Ambiance, Allusions, and Limitations


8, 8, I forget what is for
Over at Monsters and Manuals, David McGrogan brings up an interesting notion with regards to what he calls "Glimpsed-at Worldbuilding". In particular, he is reading a Vance novel and notes the author's tendency to name-drop references to exotic personas and/or locales that are never further developed, nor play a central role in the plot. McGrogran then extrapolates this literary technique to movies by mentioning Mose Eisley in the original Star Wars film, and how its bizarre inhabitants establishing a feeling of depth to the imagined setting. I think this is an interesting topic to dissect with regards to Adventure Design, this forums stated raisin duh-eater (or raison d'etre, if you prefer the french original) other than book-talk.

I going to digress here a bit for a moment to regurgitate one of my favorite bits of trivia (without source or reference) about the Star Wars movie. To anyone born after 1979, and not used to the pulp science-fiction movies of the 40's-70's (Flash Gordon, Buck Rodgers, Forbidden Planet, Twilight Zone, etc.), there was a pathological tendency for the characters in older films (usual the "scientist" or tech-savy protagonist) to explain in pseudo-scientific gibberish everything odd or bizarre that was going on and make it relate-able. There was an implict assumption that, like the audience, all the characters had 20th century American sensibilities, and would need everything reduced to a more common-place context. What Lucas reportedly (again, I can't find a reference) did was borrow an Akira Kurosawa film-making technique (for films about ancient Japan) and apply it to SciFi---a meta-realism (I may have mis-quoted the term here). The basic premise is an obvious one now, 40-years after Star Wars, but says in a nutshell that the characters in that universe have a different social content and take many things for granted that we would not and use unfamiliar phrases.

Subsequently, the cinematic explanations disappeared.

Hence the notion of "proper name dropping" or "glimpses of a larger world".

I will point out that Tolkien was a master of this too---but perhaps for a different reason---he had built the world (and language), written about its first two ages in unpublished works before finally letting us peek at it through the LoRT set in the Third Age. A McGrogan points out, this is not what Vance does. Tolkien was a good boy and did his homework---Vance was off-the-cuff "winging it".

As DMs, we'd like to be Tolkien (I think), but only have time to be (at best) Vance.


In the context of Adventure Design, I think this is where products tend to fall apart (a bit)---or at least are unsatisfying. I think Rob Kuntz once wrote something about how TSR was slow to realize the utility of modules. They threw a few together for tournament play (e.g. G1-G3), but he mentioned that there was a group-think of "why would anyone want to buy other peoples content when they could just as easily make their own?". That's a pithy way of putting it, but I am beginning to suspect there's a bit more behind it. Bear with me as I try to dig down some here.

Bryce frequently states in his reviews that "what I'm interested in paying for" is the creativity and details that are difficult to come up with on-the-fly (i.e. Vance-style? random-generators, etc.). But in a well organized and play-able format that is easy to use "at the table"---i.e. no walls-of-text or failed-novelists syndrome.

I, for one, completely agree with him.

So the "art" of adventure design, that is to say "good craftsmanship" versus "amateur hackery", is to balance these seemingly conflicting qualities: we want to feel a locale has depth....BUT, we don't want you to drone on about it. That's the really hard part then. Do you attempt a Vance-ian flair and fake it? Or do you build up the whole world in your head/notes a la Tolkien and just allude to it (but never explain it, except possibly a tiny bit in an Appendix)?

I'm not sure there is a right answer---the two authors I'm citing both have pulled it off masterfully as evidenced by the fact that we still remember their work.

OK, now back to Kutz and modules. I am starting to think that playing in extended campaigns, set in an established framework, or world (such as Ben L's Dreamlands/Wishery, Blackmoor, Tekumel, ASE, etc.) in which the DM has/is imagining something vaster than the immediate surrounding is what I'll call Greater D&D. Playing a few sessions of a purchased adventure---even several strung together---and staying "close to the book" in terms of the common vanilla-fantasy environment, I'll dub Lesser D&D. Kutz et al. in the early days played the former and had trouble imagining anyone would want to play the latter. It's like developing a taste for expensive cuisine---hard to go back to McDonald's. (When we speak of straight-up D&D---are we just playing in Gygax's imagined world of Greyhawk?)

