Monthly Archives: December 2009

What’s in a Name? Stress is Good

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Stress the right syllable
Image by quinn.anya via Flickr

It’s day 3 of our series on creating a naming language and today we’re talking about stress. Not that kind of stress — this is the emphasis we place on one syllable over the others within a word or name. Setting a set stress pattern for names can help keep your language from sounding like English with funny pronunciations.

In English, we learn which syllables to stress on a word-by-word basis. Indeed, different regions of the English speaking world can stress different syllables of the same word and names are no exception. Changing the stress pattern of word or name can change it’s pronunciation. For example, most non-natives will pronounce my home region of Oregon’s Willamette valley as WILL-a-met or-EE-gone, when it’s actuality pronounced will-A-met (to rhyme with “damn it”) OR-e-gun. Another example is the word “laboratory”. In American English, the stress is on the first syllable (LAB-or-a-tory) while in England, the stress is on the second syllable (lab-OR-a-tory).

Other languages are more regular. Hungarian stresses the first syllable, while Polish stresses the second-to-last syllable. Other languages can have more complex stress rules, depending on vowel placement within a syllable or length of syllable. My language slightly stresses the last syllable of a word.

You certainly don’t need to set a fixed stress pattern, but it can help make your language sound distinct

Next time: Pitch

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It’s a Brave New World — Guang Keshar

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It’s been a long-time coming, but I’ve finally done it. After nearly thirty years of kicking the idea around (and thanks to the guys at the Gamer Lifestyle program), I’ve finally take the plunge and started my own small-press game company, rpgGM.com.

This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time now, but just never really was in a position to do before. At least for now, rpgGM.com will focus on publishing my own original game world, Guang Keshar. The world is going to be published for sale as PDFs in a modular format — that way you only have to buy what interests you. If you want something about the Great Houses and the ruling Council, you can buy that. If you’re interested only in the geography of the world itself, then that’ll be available too.Many of these smaller products will be gathered up and published as larger compilation products (with some new material thrown in for good measure ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), which will give you a price break from buy each one separately.

Soon I’ll also have a newsletter going out dedicated to the development of this world. It’ll contain exclusive content, development news, sneak peeks at products, game world tips and much more. The first issue of this should come out the end of December or beginning of January. You can sign up for it now on the company website. The site will also have free information, company and product news and tips, as well providing a place for you to provide us with feedback.

I’m really excited about this and can’t wait to share my product with everyone. But don’t worry about loosing this blog — I’ll still be posting here at least once a week (I’m trying for twice, but we’ll have to see what time permits) with the same type of content I’ve been writing all along. The newsletter Beg, Borrow, and Steal will still be published, though I may have to go to once a month, rather than once a week.

[Sales pitch over, we now return you to our regularly scheduled ponderings ๐Ÿ˜‰ ]

What’s in a Name? The Music of Language

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Welcome to Day 2 of our series on creating a naming language."I love you" in several languages

Every language has its own particular sound. Japanese sounds different from Spanish and few people would mistake guttural German for tonal Chinese. Frequently, with just a little education, we can tell which language is being spoken, even if we don’t we don’t know a word of it. To me, each language has its own particular music and once I figure out the music, it’s easier for me to learn or create a new language.

Step to Your Music

Our naming language should also have it’s own music. What do you want your language to sound like, overall? Is it lilting and musical, straight-forward and down to earth, or harsh and demanding? What kind of people live in this area? Are they extremely poetic, which could lead to a fluid-sounding language. Or are they “salt of the Earth” farmers, who are more likely to create names that are practical and straight-forward?

The Beginning of Language

Your next step is to find out what letters give you that sound when spoken together. For example, Tolkein’s Elvish has a lot of l’s and vowel sounds, making it sound fluid and musical, while his Orcish is harsh and gutteral. Think about the languages you speak and find the phonemes1 that will give you the sounds you’re looking for.ย  If you’re still needing inspiration, check out some language learning sites on-line that have examples of spoken languages. I’d actually recommend listening to languages you don’t understand, so you can focus on the music of a language and not get bogged own in the words. What sounds do you hear that you’d like to use? Write them down phonetically in a way that makes sense to you.

The Sounds Take Care of Themselves

Every language has some phonemes or sounds (letters) that are more common than others. This is a large part of what gives each language its own sound. For English e, t, r, and a are among the most common letters used. In a language I’m currently creating, the most common sounds in the language are hard k, ts (like the Russian ‘tsar’), short a, long e, and m. Take your phonetic list and rank the phonemes in order of frequency. I usually go most frequent to least frequent, but you can use any method that works for you. Separate out the vowels and consonants into their own lists and rank them individually.

That’s it for today. Next time we’ll cover the importance of stress.

