What's in a name again?

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Sadly we suffered a few setbacks during our testing this week, but we are bringing things back on track! Issues in the Pathfinder sheet have been resolved, opening the doors for us to start building the envisioned additional features and the first beta tests of the schemas have gone live — these will be announced once we have sorted out some performance issues.

In the meanwhile, I wanted to continue an earlier series of two earlier blogposts regarding naming things. In this part of the series, we’ll have a look at places and locations, and look at how we can choose the right names for cities, rivers, islands and countries!

If your campaign is set in the real world, this part is easy: all you need to do is grab a map — be it historical or modern, and fill in any gaps. Even if you have your own world, this is not a bad idea, and city names from foreign countries might be a good fit for your game, if the area’s culture is similar to the country you are borrowing from.

The topic of theming is important though. Moreso than with the names of PCs and NPCs, the names for towns, forests and streets help to set the mood of the location. A distant village called N’Togo will evoke a different image in the minds of your players than if it were called Gutenheim or Pommedeterre, and Whiteflower Forest sounds a lot less intimidating than The Damned Woods.

Theming can also be used to help distinguish different groups. If all the dwarven cities use German sounding names (Grotstein, Zwergenblut, Bergstatt), while all the elven towns have French names (Farfadet, L’hutin, Chudeaux), it allows players to easily figure out whether a distant town is part of the elven or the dwarven kingdom.

Moreover, it offers an opportunity to weave a part of the lands history into your world map — if a dwarven city was conquered by elves in the war a hundred years ago, it might still be using the dwarven name, only bastardized to sound more elven. Thus the city of “Hadendorf” might have become “L’Adendor” in elven. These kinds of details can help bring your setting to life by fleshing out not just the history, but current moods as well — if the players ask that elderly Dwarven merchant for the road to Hadendorf rather than the more common name of L’Adendor, they might be able to get a discount on his wares later on!

One trick to keep in mind is that east, west, north and south are always from a certain perspective. If a river forms the border between two countries then the country north of the river will consider those borderlands to be on its southern edge, it might refer to them as the Southern Marshes. Likewise, the area south of the river could be known as the Northern Riverlands of Anjulie. Hence, if you are following the river through the Southern Marshes, you’d be on the north side of the water. Just for fairness though, you should probably allow your players a Knowledge: Geography check (or whatever your system has) in case they mix it up!

Have you ever designed your own game world? How did you go about choosing names for your cities, mountains and islands? Share with us in the forums, and don’t forget to check out this week’s changelog to stay up to date with our latest developments!