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Silly NPC Names: The Mockery Filter

Unless you’re deliberately aiming for humor, don’t give your NPCs silly names. Sounds easy enough, right?

The problem is that just like your kid’s class at school, your players probably have a knack for finding ways to mock NPC names that are even slightly dubious.

Case in point: Dolemite, from my friend Matt’s enjoyable D&D 3.0 campaign a few years back. His name wasn’t really Dolemite, but it was Dole-something (equally telling is which one I remember).

The first time we heard it? Poof. Dolemite. And later, Doleslaw — because we hacked him up like cabbage. Neither of which added to his Dark Villain street cred.

When you’re naming your NPCs, take an extra moment to do the baby name thing: How will my players make fun of this name? Most of the time, they won’t — but this will help you avoid the times when they might.

Alysia and I are in Florida until the 23rd. There’ll be a new post here every day, as always, but I won’t be able to respond to comments or email. See you soon!

23 Comments (Open | Close)

23 Comments To "Silly NPC Names: The Mockery Filter"

#1 Comment By John Arcadian On January 18, 2007 @ 7:13 am

Yeah I’m horrible with finding names that get made fun of. They are always names I come up with last minute (when I don’t have a name generator in front of me), and one player or another picks up on them.

Gems of the past have been

Pyoolcue – Poolcue, since it was sitting on the wall and I was very tired.
Sharim Nahar – which they shortened to mushroom or shroom.

A GM for a game I played in used the name of Pi-Lo (Pie Low), but it quickly became evident that it was based of the pillow in her line of vision.

That’s why I love name generators. They might be generic fantasy names, or run out of unique names after a while, but you avoid object oriented naming schemes.

#2 Comment By Rick the Wonder Algae On January 18, 2007 @ 7:24 am

When I get tired or lazy my people are all named “john” “sam” “steve” and the like, and towns are litterally named “generic farmtown 32”

#3 Comment By MountZionRyan On January 18, 2007 @ 7:49 am

We used to (and still do to a degree) vet all PC names by trying to mock them in the most ruthless fashion.

#4 Comment By Tyler On January 18, 2007 @ 8:29 am

There is a story on rpg.net somewhere about someone who named their main villian in a D&D campaign Lord Smegma. He didn’t understand why the players found it so funny.

#5 Comment By Jeff Rients On January 18, 2007 @ 8:50 am

Me, I just roll with it. My players are wonderful, but their characters are big jerks. They’ll find a way to mock my villains no matter what I do.

#6 Comment By VV_GM On January 18, 2007 @ 8:53 am

Let’s get something straight here John’s Arcade, Ricky Wonderbread Algae, Zion-Ryan-Bo-Byan, “The Las”, and… Tyler! Making fun of people’s names is childish and uncouth! It is obvious from your posts that you are the type of hooligans who actually enjoy such activities! Shame on all of you! Shame, I say…

Sincerely,
VD_”Geez! M&Ms!”

#7 Comment By Rick the Wonder Algae On January 18, 2007 @ 9:23 am

You bet I do. My wife once named one of the major NPCs in her campaign Legba after some character in a novel she read once. To this day I sometimes mention how nice a “legba oh lambda” would taste…

On the other hand, I work pretty hard to make my NPC names non-comical cause I’ve seen EXACTLY what it does to their “evil guy” rating.

To no avail it seems, as a recent bad guy “Jhacarti” quickly became “Bacardi”.

#8 Comment By Crazy Jerome On January 18, 2007 @ 9:27 am

That same technique that I use for coming up with NPC names on the fly works great to handle this problem, too. Don’t worry about the name, and make the player that asks for his name come up with one.

It doesn’t cut out the mocking, but at least the players are mocking each other instead of you. While they are enjoying that, you are reminding yourself what fiendish abilities yon mockable NPC has to reverse that trend. 🙂

#9 Comment By drow On January 18, 2007 @ 10:15 am

i tend to either name NPCs after anime characters, or use a random name generator if i’m trying to stay within a motif.

i like crazy jerome’s idea of making the player choose, though. 🙂

#10 Comment By Alan De Smet On January 18, 2007 @ 10:19 am

The Shackled City module features a nobleman by the name of Aslaxin. He was almost immediately pegged as one of the bad guys, so within a minute of being introduced he was rebranded Asslaxative.

The GM still twitches when a powerful queen from a previous campaign is mentioned. She was Queen Filfaril (I’m guessing on the spelling), which quickly became Queen Falafel.

Ultimately, if your players are in a goofy mood, almost any fantasy name can be abused.

#11 Comment By John Arcadian On January 18, 2007 @ 10:31 am

I’ve got this beautiful sticky easel (like a giant post it note) that I write stuff on then stick on the walls of our gaming area. One of them is the name one. Name of an NPC, and their basic basic description (archetype if you will). That helps people with at least remembering the names. Making fun of them though, not so much. They write and draw on the paper when I’m not there.