1pho.neme (n). any of the abstract units of the phonetic system of a language that correspond to a set of similar speech sounds (as the velar \k\ of cool and the palatal \k\ of keel) which are perceived to be a single distinctive sound in the language.
Meirram-Webster Online Dictionary

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What’s in a Name? Language!

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Creating names can be one of the most challenging parts of creating a game setting. Sure, you can name things whatever happens to come to mind, but that can create names from all over the map (literally, if you’re borrowing names from the real world). You can end up with the Boxboggle river in the city of Sparrow Hill in the country of Wwoauntyz on Planet Q. While that kind of naming is common in the modern US, it doesn’t really help give players the feeling that your setting could be a real place.

street signs(Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/philliecasablanca/ / CC BY 2.0)

Another option is to use words that describe something about the area. For example, Meadowbrook or Razorback Wallow. This is often a good choice. Because you’re using names from one language (usually the language your group speaks), these names often have a more unified field. They feel as if they come from the same culture and they can give your players an idea of the culture of an area.

There’s a third option, though. You can create a naming language.

What’s a naming language?

Unlike creating a full speaking language (which can be fun, but takes a lot of time and energy investment), naming languages have a few simple rules and can be created in an evening. Your goal here isn’t to createย  an in-depth grammer and lexicon; it’s to create some rules about letter and sound patterns so that your names feel as if they all came from the same culture.

How to Create a Naming Language

Naming languages can be very simple to create. Creating full languages can involve creating new consonant and vowel sounds, as well as pronouns, grammar, sentence structure, standard word order … whew! Before you feel overwhelmed, remember that your sole purpose here is to create names. That’s it. You don’t need a complicated grammar or set of pronouns or whatnot. The names you’re creating don’t even have to mean anything (though they can, if you wish). You’re just looking for something that sounds internally consistent.

I’ve broken the process down into a series of steps, which I’ll cover next week over the course of several blog entries. These steps are:

  1. Decide what your language sounds like.
  2. Choose the most common sounds.
  3. Figure out the stress patterns of your names.
  4. Create tones.
  5. Determine sound constraints.
  6. Create an “alphabet” and pronunciation guide.

Other Sources

There are some excellent resources on line for creating languages, if you’d like more in-depth information. Here’s some of my favorites:

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Open Gaming Table Vol. 2 Taking Nominations

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Open Gaming Table is an anthology of roleplaying blog posts. Published in March 2009, it’s definitely worth checking out. Now Jonathan Jacobs, the editor-in-chief for that book is putting together a volume 2. You can nominate your favorite RPG blog posts on this nomination form. Here’s the nomination rules from the form itself:

The Rules
1. You can anonymously nominate as many blog posts as you want. Keeping in mind that, the more you submit, the more work the reviewers have to do.
2. ANY RPG BLOG POST CAN BE NOMINATED. The type of content that is submitted is extremely broad: any “RPG blog” is eligible to be nominated – let the reviewers figure out if an individual post is appropriate.
3. Nominations must be for specific RPG blog posts (you must send in the URL). This is not a “Best RPG Blog” contest; but it is intended to be a showcase of the RPG blogging community’s best content.
5. Blog posts that were printed in Open Game Table Vol. 1 will not be accepted for Vol 2.

(http://rpganthology.wufoo.com/forms/open-game-table-vol-2-blog-post-nomination-form/)

You can nominate up to five posts on one nomination form. There seems to be no limit on the number of nomination forms you can submit. All nominations are kept anonymous. The deadline for nominations is 15 January 2010.

The success of this work depends on the entire gaming community — not just those of us who write these blogs. So please, take a moment and vote for your favorite blog posts. Not just from Evil Machinations, but also from the other great blogs out there.

Bringing Home the Gold: Review of Gold Strike! Adventure

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Abandoned gold mines. Orc raiders. Cave-ins and a dark, mysterious past. Gold Strike! the winner of 6d6 Fireball‘s Autumn Adventure Writing Competition brings us that and more.

This d20/D&D 3.x adventure sends three to five 4th – 6th level characters down an abandoned gold mine to rescue a group of miners trapped by a cave-in. But as is often the case with adventures, things are not completely what they seem. I’m going to do my best to review this without giving spoilers. This review is based on a playtest my group and I did of the adventure.

The Good

The setting of the adventure is one I don’t see used a lot in fantasy adventures — a mine cave-in. Much of the challenge of the adventure comes from being in an unstable and very deep cave environment. This was a refreshing change from fighting drow and deep cave monsters. The monster encounters that adventure did have were, on the whole, appropriately challenging and made sense.

I give big kudos to the person who designed the layout of the PDF. It may seem a minor thing, but this is the first adventure I’ve run in a quite a while where I didn’t spend half the gaming time flipping pages to reference on thing or another. I loved having the little maps next to the descriptions of an area.

