View Full Version : Naming NPCs

2008-08-13, 09:10 PM
What are the qualifications you have for when an NPC qualifies for a name? My group is divided on this issue, so I thought I would see how playgrounders handle it.

Do all npcs the pcs deal with on a personal level (friends, family, coworkers) get a name?
Is a certian amount of screentime matter? (If this npc showes up the next two sessions I'll come up with something other than "insert name here")
Do names only happen when the players ask the DM to name the npcs?
Does it only happen when the players take over and start giving the nameless npcs names (real ones, not funny nicknames)

Do you come up with the names for important npc names before hand, on the fly, or after they become important?

Any thoughts on npcs and names will be interesting to read, thanks.

2008-08-13, 09:12 PM
If they're important, come up with a name beforehand.

If they're unimportant, and for whatever reason their name becomes relevant, they're "Tom Jones" or something to that effect.

2008-08-13, 09:19 PM
If they need to find the person for any reason, they get a name. Also if any other NPC references that person. If the players want to know their name, they get one as well.

2008-08-13, 09:26 PM
If they talk to the NPC, the NPC gets a name. This doesn't include looking for general information, but any conversation leads to someone with a name.

My preferred method for giving those people names involves using the names from my Spam box. You wouldn't believe how many of those are good fantasy names.

2008-08-13, 10:08 PM
Generally any NPC that I expect the NPCs to interact with more than once I'll name before hand, though if the player's don't ask, the name can remain a mystery for the first encounter or two.

For other NPCs its a good idea to have a list of pre-generated names handy. Just print off a bunch from one of those random fantasy generator sites. If you really want to go to effort, print off seperate lists for elves, dwarves, etc. Then as the players interact with someone and happen to ask their name, just pick the next one off the list, put a quick note next to it (ie. snooty halfling blacksmith in Newport or chubby wife of mayor in Rueville, loves to sing). This way you have some record in case you (or the players) want to bring that minor character back into play.

Sometimes you can even trick your players by checking your list to pretend to make up a name on the spot for a NPC that you've created in advance so that they don't realize their importance at first. Works well for first introductions of adversaries.

2008-08-13, 10:12 PM
I name -every- NPC. No exceptions.

This sometimes results in a spiraling train of recurring NPCs, but since the main campaign I DM has the PCs owning a fortress, they generally just get assigned to duties in the fortress after a while, and called upon when something relevant happens. Everyone wins! The PCs get to interact with funny, interesting characters but stay in the spotlight. I just get more paperwork.

2008-08-13, 10:50 PM
Make up a short list from a Baby Names website, choosing whichever linguistic background suits the setting best. Always figure out your linguistic background first and foremost, or you might end up with really weirdly named NPCs.

And, for the love of God, give 'em all names. Otherwise your PCs may start referring to them by embarrassing nicknames, or actually pretend they don't matter. Plus, you never know when one minor NPC might become important to your PCs - in my latest campaign, two of my PCs are already working on hooking up with some random NPCs they met in town!

2008-08-13, 10:50 PM
Try Googling "fantasy name generator."

2008-08-13, 10:56 PM
My games are NPC driven. None of the plots are my own - they all belong to NPCs who act in the world. If I have an idea for a plot, it has to attach to an NPC. To keep my note taking sane, these NPCs are given names.

Improvised NPCs are given names upon request. I have lists of male, female, and house names, as well as titles. These are actually the most important thing on my DM screen. For what it's worth I also have town and tavern name lists, and I'm going to start using NPC trait lists too.

Even though everyone has a name, the players don't always receive the name. Last game I had an NPC who was part of a rival group. The PC's spared him, so he was going to be nice to them. Problem was they never caught his real name and just started calling him Seamus because the mini I used had a kilt and bagpipe. Well, 'Seamus' took offense and ratted out the group.

2008-08-13, 11:07 PM
If it comes up I ask for a name. And since my players tend to go looking for "the captain of the guard" or "a rich merchant", a lot of recurring characters come about. If it doesn't come up, no name.

2008-08-13, 11:11 PM
Make up a short list from a Baby Names website, choosing whichever linguistic background suits the setting best. Always figure out your linguistic background first and foremost, or you might end up with really weirdly named NPCs.

And, for the love of God, give 'em all names. Otherwise your PCs may start referring to them by embarrassing nicknames, or actually pretend they don't matter. Plus, you never know when one minor NPC might become important to your PCs - in my latest campaign, two of my PCs are already working on hooking up with some random NPCs they met in town!

Some of my many NPCs I handled by having a PC with the Leadership feat get a revolving door of mission-appropriate cohorts. The PCs had just come back from a long foray into Xen'drik, leaving that cohort behind, and the gnome warlock who'd been left to watch their Aquatic Apparatus was sitting on the beach with a goat she'd rescued from a shady looking man and was going to make curry from.

The goat got named Murray and became an improbable member of the party, inexplicably surviving the apparatus' underwater destruction and making it into BBEG City, where he disappeared for the sake of my sanity.

2008-08-14, 02:29 AM
I name any NPCs that I think the party will be remotely interested. Trust me, though, don't go crazy and name everything in sight. If I had to come up with a name for every commoner on a city street, I wouldn't have time for anything else.

2008-08-14, 02:39 AM
My rule is anyone who the PCs have a decent chance of meeting (as in introductions) or hearing about. If you see a soldier, you do not know his name.

If you meet and greet a person, then pretty much the first thing you learn about them is their name and title (or profession). Actually, it is kind of interesting culturally to think what other base information might be important to a person or city when meeting someone for the first time.

