Back in 3rd edition, I created my own D&D setting. It wasn’t very good, but I’m still very attached to it, and want to use it as an object lesson in improving. I also want to show people that everything comes from somewhere, and your old work can help become foundational to your new work.
Content Warning: Some of the old text is going to feature some unconscious cissexism and sexism, and I know there are a few unknowingly racist terms that I used.
First of all, let’s talk about just some basic work of names.
One thing I feel gives players a good handle on things is giving them groups and places to feel they can ‘belong’ to. These are player anchors, and players love those. It’s why class-race characterisation has lasted so long and so well, and why people use it when describing games that don’t have classes or races. Handles are great, and they’re part of how we tell stories and anyone who tells you they work against good storytelling is unimaginative, fight me.
The simplest handle you can give a player is to give something a name.
Undeniably, there’s a central gravity to this setting, two major countries that I made first and got the most work and attention. The first is a large provincial nation split into large groups, with old rules of legal warfare engagements, their own problems, and a long, calcified history of noble houses fighting and teetering on the brink of civil war. This was my starting point, and then, immediately, I made a place nearby that didn’t have these problems.
Okay, I promised myself I wouldn’t sugarcoat it. I called the first nation Kyngdom, and I called the second one Symeira. The first name came from ‘oh shit, I can’t think of what to call this place and the game starts soon,’ and the latter comes from mangling ‘Cimmeria’ and ‘Cimmura’ together. Cimmeria is from Conan and Cimmura is from David Eddings’ Elenium and Tamuli books, books I do not recommend you check out because they are both boring and kinda creepy. We’ll tackle Symeria’s names another time. For now, we’re going to focus on (sigh) Kyngdom.
Kyngdom is split into six provinces. Six gives me a good solid number, I figured I could have enough stuff to fill that with. The six provinces are named, in no particular order:
- Virett Keep
With a special bonus extra province that’s actually just the capital city everyone’s inevitably going to fight over:
- Brin Proper
These names are not, in my opinion particularly bad! The one I like the least is Theilahn, because it’s a very airy name, it feels like it’s more exhaled than said. But regardless of whether or not they’re good names, I want them to be good names for their purpose.
Sanders is an old, militarily powerful province, with a straightforward no-nonsense old-guard knightly woman in charge of the province. It has the largest established military, and has a famously excellent stables for raising warhorses, known simply as The Sanders Stables. The Sanders Stables is so important it’s its own adventure site. Sanders expects to win almost every fight. Sanders has no borders with other countries, and it’s on the opposite side of the country to Danube.
Danube is the young opposite to Sanders. It’s got a land border with other countries, and trades aggressively, hiring mercenaries and buying military technology and magical equipment to try and shore up its weaknesses. Danube is run by a woman of a younger noble house, and whose house may exist in a legal space that makes them exempt from an established contract of military engagement in the nation.
I suspect a lot of players would see these two provinces’ leaders as into one another, if they weren’t dealing with the whole impending civil war thing.
Willowsebb is an old province that doesn’t have a lot of settlements or big cities. It’s mostly known for having a big old creaky forest with huge trees, some of which are town-sized. Druids come out of the forest to take care of crops, tidy up weather, and occasionally cull things that are causing problems. This includes villagers. It’s much of a ‘spooky forest’ area. If you’re from Willowsebb, you probably respect druids even if you don’t like them.
Glotharen is a province that I honestly can’t remember without looking it up. It’s hard to say the name is good or bad if I can’t remember what the province does. When I dig it up, Glotharen has a big church in it. Okay.
Virrett Keep is technically just one big fortress, but it’s also the center of the riverways for the whole province. The ‘province’ of Virrett is really all the rivers that run through the nation, with barges and docks and steamers and settlements all through other people’s property. They’re regarded as river traders and merchant experts at best, and river pirates at worst. I also remember they’re designed to not have much chance at taking the throne of the nation.
Virrett Keep is one of those tropes I dig and keep using, the idea of people who don’t ‘officially’ have a place and have made their place in other people’s places. Maybe that’s part of my colonial heritage.
Theilahn, who are kind of a direct rip on Vetinari from Discworld. I remember they had the same all-black crest, and a motto that translated to ‘do no small harm,’ an idea I would revisit (over and over) again later. It’s a good gimmick and I like it, but it was mishandled here. I can even see how I got the name – Vetinari, reverse the back end and you get Verinat, then it’s just a matter of massaging sounds so they’re not obvious.
Then finally, we have Brin Proper, which is a province-that’s-not-a-province. It’s the capital city of the country, and with the king dead, it’s now the goal for everyone to take. It’s also being run, in the interim, by a sort of ‘regent, of a house of regents.’ The idea I had here – which I still like – is that there’s a basic government bureaucracy that keeps the country running, because no king is actually capable of ruling by constant fiat in a large, complicated, industrialising society. Instead, there’s a group of people who do run the city, and since a king exists, they had a sort of backup king, someone who’s selected to be the best non-king king they can have. Then, to make this more complicated (and keep the solution of succession from being easy), I made this regent unable to become king.
That’s our roundup of the places, now let’s look at how well their names work for what they’re doing.
I feel that Sanders and Danube do a good job contrasting with one another. They have some similar sounds (n and d) but don’t sound like you could mistake them for one another. I feel like Sanders sounds like a family name that’s old enough it’s become quite humdrum – rather than a very ostentatious name, the Sanders line just got on with becoming a household name. I like these two.
