Tag Archives: character creation

Characters for Brand New Players

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You’ve gotten your group and your new player both ready to play. He’s sat in at least one play session and thinks this “roleplay thing” looks pretty cool and both you and your players think he’ll be a good fit for your game.

So now, with all of the prelims out of the way, it’s time to sit down with your brand-new  player and build his character. But what’s the best way to build a character for a brand-new player? That’s what this article, the third in my series on introducing new players to your game group.

Character creation for the brand-new player

There are a couple of schools of thought when it comes to creating characters for brand new players:

  • start with pre-generated characters
  • start with character creation

Starting with pre-generated characters

In this situation, you give your brand new player a pre-generated character to play until he’s comfortable enough with the game to build an effective character. The advantage of this approach is that the player doesn’t have to struggle through two (often very different) sets of rules and can immediately jump into play.

Character creation can be confusing and seemingly unrelated to the game itself to the brand new player. He doesn’t yet know what kind of character he likes or is good at playing. That makes it hard to build a character he enjoys, because he doesn’t yet know what he enjoys. In his ignorance, it’s all to easy for him to create a character he hates.

The downside of this option is that none of the available characters may interest the new player

Starting with character creation

The other school of thought says to start by walking the new player through character creation, step-by-step, if need be. This way, the new player will have  (hopefully) a character he likes from day one. What I’ve found, though is that most brand-new players have no idea what kinds of characters are out there, making it difficult for her to come up with a character idea.

The best of both

As a middle ground , I’ll ask  her what kind of character she’d like to play. Then I ask her she wants to create the character herself, or if she just wants to give me the details and let me worry about creating the numbers to match those details.

Even if she chooses to create the character herself, you’ll need to walk her through the character process step-by-step.  At the very least, she’ll probably appreciate some advice about the choices she needs to make, such as which weapons are most effective and which skills would be the most use to her. Remember though, you’re giving suggestions, not mandates. Give her the choices, explain the pros and cons of each for her character, then let her decide for herself.

Before play–the prelude

It’s helpful to sit down with your new player before his first actual play session.  At this time, run him through a one-on-one play session working out his character’s background. This serves two purposes: it gives the a player a dry-run on the mechanics and it helps him learn about his character, both of them will help make play run more smoothly at the official first game session.

Talk with your group

Ask the new player to arrive 15-30 minutes later than the rest of the group. This will give you a chance to talk to your existing group. Let them know if you’re suspending or modifying any rules for this session, especially table rules. Also layout how you expect them to treat the newcomer.

Remind them they were once brand-new players and ask them to be sympathetic if the newcomer makes “newbie” mistakes or doesn’t seem to know how to do things. We forget that we actually had to learn many of the in-game actions we do automatically now (like looking for secret doors or testing the floor with a 10′ pole). Also make sure they know the game will likely move much slower tonight because you’ll have to stop frequently to explain things.

Ask your group to be especially welcome and to keep in-jokes to a minimum (or at least explain them). Reiterate that you want the new player to feel comfortable and welcome. Warn them to be especially conscious about not interrupting him and to be patient while he figures out his character’s actions. Also tell them if there’s anything they shouldn’t say, such as background information the new character wouldn’t know.

Ask (or choose) one player to be a mentor to the newest member. Make sure she has a lot of patience, knows the mechanics and can explain them well.

During the game session

Don’t let the mentor take over playing the new character–it’s great for her to suggest possible actions, but the decision must reside with the new player. If you find the mentor insist the newcomer take certain actions, find a new mentor.

Don’t overlook the new player when asking for character actions. A brand-new player is likely to be very quiet and hesitant to speak out of fear of doing something wrong. He could easily be overlooked in the flurry of activity, especially at the outset of combat. If your group uses a caller, ask the caller to pay special attention to the newcomer.

Be prepared to provide a list of possible actions for the player to choose from. Many brand-new player have no idea what’s even possible for their character to do. But try not to make him feel “on the spot.” If he’s completely stumped, give him two or three possible actions and tell him you’ll come back to him later, so he has time to think things over. Don’t give him more than about four possibilities–two many choices can be as overwhelming as too few.

That’s all for this segment. Next time, I’ll cover adding an experienced player to your game.