Trying to tie this back to the thread topic, I'll say this: I think it's far easier to have Glimpsed-at depth when there is more of a world sketched out (if only in the author's mind), than it is with the pejoratively-name Lesser D&D variant. It is possible that the "Adventure Product" that can be instantly digested and seamlessly dropped into any existing settings is to some extended doomed-by-design, as it must choose between either feeling too shallow or else too alien for general use. It can be good, but never great.

That may sound a bit pessimistic, since products like ASE were successful. But I think that it and its ilk are red-herrings, as you have to choose to "go ASE" or not as your setting. Perhaps the need for an adventure to live in a larger content is why folks like Patrick Stewart are now making self-contained games like Silent Titans. Again, this trend may be that is where things are heading---i.e. sandbox products. I'll also note Anthony Huso's products tend to happen on other planes---which produces an easy excuse for a big context-switch. Perhaps 5e products will always feel shallow as long as they stay close to canon. Mega-dungeons are themselves quasi-self-contained worlds so perhaps that's why they became associated with the OSR and the Greater D&D. This is also why the Swords & Wizardry ruleset is so potent (more on that later).

See what I did with that last sentence? That's what I'm talking about.

Attempting to wrap this up, I'll further assert that the lesson to be learned for the Aspiring Adventure Designer is to steal from the past masters---that is name-drop and allude to a bigger world because it adds depth, ambiance, and mystery---but do it sparsely, like Ben L. does it in Through Ultan's Door with a simple inscription of “Hail Lord Murusha Eater of Winds!”. Use the lightest of touches. PC's are at heart explorers. They want you to ignite their dreams with exotica. What they don't want is a History Lesson.

The reward is a richer-feeling experience for the PC. The punishment is that sooner or later you may have to deliver some answers to all those questions you've raised (but that's where the fun lies!).

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Should be playing D&D instead
I don't expressly disagree, but I do have some alternate thoughts on the matter.

Adventure design is as you've outlined - either one is meant to integrate a module into an existing world, or one is meant to run it as a standalone. But to me, this is the very reason that "proper noun" namedrops are pointless to modules: they'll either conflict with what exists in greater D&D, or they'll be irrelevant dead ends in lesser D&D. All that it ensures is that the DM stammers and stumbles if the PCs ever latch on to any of it.

"What was this '7th Order' that the Duke mentioned?"
"Uhhh, wizards?" (Shit, I better re-read this thing in case they're brought up again in a meaningful way)

Not very immersive.

If the goal is to give the PCs a picture of a bigger world, then that's what everything else in the rest of the DMs campaign is for. If there is no bigger campaign, then players won't really care "what else is out there" - they want to get on with the adventure itself, the whole core of the night's game.

To me, namedropping is a weak tool in building verisimilitude for this reason... at least dropping the names that other people came up with. While Kuntz is wrong-headed about people not wanting stuff prepared for them, he is right in the sense that coming up with a name is not a difficult thing to do. I don't need a module to come up with the idea of "Jocko the Blood Mage" - that takes three seconds to do it myself, and I don't need to worry about whether or not Jocko has a major role to play in the current adventure or whether he'll ever be brought up again, because I control him and his whole existence by my standards, not the author's. Having a module author add this stuff not only adds very little value, but can sometimes passively sabotage my own efforts to keep continuity as the DM. Hell, half the complaints in module reviews are about people not being able to keep track of which things are in which dungeon rooms or which page they have to flip to for faction information... the last thing we need is a bunch of inconsequential stuff player's aren't expected to interact with to keep track of too.

This works in films and books because we are an audience to those things - we can't go "ooh, that Mos Eisley alien looks cool, can we find out more about him?". But in D&D you CAN do that, and it causes problems for that very reason. You can show AND NOT tell in films and books, but you have to show AND tell in D&D, because the players are driving the story as much as the DM.

