After a long, long delay, I am very pleased to announce the forthcoming release of my Heroic Nicknames pdf. This book is over 100 pages long, and launches my Names for Games series.
Heroic Nicknames presents an extensive set of tables to allow any fantasy GM to add a wide range of nicknames to their GMCs. Many of the tables are warrior-focused, but a variety of names are possible. Examples from the accompanying list of names include:
- Adolphus the Saw
- Agathe Half-Spear
- Alberic the Tall
- Anstelle of the Ghostly Runes
This pdf grew in the writing, and took me far longer to complete than I planned. I took time out to produce smaller pdfs, which taught me the skills needed to create a 100+ page pdf. However, Heroic Nicknames is almost ready to launch. My long blog post this week is an extract from the introduction to the pdf.
The Function of a Name
What is the purpose of a name? As a GM, the names we assign do many things for us. This introduction outlines the functions of a name within the game, and the ways a good name can enhance your game.
If a name serves several functions in the game, then we are leveraging the time spent generating the name into more story at the table. More story equals more fun, equals a better game.
A name can fulfil the following roles:
I explore each of these in turn.
First and foremost, a name is a label. Just as in real life, we give our GMCs names so that they are distinct from one another. With a name, it becomes possible to talk about the GMCs and interact with them in a realistic manner.
Furthermore, a name adds colour to the game, and to the GMC concerned. Dinethor is a perfectly fine name, although it does little more than serve as a label for the GMC. Dinethor the Elf is better, but rather dull and generic. Dinethor the Scribe is more descriptive, and tells us a little more about Dinethor himself, as we now have a profession for him.
Dinethor the Stupid, however, is a distinctive name for a scribe. Now the Players sit up, take note and pay attention to the game. Now there is a topic of conversation to explore, an additional reason to interact with Dinethor. Suddenly, there is a short conversation, an opportunity for some role-playing and the table is reinvigorated. The setting has become more interesting, the game is more fun. The Players are being entertained just because a name has added some colour to Dinethor.
So far, so good, but we can do even more. Along with being a colourful label for the individual, a name can also provide information about a culture. On a basic level, names should be grouped by culture. Within the game, all the Celtic-style names belong to one culture, while the Norman-style ones come from another.
A name should be recognisable to the Players as coming from a specific area of the setting. Over time, this will come to mean more to the Players. As the campaign progresses, the assumption will develop that one Celt will have much the same values as another. Broadly, the GM should strive to make this true, but there are times when you can play against type.
The underlying concept requires every name in your setting to come from a cultural-specific list. Thus, the name is already serving double-duty as both a label for the individual and a marker for their culture of origin, with all the cultural baggage this implies.
This is not to exclude the more traditional type of fantasy names from a campaign. Such names are suitable for a culture which is not closely based upon a real world analogy. To maximise the benefits of using names as cultural markers, standard fantasy names should be limited geographically. This brings them in line with the other name patterns used in your campaign.
Applying a cultural list of names makes each name act as a cultural marker for the individual. Someone with an Norman-style name is thus a native of the Norman lands. Yet, if we add nicknames to the mix, then the expanded name can achieve even more for the GM.
The nicknames awarded by a culture are a direct reflection of the beliefs of that culture. A warrior culture therefore has a greater proportion of warrior-based nicknames. Likewise, a highly arcane society has nicknames based around magic and mages.
This is the cornerstone of what Heroic Nicknames adds to your game. By following the guidelines in the Exercise Section, you can tinker with the tables to ensure the martial cultures in your game are filled with names reflecting a focus upon combat. Clearly, this level of cultural belief will not be apparent at first. However, after a string of Celtic-named individuals with martial nicknames, the Players will slowly build the assumption that martial prowess is important to your Celtic-based culture.
You can refine this principle even further. If your Celtic warriors have predominantly sword-based nicknames, then the belief grows that the Celts favour swords. This subtlety will also serve to distinguish your sword-wielding Celtic warriors from the spear-wielding Norman warriors.
The text of the pdf continues to explore cultural nicknames, before outlining the way nicknames can teach the Players. However, this extract should be enough to whet your appetite and show how useful nicknames are for a GM. As the launch date grows nearer, I will post another preview from Heroic Nicknames.
Do you use nicknames in your game? What is the best nickname given to a Hero? How else would you use nicknames in the game? Share your thoughts with your fellow GMs in the comments below.
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