Early Friday Chat: Embarassing Campaigns, Geek Influences, and Kitchen-Sinking

(Editor’s Note: Dave and I switched places for this early Friday Chat, hope you enjoy it.)

Though you might have been bombarded with it already, I was the subject of an interview from Wizards of the Coast’s web content guy Bart Carroll. It was especially cool for me because it allowed me to explore my gaming DNA a bit in a way I wasn’t expecting. In fact, I’ve tried to write  posts about it  in the past, but never really succeeded… which is weird for me since I generally have no problem writing about myself (as might be evident from the interview.)

(Editor: And you accuse me of always doing it? Pfaa!)

Two of the more interesting questions in it were about my early campaigns and how important other geeky influences are on RPGs. Maybe it’s because my early gaming experiences were at science fiction conventions (which definitely included plenty of outside influences) that like to weave in plenty of “winks” into my campaigns and lift shamelessly from pop culture so much.

Yet at the same time, I’m clearly embarrassed by some of the elements that have made their way into my campaigns. One of my favorite characters to play at conventions was a direct Indiana Jones rip-off named Illinois Smith that used a whip and magic dice. I’ve also  mentioned my first campaign that was a disastrous D&D/Doom mashup, and the following campaign that featured everything from Lord Invader and his 12 Penetrators to Gigantor the great big robot.  One of my friends played Doctor When the Chronomancer while another one was Arcanus and one a Dwarven master of Blitzes. These PCs would eventually go up against the spacefaring, honorbound Klangrion Empire.

These games were run nearly 15 years ago, and yet, I still cringe when I think about them. Many of the players in my current campaign were in those same campaigns with me, and so we smirk about those old campaigns a lot during our current games.

Now here I am, all this grown up and wise, yet still introducing Sir Mixalot as a major NPC and playing Istarya (Elven for “Wizard Who“) the wand-wielding Eladarin Time Wizard in Bartoneus’s game. I am generally not a fan of kitchen sink settings- every time I’ve played RIFTS or World of Synnibar (yes, I’ve actually played it, multiple times) I don’t enjoy it. Still, my brain continues to mash things up into D&D and make it seem like the coolest, funniest thing in the world.

Thus is my dilemma. Ashamed of my gaming past, willing to cast hypocritical dispersions when done by others, and continuing to do the same thing with no signs of changing.  I wonder, how many others feel this way? How many of you have your immersion in a game broken when you find your game rick-rolled? How many of you mix your genres liberally together? Do you have anything you put in your game from elsewhere that you look back on and shake your head in shame? (Don’t worry, I won’t judge, we’ve all been there.)

Do tell! (and thanks to Chatty for giving me the opportunity to borrow his soap box to ask)

(Editor: No problem friend. Wait, dude! Where are the 700 missing words? Sigh…)

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, their three dogs, and two cats.


  1. My most embarrassing campaign moment goes back to my first Gurps Fantasy campaign. I was probably 14 or 15. The players found this sentient elven Mithril dagger in an Elven ruin. I named it Sodomir.

    Thing is, I can’t for the life of me remember if I knew what it meant at that time. Math and Yan regularly bring it up.

    That and using the D&D Cartoon Dungeon Master as an actual NPCs in my first pencil drawn dungeon adventures.

  2. I have too many embarassing campaign moments to list, but naming my paladin “Sir Gooden Lawfo” has to be in the top 5.

    I don’t think it does any harm to inject insanity and/or pop culture into your game as long as everybody’s still having fun. If it does, I’m in trouble. 😀
    .-= Vanir´s last blog ..Early Friday Chat: Embarassing Campaigns, Geek Influences, and Kitchen-Sinking =-.

  3. Sewicked says:

    I run an anthropomorphic game at cons (Ironclaw & Jadeclaw), which gives me the opportunity to have the PCs be hired by Constable Boris (short, squat rat) & his hench-weasel Natasha to hunt down Moose & Squirrel, a pair of bandits. I’ve had players catch on as soon as they hear the constables’ names & I’ve had one table that didn’t catch on for 3 hours.

  4. Some of the stories I could tell of my campaigns…

    The homebrew Kai Lord that I ran through the Isle of Dread…
    The Dungeon Master NPC….
    Sir Johny .B Goode, Paladin (Who has also featured in every D&D based PC game with a paladin class in it)

    I also tend to get campaign ideas after watching films, tv or reading books so players who pay attention can find all kinds of easter eggs within my games
    .-= Phaezen´s last blog ..Game Inspiration – Creatures =-.

  5. Im somewhat noob in the rolplaying world, i dont think ive got at ir more than 4 years, but im sure ill never forget my first gaming session, I came to meet this group of guys (friends of a friend) who play “rol” and ive had no idea of what it was exactly (my mayor reference was an episode of Dexter’s lab XD dont hate) and out of improvisation and a little explanation i got to be a spider (Quote: “Big $%%#@ Spider”) boss and almos wipe the party lol it was so fun

    Btw this was a Hombrew D20 system with a ninja/naruto setting.