The side notes listing the skill checks needed for any particular event were a real help, as were having the encounter tables in the adventure’s margin. The wide left margin also gave me plenty of room to write corrections and notes. The layout was so helpful, I’ll be looking for other adventures published by 6d6 Fireball on the basis of that alone. And the addition of core book page numbers for monsters, treasure, and other things the DM might want to reference is a very welcome addition.

The Bad

The names. While the NPCs are well-suited to the adventure, my group had a field day with their names. Even I had a hard time saying some of them with a straight face. “Junior” was fine, if a bit odd in a fantasy setting. “Jumpy” and “Furd” were harder, but even I lost it when it came to “Bark”, “Mourne”, and “Bonksi”.

Also, some class or skill suggestions would’ve been nice in the GM notes. The play test party consisted of a rogue, a barbarian/fighter, and a warlock, all non-dwarves and all 5th level. Not a survival skill among them and the party should have either a dwarf or someone skilled with either dungeoneering or underground survival. And some check DCs seemed rather high. At one point, the PCs are asked to make a DC 2 4 Survival check, which seems a little high for 4-6th level characters.

The adventure could also use some more consistency checking. At one point the PCs approach a camp with the description “The fire you saw in the distance is hidden by the stone walls.” If it’s hidden by the walls, how can the PCs have seen it in the distance? At another point a tunnel is described as being 6′ high and 2′ wide, but further down, it’s described as being “less than 4′ tall.”

The point to remember here is that this is a playtest version of the adventure. It’s going to have inconsistencies and imbalances until playtesting is complete. There are quibbles, but no major flaws — there’s nothing in this adventure that couldn’t be cleaned up after a few rounds of playtesting.

The Ugly — not!

On the whole, I think this is a great adventure idea. Both my players and myself enjoyed the change of pace from the usual “fight monsters, steal treasure” underground adventures. While there are still some problems to be ironed out, they’re changes that can be easily made before the final version is printed. The sequence of events is interesting and logical.

The layout of the adventure itself is definitely not ugly. It’s one of the easiest adventure printings I’ve ever used, keeping page turning to a minimum, whether that’s in the adventure itself or in the core rulebooks.

On the whole, I recommend this adventure. Recongnize that it’s a playtest document and either make notes or tweak the adventure accordingly.

Oh, and be sure to brush up on multiple skill checks and survival skills before you go. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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Taking the Initiative: Review of Paizo’s Combat Pad

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This review is part of the Game Cryer Holiday Gift Guide.

Running combat in d2o/3.x systems is no task for the faint-hearted. Multiple characters, each with their own initiative, spells, delayed actions, held actions, potions, magic items … whew! It’s a lot to keep track of and it’s easy to forget who goes after whom … oh, and when does that spell take affect, again? No wonder so many GMs resort to laptops to keep track of who’s doing what and when.

What is it?

paizo-combat-padBut what about those of us without laptops? Luckily, Paizo.com has a solution for us, too. Called their “Combat Pad“, this sturdy magnetic board takes much of the drudgery out of keeping track of combat. Individual magnets allow you to write the names of the PCs, NPCs and monsters in dry or wet-erase pen. You can also take notes directly on the board itself and there’s a large space on provided to do just that.

The center “column” is numbered down the side allowingyou to place character/monster magnets near the number corresponding to each N/PC’s initiative roll. Is one PC readying or holding an action? Just move his magnet to the appropritate column on the right-hand side. Then once the character uses his held action, just move his magnet to the new initiative order number. No more “When did you come in last round?”

The line of numbers across the top allows you to keep track of what round you’re currently in. I also use it to note what round a spell goes off and what round it finishes. After many years of trying to keep track of it in my head or on scraps of paper, this is a very welcome addition to the product.

What’s so good about it?

First of all, large notes section. It allows me to track hit points as well as combat rounds. Secondly, the rounds tracker, which I mentioned above. The fact that it’s magnetic means I don’t have to worry if the cat decides to take a short-cut across my notes during combat.

I generally use wet-erase markers (I’m always dragging my hand through what I write, so dry-erase for me ends up being one big blur) and both the magnets and the board come clean with a damp cloth or paper towel. And when I say clean, I mean clean. No color residue left. The different colors of magnets — blue for PCs, green for NPCs and black for monsters — makes it easy to tell at a glance which you’re dealing with right now. The board comes with a good number of magnets, but if you lose some or find you need more, Paizo offers an extra magnet pack.

I also like the size. While a larger board would allow for more notes, the current 81/2″ x 11″ fits easily into my game notebook. Which means I can carry it with me wherever I’m running. A big bonus, since our group tends to rotate hosting the game. And it works for more than d20; I’ve used it with my Vampire: the Masquerade game with the same success.

The price tag for this product — $16.95 — is very reasonable. The extra magnet pack is $7.95. It’s a great gift for that special GM.