Friday, April 13, 2012

Filling in the corners

I was recently reviewing some of the information I have put together for the DARK•HERITAGE setting, and decided that I've got a problem.  It's not necessarily a really important problem, but it remains one nonetheless--I've really only developed a very few areas of the setting with any degree of detail, and most of the rest of the setting is nothing more than a name on a map.  This isn't to say that I think having the equivalent of the Forgotten Realms campaign bible is what I want to have, but I would like to have a small snippet of information about the major areas put on paper (or digitally, more likely) so that I have a starting point from which to launch further development into any area that I might wish.

And, as it turns out, another fella in the blogosphere has inadvertently given me the tools to do so.  Jack, of Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque (which is a very clever name, riffing off of the short story collection of Poe's) has been giving little snapshots of areas in his fantasy setting, The World Between.  I'm going to borrow and adapt his format a bit, giving each major area a precis statement, a couple of paragraphs of conspectus, and then a few historical, legendary, or well-known popular culture references to which that little area of the setting resembles. 

This way, I'll get a very bare-bones, yet complete high level summary of the setting out there in relatively short order (assuming I don't get distracted from the effort, of course.)

Other than that announcement of a series of posts which will start soon (unlikely to be today, however) here's another little tidbit:

I'm kind of a fan of linguistics.  I have been ever since first reading Lord of the Rings probably, but it is a discipline that I was already predisposed to find really fascinating.  Inspired by Tolkien's creation of artificial languages, many fantasy fans attempt to do something similar.  Of course, many fantasy fans (including myself, needless to say) lack the technical know-how to actually do this.  I've also come to believe that it isn't necessarily a good thing for audience engagement, anyway.  Names with some kind of cultural resonance with your players will be a lot easier to remember, and will also actually provide a convenient shorthand for the NPC--what culture they're from, and what it may be similar to, etc.  And frankly, other than names, what else do I really want my languages for, anyway?

So, I've mostly decided to use real world names, but with a twist.  For my Mediterranean-like culture, something that is similar to Spanish or Italian would work wonders, since that's the kind of cultural resonance I want to bring up in the minds of my players.  But actual Spanish and Italian names are almost a little bit too familiar.  So, I decided to go with names that are similar but not quite Spanish and Italian.  A lot of my names come from Catalan and Occitan namelists, actually, and when I can find name lists for other slightly more esoteric Mediterranean langages like Sardinian, Romagnol, Monagesque, Niçard, Friulian, etc.--well, I use them.  I've also got a substrate that needs to sound sufficiently foreign and "northerly" that I used Slavic and Viking names.  I've got another power in the east that Arabic or Persian in naming conventions.  And the Baal Hamazi uses ancient middle-eastern names--liberally borrowing from roll calls of the Pharoahs of ancient Egypt as well as king lists from Elam and Mitanni.

But sometimes I really do want to do something a little bit different.  While not exactly a "core" part of the setting, my nation of Kurushat was one of the earliest developed and mapped in some detail (it actually was developed independently of DARK•HERITAGE and was later imported as I decided that I was really only working on one setting after all.)  As the name might suggest, if you're reasonably well-read in pulp fiction, many of my early attempts to give it a suitable "ethnic flair" via the names attempted to sound like Leigh Brackett's Mars--the name itself was kinda sorta a combination of Sinharat and Kushat, cities visited by Eric John Starke in two of her best stories.  I quickly decided that I didn't have enough names to keep that up, and also that I didn't really have a talent for making up names on the fly without some kind of tool.

I had earlier creating a matrix where I could create names by... and all the gamers out there should appreciate this... rolling dice.  Basically, it works like this--the matrix is a 10x10 chart, so you roll 2d10 (preferrably of different colors, so one is the horizontal axis and one is the vertical axis.)  When you have your coordinates, you consult the chart, and that gives you a syllable.  You could also roll a 1d4 to find out how many syllables your name has before you start (although you probably have to manually adjust down the number of 1 and 4 results, since two and three syllable names sound better.)  Although this chart didn't exactly sound "Martian" I liked it and mixed in names from it as well.  It gives results that sound kinda a little bit Chinese, kinda a little bit Japanese and maybe kinda a little bit Algonquin.  It's a weird mix, but it works--because the names are recognizbly from the same "language" and they don't sound very  much like anything else in my setting.

I don't like to overuse this method, but it's worked very well to give me names in a kind of fringe area of the setting that makes it feel like it has a unique feel all it's own.

There's the chart itself, and here's a sample of some of the names.  Occasionally, I manually "massage" the results a little bit, if I get a name that sounds good, but not quite right, or something.  But mostly, I can just generate a dozen or so names just using the process, and get a good five or so useable ones.  The more you generate, the more you have to choose from, of course, freeing you to ignore results that just don't quite sound right.  Here's some sample names that this has generated: Sowedo, Thein, Komewan, Kumewak, Punuwan, Heiwasso, Geho, Kadu, Omei, Teiwa, Sutaka, Ha, Tuma, Nuo, Lukuwas, Keisa, Gudei, Lei, Hiwassu, Sawado, Todei, Nukassu, Alawasmu, Nawak.

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