[Image courtesy of SmartBoyDesigns via Flickr Creative Commons]

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Beyond “Fred”: More Anglo-Saxon Names

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You can’t have a character without a name. Yet, sometimes, creating the name is the hardest thing about making a character. “Beyond ‘Fred'” is a series that lists names from history and other cultures to help you find that perfect character name.

This time, we’re covering Anglo-Saxon names again, they’re just that cool.  I’m doing something I haven’t done before in this series, and that’s giving some pronunciation guides, along with the name’s meaning. That’s because Anglo-Saxon names have meanings that are so perfect for fantasy games. My pronunciations may not be exactly perfect, but they’ll work for fantasy games.

Because of that, I’ve repeated some of my favorite names from the first Anglo-Saxon names post, so that you have an idea of how to pronounce them. Of course, if it’s fantasy, you can pronounce these any way you want to 😉 .

As always, I am more concerned with “flavor” than historical accuracy. So, without further ado….

Male Names

Æðelbald (A-thel-bald): nobly bright
Ælfhere (Alf-he-re. These are short “e”s, as in “red”): elf warrior
Ælfred (Alf-red): elf counsel
Ælfwine (Alf-win-e): elf friend
Æthelwulf (A-thel-wülf): noble wolf
Arlys (AR-loos): honorable
Baldric (Bald-ric): bold power
Banan (BAN-an): slayer
Baylor (BAA-oo-lore): horse trainer
Beorhtraed (BE-ore-tread. Short “e”, like “bed”): bright counsel
Betlic (BET-lick): Splendid
Boden (BO-den. With a short “o”, like “pot”): messenger
Cædmon (CAD-mon. With a short “o”, like “pot”): poet
Cæna (CHAIN-a): brave, fierce, keen, warlike
Canute (KA-noot-e): knot
Cedric (CHED-rick): renown leader
Dægal (DA-gall): dweller by the dark stream
Deogol (DE-o-gol): secret
Deorwine (DE-or-win-e): dear friend
Drefan (DRE-van): trouble
Eadmar (E-ad-mar): happy and illustrious
Earh (E-are): coward
Edwyn (ED-woon): valued
Faran (FAR-ann): advances
Firman (FIR-man): traveler
Frithuric (FRI-thu-rick): peace ruler
Fyren (FOO-ren): wicked
Galan (Gaa-laan): sing
Gar (GAAR): spear
Gifre (GIF-re. Short “i”, like “gift”):  greedy
Gim (GIM. Short “i”, like “gift”): gem
Godwine (GOD-win-e): God’s friend
Grindan (GRIN-dan): sharp
Halwende (HALL-wen-de): lonely
Hengist (HEN-yist): stallion
Ida (ID-a): rich
Irwyn (IRR-woon): sea lover
Kenric (KEN-rick): fearless leader
Landry (LAN-dree): ruler
Leodgar (LE-odd-gar): people’s spear
Lufian (LUV-ee-an): love
Magan (MA-gan): competent
Merwyn (MER-woon): good friend
Nyle (NOO-le): desire
Osbeorn (OS-beh-arn): divine bear
Rædan (RAW-dan): advisor
Raynar (RA-oo-nar): warrior of judgement
Raulf (RA-ulf): house wolf
Rowe (Rah-we): red-haired
Sar (SAR): pain
Scead (SKE-ad): shade
Scur (SKOOR): storm
Seleferth (SELL-e-ferrth): hall life
Selwyn (SEL-woon): fitting friend
Sherard (SER-ard): glorious valor. I’m guessing this is actually “Serard”, since I’ve never seen an “sh” sound in true Anglo-Saxon. It’s usually a modern interpretation
Sigefried (SIG-e-fri-ed): conquering peace
Temman (TEM-man): tame
Þunor (THOO-nar): thunder
Thurgis (THOOR-yis): Thor’s hostage
Wassa (WAS-sa): satyr(?)–uncertain about the exact meaning of this
Wilfrith (WIL-frith): resolute peace (my actual guess would be “stern friend”)
Winfrith (WIN-frith): friend of peace
Wulfric (WÜL-frick): wolf ruler

