Come up with 33 names. Put them on a map. Naming the cities, regions and land formations. What will you use? A name generator, right? NO!
Instead, create your own names. The tools and resources you can use for random creation are endless. Endlessly shallow as well. While there is a place for name generators, I think they shouldn’t be used all the time. Let me explain.
In today’s post, I want to explore how far we can go to name the regions and cities of our campaign. The reason why we do that is to flex our creative muscle. Our goal is not to come up with the best names but rather, the most reasonable names. Creating context, just like in the last article about the civilisation of Crognar’s Rock.
You can probably guess already where we’re heading. In the last few days, we built something from scratch. Every step we took was to learn about our own campaign. Not from existing ones but from our own. Taking inspiration? Yes! But not relying on them solely.
Especially nowadays where campaigns seemingly have to be created in seconds, but then fail to deliver. With the Crognar’s Rock series I want to explore if there is an alternative way to it. And if yes, then to learn and use it to our advantage. Remember: a good GM shows his skills not only at the table but especially away from it!
Before you start naming
Ask yourself the most basic question of naming anything: “How do I want to name it?“. Now, ask yourself the second most obvious thing: “How can I name it?“. The second question is rooted in a subtle insecurity many GMs and players have when naming their favourite in-game towns and tools.
It appears, that naming goes by two rules in many cases: the goof and the epic. Both are words where I have to shudder. Using descriptive words for people, cities, items, NPCs and even monsters. Stinker the stinking Gnome or Flail of Mass-Brutality for example. Actually, on second thought I like that flail name. The point I want to make is that the name of the things you encounter carry weight. Depending on how you want to name things you tend to shift the spectrum.
A goofy character will have a higher chance to be named a goofy name, duh. An important NPC might have an elaborate name, chosen carefully. The spectrum is huge. I don’t want to say that goofy names are not appropriate because they are! In many cases, the goofy names are the light-hearted playfulness that give the campaign that special spice.
Keep these two questions in mind for when we start naming. First of all, I want to make sure that we’re on the same page. If you want to use a random generator, please feel free to do so. I will use one at a later stage as well. As said in the beginning, what we want to do today is to create context for our places on Crognar’s Rock.
What’s important to me is to first localise the reason how we want to name something. In my case, I want to name the regions and places via a naturalistic and realistic approach. For example: etymologically, the district of Lonon called Brixton was first called Brixistane or Brixistun in the mid 19th century. It was the description for the stone of Brixi or more commonly known as Bixi’s Farm. Brixi, being a Saxon lord.You can understand stone as a milling stone of a windmill. Historians still debate the proper name of that district during that time.
A description long lost in history. It dated too far back and now morphed slowly into Brixton. Either way, we know that it is connected to a farm, windmill and a Saxon lord.
Now we assess. The place with a connection to a wealthy person. A windmill or a farm that was descriptive for the place. Give it a couple of years and the name naturally twists and turns. Time creates a new name, essentially. Forget the past meaning how the place was named in the first place.
When we name our places on the campaign we use the same reasoning. Descriptive features of the place itself. A name-giver and influence in naming the place. Time that morphs it.
Look at the mountain with griffons from the last post. This place, which is a region of Kollia Mountain, first described as Griffon’s Nest, Peak or Ridge. The possibilities are endless. The possible morphs as well. The native tongue of the folk living there plays an important role as well. Considering the possibilities it could be translated into the native name Voggingis, a native’s word for griffon and nest. Taken by outsiders it turns into Voggingis Ridges and over time to Voggi’s Nest.
The key takeaway from etymology is to treat naming places very similar to creating the continent. Observe the characteristics. Decide a name and change it over time. Luckily, there’s no wrong or right.
The battle of organisation starts to set it. I realise that in order to name the places I need a clearer understanding. While we know that Crognar’s Rock is heavy on jungles, we also know about adventure. Humans appearing on Crognar’s Rock travelled. They built cities quickly. Some of them are small but old. Further, the greatest hubs you find are close to the coastal line. Farmlands are ever so prevalent there.
In the narrative we’ve built, we see one thing. Adventure! The deeper you go into the thicket the more you find it. Also, with fewer cities and more dangers you generate safe havens. Without obvious places to stay at you effectively create hidden gems. Caves, canopy-cities, repopulated ruins, trailing paths of savage adventurers left behind in the jungle. There are a lot of things to find and add to what is mysterious already.
Thanks to this assessment we understand more. I encourage you to do that on your own map. First, analytically, going through what you want to tell. Look at the logic of your narrative. Leading to identifying the biggest and most important landmasses. And then slowly working into more details.
Of course, when you spend time with your campaign you come up with villages and interesting places automatically. I encourage you, again, to use those to drive the narrative of naming things. For Crognar’s Rock, I have a couple of ideas how to name the secret places within the jungle. And with naming them, I actually mean putting the hooks into them for story.
Where story meets names
Ok, as you can expect, we’re getting into the terrain of an autonomous world. Names that define where we are, help the players navigate. It helps also to build hooks that stay in memory. Our goal is to come up with names that describe the places realistically and with that we already create anticipation. It’s very difficult for me to progress from here.