If you want to make proper names and organizations and whatnot, develop a setting. In your example case, I'd argue that it works for ASE precisely because ASE is not an adventure; it's a setting. It's got gods and factions and settlements - that's a setting. Otherwise I find it detrimental to include these things in an adventure unless its directly related to the adventure, because it just becomes something a DM has to work around rather than work with.

If you want to add depth in a published module, you leave those types of demonstrations of the outside world as ambiguous as possible, so its visible to the players but the DM is ultimately in control of the rest of the setting. If you have a tomb with a bunch of hieroglyphs of two-headed men enslaving a demon lord, the players can either inquire about that or they won't, but that's all you need to add depth. The players know at some point, a demon was enslaved by two-headed people - the module doesn't need to tell you the demon's name or the fate of the two-headed people. That stuff is super easy to come up with. By giving you the hieroglyphs, the author has done his job in deepening the world without wrestling control of backstory and setting away from the DM.
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8, 8, I forget what is for
We are not too far off in our thinking, but I'll add this:

1) Is this a "fatal flaw" in (non setting) adventure products? Dooming them to mediocrity?
2) Can you allude in an evocative way that inspires the DM instead of tripping him up?
3) Is there a standard (missing) mechanism (e.g. appendix, glossary, etc.) that could help add depth in a palatable way?

Campaigns are definately "where it's at", so to speak, for RPG Nirvana. But in so many ways, D&D's failure to translate the essense of campaign-ism to the marketplace (via a product) has been its Achilles' Heel.

In your example case, I'd argue that it works for ASE precisely because ASE is not an adventure; it's a setting. It's got gods and factions and settlements - that's a setting.
Yes. But it has an adventure embedded in it too.

Is setting+adventure a better product template?
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Should be playing D&D instead
In answering your questions (again, this is from my perspective, not any sort of universal objectivity):

1) It's not a fatal flaw, in the same way that too much backstory isn't a "fatal flaw" per se. It's just an obstacle most people have to work around because the author wasn't on the same page as the DM in terms of usability. It'd be hard-pressed to doom a module to mediocrity because of it, mostly because this stuff comes out only after people have already bought and used the module.

2) As in my example, I think alluding to stuff can be evocative, so long as the allusion is interesting and well-made. Specifics like proper nouns don't need to be included for something to be alluded to (by definition, an allusion is non-specific). Just the hint of something there is enough for both the player and DM to work with; anything beyond is overkill and a hindrance.

3) If you're going for a setting, go for a setting. Write a guide annex for the setting. Add the proper noun people/organizations/concepts in your setting annex. If the setting is tied to the adventure, then it blindsides nobody to see the proper noun in the adventure, because it's directly related to it - the expectation is that the party can/will come across it again. But as an author, you have to be sure it's relevant to actual play - if the expectation is to add a name or place or whatever just for the sake of "this thing exists", then it's not especially fun to work with, and would be better demonstrated through the situations and interactions that the party has. Not saying there's no place for off-topic names, but they should be incorporated intelligently.

Imagine if you drew a Community Chest card in Monopoly that said "advance to Boardwalk, site of the famous Allen's Hot Dog Company HQ" - what the hell are you as the player going to care about that for? Are you going to think Monopoly is not a rich game if it doesn't include little factoids like that? Not really. Same goes for D&D - players won't care what's omitted unless it directly affects their actions but not having known about it ("What do you mean orcs attack me? You said there was nothing to see in the room!").

As for your last question about setting + adventure: it's not better or worse, it's just different. It's a sandbox. A sandbox is a special category of adventure(s) that encompasses a larger area outside a single site, but usually isn't quite large enough to be technically considered a whole setting (a setting has it own pantheon and special rules about magic and whatnot). You can put a sandbox into a setting, and you can expand a sandbox into a full setting (which I'd argue is the case in ASE), but you can't put a setting into a sandbox. You can also put adventures in a sandbox, or just make the sandbox itself the adventure (X1 - Isle of Dread, for instance).


8, 8, I forget what is for
Perhaps there is a lesson in Dwimmermount. It was an attempt at setting+adventure that was critically panned.