Female Names

Æðelþryð (A-thel-throoth):  noble threatener
Ælfgifu (ALF-gi-voo): elf gift
Ælflæd (ALF-lad): elf beauty
Æryn (AR-oon): elf-like
Ardith (AR-dith): good war
Bemia (BEH-mih-a): battle maiden
Bysen (BOO-sen): unique
Cate (KA-te): innocent
Cendra (KEN-dra): knowledgeable, understands
Cwen (KE-wen): queen
Cyneburga (KOO-ne-burr-ga): pledge of kindred
Darel (DAR-el): little beloved
Eadhild (E-ad-hild. The first “e” is a short e): rich battle maid
Eadlin (E-ad-lin): princess
Edita (E-dit-a): joyful
Eldrita (ELD-rit-a): prudent advisor
Erna (ER-na): reserved, shy
Faina (FA-in-a): joyful
Frithuswith (FRI-thoos-with. Both “i”s are short): peace strength
Gisa (GI-sa): hostage
Hreða (HRE-tha. The “hr” is an unvoiced r. Say ‘H’, then ‘r’ very quickly): an Anglo-Saxon goddess
Hrothwyn (HROTH-woon. The “hr” is an unvoiced r. Say ‘H’, then ‘r’ very quickly): famous joy
Leola (LE-ola. The “o” is short, like in “pot”): deer, swift (as a deer)
Maéda (Ma-ee-da):  maiden
Mildryth (MILLED-rooth): mild pledge
Muriel (Muh-ri-el): myrrh, perfumed
Ora (AH-rah): money
Orfa (AH-fah): courageous
Rowena (RAW-en-a): white skirt
Synne (SOON-ne): gift of the sun
Wilona (WILL-ahn-a): hoped for
Ymma (OOM-ma): work

[Image courtesy of micronova via Flickr Creative Commons]


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Beyond “Fred”: German Names for Characters

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Sometimes the hardest part of building a character is  coming up with a good name. You can always take a name from Tolkien or other fantasy novels, but you’ve seen those names over and over and you want something a little different, but not way out there. How about an historical name? Or one from a different culture?

This time I’m covering German names. As always, I’m selecting these for use in fantasy games, so many of these names may be archaic or uncommon.

[Photo courtesy of kevindooley via Flickr Creative Commons 2.0]

Male Names

  • Abelard
  • Adalbert
  • Alban
  • Alwin
  • Baldric
  • Berndt
  • Burkhard
  • Carsten
  • Dagmar
  • Detlef
  • Dierk
  • Eber
  • Etzel
  • Ewald
  • Fastred
  • Feirefiz
  • Ferdi
  • Gairovald
  • Garrit
  • Gerd
  • Gisil
  • Gundrun
  • Hagan
  • Hartwin
  • Heilgar
  • Hroda
  • Ingo
  • Isidor
  • Ivo
  • Kai
  • Kasimir
  • Kayetan
  • Kilian
  • Korbinian
  • Körbl
  • Lanzo
  • Lennart
  • Lothar
  • Malger
  • Markus
  • Marwin
  • Meine
  • Merten
  • Odo
  • Othmar
  • Poldi
  • Quirin
  • Raban
  • Raimund
  • Reto
  • Ruedi
  • Seppel
  • Severin
  • Sigi
  • Tancred
  • Thorben
  • Tielo
  • Traugott
  • Ulrich
  • Urs
  • Volker
  • Waldemar
  • Wendelin
  • Wenzel
  • Wolfram
  • Yvo

Female Names

  • Adelina
  • Aleida
  • Aloisia
  • Beate
  • Bettina
  • Bruna
  • Cäcilie
  • Conradine
  • Corina
  • Dörthe
  • Ebbe
  • Elfriede (Elfie)
  • Emlin
  • Erna
  • Frauke
  • Gerde
  • Gerlinde
  • Gisela
  • Gudrun
  • Heike
  • Helma
  • Hiltrud
  • Ilma
  • Imke
  • Imme
  • Ishild
  • Jana
  • Kasimira
  • Kinge
  • Kirsa
  • Kunigunde
  • Lene
  • Liesa
  • Liesel
  • Loreley
  • Magda
  • Malwine
  • Maike
  • Mareike
  • Maja
  • Marlis
  • Nadja
  • Nele
  • Oda
  • Odelia
  • Ottila
  • Raimunde
  • Renate
  • Ria
  • Rike
  • Roswitha
  • Salida
  • Senta
  • Sidonia
  • Silke
  • Tabea
  • Thekla
  • Thora
  • Valeska
  • Verena
  • Vreni
  • Wiebke
  • Zenzi
  • Ziska

