Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Weirdest Thing I've Ever Heard About Games

So yesterday and the day before's discussion of Dungeon World generated some interesting discussion (including with the authors).

This particular bit of the "Why do the instructions explicitly tell you to give your female paladin one of four names?" part of the conversation was, like the post title says The Weirdest Thing I've Ever Heard About Games.

Check it, a DW fan said:

"Giving a list of names breaks one of the longest, most pointless worry points in character generation down to a quick choice. Rather than having to think about all possible names you have a limited number of choices. "

Apparently there are folks for whom choosing your character's name is:

Long (not just long, but apparently, routinely usually long. One of the longest parts of character generation.)

Pointless

and

Worrying

I did not know before yesterday that such people existed.

(Ok well I knew McCormick existed. But a list wouldn't have solved him.)

I think I find "pointless" the weirdest part of that.

Anyway, this is why I like writing about games. It's like when they go down to the thermal vents at the bottom of the sea and there's chemosynthetic worms living all day at temperatures so extreme nobody knew any living thing could survive them.

43 comments:

faoladh said...

Do you think that this is really a thing, or is it just something that got brought up on a story games forum once, and people started thinking about it and built a "solution" to this problem that didn't exist before a bored person came up with the idea? It's like the medieval Irish law books, which are full of bizarre cases that would probably never occur in real life, but the Irish legal experts thought about because thinking about possible situations was what they did.

Cole said...

@ faoladh okay why are you not listing at least a d10 table worth of examples of impossible irish legal situations

Zak S said...

The person is clearly presenting it not as a possible thing but as a thing that happens: "one of the most..."

Also: the actual designers' reasons behind the name thingy are different and discussed in the comments on the earlier entries

Avram Grumer said...

I know people who have trouble coming up with names their RPG characters. I mean, people, as in more than one. It amazes me, but it's true.

faoladh said...

Cole: They are things like the legendary/mythic incident in which one person is granted rulership for "a day and a night", and is able to successfully argue that this means "forever" because "it is in days and nights that the world is spent" (and there are no articles in the Irish sentence, making "day and night" the same as "a day and a night"). Who would agree to that?

Zak: Yeah, but who does that? It sounds to me like something that echoed around the echo chamber and became "common wisdom". I'm probably just reading into it, but it doesn't sound like anything that happened even in the story gaming community when I was involved there.

Zak S said...

But is choosing a name "pointless"?

Cole said...

I thought it meant "it's pointless to fret and experience stress over the naming process when we have this handy, genre-nourishing list," not that the choice of the character's name itself is pointless.

Cole said...

Ah, sort of like the "until monday" trick?

faoladh said...

Cole: Yeah, exactly. There are more subtle things that exist in the laws, too (like the provision that a person finding some property and returning it to the owner is owed four-fifths of the value, unless the location is a likely/obvious one in which case he gets twenty-nine thirtieths of the value), that are actually likely, but really hairsplitting. All the sorts of things you'd expect from a leisured legal caste.

Spitting Trashcan said...

I am one of those people who has trouble coming up with names on the fly. This is a bit annoying when making characters, but it's *really* stressful when attempting to GM and suddenly a named NPC is needed.

(One of the reasons I enjoyed running an Apocalypse World game is that the nature of the names in that game meant I could literally look down at the papers on my desk, spit out the first word I laid eyes on, and it would be a valid NPC name.)

And yeah, pointless in the sense that choice paralysis - for those who have it in the first place - is totally avoidable by presenting a short menu of good choices.

noisms said...

I make people randomly generate names nowadays on a big fuck-off d100 table. It does make things easier, because actually putting a lot of thought into choosing a name is kind of pointless (especially given the likelihood the character will be dead within 3 session anyway).

Then again, I also make them randomly determine whether their character is a eunuch or not, so maybe I'm not broadly representative of the hobby.

Zak S said...

3 sessions of saying "Hadrian" over and over would kill me.

semiprometheus said...

If the GM or game writer wants to create a specific theme or atmosphere, a list of names isn't a bad idea. Warhammer Fantasy 2nd Ed. had a random name table for Reiklanders (humans), Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings to keep the whole Germanic doom-and-gloom thing going. Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies gave each culture its unique set of names to evoke the Medicis' Italy, grim Nordic warlords, Arabian Nights exoticism, or swashbuckling romances. The Dragon Age RPG does something similar for its cultures (and races).

On the other hand, giving so few names and no obvious patterns to generate more is just ridiculous. That part of character generation is just jumping up and down and screaming "throw me out!"

There's also the Tunnels & Trolls / old-school RuneQuest philosophy of using any name despite (or because) it's silly: Bob, Zam the Bony, Panthera, whatever. Gaming's supposed to be fun and relaxing, and few people define that as "maintain imagined cultural norms and modes of speech at all times".