    Great post bro 🙂

  6. One of my players had a dwarven Paladin that he named Scrotius, after the first game and subsequent jibes from the other players he asked to change it.

    One of my first games ever had an insane pirate named Neil Condor who sought revenge on his mutinous first mate… not to proud of that one
    .-= Scott´s last blog ..An Undead History =-.

  7. Any of my siblings or friends can tell you that they’ve fought the goblin and orc minis from Hero Quest upwards of 20 times. I guess I just figured killing goblins would be a good first enounter. Every time.

    They still make appearances…
    .-= Kyle Ferrin´s last blog ..I Guess This Fits… =-.

  8. Thankfully, I’ve had very little of this in my gaming (although, to be honest, a lot of these stories are pretty funny). For a short time in my current 4e game, the ranger was a beastmaster with a hawk companion named “Tweety”. It was difficult to take the hawk seriously at all; all the other names at the table were consistent with the world and not particularly giggle-worthy. It may not be a coincidence that Tweety went the way of the dodo after a few weeks. The ranger wasn’t using him much, and I’m not entirely convinced that it wasn’t because he felt silly telling us what Tweety was doing.
    .-= Brian Engard´s last blog ..Character Profile: Vanity =-.

  9. Clearly I’m very involved in this whole thing, having my first D&D character ever crushed by the above mentioned Gigantor. 🙂 Also I’m the one that played the blitz-throwing dwarf in Dave’s game.

    I myself have more then a handful of embarrassing moments in games that I’ve run, but probably high up that list is running an adventure in my World of Darkness game where the party ended up in the real town we all lived near and one of our friend’s was the mad scientist villain of the adventure. Definitely not proud of that one!

  10. Jardine says:

    One of my players decided to chop off an orc’s foot, pee on it, stick a gold chain into it, wear it around his neck, and from that point on he was named “Flavor Foot”. He also had some followers that would scream “Flavor Foot!” whenever he walked into a building or got a critical in combat. It was facepalm worthy, but everyone enjoyed it for a couple of months. Then poor flavor foot got killed…..by a large mob of orcs, heh.

  11. @Bartoneus, Funny you should mention the real world game, as it jogged my memory of a short lived Vampire: the masquerade campaign i ran. The Characters were fleeing from something i can’t quite remember the details but i do remember having them spend a night in our home town. They decided to go snooping around for themselves and they found a bunch of geeks (themselves) in a house playing an RPG, pretending to be vampires. They characters ‘took’ offense to this and killed the ‘geeks’. The whole thing was humourous but very macabre in the sense they all willingly killed themselves in game.
    .-= Scott Wallace´s last blog ..An Undead History =-.

  12. In my earlier days as a GM, I was running Classic Traveller, before it was called Classic. I borrowed wildly from movies and TV shows for weapons and stuff, so my groups encounterd colonial vipers, lightsabers, and phasers, none of which was in their original backgrounds.

    I was really grateful that WEG eventually released Star Wars, which I have since run on and off through several editions now.

    Those were some pretty crazy games back then. I hope I have learned a thing or two since then.
    .-= Elderac´s last blog ..A4E – Session 41 =-.

  13. This article immediately brought back a horrific, painful, I-should-eat-my-gun memory. I have you all beat. First, my second place embarrassment:

    A player created this “totally awesome” character, to which I “totally killed.” My embarrassing moment would be letting him bring in his PC’s twin brother into the game, right down to the same stupid “Death from Above” tattoo.

    First Place Embarrassing Moment:

    I got lazy in my Super World campaign, so I had nothing planned for that night. When we started playing, I told the group that all the major super villains had called out the player characters for a final battle. The players arrived to the battle-ground (out in the desert) to see 6 major villains standing in a line, with a boom-box. As the PCs approached, a villain put a tape in the boom-box and hit “play.” I then put a tape in my own boom-box. Guess what started playing? Hangin’ Tough! by New Kids on the Block.

    but that song was cool way back when!

    and I can’t believe I just shared this.

    .-= Tourq´s last blog ..Screw Combat! Why sometimes the best fights aren’t even about fighting at all =-.

  14. The Game, it looks like you would have a blast playing Risus.

    I’m running a gritty dark fantasy campaign, and for some reason today it occurred to me to name two related characters Bivouac and Bungalow.

  15. Conlaen says:

    “One of my favorite characters to play at conventions was a direct Indiana Jones rip-off named Illinois Smith that used a whip and magic dice.”

    I had one of those too! Mine was called Michigan Stone 🙂

  16. I once played an immortal in a V:TM live-action game who was based on a cross between Macbeth from Disney’s Gargoyles and Highlander’s Duncan Macleod (of the clan Macleod). In our tabletop game we’d frequently run into a pack of Toreador who shared names with and were based on characters from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Those are some specific instances.

    When I played 2nd Edition I took the Secondary Skill option very seriously.

