Tag Archives: Campaigns

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: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fdecomite/ / 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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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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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.  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 create  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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Tweet Sometimes creating a believable city or town is one of the hardest parts of building an adventure or campaign. You don’t want all your towns to look the same and you definitely don’t want to get stuck in the … Continue reading

City Creation: Kael Pathfinder Stoutpoppy, Swordsmith

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Since the PCs aren’t likely to interact with Meadowbrook’s blacksmiths other than to have items repaired or commission new ones, I’m not going to spend much time detailing them.

Most Meadowbrook’s blacksmiths focus on creating practical items — horseshoes, plows and farming implements, iron nails and building tools, etc. Kael Pathfinder Stoutpoppy is the exception to the rule: he’s only swordsmith in Meadowbrook. While he can and does do other types of blacksmithing to pay the bills, his primary love is creating strong, beautiful blades.

Kael Pathfinder Stoutpoppy

Kael is a former ranger who settled down in Meadowbrook. While his home and shop are actually outside of the city proper, he and his wife, Janna, are frequent faces in town, especially at The Butter Churn tavern. While adventuring, Kael met and fell in love with Janna Stoutpoppy, a skilled fighter in the group he traveled with. When the two of them decided to retire and settle down, they chose Meadowbrook — Janna’s home town.

While Kael and Janna aren’t the only human-halfling couple Meadowbrook’s history, the match is unusual enough to raise eyebrows and start gossip tongues wagging. The Stoutpoppys had some difficulty accepting an human son-in-law, but Kael’s friendly, outgoing personality finally won over Janna’s parents. The rest of the Stoutpoppy clan, including Janna’s two sisters and her brother aren’t so generous of spirit and the divide has split appart the clan. Janna’s siblings have not spoken to her for the last three years. The couple are very much in love, but the situation has put a strain on their marriage; currently, the two of them are discussing plans to move to a larger city where they won’t stand out so much.

A skilled storyteller, Kael can frequently be found at The Butter Churn when not working. He’s frequently pressed to tell stories of his and Janna’s younger, wilder days.

Janna Stoutpoppy

Janna herself is much quieter than her husband. She’s friendly enough, but much more reserved and usually content to let her more outgoing half speak for both of them.

Her split with her family weighs heavily on her, though she does her best not to show it. She’s glad her parents have come around about Kael, but the fact that her siblings and most of her clan refuse to speak to her saddens her greatly. She also experiences some discrimination in the town; a few of the merchants, both human and halfling, refuse to serve her or Kael. She loves Kael deeply, but the situation is putting a lot of strain on her. She and Kael have begun to talk about moving to an area where there are more couples like them, something she’s not sure she wants to do. She feels torn by her love for Kael and her love for her family.

For her own part, Janna is an excellent fighter, extremely skilled at taking down opponents several times her size. She’s agile and intelligent, though very shy without a sword in her hand. Her shyness can come off as cold or haughty to those meeting her for the first time.

  • Kael Pathfinder Stoutpoppy, human ranger (AD&D terms: 10th level ranger).
  • Janna Stoutpoppy, halfling fighter/warrior (AD&D terms: 11th level fighter)

Note about halfling names in Meadowbrook’s world: Among halflings, property is passed down matriliniarly, from mother to daughter. Consequently, most husbands take their wife’s surname after marriage, adding it after their own. Kael and Janna followed this tradition, hoping that would help them gain more acceptence in Janna’s home town. Unfortunately, this hasn’t had the effect they’d desired.


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Tweet Town Guard are not employees of Meadowbrook. A guild in their own right, they’re employed by the town council. Each guild tithes a small percentage of their annual income directly to the Town Guard, in return the Guard protects … Continue reading


Tweet Continuing our description of Meadowbrook’s notable citizens, we come to Barsus Tinner, the head of the fix-it guild. The Fix-It Guild First off, let’s give the fix-it guild an official name. As low-level arcanists, I can see the guild … Continue reading


Tweet Generally, I don’t detail numbers for the NPCs of my games. Unless I expect the PCs to pick a fight with one of them, I don’t even created stat blocks. I look at the NPC’s history, role in the … Continue reading