Sci-Fi Concept Cards | Instant Universe, Just Add H2O

Created by Stephen Coffey

Playing Cards which each describe a sci-fi setting element - available in decks of planets, characters and locations

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Naming Things
about 1 year ago – Wed, Apr 04, 2018 at 03:35:26 AM

Names. Dagobah. Cardassia. Ultramar. Names invoke swathes of images, often based on knowledge of the source material. But how do we name new places?

Some spring from the reference material. Yesterday, Loz posted Gibson’s Bunk Hostel. Ragano And Sinatra At Law (see the Adventures of Lil Cthulhu) is a reference to the legend that Frank Sinatra had Mafia ties*.

Sometimes the reasoning behind the name is a bit sideways. Hedeteti is an obscure Egyptian scorpion god - this was one of the earliest cards I wrote, and I was trying to make all the names gods - like our solar system, and the few exoplanets that have names.

Quite a few names are descriptive. Somewhere in Cumbria, there is a place called Torpenhow Hill. According to one interpretation, that’s Hill-Hill-Hill Hill. Historically, a lot of places have been named descriptively. Think about how many -fields -ports or -woods there are. Then add in the Roman forts - chester, caster, or similar. North America benefits from taking root words from dozens of different indigenous languages. Toronto is ‘trees standing in water’. Milwaukee is ‘the good land’ (according to Alice Cooper, anyway).

If you’ve ever been to Wales, they take this to extremes. We had a mate lived in Small Pile of Rocks (Penmaenbach) which is a tiny village next to Big Pile of Rocks (Penmaenmawr). And a couple of stops down the railway from Bangor, where Loz and I went to Uni, is “Llanfair PG”** as it’s known to the locals. This being because the full name is longer than the village.

One quick trick to name a planet, or a location, or even a person is to use Google Translate. Think about what the essential nature is. Stick it into the English side. Press languages randomly (or if you've got a cultural aesthetic, start with related languages) until you come up with something that sounds right.

Or, of course, you could back at the IN SPAAACE level and name a card after yourself!


* And Frank Ragano was a mob lawyer of note --Loz  

** Full name: Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch - it was renamed that to be the longest place name in Europe in the 1860s, and (according to Wikipedia) “The name means: Parish [church] of [St.] Mary (Llanfair) [in] Hollow (pwll) of the White Hazel [township] (gwyn gyll) near (go ger) the rapid whirlpool (y chwyrn drobwll) [and] the parish [church] of [St.] Tysilio (Llantysilio) with a red cave ([a]g ogo[f] goch).” -- Loz

What if this card doesn’t fit my setting?
about 1 year ago – Sun, Mar 18, 2018 at 12:31:22 PM

Then bend it, twist it, play with it. For example, look at the Queen of Diamonds:

The secret has a choice of modifiers depending on which side of the issue you fall
The secret has a choice of modifiers depending on which side of the issue you fall

She’s an aristocrat. This works fine for any milieu with royal titles - Princess Leia, or Vultan, King of the Hawk People, or Duke Leto of House Atreides.

But Warhammer 40k doesn’t really have an aristocratic class outside of Terra and Knight Worlds (although there are undoubtedly plenty of plutocratic planetary governors). But it does have politically important families with power far exceeding their numbers, who have genetic snobbery - the Navigators. Make the Vespucci a Navigator House and things become a lot more interesting. Has she been invited in, not so much to manage financial holdings, but to revive a flagging gene-strain? Does she have recessive characteristics the House wants? Does she know this?

Applying concepts more widely

Where It says ‘family’, does that have to be a conventional family? Could it be a criminal organisation - la familia? Or perhaps a corporation treats its members as family? Try substituting similar words - ‘clan’ ‘tribe’ ‘faction’.

In Star Trek, it would be quite unlikely for a functioning aristocracy to be a part of the Federation (though it could well exist as a minor colony world the internal politics of which are protected by the Prime Directive). The Klingons, on the other hand, have a highly feudal society, with many of the Great Houses claiming descent from Kahless. As a Klingon woman, she could well be part of a movement to reduce the power of the High Council, preferring that rulership pass to the most brave, instead of those with brave ancestors.

Perhaps she’s not so much blue-blooded as she is racially distinct. In Andromeda, she’d make a great Nietzschean. However, because women canonically have leadership roles in that setting, you might have to gender-flip her to be a man, brokered off into a political bond between prides.

If the character really doesn’t fit the role you want an NPC for, draw again! There are another 50-odd that might be just the job.