German Surnames

  • Abt
  • Amsel
  • Bader
  • Bauer
  • Baum
  • Beike
  • Daecher
  • Duerr
  • Eichel
  • Engal
  • Faerber
  • Fiedler
  • Foerster
  • Fruehauf
  • Gaertner
  • Gersten
  • Grunewald
  • Hoch
  • Holtzmann
  • Hueber
  • Jaeger
  • Kalb
  • Kappel
  • Klein
  • Kluge
  • Koch
  • Koenig
  • Lang
  • Lehrer
  • Luft
  • Metzger
  • Moench
  • Nacht
  • Nadel
  • Oster
  • Pfaff
  • Reiniger
  • Ritter
  • Sankt
  • Schreiber
  • Schuster
  • Seiler
  • Theiss
  • Traugott
  • Trommler
  • Urner
  • Vogt
  • Wannemaker
  • Wirth
  • Zweig


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Beyond ‘Fred’: Ancient Egyptian Names

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Sometimes the hardest part of building a character is  coming up with a good name. You can always take a name from Tolkien or other fantasy novels, but you’ve seen those names over and over and you want something a little different, but not way out there. How about an historical name? Or one from a different culture? So far in this series, we’ve covered Roman, Russian, Italian, and Anglo-Saxon names. If none of these suit you, how about an Ancient Egyptian one?

Ancient Egyptian Name Structure

Names in ancient Egypt seen to have been chosen with great care for their meaning. Many contained the name of a god, as well as common words or phrases and could be used by either men or women. In some cases, as needed for identification, a person might be known by two names: one as their formal name and another, which was what they were called most of the time.

As with all posts in this series, the list here isn’t intended to be historically accurate. It’s merely providing suggestions for use with role-playing games. If historical accuracy is important, you’ll want to check your name against reliable historical records.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr, ©isawnyu 2010)

Male Names

  • Abi
  • Ahmose
  • Amenemhet
  • Ahmose
  • Bes
  • Den
  • Djet
  • Hekanakht
  • Heru
  • Horemheb
  • Kamose
  • Menes
  • Metesouphis
  • Nebnefer
  • Neferirkare
  • Padiu
  • Pakamen
  • Pakapu
  • Panhsj
  • Seti
  • Siptah
  • Ti

Female Names

  • Achotep
  • Ahori
  • Amenirdis
  • Beset
  • Cena
  • Henut
  • Hetepet
  • Iutenheb
  • Khentkaus
  • Meritnit
  • Mutemwia
  • Mutnodjmet
  • Naunakht
  • Nefertari
  • Nitocris
  • Nithotep
  • Peseshet
  • Rennefer
  • Sacmis
  • Sekhet
  • Senen
  • Sobkneferu
  • Taiemniut
  • Tawaret


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Livin’ the Good Life: More Random Background Events for PCs

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A roulette wheel.
Image via Wikipedia

Stumped for a background for your newest character? Why not try some randomly generated ones? Last week, we covered the steps for generating a random background event and the tables for bad things that could happen to your character. Today, we’re covering the good things. Check out last week’s post for full details.

Life Path Good Events

  1. Gain a local ally. You’ve gained an ally who has a fair amount of influence or clout in the city, town or village you’re in.
  2. Strike it rich. You come into a sizable sum of money.  Whether you won it gambling, received it as payment for services rendered or simply found it, the money is yours–free and clear. No strings. It’s not enough to retire on, but it can certainly keep in you in some comfort for 1d10 months.
  3. Big job. You perform a job that brings not only financial reward, but also some recognition. Whether your face is widely known in the streets or to an elite few is up to you. In either case, you gain a positive boost to your reputation.
  4. Find a weaponsmaster. You find a skilled warrior/fighter whose abilities exceed your own and who’s willing to teach you. You improve one of your combat-related skills or add a weapon proficiency. The GM will tell you how many improvement points you gain.
  5. Find a skills master. You find someone who can help you either improve a non-combat skill you already have or learn a new one at a beginning level. The GM will tell you how many improvement points you gain.
  6. Powerful favor. Someone in political power in your game world owes you a favor. Maybe you ran an important errand or maybe you just babysat his favorite nephew. In any case, you will be able to call in one favor from this person. The GM will decide whether or not the favor you’re asking for is equitable with the one you received.
  7. Friends in low places. You make some friends with a local group or gang. It could be the local thieves guild or it could be a teenage gang of misfits. In either case, you can call on them for one small favor a month. This does cut both ways and the gang will expect you to return small favors should they need them. These should be easy favors that won’t hurt your reputation or your bank account.
  8. Friend on the force. You make a friend on the local constabulary or town guard. You can call on your friend for information or minor favors once a month. Again, this is two-way street and you friend can also call on you for the same.
  9. Friends in high places. You make a friend to has some measure of clout. Perhaps you rescued a local prince or duke or perhaps the princess has simply taken a liking to you. You can call on your friend for a small favor once a month, but don’t push it.
  10. Gain an asset. You find or are given a very useful or minor magic item (GM’s choice). However you come by it, it’s yours with no repercussions or strings attached.

