Way back in Handbook of Heroes #9 we were formally introduced to your favorite unicorn and mine, Lumberjack Explosion. I haven’t gotten much better at thinking up names since. That’s doubly true if we’re talking about thinking up names on the spur of the moment.

If you’ve ever sat behind the big cardboard screen o’ limitless power, you probably know how hard naming stuff can be. And if you’ve never been in that situation, trust me when I say that limitless power don’t count for beans when you’ve got to come up with proper nouns.

What makes this especially tough is that it usually happens right as you’re in the flow of RP. You’ve conjured an NPC from thin air, and he’s a hit with the party. It’s going so well that they think he’s a integral part of the plot! Your players are even writing down session notes like good little gamers when one of them looks up and asks that seemingly-innocent question: “What’s his name?”

And there you are with your improvised dwarf and a sudden sense of panic. Your mind flashes to Thorin Oakenshield, Bruenor Battlehammer, and all the dwarfiest things you can imagine. And so you reply in a broken and halting voice, “Thornor Alehammer.” And your buddies stare at you. Everyone knows that you’re a big fat phony. Then one of them does a quick google to find out if “Alehammer” is a metal band, which it apparently is, and your game grinds to a halt as you listen to something called  the Barmageddon album.

Most of the time these clunky names are grist for the comedy mill. Occasionally however, this sort of stumble can really hurt your game. That’s why I included a glossary of NPCs in my Young Minds murder mystery module. Here’s the rationale:

In a sandbox module like Young Minds, players are almost guaranteed to hare off in unexpected directions. That means GMs will have to improvise new situations and NPCs as they arise. This glossary should come in handy as an aid for inserting new characters on the fly. 

Since Young Minds is a mystery game, the glossary also offers a more subtle benefit. If players realize that an NPC is the product of improvisation, it can be difficult for them to avoid the metagame inference: Don’t worry guys. This character isn’t part of the module, so he’s obviously not the villain. As such, it can be useful to have a spot to flip to within the module itself.

That’s the closest I’ve ever come to solving the problem in any case. What about the rest of you guys though? Do you keep a running list o’ NPCs? Do you lean into the comedy? Or do you find that you have a natural talent for making up believable names on the fly? Sound off with your best tips and tricks (and improvised names!) down in the comments. 


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