Matthew Adams said...

Hurk, my 4e barbarian Goliath believes others should not waste time naming their characters, they are not important. The only name Hurk remembers, apart from his own, is that of Splurge, his goblin lover and betrayer.

And I am constantly reminded by my DM that Splurge was not his name, but that is neither here nor there.

Hurk's opinion is not my own...

Edgar Johnson said...

Interesting... I don't think I've ever had to spend more a few seconds coming up with a name. They just come to me. Best ones this year: Gloria Lux Imperator and Groot de Jagger.

Still, there's nothing wrong with a paladin named Steve, right?

Cole said...

liking your name is an incentive not to get dead and therefore not to halfass early sessions though

Lee Reynoldson said...

"My name's Hadrian, but most people call me Wall Guy."

Zzarchov said...

I have met a lot of people that like rolling names, usually for the same reason they like rolling stats.

Most people are just stuck with the names they are born with, even if they hate the name.

Having a warrior named Englebert Humperdink, badass bounty hunter could be hilarious.

Soyweiser said...

Apparently for some it is. More so in a system where you can only have one of each class in party. Then "Bor the fifth thunderous ragelord of the noble house of the stuttercocks" quickly becomes "the barbarian" ingame.

Probably if you play rpgs more like a tactical miniatures game names matter less. (The question is then, why play a rpg, and not a board game).

Soyweiser said...

I had the suddenly name paralysis problem too! Fixed it by just making up lists of names beforehand.

The Rubberduck said...

I think it's mostly an artifact of Apocalypse World. AW aimed for a specific feel in some departments, and names like Tum Tum, Joe's Girl and Jackabacka give a much different feel than Jack, Laureen and Gregor.

As for being stuck with a name you don't want, I once played a gengineered bruiser, who had been name Love by the technician who popped his breeding tank. Love refused to acknowledge any name but KillKrusher, or Kil for short.

noisms said...

I can't imagine anybody wanting their character to die or playing them in a half-arsed fashion just because they weren't keen on their name. Never happens.

I've noticed that the more the aspects of your character are randomly generated, the more you grow to love them. Even having a shit name is something you gradually come to view with affection. Trust me.

noisms said...

Yeah, I like that aspect of Apocalypse World too. It makes you start thinking about character histories: why is she called Joe's Girl? Who is Joe and where is he now?

Another thing I learned from Apocalypse World is to give every single NPC the players meet a name. It makes everything about the game better.

Barking Alien said...

Got to chime in to confirm encountering many, many people over my long history of gaming who either couldn't come up with a name or took forever (like multiple session) before they could come up with one.

Pointless? No, the opposite, which I suppose would be pointful or full of point. Why? Because in my games we really try to get into the character and their background and their likes and dislikes, etc. No name or a bad one can take the group out of the 'moment'. In my younger and less forgiving days the guy who came to the table and named his Wizard 'Wizard Steve' would be stared at silently and with menace until he changed it.

I suppose that could lead to worrying.

In conclusion, yeah, that's just dumb, lazy or both.

dndiy said...

Is it pointless? It can be, to some. I've known players at my table that pick any reasonable name, with little to no thought. Because, it is not the name that makes a character, but the character and his actions that make the name. At first his name carries no weight no connotation but once he has done great or ill deeds, the name no means something. Therefore it doesn't matter what the name is.

However I've also seen players contemplate for a great name with meaning and/or feeling. Such as Grundle Godsbane.. this name is perfect for the character.. a barbarian goliath, its evocative, sounds barbaric, it works. Also it suits the player, with its subtle reference to ones taint (grundle), yet is still character appropriate.

Thus I can see how a) the name is pointless to some and b) it can be hard and arduous to come up with an appropriate name if it is meaningful.

Jesse said...

Some people get analysis paralysis when choosing names. My wife, for example. She wants to have a good name, but her brain freezes up when she tries to think of one. She's not dumb or lazy, as someone said above. Certain choices just seem high-pressure to her.

Honestly I can't believe you're picking on the name thing, and comparing people for whom this is a problem with worms living at the bottom of the sea. Obviously you can pick another damn name if you want to. It's just a suggestion list. I know it says "pick one" not "pick one if you want" but I think everyone understands that they can fucking choose their own name if they like.

Barking Alien said...

Did not say, or mean to imply, someone who can't come up with a name is dumb or lazy.

I feel the idea of a list of four names and the idea that a name is pointless and worrying is dumb and lazy (in the-forever-needs-to-be-made-clear) IMHO. As if what I am writing is not my opinion but someone elses or else if I am not clear I am implying it should be everyone's opinion.

Roll randomly. Give a list of a dozen names per gender and an idea on how to easily come up with a name. Suggest grabbing a baby name book, look a the first item in the room on your left and the first one on your right.