Of course, you can also use these for “down time” events in-between adventures.

Look for next week when we’ll begin a “Player Month”, with articles for the players in your group.

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Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune: Random Background Events for PCs

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cartoon about simple choicesSometimes a good background is hard to find. Usually I have no trouble coming up with a full-fledged past for my characters, complete with NPCs, subtle plot hooks, and flaws ready-made for the GM to exploit. Usually, I hand the GM a six-page character questionnaire loaded with personality quirks and background events.


A few months back, my fiance (I’ll call him “Jay”) started a 3.5 D&D game and I sat down to make a new character. I’m currently playing a bard/sorcerer in another D&D game and wanted to try something different. I thought playing a “blaster caster” would be a lot of fun, so I built my character as a half-even sorcerer/rogue. I pulled out my well-used list of character questions and sat down to fill it out.


I couldn’t think of anything really interesting to build this character around. All of my ideas seemed trite and over-used. Six months of play later, and I still didn’t have any background to this character.

Now, I know I can play the character without any background material. But I’ve always been a “method actor” type roleplayer and I find it really hard to get enthused about a character that’s just stats and abilities. That’s when I remembered Cyberpunk and its lifepath tables. If I couldn’t think up a background for my character, I could roll one up!

[Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/draconianrain/ / CC BY 2.0]

The LifePath

Cyberpunk’s life path is a very thorough. It involves rolling on several charts to determine what the character’s personality is like as well as what’s happened to him in his background. I’ve simplified the process greatly and changed the options to fit a fantasy game setting.

First, determine how many life events you want to roll for. As a limitation, I decided I could stop rolling for events when I wanted to, but that I couldn’t remove any results already obtained. I developed two tables: one for bad events and one for good. To determine which table to roll on for each event, I rolled a d6. If it came up even, then I rolled for a good event. If the result was odd, I rolled for a bad event. Of course, you can also pick some thing rather than rolling for it at random.

Bad Events

  1. Money loss. You’ve incurred a major debt. Bill collectors track you wherever you go and, depending on the size of your debt, your lender may have hired someone who will take drastic measures to recover the money.
  2. Hostage or Imprisonment. You’re being held captive–either in prison or perhaps as a hostage–Roll 1d10 to find out how many months you’re imprisoned.
  3. Illness or Poisoning. You’ve contracted a serious illness or were poisoned. Roll 1d10 to determine how many months you need to recuperate.
  4. Betrayal. You’ve been betrayed by someone you trusted. Roll 1d10 on the table below:
    1-3 Your betrayer is blackmailing you
    4-6 A dirty secret from your past has been exposed
    8-10 You lost a friend, lover, ally, or job because your betrayer spread rumors about you (your choice whether or not they’re true.
  5. Accident. You were in a terrible accident. Roll 1d10 on the table below:
    1-2 You were disfigured or lost a body part
    3-6 You were under medical care for 1d10 months
    7-8 You lost 1d10 months of memory due to trauma
    9-10 You have frequent and terrible nightmares where you relive the event over and over
  6. Death. Someone close to you was killed. Roll 1d10 on the table below.
    1-5 The death was accidental
    6-8 Your loved one was murdered by an unknown assailant
    9-10 Your loved one was murdered by someone you know
  7. False Accusation. You were framed for something you didn’t do. Roll 1d10 on the table below to find out what you were accused of:
    1-3 Theft
    4-5 Cowardice
    6-8 Murder
    9 Rape or “taking advantage” of someone (like seducing the farmer’s daughter and getting her pregnant)
    10 Treason
  8. On the Run. You’re being hunted by someone in a position of authority. Maybe you committed a crime, maybe you were framed for a crime, or maybe you don’t even know why you’re being hunted. Roll 1d10 on the table below to find out who’s hunting you.
    1-3 Local constabulary or town watch
    4-6 The king’s forces
    7-8 Private guards
    9-10 Bounty hunters
  9. Hunted. You’re on the run from some organization who wants you bad for some reason. They may not want to kill you, but they certainly don’t have your best interests at heart. Roll 1d10 on the table below to determine who’s hunting you.
    1 The local assassins’ guild
    2-3 The local thieves’ guild
    4-6 A merchant’s guild or craft guild
    7-8 A slaver’s guild or gang
    9-10 A powerful local clan
  10. Mental incapacitation. You’re sufforing from something that’s causing you to not be fully in control of yourself and your behavior. Roll 1d10 on the table below to determine what the problem is.
    1-3 Mind control or possession. You’ve been possessed or mentally controlled by a powerful entity.
    4-7 Mental breakdown. Some kind of trauma has left you with severe anxiety attacks and maybe even a phobia.
    8-10 Severe mental illness. Your choice.

