raging_swan (raging_swan) wrote,
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raging_swan

GM Advice: Dungeon Names

Whether designing a small self-contained complex or an entire megadungeon, a decent name is vital for setting the theme and style of a dungeon.

FantasyClipInks-Dungeon-Portals-DP-2-1-Tomb-of-the Guardians_comp

(Art: William McAusland [Outland Arts])

Campaign worlds need deep dungeons, lost dwarven holds, crumbling castles, ebon caverns and dusty necropolises for the PCs to explore. Such locales need suitably evocative names. An evocative name builds the players’ expectations and may even give them helpful hints about what might lurk within.

Name Components

Obviously each dungeon must have a unique name, but beyond that the naming convention of most dungeons can take many forms. Each name, however, comprises one or more distinct parts. These parts are:


  • Complex: All dungeons take one of several forms. Dungeons, castles, catacombs, caves and so on can all serve as a dungeon.

  • Descriptor: Many dungeons have a descriptor that describes the general condition or perception of the locale. Dungeons can be cursed, fallen, ruined, shadowed and so on. In addition, if a dungeon is named for a specific person, group or kingdom it may have a second descriptor describing that subject.

  • Subject: Many dungeons also have a featured subject. A dungeon associated with a magic throne, for example, might include that feature in its name.

  • Proper Name: Sometimes a dungeon is named for a specific individual – perhaps a powerful wizard who once dwelled therein or a famous adventurer who died within. Occasionally, locales are also named for the tribe that claims the place.

Names

To determine the structure of a dungeon’s name, use one of the following:


  • The [descriptor] [complex] of [proper name]

  • The [descriptor] [complex]

  • The [descriptor] [complex] of the [descriptor] [subject]

  • The [descriptor] [complex] of [tribe name]

  • The [complex] of [descriptor]

  • [proper name]

  • The [complex] of [descriptor] the [descriptor]

  • The [complex] of [descriptor]

Example Names


  • Ashen Fane of the Whispering Cult

  • Barrow of the Fallen

  • Catacombs of the Sundered Pillar

  • Dreaded Treasure Vault of Mor Darrel

  • Drowned Catacombs of the Doomed Mistress

  • Gates of Sorrow

  • Haunt of the Merciless Shadow Lord

  • Labyrinth of Torment

  • Maze of Bones

  • Orc Delve

  • Ruins of Gloom

  • Sepulchre of Tor Baroth

  • Shadow Hold

  • Spire of Certain Oblivion

  • Sunken Citadel

  • The Exalted Tower

  • Trackless Warrens of Dol Naroth

  • Unknown Caverns

  • Warrens of the Forbidden Idol

  • Ziggurat of Sorrow

Legends

The great thing about creating a name for a dungeon is that it inevitably poses questions which are not only fun to answer but also add depth, verisimilitude and flavour to the campaign world. For example:


  • What powers does the pillar hidden in the Catacombs of the Sundered Pillar have and why was it sundered?

  • What lurks in the darkness of the Trackless Reaches of the Ebon Cavern?

  • Who or what lies in the Sepulchre of Tor Baroth? Is Tor Baroth its most famed “resident,” its guardian or the name of a fallen kingdom?

Do you have any more tips for naming a dungeon? If you do, leave them in the comments below and remember you can download this – and every other advice article – for free at ragingswan.com/articles.

Tags: advice articles, gm advice, raging swan press
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