It sucks when you’re running a serious game, but making fun of names is also something fun to do in game. I always make my players make fun of the names in character if they are going to do it out of character. I think we all love to make fun of names, right vaa vaa vaa gooom ? 😀

#12 Comment By Crazy Jerome On January 18, 2007 @ 11:12 am

I should also state that the players in our group ruthlessly mock the PC names, as well. We give bonus experience for any statement that causes one person to laugh so hard that they can’t talk. More than once, a well-timed jab at another PC’s name as accomplished that. It’s also how the PCs acquire nicknames.

Using a system where magical side effects are possible can still get a character called, “Sparky”–after one of my wife’s stately elven characters that had an uncanny ability to put her lightning powers in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time. When the grizzled mercenary warrior stated his action was to, “run over here next to these guys, so that the next time Sparky nails me with her lightning balls, some of them will get caught in the blast”–the die was pretty well cast. When that tactic worked, the name stuck. 🙂

#13 Comment By Telas On January 18, 2007 @ 11:18 am

Queen Falafel? I couldn’t use that… I was messing with our dog Shadow (insert “The Gamers” comments) before a walk, by asking him, “Would you like (various strange things)”. When I asked if he’d like a falafel, he hit the roof and started running around. So now “falafel” is code for “walk”.

The problem arises when my wife or I say something like, “I feel awful”. The dog starts running around the house in expectation of a walk.

What’cha think about that, Vuvv-gum? 😛

#14 Comment By VV_GM On January 18, 2007 @ 1:43 pm

Joan of Arcadian and Tel-Ass – I think both of your posts are wonderful. 😀

Volkswagen_General Motors

#15 Comment By John Arcadian On January 18, 2007 @ 1:59 pm

Well . . Well.. .

Darnit, screen names are hard to make fun of.

You win this round VV_GM

But John Acordian will be back!!

(that was the I always got in high school. Since 2003 though it’s been all about the john of arcadia riffs)

#16 Comment By Abulia On January 18, 2007 @ 2:58 pm

Big mistake on my part was naming the Chief Science Officer (NPC) in a Star Trek game “Darren Rogers.”

First time the Captain gives him an order, “What do you see, Mr. Rogers?”

Yea, I changed his name by the end of the session.

In a D&D 3.0 game the lieutenant to the Big Bad (TM) was a vampire named Veraganel or something equally cool. Myself and some other players were really into the game and would write up summaries of the session from our character’s point of view. Run through the spell checker and “Veraganel” was flagged by Word as being misspelled.

It’s replacement? Francine.

Yea, we called him Francine from that moment on. Sadly, it stuck

#17 Comment By Dave Chalker On January 18, 2007 @ 5:33 pm

I was in a World of Darkness con game last year where the GM talked about “how much stuff he had planned, the game could go on as long as we wanted.”

Then, every time we’d talk to an NPC, he’d stammer and say “uhhh, her name is Jane Doe.” or “Uhhh, he’s Bob Smith” and so on. Granted, it was a modern campaign so it wasn’t stretching credibility as much as a D&D game would have been, but what exactly had he planned?

So I’ve tried to go easy on any DM who at least makes an effort.

#18 Comment By JasonA On January 18, 2007 @ 10:23 pm

My players will mock *any* NPC name I come up with, without fail. It wouldn’t matter if the name was Bob – I have no doubt they would find some way to make fun of the name. Sometimes its annoying, but I guess its better than having them all asleep! 🙂

#19 Comment By El.Zombo On January 19, 2007 @ 2:37 am

Well, it’s not really silly NPC names I have to deal with, at least not with prefab material. Some of the names just sound strange if you use another language that is not English (in this case German).
So I tend to make up my own names, which are easier to remember for the PCs anyway. If the players are especially slow in the head, I will use “Evil Guy #14” or “generic fantasy inn”.

On the other hand there are the more irritating moments: I vaguely remember some WFRP material in which the writers obviously had taken a German dictionary and had chosen the names because their looks and (assumed) sound… And as the humble heroes stumble through a city of The Empire they come across a wizard named Erbsensuppe (pea soup) who incidentally lives in the Gummistiefelgasse (rubber boot alley). The early WFRP is loaded with stuff like that.

#20 Comment By El.Zombo On January 19, 2007 @ 8:30 am

Now I got it: it was an inventor called Erfinder (=inventor) who lived in the Villa Erbsensuppe in the Gummistiefelgasse.

#21 Comment By Telas On January 19, 2007 @ 9:44 am

Heh. I always wanted to name a character Anfang (beginning). Sounds cool and vaguely threatening in English, and actually means something.

I’d stop at putting “Alles Fahrt” over the exit signs, though…

#22 Comment By Darth Krzysztof On January 19, 2007 @ 10:53 pm

Takes me back to running N4 Treasure Hunt, with the unfortunately-named NPC “Keestake.”

Or, as he is better known, “Cheese Steak.”

Yeah, he was “Osric” after that.

#23 Comment By Martin On January 24, 2007 @ 4:44 pm

Wow. If given the responsibility of coming up with NPC names as a player, I’m sure I’d try my best — but late in the evening, there’d be whole towns named Bob, minor villains called Who Gives a Shit, He’s About to Die…

It is funny that Save My Game hit the same topic at almost the same time. And that Jason guy? His name’s way too hard to make fun of… 😉