The importance of selecting a good name for your character

I’ve always felt that naming my character in D&D is as almost as serious a matter as naming a child.

It’s true, you will not have to listen to your player character come home from school in tears after his first day in middle school because someone discovered a vicious new insult based on his name, but a paladin will never be taken seriously if he saunters into town with a moniker like Benedict the Virtuous. Sure, he’ll try to impress the elf princesses by telling them his name is really Dirk, but word will get out soon enough and he’ll be run out of the woods to taunts of “Benny the Brown-Noser” in no time.

The source materials back when I was a teen always seemed to have amazing examples of names like Fang Ironwolf, or Lisbon the Dauntless. I tried strategies like spelling things backward, and got memorable losers like “Retcarahc” and “Nrael Divad.”

I found that my friend Chris Adomoshick’s last name, once reversed, worked quite well for a Yazirian when we played “Star Frontiers,” with a little extra tinkering. Thirty-five years later, and I still like the name Kismodé. (If TSR ever greenlights the line of Star Frontiers novels I pitched when I was 14 years old, I’m definitely having a space-monkey name Kismode traveling around the galaxy.)

The king of memorable names was Anthony Gazzillo, whom I played D&D with about 10 years ago. Anthony had a knack for finding names that stood out by violating standard Western naming conventions. Sure, he had characters with easy names like Tovarth and Inquill, but Inquill worshiped a god named Chemlochnibutentagen and had a drinking buddy named Cha-bing-cha-bing-cha-bing-a-whiz

As a dungeonmaster Anthony independently had discovered the technique of spelling words backward to get good names, and took it to new levels. As the campaign ran on, our party of adventurers got help from people named Allerazzom, Raddehc and Eladyelsnew.

My favorite was Eseehc’eot.

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The campaign where no one trusted anyone

If you’ve ever played Dungeons and Dragons, you surely appreciate the value of a well-developed campaign.

To players, a good campaign is an exercise in problem-solving, teamwork and old-fashioned roleplaying. Be a bard who sows chaos, a paladin who rushes headlong into danger, a wizard who destroys cities to get out of a parking ticket. Let your hair down and imagine!

For a dungeon master, the story is a chance to stretch her creative muscles. She can instill favored themes, tailor parts of the adventure to favor the strengths or weaknesses of a particular character, take advantage of the team dynamics and do some truly amazing things with story structure.

About 10 years ago, I played a campaign that was designed by Anthony Gazzillo and Tom Palmieri. The adventure was a doozy. There was an old god who was dead and whose worshipers were trying to bring him back. There were evil people accomplishing good despite themselves, and characters whose purity of heart was bringing great evil upon the land. At the heart of it all there was an aberration in the heart of reality that served as the central mystery of our campaign.

The guys really outdid themselves with this one. They had gamed together regularly with friends back in their undergrad days, and it showed. The story actually had four legs, and we experienced them out of order, so that when the first arc finished, we suddenly found ourselves at the start of the third arc. Only when that one ended would we begin to recall the events of the second arc.

It was an amazing story, bold in conception, carefully constructed and with components that could have left us lost in thought long afterward.

Alas, the campaign had one fatal flaw: It had us for players. I hadn’t played in years and was having difficulty getting into character properly. Chris and Tom had a stack of rulebooks 10 feet high and combat dragged as they consulted charts and debated the logistics of grapple checks, and we had another player who had difficulty navigating social interaction. Gaming was fun, but the party of adventurers never gelled the way it was supposed to.

When the first story arc ended, it did so suddenly. One of our opponents killed Rowena, the lone woman in our party; and then Chris’ character spontaneously turned into a werewolf, ran across the field, pulled the third lever from the left and handed 5 gold pieces to the monk. A minute later the bad guys’ machine blew up and they all fell to the ground, dead. My character Parker stood on the field of battle, sword in one hand, shield raised with the other arm, as the blood pounded in his hears and he wondered what the hell had just happened.

“I’m sorry that was so unexpected,” Anthony told me later in the car as we drove home. “I really figured you guys would actually, you know, talk with one another and share things so everyone would know what was going on.”

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Still life: tree

Image may contain: tree, sky, house, plant and outdoor

It’s a thing in Haiti to plant a tree for each child born. It’s a big deal; from what I am told, families have been known to sell their houses and the land they sit on, but retain rights to the trees and the fruit they produce.

We adopted this tradition when we started having children and bought a house of our own. For our oldest, a maple; for the youngest, an oak; for the second, a tree that was mislabeled as a dogwood.

