So seriously, what’s in a name?
In any RPG, names are often the first clue players get to build a mental picture of the PCs and NPCs they encounter. Names often give some idea about the culture a character is from, or even what kind of attitude the player running that character plans to project. For NPCs, a name can be as important as an illustration or good verbal description, and often as not, is the only thing players will remember about the character. It’s all fine and well to tell players that the bartender is a grey-haired older man with an eyepatch, but if that description is paired with the name Berek Wolfkiller he seems very different than if he’s known as Thryffil the Weasel.
Of course, within fantasy settings, names often have real, measurable power as well. The idea of “names of power” and links to ancient heritages are common in fantasy fiction, but the idea is rarely applied to character names in RPGs. And so, this PDF is designed to introduce the idea of names that have a real impact on who a character is, and what they can do (at least in small ways). Characters with name traits may have been named after consulting with a soothsayer to determine their “true” name, or perhaps the name has the same kind of power as the arcane words used for casting spells, with the effect of actually impacting the abilities of those with that specific name. Certain names may simply create expectations for a character – if everyone in your village knew your name meant “not to be trusted,” you may well have grown up learning how to keep secrets.
Name traits work in conjunction with standard character traits, a small bonus that represents a character's background and upbringing first introduced in the Pathfinder® Roleplaying Game: Advanced Player’s Guide™, although you don’t need that book to use The Genius Guide to Name Traits. To introduce name traits, GMs may grant one or two name traits to all characters at character creation (perhaps one for a family or clan name, and one for a personal name), or may simply allow name traits as an option for those who take the Additional Trait feat.
In fact, name traits are so flexible, that while most campaigns will bestow name traits during character creation, they may also be used as a reward for characters at any level. If a group of PCs becomes so famous they gain commonly-known nicknames, GMs may decide those monikers act as name traits. Of if the characters enter a secret society or perform a ritual that grants them a new name, the GM may allow name traits to be taken mid-campaign as a result.
Finally, there are two types of name traits – assembled (those created using a prefix and a suffix, each of which grants a very minor bonus that combine to be a trait benefit) and thematic name traits (with the definition of a name selected in advance which then defines the trait benefit).