  17. Sewicked says:

    Bartoneus has reminded me of the high school D&D game in the homebrew setting. The gods were poorly disguised versions of our teachers. As I recall, our math teacher was NE goddess.

    There was also the inadvertent joke in an anthro (furry) game in which the dispute was caused by a pig being unhappy with the building supplies, he had bought from a wolf. The players howled over that one (no pun intended).

  18. I remember running a game where I had a rust monster trapped in a pit. Beside the pit was a bazooka. Naturally the players had alot of fun blasting the rust monster.
    Naming the two captured kobolds What and Who led to all sorts of silliness (“What’s in the next room? No he’s not, he’s right here with us!”) until they eventually died 10 adventures later.

    While the above was silly and gratuitous it was also fun for the players. Sometimes I think we take our role-playing games a little too serious. I don’t cringe at the “old days before I knew better” because it was all about the fun back then instead of telling a story.
    Yes, I really enjoy a good epic story, but I can allow for silly also…I just pretend it didnt happen after.
    .-= callin´s last blog ..NPCs and the Normal =-.

  19. In a recent adventure, I had a chronomancer who had gotten unstuck in time name “William Pilegrim.”

    Somebody referred to these as ‘easter eggs.’ I have to agree– it adds a little bit of humor to a setting, something the PCs can feel clever because they figured it out.
    .-= fanzabura´s last blog ..Explodicate =-.

  20. Joe Hall-Reppen says:

    In our 3.5 DnD campaign, we have a character named Harrison Jones who is also an Indiana Jones ripoff, down to the figure being an Lego Indiana. He even has a Fedora of History that gives him +5 Knowledge (History) checks.

    I’ve also considered creating a 4e hybrid Monk/Warlock named Ukog. Yes, he would have dark hair, and I thought about a monk tail for a little while.

    Lastly, I was working on a summoner wizard for 3.5 that would basically be Yu-Gi-Oh. Hasn’t happened yet, but it’s looking like a definite possibility.

  21. Starwind1985 says:

    My campaigns are sprinkled liberally with wackyness. Some examples:
    We once traveled to Hyrule
    Our bard was named Jaxon Roqster
    One character created a weapon called a rope-a-dope
    We had a cleric named Luthar (after Martin Luther)…who was lynched by his own congregation
    We had a dwarf named Stonehiem (pronounced stone-him)
    Another name was Apocolypto
    We fought a black knight who continued to eight after losing limbs

  22. Starwind1985 says:

    My campaigns are sprinkled liberally with wackyness. Some examples:
    We once traveled to Hyrule
    Our bard was named Jaxon Roqster
    One character created a weapon called a rope-a-dope
    We had a cleric named Luthar (after Martin Luther)…who was lynched by his own congregation
    We had a dwarf named Stonehiem (pronounced stone-him)
    Another name was Apocolypto
    We fought a black knight who continued to eight after losing limbs
    There was an NPC who was a talking skull named Bob

  23. I think that the general rule of thumb with kitchen sink characters is that they are awesome for the player, awesome for the DM, and sometimes even awesome for the entire group, but they are impossible to like if they weren’t your/your group’s idea.

    Hearing somebody else’s kitchen sink game described, you can’t help but roll your eyes and think, “Seriously? Star Wars? Final Fantasy? This guy thinks that’s a good idea?”

    But in your own game, playing your own copy of your favorite character, it seems pretty cool. I’ve gotten away with a Victorian equivalent of the Ghostbusters, an entire knockoff of the original Star Trek crew on an airship, and a clear insert of a certain obnoxious webcomic character.

    I’ve seen a few characters figuratively booed off the stage by players who hated them, and others pretty well liked. One unfortunate player wanted to literally play as Sylar from heroes without so much as a cheeky alias, and he got pressured into rewriting half of his character sheet to eliminate even a passing resemblance to the character. Meanwhile another player played a blatant Theodore Roosevelt expy, and pretty much everybody loved him.

  24. All DND…

    One campaign, I ran a character by the name of ‘Dalamar’. One of the other players glanced at my character sheet and saw the name (the character sheet being upside down to him) and saw ‘Ram a lad’. Should have been a priest. 🙂

    Another campaign, I ran a half-orc barbarian named Tugg Menuttz. He walked into a tavern, placed his hand over his groin, and said “Tugg here, ladies.” Then played it off like the hand to the groin was just a coincidence. Or was it really on purpose? lol

    Another campaign, the DM ended up populating the home base city with NPCs based on characters from the soap opera Days of Our Lives and also comic book super heroes (mostly DC).

  25. In Star Wars, I had a huge bodyguard NPC named “Crumbata.” He was exactly like Bombata from Conan the Destoryer, and yes, he ended up being the bad guy.

    .-= Tourq´s last blog ..The Best Character Formulas – Part 2 =-.

  26. Monk/Warlock named Ukog. Yes, he would have dark hair, and I thought about a monk tail for a little while – sounds like an interesting idea
    .-= Pasty Muncher´s last blog ..Does My Bomb Look Big in This And Other Terrorism Joke =-.


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