Every GM I’ve ever met names the various villages, towns and cities in his campaign. It’s as normal and natural as naming a world’s rivers, forests and mountain ranges. What few GMs do, however, is take the time to name the streets, alleys and other thoroughfares of their settlements.
Don’t get me wrong; no GM has the time to name every road, street and alley in a given town, but naming a few helps bring the settlement alive in the players’ minds. For example:
- Why is that shady lane called Dagger Alley?
- Why is that road called Dead Troll Road?
- Is it worth avoiding Beggars’ Way?
- Is Temple Avenue a good place to find magical healing?
- What could possibly go wrong on Cutthroat Alley?
Such questions not only breathe life into the setting, but can even lead to interesting minor encounters or even the genesis of the PCs’ next adventure. Adventurers venturing down Cutthroat Alley, for example, deserve everything they get while those wandering Market Street might discover a bargain or hear a particularly juicy rumour.
There are many different way a road could be named. Here are a few of the most common styles:
- [Descriptor] street/alley/lane: Example, Dagger Lane, North Street and so on.
- Street of [Descriptor]: Example, Street of Swords, Road of the Dragon and so on.
- [Feature] street/alley/lane: Example, Water Street, Church Way and so on.
- [proper name’s] street/alley/lane: Example, Krorz’s Promenade, Sorn’s Alley and so on.
- [Race, creature or monster] street/alley/lane: Example, Giant’s Street, Orc Alley and so on.
Things to Name a Road After
Once chosen, a name can enhance a town’s flavour and verisimilitude. Roads can be named for or after a variety of features, events or personalities. For example,
- Major Building or Urban Feature: If a road runs to or passed an important urban feature, sometimes the road becomes known by that feature. For example, a road running passed the lord’s castle may be known as Castle Street, while a road festooned with temples might be called Temple Way. Streets could also one named for churches, local markets, town gates and so on. Similarly, a street linking the town to a nearby village may become known by the name of the village.
- Business Type: In an urban area, businesses often cluster together, and within this mercantile district sometimes businesses of the same type establish themselves nearby to one another. So, for example, a street might become known as the Street of the Smiths for all the metalworkers found there. The more important locally a trade is, the more likely a street will be named after it.
- Proper Name: Perhaps someone famous lived or once lived on the street. Alternatively, a street could be named after a legendary personage thought to have once visited the area or even someone who died there. Some streets could even be named after deities and other semi-mythical beings. Additionally, streets could be named after important local families, famed bands of adventurers and so on.
- Feature: A street running by a river might become known by the name of the river—for example, Fleet Walk—while a road running in a cardinal direction may be called North Street. For example, in my home town, Abbey Road leads toward the ruins of an abbey, Market Street still hosts a market and Fleet Walk runs over the River Fleet (which now flows under the road). Other examples could include Water Street, Marsh Lane and so on.
- History: Sometimes streets are named for events of either local or national importance. Perhaps a troll was slain on Dead Troll Street and it was named (or renamed) to commemorate the event. Alternatively, a street could be named after a prominent local—perhaps Culven’s Way—or for some feature that no longer exists (or which is now buried beneath the modern town).
- Flavour: If the party head down Dagger Alley before turning into Cutthroat Lane it’s a pretty clear indication they are entering an unsavoury part of town. Similarly, the Street of Silks likely stands in a nicer part of town while many towers probably flank the Avenue of Spires. Street names are a quick and simple way to impart a location’s flavour.
Other Things to Name
Of course, a GM doesn’t have to stop at naming streets. There’s lots of other things to name in a town. Such features include:
Not all Roads are Created Equal
When naming a street, road or alley the GM should be aware that some kinds of streets occur only in certain parts of town. For example, alleys and lanes probably don’t have much of a place in the posher areas while boulevards and avenues—normally wide, tree-lined roads—have no place in the slum. Thus make certain to only place the various roads types where they make sense these definitions:
- Anywhere: Street, road, way, walk
- Nice Parts of Town: avenue, boulevard
- Seedier Parts of Town: Alley, lane
- Mercantile Parts of Town: Row, end
A Final Note
The information in this article can easily be adapted to naming the streets and lanes of any village or city—even those inhabited by nonhumans. Remember, even a small village with only two streets probably has names for both—otherwise how do locals get around, give directions to travellers and so on?
GM’s Miscellany: Urban Dressing
If you enjoy the table above and like urban dressing, check out GM’s Miscellany: Urban Dressing from Raging Swan Press. Crammed with over 200 pages of information and charts designed to bring your settlements alive, GM’s Miscellany: Urban Dressing is an essential part of any GM’s arsenel.