That’s enough for one day. I’ll post the good events next week.

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Change Your Hat, Change Your Character

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hatsI myself have 12 hats, and each one represents a different personality.  Why just be yourself?
–Margaret Atwood

I love props. I’m constantly making props for my games, from fake newspaper articles to treasure maps. Sure, you can tell your players what their characters fine, but then they’re seeing the prop through your eyes. You can’t help but put a spin on their findings as you describe them. Having an actual prop the players can handle allows them to form their own opinions without any “coloration” by the GM.

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

Why use props?

Props can also help you get into character. This is what I love most about them. Each of my characters has (PCs and important NPCs) has something that identifies them.  Not only does this prop help distinguish one character from another, the type of prop chosen says something about the character who uses it.

The  main props I use with my PCs are costumes. Every one of the characters I play has a “costume” that comes straight out of my wardrobe. Now, that doesn’t mean I come to the gaming table looking like a refugee from the local Renaissance Faire (though that can certainly be a lot of fun once in a while). Instead, I find something in my wardrobe that reminds me of my character.

For Galen, my 14th level human bard/sorcerer, it’s a purple tank top with a green shirt over it, his patron’s colors. On the other hand, Feynan, my half-elven rogue/sorcerer with a penchant for lightening, requires an orange tank-top. Rafe, a classic WoD mage, wears a black leather motorcycle jacket, while Naiya, a Tremere vampire always sports an antique rhinestone necklace. The one thing all these costumes have in common is that none of them cause anyone to look oddly at me when I stop at the grocery store for some snacks. Having a prop (or clothing article) helps me get into character before the game even starts.

Props as a GM tool

I find props immensely valuable as a GM tool, as well. Now, I don’t worry about a prop for every Tom, Dick an Haley in my game; only the major NPCs get props. But having a prop for each character allows for two things: 1) my players know immediately who they’re talking to and 2) it helps me keep my NPCs straight and helps keep me from getting sidetracked. Having something in my hand or on me reminds me to stay focused on that one character.

Types of good props

Hats make great props for NPCs because they’re generally quick and easy to put on and take off. Small trinkets, particularly if they inspire a physical mannerism, also work really well. Perhaps your NPC likes to stack coins, play with Chinese harmony balls, or roll dice. Maybe he always has a toothpick in his mouth. Or maybe she carries a walking stick or cane and uses it to punctuate her speech. Or perhaps he doodles while he talks or creates origami animals.

Using props

The main point when using props is to avoid overusing them or making them so obvious they upstage the what you’re saying. Usually, a prop in use should be subtle, something the character does absent-mindedly. You want to use the prop in such a way that it helps the players remember who they’re talking to, but without causing the prop to take center stage.

Notice, though, that I said usually. Sometimes a prop is absolutely crucial to the story. If your players know that any prop you pick up when you’re speaking in character actually exists in the game, you can have an NPC play with it to bring it to the PCs attention. Or you can place it on the table in front of you and wait until someone asks about it.

Any of the techniques above can help your players (and you) feel more immersed in the game. Props are great tools for both players and GM. You can start small — pick one prop for you PC or for a major NPC. Think of a way that character would use that prop. You know you’ve really got it down when your players can tell who they’re speaking to without you having to say a single name.

