Unexpected results from random chaos
I wrote an NPC Nickname generator a few months back, with the idea of using it to actually create NPCs, not just name them. It’s a different sort of NPC generation, but the process goes something like this:
- Run the generator
- Pick out a cool-sounding name (with cool defined as, “You read it and instantly envision a character.”)
- Build a story around that name (e.g., how did the character get it?)
- Determine stats and abilities to suit that story
There are some caveats to this method: first, it won’t necessarily help you fulfil a specific role you’ve already defined. In other words, don’t use this method if you need, say, a strong-arm warrior in charge of the city watch, or a demure little flirt sent by the big baddie to spy on the PCs. Second, as with any random generator, you will get unsuitable (i.e., dumb) results–discard as appropriate. Third, the NPC Nickname generator is an idea starter–as such, don’t rely on it to create an NPC for tonight’s game. Instead, use it to pre-generate a bunch of NPCs that you can introduce as you need them.
This article was supposed to be about creating NPCs with the generator, then providing examples. But as I started cranking out names, it dawned on me that the tool could be used for an entirely different purpose: naming horrible diseases. Now, wretched afflictions are only a mouse click away–just pick out a cool-sounding name, describe how it affects the victim, and determine game effects as necessary. Two tables for the price of one. Or more, actually–I suppose you could invent whatever makes sense around a cool-sounding name.
The list below contains names created from the NPC Nickname generator. Please be assured that I have not adulterated the names in any way–these are straight from the table. That said, the list below is distilled from a total of about 30 names; I removed the ones that sounded lame or that didn’t inspire an instant vision of a usable NPC or an appalling sickness.
Anyway, each name has a short blurb on how I might use it, either as an NPC’s back-story or as a disease to be unleashed on characters later.
- Autumn Blood (disease): Caused by a mould spore that grows at harvest-time, autumn blood raises red-orange blisters on those who ingest improperly stored grain. The painful blisters expand over a period of two weeks, after which they burst; the bleeding is difficult to stop, and most victims die of blood loss
- Autumn Nose (NPC): An old trapper with a sixth-sense for predicting when, where, and in what strength the hill goblins will come a-raiding each Fall. The uncanny accuracy of his warnings have kept the nearby settlements relatively safe for years, and local rulers have learned to take him seriously. The Autumn Nose is an excellent tracker and no dunce with a bow, though he’s too old to spend much time in the field.
- Black Womb (disease): Women with this disease are asymptomatic, but their male children are born with one or more defects. If only the mother has black womb, the defect is physical; if the father has a black womb defect, the son’s defect is mental. Daughters are unaffected, but become carriers of the disease. Black womb’s origin is unknown.
- Boon Gullet (NPC): A dim man of slim build, there is nothing Boon Gullet won’t eat, which is important: in his 20 years as the noble family’s food tester, he’s eaten a half-dozen poisoned dishes. Each time, he sputtered and choked enough to warn his masters, but was well enough to get back to work after a few days of rest. This may be the result of an exceptional constitution or perhaps some alchemical elixir that nullifies all known toxins.
- Crab Brow (disease): An affliction common amongst pearl and sponge divers, crab brow is caused by the sting of a female gilopod. Because the gilopod’s stinger is also her ovipositor, those stung become incubators to scores of eggs, which travel through the bloodstream to the victim’s head. As the embryos grow, they form a ridged bulge that creates a crab-like appearance. In 6-8 weeks, the eggs hatch, and as the tiny gilopods emerge from their host’s mouth, nose, and eyes, the rapid release of amniotic fluid typically drowns the victim. Once born, the little gilopods instinctively wiggle their way to salt water, though they can’t breathe air for more than 36 hours.
- Frost Leg (NPC): A grizzled veteran with a peg-leg after a nasty campaign in the frozen north. His outfit was assigned to garrison duty in a godsforesaken wasteland, and he almost died after getting lost in a blizzard while on patrol. Luckily, he was found and returned to the garrison before it was too late. Secretly, he owes his life to the young soldier who saved him, and he’s willed his savings to the lad (who is still in the army). However, the story Frost Leg likes to tell is about fighting a savage battle with a winter wyrm, whom he and his comrades managed to slay. During a storm. Uphill. Both ways.
- One-fleece (NPC): An apparent bum who wears the same tattered, smelly fleece throughout the year. He’s actually an accomplished adventurer, younger than he appears, who wears the fleece for luck–if asked, he’ll say it’s saved him from an otherwise fatal arrow, shielded him from dragon’s fire, protected him against a fierce sandstorm, and cushioned his fall from a jungle cliff. There may be truth to it, or his attachment may be nothing more than superstition. Regardless, he never takes the damn thing off, even when he was given audience with Lord Morrow of the Hooked Citadel. For a few drinks, he’ll tell you the whole story, then ask if you need an extra swordarm.
- Quiver Glove (NPC): A colossal man of few (if any) words, he wears a steel gauntlet on his left hand. He was once a captain of Baron T’marq’s heavy horse, and at that he was never beaten in battle–that much is known. He fell from favour and was dismissed from his commission when (it is rumoured) he diverted his entire company from a crucial fight to hunt down one deserter. When the craven was found, Quiver Glove earned his moniker by grabbing the deserter by the neck with his left hand, lifting him off the ground, and strangling him slowly as his body convulsed for lack of air. No one dares to speak of the incident in his presence, and Quiver Glove now offers his services as a private mercenary.
- Rumble Blood (disease): Those pricked by the thorns of the Glanus Flower are given to rumble blood, a distemper that manifests as constant action. The afflicted are known by their bulging eyes, heavy breathing, raised voice, and constant movement–the saturation of adrenaline throughout their body prevents them from being still or thinking rationally. Victims are driven to impulsive action, an inability to think before speaking or doing, and they press forward in any circumstance without thought to life or limb. The body naturally purges Glanus Flower venom within a week, though most victims find themselves in loads of trouble before that happens; many find themselves dead because of their rash acts.
- Sparrow Matron (NPC): A stately woman with a natural affinity for songbirds, which she gathers as companions. The birds constantly flutter to and alight on her, alert her to natural events, and warn her of danger. She maintains an almost telepathic bond with the birds, and seeks to employ them as messengers. But because only she can understand and communicate with them, everyone else dismisses the avians as annoyances and considers her crazy.
Simply put, go nuts with this table. I’m hoping that you’ll discover, as I did, that it can do a lot more than inspire NPCs. Good gaming!