This entry is part 8 in the series A Good Name Is Hard To Find


There is a pub in Soho that still bears the name, “The John Snow”. It is named for the brave physician who proved that Cholera was spread through drinking water, ending an outbreak in the district.

And that sparks a thought: Every place name is – or at least can be – a memorial to the history and background of a campaign.

All too often, GMs are lazy when it comes to naming things like inns and such, using traditional and fairly universal names like “The Red Sparrow” or “The Boar and Ox”. Even town names are often meaningless and placid things.

All this is a tremendous wasted opportunity.

Foundations in History

Every Inn and Tavern should be named for a famous figure or event from history. Every town should be named for someone who was important either locally or nationally famous or for some event in the region’s past. If that means that towns change their names every hundred years or so, so be it!

Use these place names to connect with the stories behind the names, breaking the details of your campaign background into bite-sized chunks. Write it as you go if you have to – so long as you maintain a compendium of the results for future reference and consistency, why not?

Of course, the major events should be outlined before you start, but every event can be expanded upon in greater detail.

If a place is named for some heroic deed, it can be a source of local pride. If a place is associated with some scene of infamy, it can be a source of shame or repentance, with the people going out of their way to demonstrate that the event was an aberration. Either way, the name can be used to give the community a personality, and that’s half the battle to making it memorable.

Here’s a list of questions that you can use to spark your thinking:

  • What happened here?
  • Who came from here?
  • Who lived here?
  • Who died here?
  • What was discovered here?
  • What ended here?
  • What is grown here?
  • What is made here?
  • Is there a local legend?
  • If not, create a local legend!

Plot Integration

Once you get used to employing significant names for places and institutions, you can start to entwine your plots with names. The Inn of Gravesend in the town of Barrowsmound may refer to some past event of no great significance – or there may be a local legend about a cemetery that broke in half and slid into the sea from which the unquiet dead emerge from time to time. Or maybe there’s a legend about a treasure buried in a Barrow, which is a type of burial mound.

The town of Matthias’ Crown may be innocuous – or it might be the site of a historic confrontation between two claimants to the throne, one of whom emerged victorious and the other who is buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in the vicinity. Or the Crown may be a literal object and not a metaphoric one, perhaps with arcane powers, if only the players have the wit to track it down.

It only takes a little of this sort of thing to have the players looking for the meaning behind every name, picking up bits of campaign background as they go, and the campaign more than half-writing itself.

A quick little post today for three reasons – first, to give me time to work on some bigger ones that I have underway, second, because the subject didn’t really need lengthier treatment, and third, because I lost time on the weekend to motorsports and earlier this week to a passing illness. Don’t worry, I’m fine now.

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