabbit-Head and Weasel-Breath -- but NOT necessarily puns.  I am in fact no great fan of verbal puns.

Further, I do not really like references to the real (21st century Earth) world UNLESS they are pop-cultural in nature (I love names recycled from obscure films or books) and really suggest a lot about the character.  The late Barbarella Bootay, for example, was a buxom, adventurous, brave female rodian duellist -- so that name really fit her, and I liked it because it is also fairly heroic-sounding.  Even beyond the fact that I would never tell a player how to name his or her character, Barbarella's player calling the PC "Barbarella" fits the character's personality and, furthermore, does not alter the fact that almost every NPC rodian the party meets conforms to my standard naming conventions for prominent rodian families: names like Saladar Karibekian and Karn Borasukian.  So Barbarella's PC name has only enhanced the fun for the player and party and has not significantly impacted the "typical" rodian cultural practices of Ara (since I typically dictate those as DM). Had she lived to become a prominent high-level warlord, maybe Barbarella would have established her own new prominent Bootay clan, and that would have changed rodians in Ara. . . but alas. . .

While minor NPCs of any stripe frequently get silly, or at least colloquial names in my campaigns, and players are welcome to name their characters however they wish, NPCs connected to any known organization or nation in Ara, or members of well-known families of Ara, are always named somewhat earnestly, and always in line with their institutional affiliation.  This includes names of kings, mayors, prominent innkeepers, recurring NPCs, etc.  I believe it is important not to overwhelm the diegetic "reality" of the Arandish setting with goofiness, so while major PCs and villains can have bizarre and / or silly names due to their exceptional status as heroes / main characters, and minor or adventure-specific NPCs can also get named weirdly, there exists a "returning cast" of Arandish regulars (or at least recurring types, e.g. Kaladarian Guards, Mizarian Barbarians) who provide campaign flavor and who I would tend to name more seriously.

Also, any serious villain I want the characters to truly fear will get a serious name.  I would never name a vampire, dragon, or other real menace in a silly way. 

Lastly, I often give minor NPCs, especially random townspeople and peasants, a very mundane name like session six's Larry the farmer

In the end, I like to strike a balance between "serious" and / or setting-specific names, on the one hand, and wacky, absurd names on the other.  That is the form my rpg'ing gonzoism takes, and I think it promotes a favorable game play balance, a fun amalgamation of light comedy and sinister danger.

No comments:

Post a Comment