Likewise, the big players in a town/city/area should be named, because the PCs might inquire after them, or random townspeople may be talking about them. Many people may call him "The Baron," but someone is likely going to get around to calling him "Baron Mustache" at some point (may as well give them the name the PCs are going to call them by anyway).

Other popular PC names for enemies:

Tentacle Face
No-Arms McGee
Blue Shirt Guy
the Wizard
Demon Dude
...I don't know why, but PCs always seem to remember a guy named Raymond. Seriously, try it out. Name some random peasant they meet "Raymond," and see how much effort they go through to find out more about him.

2008-08-14, 08:05 AM
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2008-08-14, 08:12 AM
Maybe thats because Everybody Loves Raymond :smallsmile:

2008-08-14, 08:12 AM
It's best to name all NPCs, because you don't know if and when players will ask someone what's his or her name, but finding a name for every commoner in town could take a while. It's probably best to gather up a bunch of names and use them when needed.

2008-08-14, 08:32 AM
NPCs that aren't dealt with on a personal level usually don't add anything to the game. They are, as Belkar said, just scenery, kind of like the clouds.
It's pretty easy to randomly name scenery-NPCs if asked for it though, since I don't think that all characters in a fantasy setting need a fantasy sounding name. Dave and Lisa are perfectly fine name for random human NPCs, for random orcs it can be Karg and Dar.

2008-08-14, 08:35 AM
Maybe thats because Everybody Loves Raymond :smallsmile:

[rimshot] [wa-wa pedal]

2008-08-14, 09:42 AM
I name NPCs either at creation when the character begs a name (by being important, or just by being a memorable enough concept that I have to attach a name to it) or when the players ask for one (it varies whether they do or not; I've seen them request the names of Generic Spirit #14 but not the owner of a bookstore whom they're asking about the activities of their friends.) With a few exceptions, that is--there was one whose lack of a name was part of its character concept. Most of my NPCs are important enough for names of their own, though, which can make keeping track of the cast list absurd.

2008-08-14, 09:48 AM
A recent trend in my group has been to take the name randomly from encyclopaedias. Each one is given a number on the d20, then someone closes their eyes and opens a random page and looks at a random topic. It's gold. Some names end up perfect, others are hilarious. Funnily enough the current campaign's main town ended up called Manchester :smallbiggrin:.

2008-08-14, 10:29 AM
Well, when NPCs get names depends a lot on the group.

My group back home tends to ask for a name whenever they intend to interact with someone, and then my DM will make up a name on the spot, though you can tell the character isn't important. That game tends to be more about the main quest, so the NPCs really are scenery. Anyone important will tend to announce his name, and the guy who plays the cleric will jot it down because his character has a good memory. We don't get many names but it's never been a problem.

My group at school, by contrast, has a GM who wants to play things out realistically, so if you never ask for a name you'll never be told even though all of his characters are thought-out and given culturally appropriate names. Nice in theory, however, he's starting to learn that he'd better give us names if he doesn't want us "creatively naming" the NPCs with things such as "Boob chick," "Stupid McOpenTheGates," "Woody O'Magichurts," "Apple Boy," "Fruity Pebbles," "Spanky McGee," etcetera. I don't think we ever used the names in character to actually insult anyone, we just managed to make the GM cry over the slow death of his beautifully immersive setting.

So, I think there's not only a question of whether or not you need to name someone, but also whether or not the players need to know the name right away... and that seems to me to depend very much on whether or not your players will take matters into their own hands. :smalltongue:

2008-08-14, 03:25 PM
Phil Phinklestein
Chris Cross
Jerimia Jenovich
Peter Parker

2008-08-14, 03:51 PM
An NPC's name tends to rely on his importance. If he's important to the plot, he might get a name like "Azran" and "Vatto" or "Kang." Something simple, though. If he's a background peasant, however, he gets a name like "Jon" or "Ned" or "Sarah."

I hate using names like "Irontooth" and "Blackwing." That just gets cheesy after a while.

(("That just gets cheesy after a while," said the Face of Evil.)) :smalltongue:

2008-08-14, 05:19 PM
For me, names are generated as they come up, except for particularly striking characters ... and certain classes of powerful characters who might be worried that their name would be used to target them, instead go by titles.

2008-08-14, 11:45 PM
It's easy enough in pbp... the players don't notice you scrambling for a name at the last minute, so that doesn't tell them which npcs are flavour only and which are going to be important. I have named npcs that the players aren't going to meet (or even hear about) for a very long time. Generally if I care enough to give the npc any background at all, then she has a name, though I sometimes change the name between character creation and the time the players actually meet her.

All of my humans npcs are named after cases that I need to learn for my insurance law course. So Dr Macaura, Major Hedley-Byrne, General Forsakringsaktiebolagetfenniapatria... (okay, maybe not the last one. It's a real case, but the players haven't don't anything to annoy me that much. :smallwink:)

But I have a sci-fi game, and the different aliens have different naming structures. The Jotok always choose a five syllable word for their name (Contradictory, Paradoxical, Methodology) so I have a list of such words for them. Kzinti have to earn their names, so most of them are only called by their profession. This is the easiest for me--Pilot, Miner, Diplomat, etc. Then there are a handful of races whose names can't be pronounced by human throats, so they have to choose a human pronounceable name. This is the hardest for me, because I have to get into the npc's head and figure out what he would choose to call himself.

2008-08-15, 11:01 AM
I tend to name many NPCs on the spot. Even important ones, because I'm bad at checking notes. This is why I now have a list, on a little post-it note, of names, for men and women alike, that I can check quickly while I scramble. It gets propped up to the DM screen, so I don't have to look hard.