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Evil Does Not Equal Stupid: 8 Tips for Playing Evil Characters

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evil-vs-goodWhether as a PCs or an NPCs, evil characters tend to get the short end of the stick. All too often, they’re portrayed as short-sighted, reactionary, shallow, and … well, stupid. Frequently, all evil characters look and act the same, like they are clones of one another. Which is a real shame; after all, what’s more engaging to your players than defeating a worthy opponent? Here are eight tips for making your evil characters more in-depth and engaging.

(Image courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/helico/ / CC BY 2.0)

  1. Evil is not a personality trait. It’s too broad a term to be a personality trait; it’s like saying that “human” is a personality trait. If you ask someone to define evil, they’ll give you a laundry list of actions, beliefs, and attitudes. It’s these things that can be called “evil”. An evil person is someone who performs these actions, just as a good person is someone who performs actions we identify as “good”.
  2. Evil is culturally determined. While there are some broad generalities—most (if not all) cultures in our world view intentional murder as evil, for example—what actions and beliefs are classified as “evil” or “good” vary from culture to culture. A classic example is slavery: most modern cultures would classify slavery as evil, but most ancient cultures viewed slavery as a part of everyday life.
  3. Evil characters don’t necessarily view themselves as evil. Usually, evil characters believe their actions were necessary and justified. A Lawful Evil ruler would view himself as a law-giver, someone who brings order out of chaos. A Neutral Evil character could see himself as a survivor, someone who’s forced to take the actions he does because of how the world treats him. A Chaotic Evil character might seem himself as a revolutionary, breaking down or circumventing unfair rules.
  4. Evil characters have relationships with other people. Every character has relationships. Even if they’re dedicated loners, they still know people and at least some people know them. Evil characters have (or had) families,  playmates, fellow church members, fellow students, bosses, underlings … all the relationships other characters have.
  5. Evil characters have many emotions. Too many evil characters (in film, novels, and TV, as well as RPGs) seem to be little more than cardboard cutouts. Their only emotions seem to be selfishness, hatred and revenge. The best evil characters are those that have the full variety of emotions—love, hate, revenge, happiness, sorrow—the same emotions good and neutral characters have. They can even fall in love. The main difference between evil characters and other characters is that they express those feelings in very selfish ways.
  6. Evil characters have back-stories. Evil characters don’t (usually) spring full-grown out of thin air. They have histories: they were born/created somewhere, grew up somewhere, learned their skills somewhere. Generally, there are people somewhere who knew them before the present moment. And those histories and past experiences helped to shape them into the people they are now.
  7. Evil characters have values and goals. Evil characters do the things they do for a reason. Only in parodies or broad comedies can they take actions for no other reason than “to be evil.” An evil character can seek to bring order, remove a threat, increase their wealth. Generally, they won’t view their goals as evil: instead they’ll see them as justified or necessary. These values and goals (rather than evilness itself)  should motivate your evil characters. A big difference between evil and good characters is that an evil person will take whatever action she deems necessary, regardless of its impact on other people.
  8. Evil characters can do good works. They can act law-abiding (usually out of fear, rather then a desire to do what’s right), generous, gracious, concerned, affectionate, if that’s what needs to be done to accomplish their goals.

Playing evil characters

Generally, you’ll play an evil character just as you would play a good one. The main difference is that the evil character will pursue his own agenda, no matter the cost to other people. But that doesn’t mean she’ll do the most rash and immediate thing, nor does it mean that when faced with a moral question, she’ll always take the opposite action of a good character.

Make sure your evil character has a reason for taking the actions beyond “it’s the evil thing to do.” That one thing alone will make your evil character stand out in a good way 😉 .

Playing evil characters can be a lot of fun. Just remember that they take as much (or more) work than a good character of similar importance to the game. Look at your character as a whole person, figure out his goals and what he’s willing to do achieve them. You’ll get more enjoyment out of your game and so will your players.

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Beyond ‘Fred’: Italian Names for Characters

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Italian names

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Tired of games where all the characters are named Ariel or Thorin? What a character name that sounds distinctive but not too far out? What about using a real-world name? Perhaps something historical or from another culture. In earlier editions of Beyond Fred, I covered Roman and Russian names. But what if you want something more fluid or lyrical sounding? Perhaps an Italian name will fit the bill.

Italian Name Structure

Like most Western names, Italian names are comprised of a first name followed by a last name, usually the father’s name. According to Wikipedia, occasionally in official documents the last name will be listed first.