What are saplings after all, but a type for children? They are young but hardy, and we plant them with an eye on the future, when they will tower over us, provide us shelter, and mark our passing long after we are gone. We plant trees like we plant our children: with faith that tomorrow that they will still be here, and make life worth the living and worth the wait.

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Still life: manhole

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Maui and Hine te Po

Maui had a mother, Hine te Po, mother of us all. He had done great things in life — with his brothers’ help he slowed the sun; while they begged him to stop, he fished up land — but like all of us, Maui was mortal and he knew he would die, not because of himself but because of what his father had done.

Hine te Po was two kinds of mothers: the one who bears, and the one who devours; she who stands at the Gates of Life and holds them open, and she who stands at the end of a dark and lonely path, and locks the gates behind us.

Maui was a shapeshifter, and he knew that if he assumed the right shape he could crawl backward along the route we all trod but once, and unmake the second gate by defiling the first.

He turned into a worm and made the attempt, but failed. A bird watched the whole thing and when he couldn’t contain his laughter any longer, he burst into gales of it and woke Hine te Po, who promptly killed Maui.

From this we learn two things. One, all flesh is mortal. It is born, it grows and blooms, and then it withers and dies. There is nothing to be done about it.

Secondly, when we grown older, we often remember our childhoods and try through one form of magic or another to recapture it, to go back to our mothers and re-enter her womb for a second childhood if it may be found.

Never works. That way only lies death, and if we ask, our friends will tell us just how ridiculous we look when we try

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Still life: milk

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’d pay $3, $4, maybe more
to buy a glass that size,
and it wouldn’t come with milk.

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Still life: rear view

 

 

 

 

Never as clear a view, nor as plain to see,
What lies ahead. Yet it consumes us so.

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Still life: spectacles

 

 

 

 

Eyeglasses do not belong on the young.
They serve old eyes tired by much reading.
They let the wisdom of the well-aged
Shine through their lenses.

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Still life: popcorn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Popcorn unites the family around a movie,
Brings them together at the table.
Popcorn celebrates life lived together.
It never feels like self-pity.

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That moment when a child discovers reading

Every child has an ignition point where reading becomes a passion and a gateway to worlds of imagination and wonder.

The exact age where that comes varies. Oldest had it when she had just turned 5. I was reading her a chapter of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” every night, and she was getting tired of waiting for 24 hours to find out what happened next. So one day she picked up the book, and started plugging away.

One day we came home from the library with “Matilda,” and she didn’t even wait for me to start. She spread out on the floor in front of the front door and read for two hours straight.

For Middle Daughter, ignition came a little later. I had taught her to read in kindergarten, but she wasn’t much interested until second grade, when we were reading the Harry Potter series.

We were partway through “The Chamber of Secrets” when I left for Haiti for two weeks to help out with post-earthquake relief eforts. I came back and found that she was halfway through “The Goblet of Fire.”

I’ve been a little frustrated on Youngest Daughter’s behalf. Ignition has tarried, and the pressure at school has been building to catch up with pedagogical expectations. She can read, but hasn’t particularly enjoyed it yet. I’ve tried to keep the pressure off her, but it keeps building at school, and lately there’s been a tempest over what she reads when she does.

You see, she enjoys imaginative stories, and has wanted to read Harry Potter. Her teachers consider the stories too advanced for her, and it’s become a titanic battle of wills. She wants to read the book, to the point that she insists she understands everything as though she needs to justify herself, while her teachers insist that she read godawful tripe that makes otherwise happy people want to hang themselves rather than continue.

(I’ve been a little partial to my daughter’s position in this debate. She wants to read. When did schools decide it was in a child’s best interest to discourage her from reading?)

The other day we were at a book store to buy a birthday present for one of her friends, and I remembered the comic book “Amulet.” It’s an imaginative series for kids, written and illustrated by Kazu Kibuishi, about a girl named Emily who finds herself the inheritor of a magical amulet that belonged to her great-grandfather, and charged with completing the mission he never finished.

On the way home Youngest read about 10 pages before we made her stop. It’s for her friend, after all.

She spent Friday reading the first volume with her older sister. Today she and I passed a quiet evening reading the second volume together.

After two Halloweens as Hermione Granger, Youngest Daughter has decided next year that she wants to be Emily.

Houston, we have lift-off.

If anyone at school tells her she can’t read these books, there will be a reckoning.

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