Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What's In A Name?

Sunday's Fantasy Craft game has reached it's first mile marker, and concluded it's first arc. Our group has decided to take a break so the GM can pen up the next one, and so we move on to a bout of Shadowrun. I'm probably the least savvy in sci-fi, and my experience with Shadowrun 4e is minimal at best. Needless to say, coming up with a character concept is going to take me a bit longer than usual. As I begin to pour over options and story ideas, one element that sticks in my mind is a very important one. One that many people, myself included, often have trouble with. The name. 

Considering that this is Shadowrun, we're also talking about an alias. A nom de geurre to protect the actual identity of the criminal I happen to be designing. As much trouble as some people have coming up with a decent name, this particular case calls for two. As much as this is going to cause me no end to headaches, I do consider this an opportunity. As much as a rose by any other name stills smells like flowery plant matter, names do have power. The idea is to tap into that power.

What kind of power? Simple: Notoriety. Over the course of a campaign, your character will gain a reputation (if your GM is paying attention) and that name is your first impression. As a character with a street persona as well as their own, the street name is the more important for this purpose. It's the one that guards the other behind a mask of misdirection. Since, in this universe in particular, knowing someone's actual name leads to all kinds of data based mischief, that name needs to be well hidden. I mean you wouldn't want some decker to stumble on your home address and not only fry your security system, but also have Aztechnology send a Goon Squad to your front door on an anonymous tip. A fine example of the power of names.

Now that we've got that established, how do I want to go about this? For the actual name of the character, it may be best to draw upon the background of the character. I don't mean the tale of the guy who killed his mother's brother's next-door neighbor's son's second cousin's former roommate. I mean the character's origins. What culture did he or his family come from? Did both parents come from the same kind of background? Or is it a clash of cultures? What kind of personality does the character have? Does the name in question reflect that? Or should it? Maybe you want to give the character the most unfitting name out there. How bad would your street cred drop if a group of gangers found out that 'Boss Gnasher' is really Francis Lumpkins the Third, Esquire?

Now for the alias. Your street name is kinda special. Not in that 'I ate lead paint' kind of special, but special in the sense that it can be assumed it's a name the character gave themselves or earned through various deeds. It has it's own history and meaning. It speaks volumes about the character and does so in only a word or two. It reflects not who the character was, but who they are or who they aspire to be. Not exactly Shadowrun, but an example I've used was my Deadlands character, Jeremiah 'Boot Hill' Sterling. The idea was that he was the son of an undertaker, always carried a shovel and frequently had to bury dead bodies. Hence the moniker of 'Boot Hill', the name given to several graveyards full of Wild West era gunslingers.

Nicknames are pretty common and come from the most unlikely of sources, but the main thing is that they tell the story of the person they adorn. We can tell immediately that 'Bruiser' is the guy who usually wins in a fight, and 'The Ripper' is likely to be carrying a blade on him at all times. The 'Saint of White Chapel' may be very religious or just benevolent and happen to hang out in a certain territory. No matter what you come up with, the more it tells about the character the better. At least in my opinion. 

For all you out there at home, what kinds of aliases have you used in your games? Were they indicative of your PC's modus operandi? Did they earn them through a series of misadventures? Or did it stick after one too many trips to White Castle? What kind of Street Cred has it gotten you? How many fights have been started because some NPC laughed at you?

Any way you call it, Stay Classy!

1 comment:

  1. Good article. More characters should have characterful nicknames!