Tag Archives: character creation

Beyond ‘Fred’: Roman Names for Characters

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Finding a good name is sometimes the hardest part of designing an NPC. You want something more exotic than “Fred the Fighter”, but “Frewxyque the Grand Thunder Duke” becomes too hard to say with a straight face after the first first time.  Baby name books can help, but some of the best names come from real-world sources. Beyond ‘Fred’ is a series that lists names from various sources broken down by region and/or time period.

<div xmlns:cc="http://creativecommons.org/ns#" about="http://www.flickr.com/photos/consciousvision/3388909371/"><a rel="cc:attributionURL" href=This time we have Roman names. Since my interest here is in providing name ideas for RPGs, I’m not breaking these names down by Roman time-period. I’m including a list of resources at the end of this article for those wishing more in-depth information about Roman names.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr, © Conscious Vision 2007)

Roman Name Structure

Roman names had several parts, frequently becoming long and complex:

  • Praenomen: A personal name. This was primarily used by family members and very close friends only. Romans had very few praenomen; typically the first child would be given the father’s praenomen (adjusted to a feminine form, if the child was a girl).  The second child would receive the praenomen of someone else in the family — and uncle, perhaps.
  • Nomen: Indicates which gens the person belongs to. The gens is a group of loosely organized families all sharing the same nomen. A woman would use the feminine form of the nomen, formed by substituting ‘-a’ for the ‘-us’ ending.
  • Cognomen: A family name used by a group of blood relatives. It was a name unique to the individual and usually referred to something specific about him — usually a physical characteristic. Like a nickname, it wasn’t given to a child as part of the name given by his parents; it could be inherited from a male relative or chosen by concensus in the general community. Cognomen were almost never complementary — usually they were neutral, or even insulting names.

Common Praenomenia

Here are some of the most commonly used prenomen:

  • Gaius/Gaia
  • Lucius/Lucia
  • Marcus/Marcia
  • Quintus/Quinta
  • Titus/Tita
  • Tiberius/Tiberia
  • Descimus/Descima
  • Aulus/Aula
  • Servius/Servia
  • Appius/Appia

Common Nomenia

Here are some of the most common nomen:

  • Acilius/Acilia
  • Aebutius/Aebutia
  • Albius/Albia
  • Antonius/Antonia
  • Cassius/Cassia
  • Claudius/Claudia
  • Calidius/Calidia
  • Didius/Didia
  • Fabius/Fabia
  • Flavius/Flavia
  • Galerius/Galeria
  • Genucius/Genucia
  • Laelius/Laelia
  • Marius/Maria
  • Mocius/Mocia
  • Naevius/Naevia
  • Ovidius/Ovidia
  • Porcius/Porcia
  • Rutilius/Rutilia
  • Sentius/Sentia
  • Sergius/Sergia
  • Tarquitius/Tarquitia
  • Tuccius/Tuccia
  • Tullius/Tullia
  • Vedius/Vedia
  • Vibius/Vibia
  • Vitruvius/Vitruvia

Common Cognomina

Here’s a list of common cognomen and their meanings. Many female cognomia are the same as the male versions:

  • Aculeo/Aculeo – prickly, unfriendly
  • Albus/Alba – fair-skinned, white
  • Ambustus/Ambusta – scalding, burning
  • Atellus/Atella – dark (haired or skinned)
  • Bassus/Bassa – plump
  • Bibulus/Bibula – drunkard
  • Brocchus/Broccha – Toothy
  • Bucco/Bucco – fool
  • Caecus/Caeca – Blind
  • Calidus/Calida – hot-headed, rash
  • Calvus/Calva – bald
  • Caninus/Canina – dog-like
  • Celsus/Celsa – tall
  • Cicurinus/Cicurina – mild, gentle
  • Corvinus/Corvina – crow-like
  • Dives/Dives – wealthy
  • Dorsuo/Dorsuo – large black
  • Fimbria/Fimbria – fringes, edges of clothing
  • Flavus/Flava – blond-haired
  • Florus/Flora – floral, blooming
  • Galeo/Galeo – helmet
  • Gurges/Gurges – greedy, prodigal
  • Laterensis/Laterensis – from the hill-side
  • Lepidus/Lepida – charming, amusing
  • Licinus/Licina – spiky or bristly haired
  • Lurco/Lurco – glutonous, greedy
  • Macer/Macra – thin
  • Merula/Merula – blackbird
  • Mus/Mus – mouse
  • Natta/Natta – artisan
  • Paetus/Paeta – blinking, squinty
  • Plancus Planca – flat-footed
  • Priscus/Prisca – ancient
  • Pullus/Pulla – child
  • Quadratus/Quadrata – squat, stocky build
  • Regulus/Regula – prince
  • Rufus/Rufa – red-haired, ruddy
  • Rullus/Rulla – rustic, uncultivated, boorish
  • Scaeva/Scaeva – left-handed
  • Silanus/Silana – nose, water-spout
  • Varro/Varro – block-headed
  • Varus/Vara – bow-legged
  • Vatia/Vatia – knock-kneed
  • Vetus/Vetus – old

Other Articles in this Series


Building Better NPCs III: Character Webs

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What is a character web?

