Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Quality of Names

RPGs are built on imagination, and I was struck by the passing thought that the names we're using for our products are unevocative and dull.

But then I thought making a blog post about that would just bring comparisons to other things, so I thought I'd pull the names of other things and see how they stack up to what we're doing now.

Remember, we're not thinking about the quality of the actual products listed here, but the quality of just the names.

Let's take a look.

Here's a selection of various OSR product names (I've removed the The in all of these, and in some cases that probably shouldn't have been done, in order to not have large blocks of alphabetized The titles):

Barrow Mound of Gravemoor
Blood Moon Rising
Burning Desires
Cairn of the Skeleton Key
Charnel Crypt of the Sightless Serpent
Chasm of the Damned
Conqueror Worm
Curse of the Witch Head
Cursed Chateau
Daemonic & Arcane
Death Frost Doom
Dolm River
Door of Infinite Portals
Dungeon Alphabet
Dungeon Set
El Raja Key's Arcane Treasury
Eruptor's Vengeance
Fane of the Fallen
Fight On!
Flaming Footprints of Jilanth
Green Devil Face
Grinding Gear
Hammers of the God
Idol of the Orcs
Iron Crypt of the Heretics
Iron Tower of the Salka
It Started with a Chicken
Labyrinth Lord
Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing
Lost Caravan
Lost Keys of Solitude
Lost Pyramid of Imhotep
Majestic Wilderlands
Malevolent and Benign
Mutant Future
No Dignity in Death - The Three Brides
Obregon's Dishonor
People of Pembrooktonshire
Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom
Points of Light
Prison of Meneptah
Random Esoteric Creature Generator for Classic Fantasy Role-Playing Games and Their Modern Simulacra
Red Mausoleum
Ruins of Ramat
Saga of the Rat King
Sanctum of the Stone Giant Lord
Sarcophagus Legion
Screaming Temple
Secret of Smugglers Cove
Seven Shrines of Nav'k-Qar,
Skull Mountain
Spire of Iron and Crystal
Splinters of Faith
Stonesky Delve
Swords & Wizardry
Thing in the Valley
Tomb of the Iron God
Tower of Blood
Tower of the Stargazer
Under Shattered Mountain
Vampire's Curse
Verdant Vault of Malakum
Vile Worm of the Eldritch Oak
Warrens of the Great Goblin Chief
Watchtower on the Hill
Weird New World
White Dragon Run

OK. Let's take a look at a bunch of 1985 and earlier TSR product names:

All That Glitters...
Assassin's Knot
Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords
Baltron's Beacon
Bane of Llywelyn
Beyond the Crystal Cave
Blade of Vengeance
Blizzard Pass
Castle Amber
Castle Caldwell and Beyond
Curse of Xanathon
Danger at Dunwater
Dark Clouds Gather
Death's Ride
Descent into the Depths of the Earth
Doc's Island
Drums on Fire Mountain
Dwellers of the Forbidden City
Egg of the Phoenix
Expedition to the Barrier Peaks
Eye of the Serpent
Final Enemy
Forest Oracle
Gem and the Staff
Ghost Tower of Inverness
Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl
Hall of the Fire Giant King
Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan
Horror on the Hill
In Search of the Unknown
In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords
Investigation of Hydell
Isle of Dread
Journey to the Rock
Keep on the Borderlands
Land Beyond the Magic Mirror
Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
Lost City
Lost Island of Castanamir
Lost Tomb of Martek
Master of the Desert Nomads
Maze of the Riddling Minotaur
Mystery of the Snow Pearls
Oasis of the White Palm
Queen of the Demonweb Pits
Red Arrow, Black Shield
Sabre River
Savage Coast
Secret of Bone Hill
Secret of the Slavers Stockade
Shrine of the Kuo-Toa
Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh
Slave Pits of the Undercity
Steading of the Hill Giant Chief
Temple of Death
Temple of Elemental Evil
Test of the Warlords
To Find a King
To the Aid of Falx
Tom Moldvay
Tomb of Horrors
Tomb of the Lizard King
Vault of the Drow
Veiled Society
Village of Hommlet
War Rafts of Kron
When a Star Falls
Where Chaos Reigns
White Plume Mountain

Let's go old-school third party. Judges Guild names:

Caverns of Thracia
Citidal of Fire
City State of the Invincible Overlord
City State of the World Emperor
Corsairs of Tallibar
Dark Tower
Dragon's Hall
Escape from Astigar's Lair
Fantastic Wilderlands Beyonde
F'dechFo's Tomb
Flotilla One
Frontier Forts of Kelnore
Glory Hole Dwarven Mine
House on Hangman's Hill
Masters of Mind
Mines of Custalcon
Of Skulls and Scrapfaggot Green
Operation Ogre
Portals of Irontooth
Portals of Torsh
Portals of Twilight
Prey of Darkness
Quest for Lara's Tower
Sea Steads and Wave Riders
Spies of Lightelf
Survival of the Fittest
Sword of Hope
Tegel Manor
Temple of Ra Accursed by Set
The Dragon Crown
The Illhiedrin Book
The Maltese Clue
The Thieves of Fortress Badabaskor
The Tower of Indomitable Circumstance
The Treasure Vaults of Lindoran
Tower Of Ulission
Trail by fire
Under the storm giant's castle
Wilderlands of High Fantasy
Wilderlands Of The Fantastic Reaches
Wilderlands of the Magic Realm
Wraith Overlord

But we're sorta basing our creative energies on them. Let's go back to one of the real sources... a look at HPL, REH, and CAS story titles (and here the The truncations really hurt, but ah well...):

A Captivity in Serpens
A Good Embalmer
A Murder in the Fourth Dimension
A Night in Malneant
A Rendezvous in Averoigne
A Star-Change
A Tale of Sir John Maundeville
A Vintage from Atlantis
A Voyage to Sfanomoe
A Witch Shall be Born
Abominations of Yondo
Altar and the Scorpion
An Adventures in Futurity
An Offering to the Moon
At the Mountains of Madness
Beast of Averoigne
Beyond the Black River
Beyond the Singing Flame
Beyond the Wall of Sleep
Black Abbott of Puthuum
Black City
Black Colossus
Black Stranger
Blue Flame of Vengeance
By This Axe I Rule!
Call of the Cthulhu
Case of Charles Dexter Ward
Castle of the Devil
Cats of Ulthar
Chain of Aforgomon
Charnel God
Children of Asshur
City of the Singing Flame
Colossus of Ylourgne
Colour Out of Space
Coming of the White Worm
Cool Air
Curse of the Golden Skull
Dark Age
Dark Eidolon
Dart of Rasasfa
Death of Ilalotha
Death of Malygris
Death's Black Riders
Delcardes' Cat
Demon of the Flower
Devil in Iron
Devotee of Evil
Dimension of Chance
Disinterment of Venus
Doom That Came to Sarnath
Door to Saturn
Double Cosmos
Double Shadow
Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
Dreams in the Witch House
Dunwich Horror
Dweller in the Gulf
Empire of the Necromancers
Enchantress of Sylaire
End of the Story
Epiphany of Death
Eternal World
Evil Clergyman
Exile of Atlantis
Face by the River
Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family
Footfalls Within
From Beyond
Frost Giant's Daughter
Garden of Adompha
Genius Loci
God in the Bowl
Great God Awto
Haunter of the Dark
Herbert West-Reanimator
Hills of the Dead
Holiness of Azedarac
Horror at Red Hook
Hour of the Dragon
Hunters from Beyond
Immeasurable Horroe
Immortals of Mercury
In the Vault
In the Walls of Eryx
Invisible City
Iron Shadows in the Moon
Isle of the Torturers
Jewels of Gwahlur
Justice of the Elephant
King and the Oak
Kings of the Night
Kiss of Zoraida
Last Hieroglyph
Last Incantation
Letter from Mohaun Los
Lurking Fear
Maker of Gargoyles
Man-Eaters of Zamboula
Marooned in Andromeda
Master of the Asteroid
Master of the Crabs
Maze of the Enchanter
Metamorphosis of the World
Mirrors of Tuzun Thune
Monster of the Prophecy
Monsters in the Night
Moon of Skulls
Mother of Toads
Music of Erich Zann
Nameless City
Nameless Offspring
Necromancy in Naat
Necromantic Tale
Nemesis of the Unfinished
Ninth Skeleton
Other Gods
People of the Black Circle
Phantoms of the Fire
Phoenix on the Sword
Pickman's Model
Picture in the House
Planet of the Dead
Plutonian Drug
Pool of the Black One
Primal City
Queen of the Black Coast
Quest of Iranon
Rats in the Walls
Rattle of Bones
Red Nails
Red Shadows
Red World of Polaris
Resurrection of the Rattlesnake
Return of the Sorcerer
Right Hand of Doom
Rogues in the House
Root of Ampoi
Scarlet Citadel
Schizoid Creator
Second Internment
Secret of the Cairn
Seed from the Sepulcher
Seedling of Mars
Seven Geases
Shadow Kingdom
Shadow Out of Time
Shadow Over Innsmouth
Shunned House
Silver Key
Skull in the Stars
Skull of Silence
Statement of Randolph Carter
Strange High House in the Mist
Strange Shadows
Striking of the Gong
Supernumerary Corpse
Swords of the Purple Kingdom
Symposium of the Gorgon
Tale of Satampra Zeiros
Terrible Old Man
Testament of Athammaus
Theft of the Thirty-Nine Girdles
Thing on the Doorstep
Third Episode of Vathek
Thirteen Phantasms
Through the Gates of the Silver Key
To the Daemon
Told in the Desert
Tower of the Elephant
Treader of the Dust
Uncharted Isle
Under the Pyramids
Vale of Lost Women
Vaults of Yoh-Vombis
Venus of Azombeii
Voyage of King Euvoran
Weaver in the Vaults
Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan
Whisperer in Darkness
White Ship
White Sybil
Willow Landscape
Wings in the Night
Witchcraft of Ulua
Xuthal of the Dusk

