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Name That Adventure!

Posted By Don Mappin On October 27, 2011 @ 1:00 am In GMing Advice | 12 Comments

I’m a sucker for evocative names, be it people, places, or even (especially!) adventures. An adventure name gets the blood flowing into the brain, conceptualizing what may come to pass, and helps keep me engaged. Read on for tips on why you may want to consider using — and sharing — adventure names at your gaming table.

The Name Game

Many of us cut our RPG teeth on any number of systems but typically with an introductory adventure or two. An adventure that had a name, like most modules, that was evocative and lured us in. Classics like “Keep on the Borderlands,” “Operation: Sprechenhaltestelle,” (seriously!) or “Pieces of You.” Naming pre-defined adventure modules is so ingrained in the hobby that we don’t think twice about it, but how many of us name our own adventure creations?

Having a name from the GM standpoint does a number of key things:

  • Provides a hook to hang our creative hat on
  • Can help tie otherwise unrelated plot elements together as part of cohesive whole
  • Can be used as a foreshadowing element
  • Are another creative outlet for GMs to explore
  • Solidifies an adventure — and its contents — as “ours”

Benefits

Naming adventures also draws strong parallels with television episodic content. Naming an adventure can harken back to tying what would normally be an unrelated series of events into part of the larger whole. If nothing else it provides an equal point of reference. “Remember that time when…” versus “It was in ‘Past Tense’ that we discovered…”

The foreshadowing element is another great tool, in this case we’re foreshadowing the events to transpire within the next several hours. In “The Broken Tower” our players minds are engaged in looking for the symbolism in the title. Maybe the adventure takes place in a tower? Perhaps it instead references the “broken tower” of the political infrastructure that is corrupted and revealed during the course of events? In either case, you’ve got your players thinking about it before you’ve even picked up your dice.

Speaking in my more recent games (specifically, Star Trek), I know that having an adventure title not only feels true to the source material, but also puts the players in the frame of mind of actors in a television show. It’s a subtle difference but when that title and stardate are put on the board, you know this shit just got real! I know if I ever see an adventure titled “The Final Endurance” I’ll likely crap my pants!

For myself, naming adventures is a creative outlet that I enjoy. Finding the play on words or riding that line between revealing what’s going to happen to the characters and foreshadowing events within.

Tips

When naming an adventure, try not to be overt in the title. Leave some mystery to the imagination. “The Lost City” was not one of TSR’s finest naming efforts. In fact, I’d go so far as to say a passible introductory adventure saddled with a bad name.

Naming your adventures poorly can also be a distraction. So be warned!

Look in many places for inspiration. I’ve a fondness for song titles or even lyrics as adventure titles. They’re descriptive and vivid by nature but open to interpretation.

Finally, I have to confess that I have blocked out an entire season of adventures by title alone, without any concept as to what the adventures were about. The adventures were named first and the content was derived from the title. Sometimes a good title is all you need to get the GM juices flowing.

Plus, naming your adventures lets you do cool thinks like this:

Name your adventures or not? Share any tips you may have below!

About  Don Mappin

For nearly 30 years RPGs have been a staple of Don’s life — so that means he’s pretty old. Author of a dozen RPG books, Don has worked with companies such as ICE, Last Unicorn Games, Decipher, and AEG. He now spends his time working in IT management, enjoying his family and two children, or gaming.




12 Comments (Open | Close)

12 Comments To "Name That Adventure!"

#1 Comment By Noumenon On October 27, 2011 @ 3:25 am

You totally convinced me. Every e-mail I send out about next week’s game is going to have a title now.

#2 Comment By Astronut On October 27, 2011 @ 5:12 am

Hear hear!

I’ve been doing this for my gaslight monster-hunters game for a while now, although per adventure rather than per session (one adventure is currently taking place over 3 months). We started out with a Sherlock Holmes feel (“The Temple Vampire”, “The Werewolves of Highgate”), then took a more Dr Who-ish turn with “The Pyramids of Hertfordshire” and “The Madness of Angels” (mostly inspired by a superb Dr Who serial generator I found online). The most recent story was “The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God”, inspired by a moderately famous poem…

It certainly helps the episodic nature of the campaign.