Kickstarter logistics aside, was that because it was too ambicious (for an amatuer trying to make a full-on setting on first attempt) or just that its intended audience didn't want something new (i.e. a new setting) just a great big helping of something old to put in their campaigns?
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8, 8, I forget what is for
OK. Here's a little example from my home sandbox:

In the catacombs below the ruins of an elder Earth-God temple nearly erased by time, there is a narrow natural-rock bridge that spans a chasm filled with stagnant water. Goblins have crept into the abandoned vaults of the temple and now dig for a peculiar black rock and pay homage to their cruel and twisted Nilbog king. The bridge itself, along with the narrow tunnels leading to it, provide an effective defense against invasion by either their jealous brethren in the mountains to the west, or the fierce horsemen of the northern plains.

In the larger sandbox, this was an optional side jaunt---very static and remote---but the goblin king knew some information the party wanted, so they went there.

When I originally wrote the section (several years ago) I mentioned that a thalassic terror lurked in those dark waters and spec'd out a modified aboleth to drag under PC's that fell to the water. At the time, I mentioned that the creature had secreted away some powerful talismans in one hidden subterranean grotto, and held a damsel in a mucus-bubble of no-time in another. I also happened to mention a particular staff (by name), but thought little of it.

Pure allusion.

When, to my surprise, the PCs used divinatory magics to try and locate a staff for the magic-user. It jumped to mind, so that's the answer I provided.

This led to a pretty serious underwater expedition of retrieval that caused me to fleshed out the flooded cave system. As I was doing that, I added an auxiliary exit into an underground river in order to open up the scope of the whole "mythic underworld" vibe---something I'll assert was the real innovation of the fairly boring D1 module: not just a cave but an endless complex of underground connectivity.

I made a note that (off map) if one were to continue downstream, a particular troll, covered in dung-soaked robes, fishes with a gaff from the stationary axle of a great water-wheel that spans an air-filled passage above the subterranean river. True to trope, the troll collects tolls from those traveling an underground highway and wishing to make use of the cyclopean bridge. It then sends the payments on to the Night King by courier.

More allusion.

None of this is actionable unless the party heads in that direction. As currently written, it's no longer than the previous paragraph, and the Night King is not mentioned anywhere else (at the moment). However, all this (with it's spurious proper nouns) serves as a catalyst for future imaginations.

In a similar vein, the Dungeon magazine adventure (which I picked up because of Bryce's review) "Kingdom of the Ghouls" seems to be held in high regard, but as an adventure its pretty darn sparse---however it seriously evokes.

I think there is some value to disassociative name-dropping---albeit a bit ethereal. Just to have someone or something say that name to the party, in passing,--"the Night King"--and all the hairs on the back of their collective necks stands up. Yeesh! Creeps me out.

Better to leave it out were I ever to publish?

...or would it be better if I had also let drop a clever name for the obscure type of troll he was, and for the destination of that underground by-way?
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Should be playing D&D instead
The Night King can be ambiguous enough that a DM can expand on it. Anything could be The Night King, from an all-powerful lich to an ironically-named kobold. It's inclusion is not especially interfering.

Barthlem the Night King, Fallen Duke of Heaven, Dreadlord of the Blasted South, and Warden of the Witch Towers, however is pretty damned specific and problematic to the DM who doesn't have a Heaven, nor anywhere to slot The Blasted South into his world, and has no maps of whatever the hell The Witch Towers are meant to be.

Your staff story works in your game because it was YOUR staff - you added it, and had a vague idea of what you could do with it. It tied in with what you had already established in your game (the aboleth and the princess). You can work with it. But if somebody said "oh by the way, the staff is not supposed to be a staff, it's actually a magical horse", well that kinda screws up your plans to do anything with the underwater adventure, doesn't it? I mean, what sense does a horse have being in a place like that. But the staff works because you picked something that fit what you had in your world, as opposed to making your side trek fit around something YOU WERE TOLD now exists in YOUR world.

