I have recently finished the first two books of Tales of the Dying Earth - The Dying Earth and The Eyes of the Overworld - and had started a post reviewing these books in light of their implications for D&D. As I went deeper into the subject I found there was too much information to cover in just one post. So this will be the first of a series of posts covering various topics in D&D that came to mind as I read through the Dying Earth series.
One of the first things that struck me about these stories were the names: Turjan, Pandelume,Phandaal, Laccodel, Kandive, T'sais and T'sain, just to name a few. These names are exotic and colorful and truly help to evoke the strangeness of the far future Earth; they help to set the tone.
This is very important when naming NPCs for a campaign. No plain Tom, Dick or Harry will do. Names of nobles should be noble sounding; those of commoners have an earthy ring to them. Sally the bar wench works, Sally the elven princess does not. Take the time to pick names that fit the character. There are dozens (if not hundreds) of name lists on the web. I just did a Google search of "name lists" pulled up 178,000,000 sites. One is bound to have something to spark your interest.
The previous paragraph applies just as much to PCs as it does to NPCs. It may be fun to play Bob the barbarian, but it does nothing to help set a serious tone for the character, but if the style of play you are going for is humorous, then it is a perfect fit.
In the Back to (D&D) Basics campaign I'm currently running, there are clear styles of names to help foster the sense of culture and depth of background. Based on recomendations from GAZ1 The Grand Duchy of Karameikos gazetteer, the two main human populations of Karameikos have very different sounding names. Those of the native Traladaran descent have names inspired by central and eastern European countries, while those of the conquering Thyatians have Roman-like names.
Often times the names of characters mentioned in these stories belonged to great and powerful wizards of the day. Their names adorn the spells that they popularized. This brings to mind all the 'name' spells of AD&D1: Melf's Acid Arrow, Bigby's Crushing Fist, Nystul's Magic Aura, etc.Spells like these really tie the magic to the setting. Which would you rather cast - Acid Splash orMelf's Acid Arrow?
Not just the names of the characters but the names of locales were evocative of alien cultures in Tales of the Dying Earth. The lands to the far north: Grodz, Cil, Vull, and the Mountains of Magnatz; to the south: Ascolais, the Land of the Falling Wall, Kaiin and Scaum Valley. Give just as much care to the lands in your world. Be sure to say them aloud. Some place names I've read in books and games look nice on the page, but I don't have the first clue as to how to pronounce them.
I really like the Karameikos gazetteer because it helps here as well in my current campaign. Many areas have two names: the name originally used by the native Traladaran's and the name used once they were conquered by the Empire of Thyatia. This layering of names helps build a richness of detail that brings the setting to life.
So next time you sit down to roll up a character or create a new locale for your players to explore, give some thought to the name and see what the reactions are.