My new character is Dane MirrorCup. Obviously some sort of Wizard or Illusionist.

zerohero said...

I know a few people who don't like the names they were given, and they are real people, not characters in an rpg. Is being given a name really that absurd of a concept?

Telecanter said...

I'm actually surprised you haven't run into this problem. I get it with new players all the time. I think it's because they don't really know the context of the game world yet and aren't sure what a "typical" name would be and, more so, they aren't sure of the context of the game itself and how seriously we'll be taking it. Often what happens is they'll choose something stupid to show it doesn't matter to them, like "Dill Weed," or something, but then when that character dies they come up with a more serious name for their next one.

That being said, I would never address this problem by saying choose one of these 4 names. If they really need help I have a list of names and show them, saying "these are typical male names in this world, these are typical female names. You can pick one or whatever you want"

faoladh said...

To answer your seemingly rhetorical question: because an adventure game (RPG) is open-ended, and a board game (as normally understood, such as Magic Realm - which I choose because of its similarity to adventure games) is limited and fixed. Each has its place, but playing an adventure game is a specific sort of pastime.

Zak S said...

@noisms
I've had PCs with shit names down to pre-gens.
I did not grow to love the name

Zak S said...

@zerohero

The idea that choosing a name is "pointless" is absurd to me in the context of any game I've played. The game is made of words.

jamescbennett said...

I always provide my players with a list of names appropriate to the setting. I try to make the list long enough that they can extrapolate other names from it; 4 is far too short. Recently, I have taken to numbering every list I make - not just name lists - so that it can be rolled on as a table.

Zak S said...

@jesse

You have made 2 factual errors:

1. Thinking this post is about the name rule. It is not. It is about the strangeness and uniqueness, to me, of this individual I quoted. The discussion of the name rule, the signals sent by the language used to convey it, and the purposes for it (and comments from the author about it) are 2 posts ago in the comments.

2. As for the worms: the point of comparison is not their "lower life form" status, it's their "didn't know they existed" status.

Irolldice said...

First of all, thank you, Zak, for this post and the hardiest laugh I have had in a while.

Second, "The game is made of words," Yes. This.

Irolldice said...

I've encountered the name paralysis thing. This is actually why I enjoy modern era games regardless of genre. The phone book or a baby name book and we're off and running.

I can also see the "pointless" angle, as at the tables I've been at titles (the druid, the elf, the git) and player names seem to be the normative terms in common use. We all know the characters have names, but it could easily be that we never used those names at the table for several sessions at a time.

Oh. And, there is always the word verification method of name generation: Enatemo XVIII has a nice ring to it, and that was easy enough to come by.

joe said...

I think choosing a name is the most critical part of creating a character.

I'm not qualifying that statement. You either get it, or you don't.

Matthew Adams said...

A name is important not to the other players, or particularly for the DM, it's important for the player. It's what takes a bunch of statistics and class titles and breathes life into it. My level 1 thief with a d10 agility (savage worlds), is nothing till I name him Lorge Trowelgood, or some such.

Just thought I would qualify your statement :P

Thomas M. said...

This is why I love Zak's NPC/Noble tables in the back of Vornheim. I need somebody's name, I can roll one number, pick either the first or last name, make a modification to it if I really don't like it/have another NPC named that, and...(rolls)...Orben's your uncle.

Irolldice said...

I think a random table or "numbered" list with names that reflect the setting (no Billy Bobs in a Central European setting for example) is the best. The lists of suggested names in the 3.wtfever edition of D&D were OK, but difficult to reference when rolling randomly.

Carl Nash said...

I guess I would have to say I am surprised you have never encountered someone in a game to whom choosing a name is indeed a very long and worrisome task. Or at the very least something to be dealt with summarily, with a smack of disdain, and a joke name.

To the "pointless" part of it, I think it is most pointless to someone who has a hard time with it; obviously, exactly who a random name table is intended for. It seems like the execution was poor in the case of Dungeon World, there should have been a much more evocative and lengthy list of names. But naming your character in a certain sense IS pointless because the point of playing an RPG is to play it, and if you are having trouble coming up with a name you for sure should not let that stop you from playing it. Naming your character is an "unnecessary" part of playing D&D, easily proven experimentally by playing a character with no name. You can do it, I promise.

Carl Nash said...

Of course for me personally the name is just the tip of a giant iceberg of importance. Name and background and goals and motivations and behavior traits are some of the most important parts of playing for me. But I have certainly encountered vent worms.

ravenconspiracy said...

I've played with many many people who struggle with inventing names.

My favorite way to alleviate this is to let people play without a name and allow the rest of the group to give that character a nickname (the player may veto any non-unanimously chosen nickname).

Players quickly learn to pick names promptly for their next character! Nothing creates ability like necessity.

In fact, just the threat of having a character nick-named "King Fart" usually does the trick.

It's fun.