Fantasy Game Naming Conventions

So, I enjoy listening to Billy Joel. I was listening to the great song, “The River of Dreams” (not his best, but nothing tops “Piano Man”). Throughout the song, several places are mentioned.

Mountains of Faith
River So Deep
Valley of Fear
Jungle of Doubt
Desert of Truth

I know that these are not real places and the song is probably some extended metaphor for Mr. Joel’s personal journey through life. However, they stirred up emotions as a I listened and Made the idea of these places stick in my mind.

These simple descriptors tell me something important about these locations. For example, “Mountains of Faith” I can imagine several monasteries high up in the mountains, filled with devout monks and nuns contemplating the mysteries of the divine in the thin mountain air. Perhaps the “Valley of Fear” is always filled with fog and of those that wander in, few come out. And none come out unchanged.

Even Tolkien, with all of his unusual names, had a little of this. The Misty Mountains or Mt. Doom for example. Sure they probably had some great name in Elvish that sounds like a songbird playing a flute, but the common English name is how we remember it.

When creating a game world, keep it simple. No need to give everything a made-up name with a couple extra apostrophes in it. Even something like “The East River” or “The Great Ocean” gives your players either a sense of location or an emotion related to the geographic feature you are discussing. What does “The Gu’rr’lars’h Plains” convey to your players?

This can help the players make a connection to your world, particularly when they are only in your world once a week. A novel may be read over the course of several consecutive days, so the novelist’s world is fresh in the reader’s mind. A novelist can more easily get away with inventing weird names for places. The GM, not so much.

This isn’t to say that nothing can have a weird name. Just don’t overdo it. Only use the weird names for the really important or truly alien places.

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3 thoughts on “Fantasy Game Naming Conventions

  1. Pingback: Naming In Fantasy Games – Rod Walker, Science Fiction Writer

  2. Pingback: Return of the Koshinbun: Tolkien, Final Fantasy IV, Rampage – PC Bushi

  3. Fellow William Martin Joel fan here! River of Dreams is actually really underrated!

    Totally agree on naming styles. I try to keep my names pronounceable and simple, especially with character names. I can’t stand throwing apostrophes in there X_X

    Liked by 1 person

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