A character web is a map — a specific kind of map that charts the relationships of NPCs to one another. It’s a great tool for figuring out how one NPC may respond to another — or to anything related to that NPC. This is a tool to use with your major character NPCs; it’s not something you need to work out for every town beggar.

How do I create a character web?

  1. Break your NPCs into groups of who knows whom. Most likely, not all of your NPCs are going to care — or even know — about each other.
  2. Pick one group of NPCs to work with right now.
  3. Choose the leader of the group. If the group doesn’t have a leader, pick a key person.
  4. Write their names (and small portraits, if you have them) in a circle, with your leader on top, like so:character web: names
  5. Decide who knows about whom in the web. It’s possible for a character not to know about one or more of the other characters in their group. For example, we can say that Martin and everyone else in this group have conspired to keep Kristiana in the dark about Sashia’s existence. But Sashia knows about Kristiana, due to a kingdom-wide announcement by Martin’s father, the king.
  6. Draw arrows from each character to every other character the web he knows about:character web: arrows7. Along the arrows, write what each character feels about the others she knows: character-web-3

From this, we can tell the Prince’s chances at marital bliss are little to none. His soon-to-be wife loathes him, while being love with his best friend. His mistress is protective of him and consideres his betrothed to be a very lucky woman. Meanwhile, the bodyguard is in love with the mistress! Note that these are the predominant feelings of each character. Sashia isn’t going to feel protective of Martin all the time — there are times she’ll be annoyed, hurt, affectionate. But the map gives you the character’s overall attitudes towards the others around him.

Ways to use the web

In addition to helping determine how each character would relate to the others face-to-face, these webs can be used to figure out the reception the PCs might get from each one, based on how that character views the PCs in relation to others in the web.

For example: Say the Prince asked the PCs to carry a message to Kristiana. If Kristiana knows they’re coming from the Prince, she’s likely to be polite, but cold to them. After all, the last thing she wants is a message from her betrothed. However, if the PCs arrange things so that Kristiana thinks they’re coming from Morik, they’re likely to get a warm welcome and perhaps a small token of appreciation.

Another example: The PCs have been asked by the Prince’s father to substitute for Martin’s regular bodyguard for an important event. Tyleck, who feels the Prince is a foolish young man, may go along to the event on his own — just in case the Prince tries to do something stupid that the PCs won’t be expecting. He may interfere with the PC’s duties — with the best interests at heart.

A character web can provide an “at a glance” shorthand to figuring out how a given NPC may react under various situations. This can help make these characters more complex and interesting, as they don’t have the same reactions to everyone else all the time.

How about you? Do you have any tools you use to bring your NPCs to life? Please share them with us in the comments.

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“I hit him with a BoAF*… I mean Fireball!”

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*Ball of Abysmal Flame

One of my all-time favorite RPGs is Ars Magica. I love the fact that it doesn’t try to impose game balance limitations on mages. I also love the troupe-style play where everyone gets to play a magus/maga and something else. As a Storyguide, I love the fact that the group as a whole works together to create at least some of the NPCs (grogs).

But something else I hadn’t expected when I started playing Ars was how much it would improve my D&D characters.

I’d never really played many magic-users in D&D 1st ed., mostly because (and my current DM and fellow players are going to laugh at this) I couldn’t figure out how to use spells effectively. Seriously — beyond Magic Missle, Lightening Strike, and Fireball, I’d look at my spell list and my brain turned to jelly. Nothing MUs were able to do seemed to compare to the ability to pick locks, do massive amounts of damage with a two-handed sword, or lay hands to heal people.

Enter Ars Magica.

Ars has something of steep learning curve. Its magic system is definitely very different from D&D. It threw me for quite awhile, but after several game sessions of watching my fellow magi at their best, something clicked. I started to be able to see different uses for my Arts and Spells. I came to love Ars’ Sponteneous Magic. To this day, I rarely use formulaic spells.

Then I came back to D&D. I decided I wanted to give magic-users a try again, hoping my experience in Ars would help me. It did. I had a little difficultly refocusing my mind on formulaic spells, rather than spontaneous casting, which led me to prefer the sorcerer over the wizard class. Yes, I was still constricted to a spell list, but at least I could use any spell I knew any number of times. Truthfully, though, it wasn’t so much a number of spells or the amount of times I could cast one that made the decision for me: it’s the idea of the sorcerer as a natural caster that appeals to me.