That's the problem - when an author oversteps the boundaries of the adventure and starts dictating what you need to keep track of in your world (if the adventure isn't a whole setting), then they are telling you what your world is; you are no longer the master of your own world. It's one thing to inspire further leads, but it's another to just straight up say "Ok, well now this thing/person/place/group exists in your world because I told your players it does, so now make sure you deal with it".
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8, 8, I forget what is for
Hell yeah! Barthlem the Night King, Fallen Duke of Heaven, Dreadlord of the Blasted South, and Warden of the Witch Towers is most definitely now an ironically-named kobold.



8, 8, I forget what is for
Ok. One more out-gassing of thoughts related to this subject.

I was disappointed by Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies. I was never tempted to re-watch them after first viewing.

There, I said it.


I should clarify.

I was happy they turned out to be successful. Far better that than if they had been laughable, and for the most part I liked the casting.

The special effects were pretty good too. Especially the Balrog.

It was just his directing/cinematography really sucked. The man has no sense of mood and atmosphere. His story-telling is flat. Even all his lighting is flat---the ambient-level to way too high. It's like he doesn't want you to miss out on any of the details of his awesome CG creations.

He also cut out the entire journey from the Shire that established the characters and magical charm of the world.


How is any of this relevant to Game Design, you might ask? Well, to me it goes along with the difference between hinting at something and just hauling it out into the light and exposing it. Hitchcock could scare the poop out of you with the sound of footsteps and a man's shadow in Rear Window. In contrast, Jackson couldn't evoke terror with Black Riders or even Sauron-the-friggin'-Dark-Lord (yeah, I'm looking at you Voldemort).

Sometimes it's just a bad idea to render everything too plainly. It stifles imagination.

That's why "the Night King" gets my juices flowing better than "a ghoul" or "a lich". That's why I suspect vague-but-evocative-unique-names can amp up an adventure in a way that exceeds anything on the roster from the Monster Manual. The unknown is both wondrous and scary. Something uniquely named erases preconception. Imagine the first D&D games. Everything was new. Everything was unique. Everything was weird.

Weird is good.


Last comment for today (although back from 3 weeks in Spain and I'm in a surprisingly chatty mood).

What is the purpose of this forum? (Yes, Mr. Lynch, you could chime in here too.)

Is it to help make us better commercial game designers, or is it to help us make better games for private/hobby use?

I understand the two are not necessarily incompatible. But just to be clear, I'm here for the latter. I want to get better at a craft I practice once or twice a week. I want to connect with other DMs and learn from them. I want to write adventures better---even if no one ever sees a word of it.

I just want to get good---really, really, good---at being a DM.

Screw the dollar.
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8, 8, I forget what is for
But if somebody said "oh by the way, the staff is not supposed to be a staff, it's actually a magical horse", well that kinda screws up your plans to do anything with the underwater adventure, doesn't it?
Ironically there was a horse down there.

A hippocampus in cruel chains, actually.

What are the chances?
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So ... slow work day? Every day?
There is adventure hooks...but I see the name dropping as a 2 prong hook for both players AND DM's.
I add them once in awhile.
You find a Treasure Map leading to a Sword of Shadows and a bottle of wine from Nzembia (150 gp).
When my business partner reads/edits he always asks me what those are all about--what do they do or where is that located? Boom--I hooked him...and that's the idea.
Name dropping might get the imagination going to lead the players wanting to know more, or spark an idea for a DM to flesh something out. But I agree with DP in that it can't be too specific or try to control the DM's world. "Where is Nzembia?" 'oh..just a place that was swallowed up by the sea long ago.' And maybe the treasure map leads to a trap instead of a sword....doesn't's all for the hook to spark creativity and imagination.


Two things. First, "Greater D&D" is an interesting phrase. I like it. I have been meaning to write a blog post with the same exact title for a few months - my take is quite different (it is "D&D as general fantasy" vs. "D&D as a complex and more specific vision of a fantasy campaign"), but it is interesting both of us have happened on it.

