Monday, January 19, 2009

In Which a Certain Something Gets a Name

As much as I proudly wave the banner for weirdness, whimsy, and the nonsensical when it comes to matters subterranean, I’m not a complete stranger to verisimilitude. One could even call us passing acquaintances. Much like the Winchester Mystery House, a locale of great personal fondness, if the weird is going to survive the test of time; it must be anchored with strong foundations in the real.

This attitude does have its drawbacks, however. While I’ve done much to free myself from the bonds of reality when it comes to dungeon design and world building, there still remains a central need within myself to make allowances to the plausible, which can lead to the binding of my creative hands. The greatest example of the frustrations that this need to placate reality can produce has been my inability to come up with a name for my megadungeon, despite having worked on it regularly for almost eight months.

I’ve taken a rather joking stance at this roadblock, referring to it fondly as The Dungeon Not Yet Named™ and Ol’ Nameless, but my fear has been that this temporary name would eventually stick too firmly to be easily shed when an actual title presented itself to me. Thus my declaration that finding a name for Nameless would be my #1 resolution for the coming year.

The problem that I’ve had coming up with a name lies not in - I hope - a lack of creativity within myself, but rather my need to produce a name that made sense in light of the back story which I created for the dungeon. Since the dungeon’s history is not that of the classic deathtrap or insane wizard’s den, I found myself limited to what avenues of thought I could pursue. Nameless was built by a rich patron of the arts who desired to leave a creative work as his legacy, despite the lack of any artistic talent himself. Certain modern art pieces notwithstanding, I just couldn’t see the good Baron calling his creation “The Catacombs of Horrible Death” or “The Infernal Delve” or “Dr. Fong’s Tiki Hut of Nookie” (well maybe that last one). Yet at the same time, I wanted to give it a name that sounded like it could be a dangerous place to venture and that only the brave need dare its depths. It’s been finding something that serves as a compromise which has caused this overlong delay.

But I’ve found the answer.

I’ve long had a fondness for the way language and names change over time. (Come on. It took me months to finally come up with a name; you don’t think I’m going to stretch out the reveal? The impatient can probably jump down a few paragraphs.) The simple way that a word can be contracted, altered, or otherwise rendered similar, yet alien, from its original spelling or pronunciation. This very realistic occurrence was the signpost that I needed to lead me down the correct path. Once I realized this, I knew I was getting close.

In regards to a certain need to acquiesce to verisimilitude, I had long ago established some loose guidelines for coming up with the names of people, places and things in my campaign world of R’Nis. While these guidelines are nothing like the Professor’s creation of an elvish language, they do serve the purpose of establishing some conformity in nomenclature. In the particular region of R’Nis where Ol’ Nameless is located, I tend to create names that have either a base in Latin, but modified with the heavier consonants and pronunciation of certain Eastern European languages or I use English terms and names that have become archaic over time. I prefer the harsher spellings and pronunciations when it comes to words. I have a habit of writing down archaic or uncommon English words in my commonplace books for later reference, and one of my greatest tools when it comes to designing and world-building is not the Dungeon Masters Guide but a 1959 edition of Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary. If you’re looking for a great reference tool for world-building, find yourself a fifty-year old dictionary. Trust me on this.

I found myself flipping through my commonplace books last week thinking that, just maybe, I had written something in there that I had overlooked the previous hundred and fifty times I looked through them. Sure enough, on one of my lists of words that don’t see a lot of play nowadays, I noticed “gloaming.”

Hold it right there. Gloaming: twilight, dusk. From the Old English glōming, from glōm twilight. Dusk, twilight. A murky time; a period of change; just before darkness covers the Earth. I think we’re onto something here! Now all it needs is the right “something-something” to jazz it up. A sound with a nice harsh bite to it.

As I was trying out different variations in my head, I noticed that “gloam” kept wanting to mutate into “gloom” and that’s when the penny finally dropped. A little “DM magic” later, and the name that Baron Kahyaten had given his personal masterpiece became The Gloamrizg, which in the local dialect meant “Twilight Palace”. A very apropos name knowing what lies within.

But of course, with the dangers that lurk within, it’d only be a matter of time before that name changed into something similar, yet more sinister. I figured that, given a few retellings of the legends that surround the place, it would only be a matter of time before the tavern tales no longer referred to “The Gloamrizg”, but “The Gloomrisk”. After all, anyone foolish enough to enter that place was surely putting their very lives at risk down there in its gloomy halls. At long last, I had a name that served its two masters of realism and the fantastic.

I’m writing this on Tuesday night, so if this post sees the light of day come Monday morning, it means that I’ve had almost a full week to sleep on it and have decided, once and for all, that The Dungeon Not Yet Named™ is now officially Gloomrisk.

Now what do I call the tavern?


Anonymous said...

Now what do I call the tavern?


Greg Johnston said...

Gratz on the name!

What to call the tavern? Well if it's a lively place that provides rooms for rent... how about The Raucous Rest.

Anonymous said...

"So... where are we going?"
"Dr. Fong's Tiki Hut of Nookie."
"We are not going to Dr. Fong's Tiki Hut of Nookie."