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GM Tips: NPC Naming Evolution

Your players step into the tavern, look around, and introduce themselves to an NPC. They ask for the NPCs name and it is at this point that your brain powers down, leaving only essential systems operating. You crafted a custom menu for the tavern, wrote down some gossip they might overhear, and even made a custom map of the establishment to help players see what it looks like. But when they ask for an NPCs name, you mumble something incoherently, you look down at your notes for something you already know isn’t there, and then, in a critical failure of creativity, you utter the name, “Bob”.

We’ve all been there. Here are the three levels of NPC name preparation that may help you from involuntarily adding anymore Bobs to your world.

Level 1: Brainstorming - This is the very first technique I used, essentially trying to invent cool NPC names off the top of my head in advance of game night. This method is time intensive and although I came up with some cool names, compared to all of the other ways I could prep for game night, it felt like I was getting a diminishing return on my time investment.

Quick Aside

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Level 2: Fantasy Name Generator - The second evolution was when I discovered the fantasy name generator. I would pull up this tab before playing and could easily get a great name from one of a hundred+ generators on the website. This was fast though sometimes, I could be sitting there for a minute or so, refreshing the generator or trying different generators until I found one that fit well.

Level 3: Random Table - This echelon is how I currently prepare NPC names for game night. I’ll use the Fantasy Name Generator to come up with a list of 10 male, 10 female, and 10 non-binary names to use for random NPCs the party may encounter. Depending on the geographic location in the game and the race for which I’m preparing names, I will use a different generator. For instance, to compile a list of Tabaxi names, I might only pull from a list of Basque names or maybe Chechen names. Keeping the names from one real life group helps create a sense of verisimilitude in the game world.

How about you? What’s your #1 trick for naming NPCs? Let me know in the comment below!

-Shane Collins

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