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Good evening, afternoon, or whatever time it happens to be there, ladies and gents! I happen to be Andy, who happens to be a freelance web designer, musician, writer, and whatnot.

Roman Catholic, student of tabletop gaming, and someday soon I'll have my own designs in the field!

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

On the Naming of Monsters and Critters

An Enlightening Blog Post

Well, like no more than a few other posts, this (somewhat late) post started as an inspiration from another blog post. It caught my attention because it was amusing and incredibly true. There's a bit of a dearth of creativity when it comes to a lot of RPG critter naming. If you will, it's a trope gone wrong. Too much of a good thing. Unfortunately, it's all too common. Even I myself find that it's a tempting option.

I Dinnae Kenning!
Back in the day, names such as "Shadowfell" and "Bloodspire" were known by a term called "kenning", sort of. A kenning was a metaphorical phrase which combined two words in order to convey a meaning that went beyond both. A whale could be a "sea-lord", a flower could be a "field-maid", and a sword might be a "blood-spike". All that fantasy naming did was take out the dash...and become a little less poetic and inventive.

A huge part of what made kennings work, besides their uniqueness, was an understanding of poetry, and also of that thing which they were attempting to convey. A kenning required clever thought, a use of words in a very out-of-the-box way. Kennings can still be used for fantasy names, but try and inject some uniqueness into them. A battleaxe that enrages the user, drawing on a primal power to strengthen them? Instead of calling it The Bloodaxe, what about naming it Heartclouder? It puts a new cast on the weapon, beyond the obvious.

My Kingdom for a Name!
The other approach to finding a good name is a lot more involved, and it takes far more research. It's to make a name whole-cloth, or at least from existing inspirations. There is no set formula for this, only that you need to do lots of research. Know your culture, and know the language associated with that culture. Also know how word-sounds change and can be changed. Then, improvise from there.

Let's take a sample. Say we're making a Fae creature, it lives as an attachment to a person's shadow, feeding off of them and swallowing their sounds, causing them to be incredibly stealthy. Looking up in a Gaelic dictionary which I found online, I see that "scáth" translates to "shadow", also "dread" and "protection". With some linguistic translator, "scáth" changes to "skaeth", and you have some additional flavor to add to the creature: fear and guarding. The Skaeth is a Fae creature that lives in shadows, granting its living host protection, in exchange for feeding him with his very essence. The presence of the Skaeth, however, causes others to dread and feel repulsed by the host. (Don't forget to Google any names you come up with)

My Personal Picks
There's always those creature names which I do approve of. Here's a small handful, and the reasons why I like them...

Spriggan: My sole experience with these guys was the 4th Edition versions, little dudes that punt people around. They popped into an encounter, somewhat randomly, and I thought it was hilarious, particularly when our huge warforged barbarian got magically punted into hazardous terrain. After the encounter, I found out their name, and I thought it fit perfectly.

Shadar-Kai: Though technically they're a race, the name of the shadar-kai is a good mix. "Shadar" suggests, sound-wise, an affinity with shadow and shade and darkness, which provides an iconic view of the race. The "-kai" on the end...that adds an exotic sort of flair, a foreignness to the name. And the Shadar-Kai, being outsiders, are definitely exotic.

Eladrin: I'll admit, this one comes from my inner Tolkien geek. Whether the naming was intentional or not in this regard, I couldn't help but notice the linguistic morphing of "Eldar", Tolkien's term referring to the elves. That, I thought it was pretty cool.

So, then, blogreaders, go forth and fantasythink about those fancynames for coolcritters!


  1. Is it bad that your last sentence made me think of 1984? Besides that, your resistance to groupthink was doubleplusgood.

  2. *chuckle chuckle*

    1984 came to mind several times during this post.


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