The Deck O?Names is a PDF product containing a few hundred cards that can be printed out, cut apart, and then used to generate random names either during game preparation or on-the-fly during the course of an adventure.
The cards each have four name segments, one segment each on the top, bottom, and either side of the card. To use them, one simply shuffles, selects two cards at random, and then matches up a white bordered segment with a gray bordered segment to create a name. If the name doesn?t work, simply rotate the cards to create a new combination until you get something you like. I thought that the best way to test it was to try it myself. For this example, I printed out a single page from the male deck and cut it apart.
I grabbed two cards from my mini-deck smaller sample and generated the name Trithew. Not bad, but let?s switch up the first card a little to get something different. Rotating the card to the other white-bordered name segment, our name changes to Fredthew. Fredthew doesn?t work at all, and I?m not totally sold on Trithew (sounds elven to me, and I was looking for a human name), so I switch the two cards around. According to the instructions, I should use a white bordered name followed by a gray, so I have to rotate the cards again since I?ve switched them. I turn each of them a quarter turn and generate the name Matrick. Now, that?s a name I can work with. Matrick took about 15 seconds to generate.
While my tiny experiment was just a single generation, I can see that cards have a certain advantage over random tables and dice. With dice, if you don?t like a result you have to roll again, double check the new result, and go from there. Rotating and swapping the cards until I found a combination that I liked was much faster and somehow more satisfying.
The disadvantage to cards is that they require some assembly. For my example, I just printed off a single sheet on regular paper and hacked them apart with a paper-cutter. Ideally, you?d want to print these on some kind of cardstock and then cut them apart carefully to insure a uniform size. If you aren?t very skilled at crafty sorts of things, this might dissuade you from actually making use of the decks. The designers could have helped out by including advice on the ideal method for cutting up and arranging to the cards. I don?t know a thing about cardstock or, for that matter, printing. Is there some ideal paper thickness for printing out cards? Is there some kind of precut ?square cards? paper I can pick up at the local printing shop? While I can figure all this out on my own, more advice from the designers on what works and what doesn?t would have been helpful.
If you?re like me, naming things can be the hardest part of adventure design, and any help on that front is greatly appreciated. In a perfect world, I like to generate NPC names in advance. If the players know that I haven?t bothered to name the barkeep, then they know he?s probably not an important character. Having a name for everyone helps with verisimilitude and it keeps the players paying attention. Obviously, coming up with a name for every city guard, shoemaker, and haberdasher in town is more work than its worth. My solution has been to generate a large list of names that can be used as needed. While the Deck o? Names would be a big help in making this list, it also presents another solution. A quick GM could discretely select two cards at the beginning of the session and place them behind the screen. Whenever a random name is needed, the GM could simply look down and pick from the dozen-plus name combinations on the two cards. After that, he would need only shuffle the deck, redraw, and wait until another name was needed.
LIKED: Cards are a very nice tool for random name generation. The design lets you generate a list of possibilities randomly and then tweak them into something that you like. Some assembly is required, of course, but once you get them done I think the decks are something you?ll definitely use at the table.
Random names are hard to do well, and the Deck o? Names is certainly capable of coming up with some goofy results. The designers compensated for this a bit in the way they broke up the names into segments rather than syllables, and it does help. It?s also fairly easy to switch the cards around (or even just pick from the available choices) and turn something like Fredthew into Matrick.
DISLIKED: I would have liked to see a little more thought given to the uniformity of the names. The decks use mostly english names, but the way they are combined and selected you end up with a real hodgepodge of fantasy names, ranging from human, to elven, to gnomish in the way they sound. Future expansions will supposedly use names from languages other than English, but I?m curious how that will affect the end results.
I have a feeling that, for example, Spanish names would give a similar mix of eclectic results. It?s great for coming up with a list of general names, not so good if you?re looking to name someone of a specific race.
VALUE: Very Satisfied