On to real topic, the magic of the "beyond" is a fundamental part of sense of wonder - that beyond the discovered world, there is more, and it is fundamentally unknown. In Tolkien, it is found in the corners of the world LotR does not describe, or the parts of Moria which stay in darkness - doors leading to sealed places, untold watery depths, and so on. In Vance, it is the background details which lead nowhere. The Vancian approach is also the more practical for RPGs if you are not an obsessed genius like Tolkien or Barker, or a dreary pedant like Greenwood. After all, you can fill filing cabinets or wikis with "realmslore", but why should you. (Actually, one of my first discoveries of critical thinking WRT RPGs was the realisation that a) the Realms is genuinely bad for the kind of fantasy game I enjoy running - it ends up colonising and constraining my imagination instead of framing it; b) the people who want to recreate the LotR experience with AD&D are up to no good.)

One of D&D's great balancing acts is satisfying the players' desire for discovery, while realising that something completely mapped and discovered is de facto colonised and no longer mysterious. I think a good adventure should have that sort of gloomy beyond, somewhere just around the players' edge of vision. When that is in danger of being all gone, it is time to wrap up the campaign and begin something new.


Should be playing D&D instead
That's the trick though; you've got to build the impression that *something* lies just beyond, just not the very specifics of that something. The central tenant of this debate is more along the lines of "is it bad for authors to put direct references to specific things (particularly named things/proper nouns) into your campaign?", and by putting in the specifics of it, the author is effectively robbing the DM of his world-agency (it's already a cardinal sin for a DM to rob players of agency).

The author is essentially saying "Yeah you've got your own world here? Well now there's something called The Grand Theologian of the Apocalypse Church. Deal with it!", when they could have left it at "a doomsday cult leader" so the DM can better tailor for his campaign. Yes, you sacrifice a little bit of evocative name-making to leave things ambiguous like that, but I find it's far less intrusive for a DM who doesn't necessarily want to deal with it.


8, 8, I forget what is for
@Melan, I am so pleased you weighed in on this topic. With regards to the 'Greater D&D' label, I can't resist: 'great minds...etc., etc.'. I eagerly await reading your future post on the topic.

With regards to your thoughts of the importance of the 'beyond' I think you've summed it up very elegantly. There must always be a frontier, and every time I fill in a small section of a map, I can't resist injecting as much (or more) mystery as I've removed. The (undescribed) deep, dark places, hidden grottos, and lofty heights---they are everything. Also, your use of the phrase 'colonization' is also devastatingly on-point for "reducing something to the mudane and banal" (I shall probably steal it). If and when we write down an advanture, we run the risk of codifying and trivializing the mysterious. This thread asks: How can we do it in a way the preserves some sense of wonder or dread?

I also heartily agree with you on point (a), but am genuinely baffled by point (b)---perhaps you could elaborate. I would never have started playing D&D in the 70's if I hadn't wanted to walk in Middle Earth. I suspect your point is subtle and I have missed it.

@DP: As much I as sincerely appreciate and admire your fearlessness in defending an alternative point of view (you are our tireless foil), for me, there was no real debate as to whether or not an author should include overly specific (but undeveloped) content. I agree it could easily become heavy-handed and cumbersome, and that should be avoided. I am however much more interested in the art of evoking wonder through use of language and other tricks an author can use to hook players (and other DMs---or even our future selves) in a generally beneficial way. What works? (I think we can all smell what doesn't.)

I think that, if it is done well, names have power---potential energy to be tapped. Simple as that.
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8, 8, I forget what is for
On to real topic, the magic of the "beyond" is a fundamental part of sense of wonder - that beyond the discovered world, there is more, and it is fundamentally unknown. In Tolkien, it is found in the corners of the world LotR does not describe, or the parts of Moria which stay in darkness - doors leading to sealed places, untold watery depths, and so on. ...

One of D&D's great balancing acts is satisfying the players' desire for discovery, while realising that something completely mapped and discovered is de facto colonised and no longer mysterious. I think a good adventure should have that sort of gloomy beyond, somewhere just around the players' edge of vision. When that is in danger of being all gone, it is time to wrap up the campaign and begin something new.
@Melan, I cannot thank you enough for clarifying this notion for me. I can't stop thinking about it. Honestly, it feels like I am am looking at fiction through a much clearer lens now. It is this element above all else that causes an author's work to stick with me---full stop. When it is lacking, everything feels pedestrian, mundane, trite, cutesy, forced, etc.

