Monthly Archives: January 2010


Tweet Image via Wikipedia Once a month, I publish a newsletter of quick tips for busy GMs called Beg, Borrow & Steal. Some require advanced preparation to use, but most are designed to be last-minute tips you can add to … Continue reading

Please Answer Survey

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Over at the Guang Keshar website, I’ve created a survey. Okay, the survey’s really at SurveyMonkey, but there’s a link to it from Even if you don’t plan on using a new campaign setting anytime soon, please stop by and let me know what you look for in a game setting.

It’s short. Only these five questions. That’s all — and I promise it won’t hurt 😉

I’ll be posting the outcome of the survey on the Guang Keshar website.

What’s in a Name?: Alphabet

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Here it is — the final post of our What’s in a Name? series. Today we’re talking about alphabets.

alphabet spiralWell, actually not about alphabets. While you can create a whole new alphabet for your language, it’s a lot of work to do just to create names. Especially since unless you’re writing out all of your game materials by hand, you’ve got to create either a true font or a set of dingbats to represent your new alphabet.

You can actually create something unique by using Roman letters. After all, most languages in Europe and the Americas all use some variation of Roman letters and they all manage to look different.

(Photo courtesy of: / CC BY 2.0)

Go Back to Your Sounds

Remember the list of sounds we made back on the Day 2? It’s time to pull that out. What you want to do is assign one letter or letter combination to every sound you have. What you’re creating here is actually called an orthography.

Now, you can mix up the letters and sounds — but I wouldn’t recommend it. What I mean by that is, you can assign the “sh” sound to the letter “a”. I wouldn’t recommend it because it’ll be a constant headache for you and your players. You’ll constantly have to look back and forth between your  names and your “alphabet” and I’d be very surprised if your players didn’t revolt by the second game session as they try to remember that “Shewsberry” is actually pronounced “thantcamms”.

What you do want to do though, is settle on one way of writing each phoneme you have. Even though in English (for example) “c” can make an “s” or a “k” sound and more than one letter in the alphabet can make the same sound, for simplicity’s sake, I’d recommend one sound, one letter combinations.  That way, you know that “Cebunclane” is always pronounced “ke-bunk-la-ne” and not “see-boon-clain”.

A Note About Diacritics

One obvious way to make your language look different is by using a lot of diacritics. But this can also create a huge headache as you have to remember how to type them or pause frequently while writing to use the “insert special character” (or equivalent) function of your computer. And if you ever want to post your names online, keep in mind that HTML has a very limited set of special characters it supports.

You can actually get a very different look to your names just by using combinations of letters not normally found in English and peppered with a few very common diacritics. Here’s some examples:

  • Nord-Pas-de-Calais (French)
  • Lübeck (German)
  • Zaragoza (Spanish)
  • Algyógy (Hungarian)
  • Bizusa-Bâi (Romanian)

Have fun with this. It can be some work, initially, but once you’ve created it, it really does help give your world a unique flavor. Then, if you decide you do want to create a full language for your world at a later date, you’ve already laid some of the foundation work.

This article series was inspired by Mark Rosenfelder’s Language Construction Kit and I’ve drawn on it heavily as a resource. If you’re interested in a creating a language of your own, his site is a great place to start.

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End of Year Round-Up: The Top 10 Posts of 2009

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Here’s a countdown of the 10 most popular posts on Evil Machinations in 2009:

10. An A-to-Z List of Lesser-Known Roleplaying Games, pt. 4: A survey of roleplaying games whose titles begin with the letters Q-U.

9. Building Better NPCs II: 8 Steps to Memorable NPCs: Eight steps for bringing your important NPCs to life and making them unique.

8. How Do You Describe Combat?: A question I posed to my readers. They came up with some great ideas — make sure to read the responses.

7.  An A-to-Z List of Lesser-Known Roleplaying Games, pt. 1: The first post in the survey of roleplaying games. Covers letters A-F.

6. Character Questionnaire: A list of questions to flesh out your character and bring those sets of numbers to life.

5. Handling Problem Players: A list of online resources for dealing with those players who make your gaming life hell.

4. What’s Good About 4th Edition?: Another question for my readers. Creating a wonderful discussion that came up with some great points in favor of 4the D&D. And without becoming an edition/flame war :) .

3. What GMs Really Want (Poll): A survey where I asked readers what kinds of articles they’d like to see. It’s still active, if you’d like to leave your ideas.

2. “Where are we again?”: Creating Unique Fantasy Cities and Towns: A list of Internet resources for creating cities and towns.

And finally, the most popular post of 2009 …

1. Your Teacher Was Right … Creating Adventures with the Six Ws: How to create an adventure by answer six basic questions — who, what, when, where, why, and how. Featured in Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #469.

Thank you to all my readers. Without you, I’d have no popular posts to share. Keep reading here — I’ve got lots more ideas I can’t wait to share with you in 2010 😉 .

What’s in a Name? Tone and Sound Constraints

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Small latin A with acute (á)
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Here’s part 4 of our series on creating a naming language. Today we’re talking about tone and sound constraints.


Tone in language is the way you inflect a word or phrase. We don’t use tone on word basis in English, but several Asian languages (and there may be others) use it. The best known of these is Mandarin Chinese, where a change of inflection can change the meaning of a word. As an example, let’s look at the Mandarin word ma:

  • ma (flat, no intonation) means ‘mother’. There should be a bar over the ‘a’, but I’m limited by HTML’s available diacritics.
  • (rising intonation) means ‘hemp’
  • (falling then rising intonation) means ‘horse’. Actually, the circumflex on this ‘a’ should be inverted, but HTML doesn’t seem to support that.
  • (falling intonation) means ‘curse’

As you might suspect, this does make the language more complex — probably too complex for a simple naming language, but it can be a lot of fun to play with.

A simpler way of adding tone to your words is to use a pitch accent. Here you denote that the stressed syllable of a word has either a high pitch or a low pitch. Some languages that use a pitch accent are Japanese, Norwegian, as well as Latin and Ancient Greek. While there’s no reason you couldn’t use a rising then falling pitch or visa versa, it might make the language more complex than you actually want to use.

Of course you don’t have to use a pitch system. Many, many languages (including most  of the European ones) get by just fine without it.

Sound Constraints

Sound constraints can go a long way to making a language sound not only internally consistent, but also distinctive. Sound constraints help determine what can and cannot be a particular word in a specific language. For example, English speakers know that coss and trannel could possible be English words, while ctain and mtour couldn’t.

Developing sound constraints for your language is easy. Simply develop a syllable pattern. For example, my language of Keshari uses a

  • (C)V(C) constraint. Every syllable must have a vowel and there may or may not be a consonant at the beginning and/or end of the word. It cannot have two consonants or two vowels next to each other.

Make up any syllable pattern you like. Some languages even include a restricted set of letter options. For example, Mandarin Chinese has a syllable structure of

  • (C)(i,u)V(w, y, n, ng). Every syllable must have a vowel and may end with one of four sounds — w, y, n, or ng. Also, a syllable can begin with a consonant, possibly followed by an i or u.

For sake of ease, I’d suggest using a simple and very general pattern. Even something as easy as requiring a structure of CV(C) can really make your language sound unique, particularly when you pair it with and unusual phoneme frequency. These two things alone may be all you need to create your new language.

Next time we’ll cover creating an “alphabet” and a pronunciation guide.

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