The difficulty comes in the form of complexity. We now see, that there are a lot of things. Maybe it’s best to zoom out for a bit. Let the ideas rest for just a second before we dive right into them. Uniquely, when building complex worlds, what helps best for me to not get entangled into the vines of complexity is to gain some distance to it.
This post is, I know, very heavy on the theoretical aspects. I talk a lot about anticipation, assumption and observation. Especially with a topic that is considered many times not even worth mentioning. The importance I see comes from a holistic approach. Names are one thing, the other is the world and what purpose it serves. I bet you can come up with the aforementioned 33 names with ease. But can you put them into perspective? Making them viable and interesting to use, not just making them sound cool?
That’s also the reason, why I want to spend time on the names. Brixton as a name sounds just as natural as Kentucky. We didn’t invent it and it rolls easily from our lips. Whether we like it or not, does not define the origin of the word. It was created by people and morphed by time. My intent is to create a same effect with the campaign. Making it sound more real and approachable. Placing goofs and elaborative, picturesque names when appropriate.
Naming Crognar’s Rock
It’s time to get to work. Naming things depending on guided whims. Again, it’s not about scientific reasons why places are named the way they are. Not to mention the creative freedom of naming the places the way you want them. Generally speaking, my goal is to create a base awareness for naming balance.
Enough talking, le’ts get to it!
As we see on the map, the most prolific places on Crognar’s Rock are the jungles, mountains and the prominent coastal line as well as the three island in the northeast. In the last post, we talked about Kollia Mountain in the north, the Howling Valley in the centre. C’oan and the City of Golden Cows are the first cities.
I created these names on a whim. Inspiration that sprung into my head. Try the same thing write them down in their original state and let’s see how they change over time. What we do right now is to first come up with the names of the regions and then morph them in the next post. With that, ensuring that we zoom out to gain distance to it.
Starting from the top right next to the Kollia Mountains resides Southpass, the gateway to Crognar’s Rock. Followed by the mining hub of Okravill. Okravill is a, by now, dwarven dominated city, exploiting the riches of the difficult to navigate mountains.
Trading routes start from here and lead to the coastal cities. The coastal cities of Demvar Bay are friendly fishing and farming cities that proliferate from the calm sea. Demvar Bay is named after Demvar, who is responsible for the first human city on Crognar’s Rock. Strangely, no city is named after him, only the bay area.
The islands are called Stalk Islands. The first biggest is called Blade, the two smaller ones Vizim and Korr. The legend tells the tale how the ancient god’s blade severed part of the peninsula to create shelter for the native folk. They left the blade in the sea when they saw how the natives showed their gratitude. With planting and cultivating the grains and flowers that the gods used to decorate their heads.
The Long Trail leads to the western part of Crognar’s Rock where jungle, forest and mountains meet. The prosperous, yet uncannily dangerous Broughthall, one of the last remaining hubs for adventurers. Farmlands are being built for decades now with varying success.
Past the last safe roads, you find the Night Trail Roads, leading to the west. Although these roads have an appealing ring to them, they’re feared by seasoned adventurers. Instead of following that trail you want to go south. Past High Trees, the jungle vegetated by unusually tall trees. You will meet mountain trolls there that migrated to this uncanny forest.
Just don’t enter High Trees, follow the foot of the mountain path into the Howling Valley, where winds are strong and gentle. Although the Howling Valley is covered in easily accessible forests you won’t find bigger cities. No trade routes lead to the valley, which is actually a far-reaching flatland with endless forests. There is only one place where the subtle howling of the wind stops, Misttle Haven…
I could go on for hours. Which I will do in a separate post. Hopefully, you understood what I mean with choosing names organically. Playing with the ideas that pop into your head when you scan the map. Following the trails into the jungle and beyong.
This time the main thing we applied was viscerally getting involved with our own map. Coming up with names, people and ideas to tell the story, or rather history. Next time we will round up what we built, assessing each step and polishing where we need to polish.
Right now that means to build as much as we can and then refining it tomorrow. Setting names for cities take time and I realise now that it’s also a format question to keep the organisation spot-on. There’s no use in information if it’s not accessible.
With that said, my job is to clean up what we’ve done this week. Bundling everything into a neat package and checking our narrative. I believe that once we have done it, every consecutive time will be a lot easier. Nonetheless, because it’s my first time after a very long time taking the creation of a campaign seriously.
I hope you enjoyed this article, even if it was a bit complicated. This is a learning process for me as well and to be quite honest, I struggled a bit with this. Not necessarily with the creation of names, but the format with which I want to present the information in. So bear with me, I’m really thankful for your support!
Please, if you have critique and suggestions how I can do it better, let me know in the comments below. Alternatively, you can always directly interact with me on Twitter @uwgt_podcast.
Also a big shout-out to @Zardozindustry on Twitter, who showed me a lot of great resources for world building. He’s a beast in world creation and now I have valuable resources for my new evening lecture. You’re the best!
You can find his resources on his site, right here. Highly recommended for any GMs.
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