... but that's not all. Let's take a look at a very limited selection of heavy metal song titles (by Celtic Frost, Demilich, Manowar, and Opeth):

(Beyond the) North Winds
(Within) The Chamber Of Whispering Eyes
A Crescendo of Passion Bleeding
A Dream of Wolves in the Snow
A Gothic Romance (Red Roses for the Devil's Whore)
All Men Play on Ten
And You'll Remain...(In Pieces In Nothingness)
Apostle in Triumph
Army of Immortals
Bathory Aria: Benighted Like Usher, A Murder of Ravens in Fugue, Eyes That Witnessed Madness
Battle Hymn
Beauty Slept in Sodom
Beneath the Howling Stars
Black Arrows
Black Goddess Rises
Black Rose Immortal
Blood of My Enemies
Bridge of Death
Circle of the Tyrants
Circle Of The Tyrants
Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids
Danse Macabre
Dark Avenger
Darkness Our Bride (Jugular Wedding)
Dawn of Meggido
Death Tone
Desire in Violent Overture
Dusk and Her Embrace
Each Dawn I Die
Echo (Replacement)
Eternal Summer
Face of Melinda
Fainted Eyes
Fast Taker
Forest of October
Forest Whispers My Name
Funeral in Carpathia
Gates of Valhalla
Gloves of Metal
Godhead's Lament
Graveyard by Moonlight
Guyana (Cult of the Damned)
Hail to England
Haunted Shores
Heaven Torn Asunder
Humana Inspired to Nightmare
Imperium Tenebrarum
In Mist She Was Standing
In Secret Love We Drown
Inherited Bowel Levitation - Reduced Without Any Effort
Innocence and Wrath
Into the Crypts of Rays
Jewel Throne
Kill With Power
Lustmord and Wargasm (The Lick of Carnivorous Winds)
Malice Through the Looking Glass
March for Revenge (By the Soldiers of Death)
Metal Daze
Moonlapse Vertigo
Necromantical Screams
Night and the Silent Water
Nocturnal Fear
Of Mist and Midnight Skies
Once Upon Atrocity
One Final Graven Kiss
Planet That Once Used To Absorb Flesh in Order to Achieve Divinity And Immortality (Suffocated To The Flesh That It Desired...)
Portrait of the Dead Countess
Principle of Evil Made Flesh
Procreation (of the Wicked)
Putrefying Road In The Nineteenth Extremity (...Somewhere Inside The Bowels Of Endlessness...)
Raped Embalmed Beauty Sleep
Return to the Eve
Revelation (Death's Angel)
Secret of Steel
Serenity Painted Death
Shell Shock
Sign of the Hammer
Sixteenth Six-Tooth Son Of Fourteen Four-Regional Dimensions (Still Unnamed)
Suicidal Winds
Summer Dying Fast
Tears in a Prophet's Dream
The Oath
Thirteen Autumns and a Widow
Thor (The Powerhead)
To Bid You Farewell
To Eve the Art of Witchcraft
Twilight Is My Robe
Twisted Nails of Faith
Under the Weeping Moon
Venus in Fear
Visions of Mortality
Visual Aggression
When The Sun Drank The Weight Of Water
White Cluster
William's Tale

I do know that when I got into metal seriously in 1992 that the fact that death metal bands were allowed to be named things like Nocturnus and Impaled Nazarene and Assück and have album titles like Blessed are the Sick and Tomb of the Mutilated really opened my eyes up to what was possible in imagination the way that D&D and Conan comics never did... that a lot of the metal guys were themselves steeped in D&D and the D&D influential authors was lost on me at the time, but still... most of those musicians were teenagers that didn't care when they started, and then everyone built on that as they moved forward. Very inspiring.