Bravo man. You are using that thing attached to your neck for more than just ordering pizza.
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8, 8, I forget what is for
My thoughts on this are a synthesis of what DP is saying and what everyone else is saying. I agree that the experience of play is heightened whenever there are references to things outside of the players’ knowledge – and this is not limited to name-dropping, I think hints in dungeons to what it really going on, or the history of a place, scratch the same itch.

However, for a published product to be useful, such allusions must be sufficiently universal that they are likely to map to something in the purchaser’s home game. There are a lot of OSR products where I can see objectively how well they accomplish what they set out to accomplish, but they are of absolutely no assistance to me as a play-aid.

Something like Hommlet or the Keep on the Borderlands, on the other hand, isn’t just easy to drop into my campaign, but I can drop it into multiple places in my campaign. It doesn’t have to be “vanilla” per se, but it does have to tap into established tropes or, I suppose, the collective unconscious, if it is going to have a place in most campaigns.

Now, it is not necessarily terrible to have a Grand Theologian of the Apocalypse in a product, as long as it is readily ascertainable that the Grand Theologian of the Apocalypse is in fact a doomsday cult leader. Moreover, it must be clear, without hunting through the product, that nothing hinges on the Grand Theologian of the Apocalypse carrying that exact name, and that I can rename him to the [cleric title endemic to campaign] of [doomsday cult endemic to campaign] without messing up the module.


A FreshHell to Contend With
Made an account just to comment here...

I think the OP has a great point. 1st edition AD&D dropped names like nobody's business: Serten's Spell Immunity, Rary's Mnemonic Enhancer, the Eye of Vecna, the Sword of Kas, and so on. These things really got me intrigued when I was youngster reading the AD&D books for the first time.

I think the trick is to make name drops minor enough not to jolt a pre-defined setting. A few throw away references to named demons, old (possibly dead) spell-casters, some long forgotten realm, or minor demi-god? Sure that's cool. Dropping a major deity or existing political entity? Probably not so cool.

Just my 2 cents.


8, 8, I forget what is for
On the topic of what I label "The Greater D&D" (and Melan does not, see above) --- i.e. playing extended (year-long) campaigns, Grognardia has two posts about it recently: here and here. noisms over at Monsters and Manuals has picked up on it too.

What I found interesting in the sub-link of Grognardia's older post entitled "Time in the Old School Campaign" from 2009 was the comments wondering if anyone other than Gygax ever had 2 competing PC groups of players playing in the same world simultaneously, (BTW, I know my DM did back in the 70's. Although I never met his other group of friends, we saw the effects of their handwork in his world---memorably, a bag of holding we retrieved that they had previously shoved nasty critters in a as prison-of-last-resort and then discarded).

There was also a sort of naivete about long-term campaigns in general that I gleaned from Grognardia's "Time..." post comments --- where "long-term" was defined in months or sessions, but not years. (In contrast, one never gets the sense over a K&KA that multi-decade campaigns are rare events.) Again, this was 2009. The OSR has aged over a decade.

Also, there was a sense from James M. that having DM'ed another 10-years (Empire of the Petal Throne), he now understand better what it means to really have a long-running campaign. I was a bit surprised by that, because I was of the impression that he'd played a lot in his youth---but perhaps he'd never found a solid group to play with week after week. Consuming a lot of D&D is quite different, I suppose, than playing a lot of D&D.

I know when I returned to D&D, I wanted to recreate for my players that feeling of progress when you play a continuous adventure for years. The way that game events become epic as they receed into the past. When I joined my group, they were already reminiscing about The Six Months War (real-time) fought against the armies of a Nazgul the previous year---to me (the new/younger guy) it was the stuff of legends.
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Should be playing D&D instead
Are people just ditching campaigns mid-way through? Is a long campaign not the standard expectation?

D&D (and applicable clones) were designed for the long term. With the exception of irregular one-offs, standalone modules, and time-constricted convention games, D&D is (and always has been) meant to span years, that's why there are rules for high-level play and rules for ensuring that getting to a high level is a long, drawn-out affair. That's why the word "campaign" is spelled out in the DMG.

Who argues otherwise?