I feel Willowsebb is a good name because it’s got a sort of mournfulness to it with both the word ‘Willow’ and ‘Ebb’ in them – Weeping Willows are a commonly sad unit of imagery, and ‘ebb’ implies a fading of light, or a sunset, or a slow end to things. I like Willowsebb’s name a lot for what the province is doing. I almost wish it had an ‘untranslated’ name, something more like Glotharen, where the name is old enough that the name is from an earlier language, but I can’t see how to do that while keeping the same sadness in the name.
Brin Proper is a great name, in my opinion, especially because there’s no province in the nation called Brin. There’s no place called Brin, just Brin Proper. This implies that there was, once, a place called Brin, and Brin Proper was the central city in it. Then it stopped being Brin, and that’s a sign of the way that this nation slowly eroded old houses and made them into just cities or just everyday nobles. Brin Proper is a bit of a cultural autopsy, just layin’ there on the table.
But with those great names out of the way, come the bad names.
Glotharen is just a mish-mash of fantasy syllables, but. We’ll get back to Glotharen later.
Theilahn feels kind of weightless and airy, when it’s meant to be a small island province off the coast of the rest of the country. The distance means they can’t be easily marched on, but also means they can’t have a large population or army. This pushes them to do things like train assassins and rogues. This is meant to be the one place that makes everything unpredictable in the grand scheme of things, and it’s just such a nothing of a name.
Finally, there’s the big one, the name of the nation itself, Kyngdom. I like this country, I really do, but this name is bad. It’s sloppy and it’s lazy and it makes explaining everything going on much harder and more annoying. This may seem cute or clever to me of seventeen years ago, but it’s super annoying now.
Okay, how to fix this?
First, we can look at the names we’re keeping and see if they have any common traits.
- Brin Proper
- Virrett Keep
I notice at first, there’s a trend of the ‘b’ and ‘d’ consonant stops. Willowsebb, Sanders, Danube, Brin Proper. The P in proper is kind of like a paired cousin to ‘B’ too – try saying ‘pop’ and ‘bop’ and notice how similarly your mouth forms both words. Virrett is the outlier – V has more common with R sounds, and the T and K set it apart. But that’s okay! Virrett Keep is ‘newer’ and it’s a bit more ‘different.’ It sets them apart.
This means the remaining three names probably want to feel like they work here. Also, I wonder if I need Glotharen. How does the country look without it?
Well, without it, there’s Virrett Keep and Brin Proper as people who can’t show up to a war. I mean, they can try, but they don’t have much of a military presence – Brin has a large enough force to defend the city itself, and Virret Keep has about the same size of force, but they don’t have the population to support projected military forces. Willowsebb might try, but they don’t seem strongly positioned to do it with the forest limiting their settlements’ connections. That means the fight over Kyngdom becomes Danube vs Sanders, with the thieves on the side, which seems just a bit too small a conflict to be a proper civil war. Bearing that in mind, I feel like I need Glotharen around, I just need it to have a good name.
I also like it when you look at major players, there’s an odd number of them; that means nobody has a simple, unified one-vs-one opposition.
And you see now, how many of these elements are linked to one another? Glotharen’s name didn’t satisfy me, but then I found it’s because I didn’t have a strong image for what Glotharen was, so that means reconsidering the name means also reconsidering what it is. Design is a matter of making choices, and it’s not often as easy as just correcting mistakes as it is turning dials and seeing what changes elsewhere. There’s a version of this revision where Glotharen stops existing because I decide I do want the national conflict to come between two equal oppositional forces with a lot of complications around it.
Okay, so knowing now that I’m keeping Glotharen, let’s look at what the word and what we can extrapolate. Glotharen is a name that’s separate from the others, but it’s also a word that doesn’t have any obviously, handleable element. It’s not an obvious surname like Sanders or Danube, nor is there a common word like Keep in it.
I think this means that Glotharen works, but what makes Glotharen work is that it is the oldest province that still remains. Glotharen’s name may have meant something, once, but now it’s so old a word, ‘Glotharen’ means ‘Glotharen.’ This works, especially if I make Glotharen this third force in the big military war. The Glotharen are the old country, the people with the oldest cities and the longest history and maybe the most on-paper claim to the throne. They might feel entitled, and may even be hiring the people of not-Theilan
Tentatively I’m going to rename Theilahn to Delan, because that gives us common sounds, doesn’t sound like any of the other names, and still has some of the same tone as the original. Theilahn is a bit of a draft name, with extra letters that don’t seem to bear any common linguistics with the rest of the country, so let’s try and tidy that up. It also means we can keep the assonance of the Delani people, which I like.
Then we’re left with the nation itself, the big one. This has been Kyngdom for over a decade now, and even though that’s a bad name, it’s still a big sticking plaster to yank off. Now, again, tentatively, I’m going to change the name to Dal Raeda. I’m liking this name after some testing. It evokes dal riata, a Celtic empire from the seventh century, but it’s also borrowing the term from a culture that isn’t Just The Same Variant Of Britain.
Now, you may notice there’s very little changed here, but in the process of considering these names, I’ve done a lot of re-evaluating to come to understand these places, and what I’m using them for. Young me had some good ideas! He made a bunch of bits and pieces. But he didn’t really consider how to make them fit together, and what that was going to do to make a setting out of his ideas.
All these images are from the VGA Remake of Quest For Glory I, a game that heavily influenced the creation of this setting, even if I let almost none of the Cole’s taste for Whacky Humour infiltrate my game.