Data. Lots of data.
Back “in the day,” Judges Guild published an awesome resource book: Treasury of Archaic Names (1978). I still have a copy! In it you find all kinds of name lists – males, females, place names, tavern names, nicknames, titles, prefix+suffix generators, and so on. What a great book! Need a name for a character? Roll some dice and whammo – a name.
However, as the games evolved, this book stayed the same (I see that in 2001 an updated version was published, but I’ve not seen it so I can’t comment on it.) From Writer’s Digest, I picked up a book of Character Names for Writers. In it are thousands upon thousands of names, with a section for every Earthly country and culture. While not as useful for gaming, it’s still a great resource to keep handy.
And, of course, online, there are many great name generators. These include names for exotic, non-human races. The problem with most of these is you can only access the names through the generator – you generally can’t get to the data behind the scenes.
Whatever. I wanted my own consolidated list so that I can have this data available when I need it. Falling into old, familiar habits, I started by creating an Access Database, which seems well suited for this kind of project. In it, I created some tables and in those tables I populated with all the names I could find. Of course, I make sure there are no duplicates, as well as I enforce some additional rules: The names need to be “mostly” pronounceable in English and I try to avoid common, modern names and name constructs (spelling variations of the same name just to be kute and klever).
And as I developed this master character name list, I came across other lists that made sense to keep – place names, nicknames, etc.
This is where it all started. At one point, I built a complete character-generation program for an RPG game, but realized that using it made little sense because part of the fun of character generation is making certain decisions along the way. So that’s been removed (though some of the code is still in the modules, I think.)
Another thing I wanted entered is character appearance. Dragon Magazine featured a few articles back in the early 80’s that provided a random character generation process. I couldn’t tell you what issue(s) or who wrote them or anything, because the magazines belonged to my brother, and for my use, I hand-copied the charts and kept them for years. Those charts became the core of what I have coded in my database, though many changes (both in logic and data content) have been made since then.
Anyway, here’s a screen shot of the main screen when you open the database as it is currently:
As you can see, there are several sections and lots of various tools available. Because a lot of the content and some of the algorithms are based on published sources, I don’t feel comfortable providing this tool to the masses (i.e. making it available as a web-based tool) or selling it outright. Last thing I need is some lawyer knocking on my door!
But let’s look at what we have, piece by piece.
On the upper left is the name resource. Choose your gender and race then click either “From Tables” or “From Gen.” The first button randomly picks from tables of stored names, based upon the selection. Note that Half-Orc females and Dwarf females use the same list. It’s because I couldn’t find enough variation between the two to justify a separate table. Dragonborns and Tieflings have the shortest lists, so it’s common that when the 10 results are displayed, duplicates appear. From Gen pulls from separate prefix and suffix tables and concatenates the results together. The names are more random, but sometimes are weird or unpronounceable. Between the two options and the different gender and race variants, the entire range of names exceeds (if I remember right) six million possible outcomes. That’s a lot of freakin’ names!
The Appearance section relies on the same gender/race selection in the names section. Yes – appearance is race-specific. This is one place where I’d really like some feedback, because I couldn’t find any useful resources for dragonborn and tiefling appearance. Those things I did find are worked in, but I know they are severely lacking in variety. Click the button at the top and see what you get. If you don’t like the result, just click again.
The next section has eight buttons at the top. Each of these buttons generates 10 results of the specified type. I’ll warn you that Tavern Names takes a long time to process. There are 20 tavern-name templates, and a couple of those templates draw from the the entirety of the character names in a huge multi-union join. That’s programmer talk for mashing the contents of several tables together into one. “Random” just builds words by compiling syllables together. Most of what you get here is barely pronounceable. I use this when I need foreign-sounding words that are otherwise meaningless. Cross-name takes the Gen tables (prefix + suffix) but crosses genders: female prefix + male suffix and male prefix + female suffix. I typically use this generator to come up with family names. Personality is a single-word list of personalities. Thesaurus.com was the primary resource for building this list, but I found a few others that helped. I think the other lists are self-explanatory.
The last section on the right is Place Name Adder Type. It’s one of the few non-randomized lists because there are so few entries. Basically, from the drop-down box, pick the category and you’ll get a list of synonyms.
The character class/Back Story box (inset in the character name section) is one of the newest additions to the application. After picking race and gender, choose a character class and click the button a window opens with a backstory. If you don’t like it, click Generate.
In the Source Data window, you can edit, add, and delete the underlying data elements.
Below the words and phrases section are 6 buttons. Die Roller is just that. I don’t use it because I prefer rolling physical dice. However, if I’m at my desk during work hours, pulling dice out for something isn’t feasible or recommended.
Gems is another newly added module. I spent quite a while on this digging through the internet finding a reasonably complete list of gems. The basic purpose of this is to quickly and easily come up with random gem and jewelry treasure. I’m not 100% satisfied with this right now, but it does work.
I’m most proud of the Backgrounds generator. The data for this came from numerous sources, including the 5e Players Handbook. Rather than pin down each personality component to a specific background, this jumbles all of them together and using an algorithm I can’t easily explain, it returns a randomly generated personality for a character.
Finally, in the lower left section of the main screen you can print out a names listing so you can have it available to you when you’re at the gaming table but don’t have access to your computer.
Now, after all this, you’re probably asking, “How can I get a copy of this awesomeness?” Well, if you leave a comment telling me how you’d use it, I’ll make it available to you to download. As mentioned, I won’t make it available publicly.