#3 Comment By black campbell On October 27, 2011 @ 7:37 am

I name most of the adventures and usethem as teases when texting e players about the next session…stuff like “On newstands today, the latest ‘Thrilling Action Stories’ issue Hannibal Drake vs. the Terracotta Army!’ Still only 10cents!” Or for franchise based stuff like Trek it would be “This week’s episode [title here].”

I started naming adventures back when I was running the James Bond RPG in the ’80s, to give each one a link to the movie format.

#4 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 27, 2011 @ 8:14 am

I’ve been naming my campaigns as if they were television series and each adventure as if they were episodes for a while now. I stumbled onto the idea after I first started running convention games, because every convention wanted a title for your game session. It definitely does have a lot of benefits. It focuses you as the GM, gives the players easy to use points of reference, and it helps to define an over all story arc in your campaigns.

This article is good stuff! Nice work, Don.

#5 Comment By Knight of Roses On October 27, 2011 @ 8:40 am

I generally try to name my campaign to establish a shared idea of where they are headed. Usually I only name my superheroic adventures as I envision them as comic books, but I may try to be more aggressive on naming all of them.

Good article.

#6 Comment By Razjah On October 27, 2011 @ 9:01 am

I have named campaigns before, but never the individual adventures. I named campaigns because it gets annoying to talk about the D&D game from 09 instead of “The Dark Towers” and how that influenced “The Rise of Dalaxemu”.

I will have to give naming adventures a try. It would help at least with organization and referencing past events.

#7 Comment By DNAphil On October 27, 2011 @ 10:07 am

I have been naming my Adventures for some time as well. In the past, I did not share the names with my players, in fear of foreshadowing something, but that feeling is coming to pass, and I like the idea of announcing it to my players.

I have to say that your Stargate commemorative plaque was shown by Martin a few years ago on Treasure Tables, and inspired me to do the same thing for the end of my 3-year long Iron Heroes game. The plaque still hangs in my game room, with the session titles there as a reminder for everyone.

Recently I for my All For One campaign, I made a video of opening credits, and at the end of the video it has the session name for the evening.

Nice article.

#8 Comment By BishopOfBattle On October 27, 2011 @ 10:35 am

I started out running pre-written modules for Shadowrun, so its only been natural for me to continue with the mechanics laid out in those modules in all my games. That includes naming the session and even going so far as to name the individual scenes.

The players get to see the session name, though the scene names are only for me. Usually they’re named in some sort of theme which helps remind me of the mood of the scene when it comes time to run it.

I’ve had good experiences with the practice and recommend it to anyone else who hasn’t tried it.

#9 Comment By drow On October 27, 2011 @ 11:18 am

+1.

i started naming adventures many years ago, as the subject line of the recap email. one of the earliest i have on record is 1999-12-12, Thoggoth and the Temple of Set.

most of my adventures are named for the dungeon the party’s hacking through (The Dark Crypts of Horror, The Lair of Sunless Souls) or the artifact they’re searching for (Glacialis, The Bell of Awakened Fury), occassionally something clever (Out of Time, Paragon Shift).

since the rogue in my current campaign has fancied himself the King of Thieves, i’ve also found Leverage to be a good inspiration for some adventure names (The Gothmog Job, The Wainwright Estate Job).

#10 Comment By Razjah On October 27, 2011 @ 3:26 pm

I also like the idea of using names as a focus. It works kind of like an objective or a theme to reference. If the session/adventure/arc is the “Plight of the Stormbears” then the players have a rough idea of where to proceed. It is like adding some glow sticks hanging in areas of darkness when they only have a flashlight.

I already started using names to at least help me prep my sessions. Even having a title at the top of the notes helps me focus on how to keep the story moving forward. Thinking of that in game will help me improv in the right direction when they take some crazy left turn to try and jump over a cliff because they think it would be fun.

#11 Comment By BryanB On October 27, 2011 @ 4:48 pm

I’ve had a habit of giving as series a name, if only to help me identify my collection of note cards, maps, and other assorted writings usually packed into a folder in complete disarray.

I’m currently working on the third series of an Old Republic Star Wars campaign. The first series was called, “Face of the Enemy.” The second was called “Shades of Atris.” Our third installment has a working title that I’m starting to like more and more which is, “Fury of the Fallen.” Which fallen? That would be telling too much. :D

#12 Comment By Totally Guy On October 28, 2011 @ 6:12 am

I’ve played with a GM who names every adventure “The search for Barry”.

We’ve never found him.


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