I also took a look at some classic horror movie titles but those are very uninspiring for the most part if grouped together by studio, so...

What do you think of all this? What names, from any source, make your brain explode with ideas and potential now. Not when you were 10. Kids are pushovers. Think Now.

More importantly, I have this sudden urge to name some upcoming module Jesus Christ: Dinosaur Wrangler (yeah, film-inspired), just so there can be no rules as to what appears in the module, and so I can see people trying to restrain themselves from being ticked off by the ultimate (beyond Gandalf or Elminster!) quest giving indestructible NPC ever to appear in RPGs.

(and just thinking about that reminded me of a little rules hole to fix in Weird Fantasy Role-Playing... cool!)


  1. Fire Lances of the Hyperzephyrians; A song by The Sword and a magic item that my players are going to come across at some point.

  2. Love this post. Within an open ended verbal game of imagination it stands to reason that names are supremely important elements of play.
    For me and I imagine many others, it's Lovecraft's titles, use of words and unusual name creation that makes his work so attractive.
    That weird sense of language is what initially attracted me to LotFP and a lot of Black Metal.
    Later, when I have more time, I'll post a list of some of my favorite Black Metal titles. Those guys have the market cornered on eerie, creepy, doom laden, titles dredged from the eldritch depths.
    BTW, you having a turkey sandwich today while at Dragonmeet?
    Happy Thanksgiving.

  3. Suggestion: no RPG module should be given a title of the form...

    'noun OF THE modifier noun'

    ...except as a joke or tribute.

    Of course the OSR, with its explicitly nostalgic motivation (among others), is going to favour derivative titles.

    As for the metal titles, they almost all strike me as lazy retreads - 'Impaled Nazarene' isn't daring, it's autistically literal-minded, and 'Beauty Slept in Sodom,' 'Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids,' 'Darkness Our Bride,' and 'Dusk and Her Embrace' are essentially the same titles. The usual clichés abound, there: Night, War, Gloom, Death, half-imagined barbarism, etc. The debt to the pulps/D&D is obvious.

    Sidebar: 'No Dignity in Death - The Three Brides' is a good but unbalanced title, or rather two titles stitched together when either of them would work just fine. 'The' should be cut, but 'No Dignity in Death - Three Brides' isn't perfect either; still too long. 'Three Dead Girls' is closer to the pure genre/style function, in my mind, though it loses the sickly overtones of 'Brides' (which suits the artwork well). 'Dead Girls' passes the macabre-mystery test, but carries no fantastic genre marker...

    That said, it's an honest stab at something different, and I like it. (FWIW, my wife prefers it with 'The.') 'Death Frost Doom' is appropriately gonzo-ridiculous. 'Death Ferox Doom,' on the other hand, is terrible - difficult to read aloud, in-jokey, bad rhythm and scansion, nonreferential, obscure in a way that doesn't feed back interestingly onto itself - but presumably it's all part of the gag?

  4. This lists have to be made into a random table for naming all adventures in the future.

  5. Great post, but in retrospect you should have left the "The" in the titles of the fiction. In some cases it really makes a difference in the power of the name/title.

  6. Oh, and a minor and irrelevant-to-the-quality-of-the-post correction. It's Ice Tower of the Salka, not Iron Tower.

    You could also add "Spire of Iron and Crystal," which I proffer because it doesn't follow the noun of the modifier noun format. :)

    (although it's close...) :)

  7. I have changed the name of the Planet Algol stuff on my blog in honour of this post.

    Apocrypha is my new favourite word.

  8. great post. \m/ \m/
    As I was reading this I was listening to
    Baptized in a Storm of Swords by Goatwhore.

  9. I love this post.

    You're right that horror movie titles don't tend to be nearly as evocative, and those that do usually suck. The best horror films tend to have innocuous titles. But one great horror film with a great title is:

    I Walked with a Zombie