I admit, when I create a new magic-user in D&D now, I think of them in Ars Magica terms first, then translate that into D&D as closely as I possibly can. For example, I’m currently play two different sorcerers in two different games. I’ll break them down into Ars concepts, then show the translation to D&D

Galen Gerhardt: In Ars Magica terms, Galen would be a member of House Jerbiton. He’s a court sorcerer and bard (and spy, but that’s neither here nor there…) of a powerful prince, with a Gentle Gift and an Animal Affinity. His specialty is Rego Mentum magic, though he’s got a strong amount of Rego Animal in there, too. In D&D terms, that translates into a human sorcerer heavy on the charm magics and people skills. His favorite spells: Eagle’s Splendor, Charm Monster, Charm Person, and Touch of Idiocy.

Feynan Starshadow: In Ars Magica terms, Feynan would be a rather stereotypical Flambeau, except his magic focuses on electricity rather than fire. Still, he’s heavy on the Creo Ignum magics and has faery blood. In D&D, he’s a half-elven sorcerer of the blaster type. His favorite spells: Lightening Bolt, Electric Loop and Lesser Orb of Electricity (from the Spell Compendium), frequently combined with Web.

By thinking of my magic-user in Ars terms, I’ve managed to create two completely different characters. I haven’t yet tried it with other game systems, but I can image it would work for them, too. And I’m sure this thinking would work for characters other than magic-users. How about you? What other systems have you drawn on to create D&D characters?

Oh — and for those of you wondering:

ArM Code 1.5 4- Ca+ R H++ L- G+++ Y1995 T– SG P++ HoH Cr+ Tr+ Ty++ J+ FZ C+ :-) Cd

Character Questionnaires

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I’ve mentioned how useful character questionnaires are to me as a GM. I can draw reams of campaign ideas just from the questionnaires I receive. My questions run the gambit from “What does your character look like?” to “What gives your character’s life meaning?” I ask players to answer the questions in character, except for those specifically stated “as a player”. It’s a long list, but I require players to answer only what I call “The Basic Six” questions. These questions are:

  • What do you look like?
  • Everyone has a few mannerisms unique to them. Describe three of yours.
  • If you could accomplish one thing before you die, what would it be?
  • Name five things about you that would drive a college roommate nuts.
  • What do you, as a player, like best about your character?
  • What do you, as a player, like least about your characer?

I encourage players to answer as many questions as possible and, for the most part, my players seem to enjoy doing it. I do give player contributions (see my post Player Contributions for more info on that) for finished questionnaires. If a player’s answers are really detailed, I’ll often give extra contribution points.

Also, I allow player to go back and change their answers, as long as they don’t change anything already known to be true in the game. It sometimes takes several game sessions for a player to find their character’s “voice” and I don’t want a player stuck with an answer that no longer seems true for their character.

My questionnaires have changed over the years; I’ve added some questions, dropped or reworded others. I have one “master list” of questions that serves as the base questionnaire, but I usually rephrase the questions to fit the game system I’m currently running.

Character Backgrounds

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There’s a continuum about character backgrounds. I use detailed character backgrounds in my games; in fact, I warn players that I reserve the right to fill in any character history they don’t. Other GMs don’t bother with backgrounds at all — a sentence or two at the top of the character sheet. It really depends on the individual GM’s game style.

I can’t even begin to building campaign until I know the PCs involved; for me, the PCs are the campaign. Player-written character backgrounds provide me with a wealth of ideas I would have never come up with on my own. I give my players free reign to create NPCs in their background, with the caveat that all NPCs need to approved by me. This takes some of the background work off of my shoulders; I can use the PCs backgrounds to help flesh out the population of my city/world/setting. Frequently, I find I can substitute someone from a PCs background for one listed in the adventure, thereby helping to get at least one PC more invested in the current story.

Sometimes I can even tie NPCs from one character’s background to those of another PC. This makes a connection between those two PCs, right off the bat. These connections don’t have to be friends, or even like each other. Having an NPC from one character hate the NPC from another character has led to some great role-playing in past games. Even better is when I can actually use the same NPC for at least one additional PC. Locations are something else I mine character backgrounds for. Usually, the player has given me some idea of what that location is like, even if it’s just “small farming town”. Businesses, towns, homes, farms from character backgrounds have all become integral to various campaigns I’ve run.

I always have players give me written copies of their background. That way I can go back and look up details I may have missed the first time through. If a player is having a hard time coming up with anything for a background, I sit down with the player and walk her through a series of questions. I’ve found character questionnaires can really help a player get “unstuck”.

Even really basic stuff like “how old is your character” or “what color is his hair” can trigger ideas for the player. Every player I’ve ever dealt with has at least an idea about what his character looks like, including clothing. If a player seems really stuck, I’ll ask questions about that: “why are your character’s colors red and blue?”, “why would she wear that hat?”, etc. And if a player is really, really, stuck for ideas or is looking for a challenge (I’ve had players who said “surprise me”), I’m more than happy to take over. But in that case, I warn them they’re going to be stuck with whatever I give them.

Usually, a PC only needs their background tweaked; in that case, I’ll make my revisions and hand the player a copy. Maybe I swap out the town in their background for one that already exists, or maybe I change their childhood friend to an NPC already in the game — I try to keep as much of the player’s work as possible.

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