Pronouncing Italian names can be a little tricky. Pronunciation of Italian names has a search box where you can enter a name and listen to the correct pronunciation. You can also find detailed information on pronouncing Italian names at Roma Interactive.

These are by no means historically accurate. These lists are intended to be used for gaming where historical accuracy isn’t as important as how a name sounds.

Italian Names

Male Names

  • Abaco
  • Acario
  • Addo
  • Agosto
  • Arrone
  • Balderico
  • Beltramo
  • Casimiro
  • Clodoveo
  • Dalmazio
  • Ercole
  • Fedele
  • Giacomo
  • Lorenzo
  • Lothario
  • Marcello
  • Massimo
  • Orazio
  • Pino
  • Raffaele
  • Raul
  • Rinaldo
  • Rodolfo
  • Salvetore
  • Serafino
  • Serge
  • Severino
  • Tancredo
  • Vencentio
  • Vittore
  • Zanipolo

Female Names

  • Acilia
  • Altea
  • Aniela
  • Assunta
  • Benigna
  • Bibiana
  • Casilda
  • Chiara
  • Damiana
  • Donata
  • Esta
  • Fiammetta
  • Fiorella
  • Ghita
  • Giacinta
  • Isabella
  • Jolanda
  • Lucia
  • Marsala
  • Mia
  • Perla
  • Rosabla
  • Sidonia
  • Sienna
  • Tessa
  • Vani
  • Varanese
  • Venitia
  • Vittoria
  • Zita
  • Zola


  • Bianchi
  • Cavallo
  • Contadino
  • de Luca
  • di Genova
  • Esposito
  • Forni
  • La Porta
  • Martelli
  • Montagna
  • Mosca
  • Rossi
  • Selvaggio
  • Tenagila
  • Trovato
  • Volpe

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Beyond ‘Fred’: Russian Names for Characters

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Russian Nesting Dolls

Sometimes the hardest part of building a character is  coming up with a good name. You can always take a name from Tolkien or other fantasy novels, but you’ve seen those names over and over and you want something a little different, but not way out there. How about an historical name? Or one from a different culture? In the first “Beyond ‘Fred'” post, I covered Roman names. If Roman names aren’t your cup of tea, how about Russian ones?

[Photo courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aussiegall/ / CC BY 2.0]

Russian Name Structure

Russian names are complex, as many people have not only a given name but also several nicknames, based on the their relationship with the speaker. Because of this, I’m using a very simplified Russian naming method.

In general, Russian names consist of two elements: a given name and a patronymic. Russian patronymic names are based on the father’s given name, with a ending that depends on the character’s sex:

-ov for a man, -ova for woman

So Boris, son of Ivan would be Boris Ivanov. Ivan’s daughter Susan would be Susan Ivanova. Women usually retain their own last names, even after they’re married. There is an exception to this — if the person is a member of the ruling class, the ending is different:

-vitch for a man, -vitcha for a woman.

If the father’s name ends in a consonant, add the ending becomes -ovitch or -ovitcha. So Boris, the son of Ivan who’s a prince would be Boris Ivanovitch and Susan would be Ivanovitcha.

For a really good, in depth coverage of creating a Russian patronymic, see Paul Goldschidt’s Dictionary of Russian Names — Grammer.

List of Names

This also includes nicknames based on the given names, where I know them.

Male Names

  • Alexandr (Sasha, Shurik, Alex)
  • Alexei
  • Arkady
  • Boris
  • Budimir
  • Busla
  • Dmitri (Dima, Dimka)
  • Erema
  • Fedor
  • Fyodor
  • Georgi
  • Grigory (Grisha)
  • Ilya
  • Ivan (Vanya)
  • Kirill
  • Lev
  • Login
  • Mikhail (Misha/Mika)
  • Petr
  • Sergei
  • Solovei
  • Roman
  • Vasily (Vashya)
  • Vladimir (Vova)
  • Viktor (Vitya)
  • Vyslav
  • Yuri

Female Names

  • Anastasia
  • Darya
  • Ekatarina (Katya)
  • Eugenia (Zhenya)
  • Irina
  • Katarina
  • Marya
  • Maya
  • Nataliya (Natasha)
  • Olga
  • Sofia
  • Svetlana (Svetla)
  • Titania
  • Vasilia
  • Yana
  • Zhanna


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