Titles for campaigns

When I first started playing and running RPGs we (in the circles I played in) had no thought of giving titles to our campaigns. Ian’s AD&D game as “Ian’s D&D game”, my Fantasy Trip game was “Brett’s game”, David’s Champions game was “David’s game”. After about six years it became necessary to distinguish Brett’s Gehennum game (also know as “Brett’s fantasy game”) from Brett’s Flat Black game (also known as “Brett’s SF game”) and Brett’s “Walpurgis University” campaign. In about 1988 my games started getting retrospective titles awarded to them, but only in cases where they had lasted longer enough to be worth talking about. My first Gehennum campaign became the “Giants of the Earth” only as it was winding down; the “Survivors” campaign was only named as such after it was over. The third Flat Black campaign was the first that I gave a title (“Flat Black: Survey”) before recruiting the character-players, and that was perhaps because it was the first for which I issued a written prospectus. Later it became usual for my campaigns to have formal titles: “Flat Black: Thirty-something”, “Brave Music”, “The Man in the Bamboo Mask”, “Darulan the Silent”, “Thundering Vale”, “Red-Blooded Earth-Men”, “Triplanetary”, “Mars 1896”, “Creatures of the Night”, “Wear a Badge, Carry a Gun”, “We Came, We Saw, We Surveyed”, “James Bond 1957”, “DQ 1122”, “Men of High Purpose”, “A High King of Darkness”, “After the Big One”, “Soldiers of Fortune”, “The Merchant of Thekla”, “Much Ado About Gehennum”, “Brave Music”, “Swords of St John”, “Flat Black: Secret Servants”. A few times since adopting @whswhs’s approach to prospectuses I have even taking to naming every campaign in a slate of which I expect to run only one.

So: how is it with you? Do you give your campaigns titles? At what stage to you decide on them? When did you start, or have you always done that? Do you find that campaign titles serve a useful purpose either in the recruitment phase or during play? Do they help to recruit the right players, to create the right expectations, to guide the course and tone of play? Do you play a character in any campaigns that have titles? At what stage do they get them? Do you find them useful for deciding which games to play, creating appropriate characters, guiding the course and tone of your character play?

I no longer have the prospectus, but I remember that the first time I handed out a prospectus, I didn’t use titles. Rather, I mentioned the rules system and, I think, the genre (for example, RuneQuest and fantasy). But when I did it again, I gave my campaigns titles; the ones that won that round, for example, were Jesus Magus (alternate historical fantasy), Spindrift Revisited (science adventures), and Uplift (science fiction). And I’ve done so ever since. That was as of 1994.

On the other hand, up here in Riverside I didn’t do so, because I was starting off a new circle of players; I just gave a brief description. I’m currently running a Mage: The Ascension campaign set in 1905 London.

Some of my players down in San Diego picked up my custom of giving their campaigns titles; for example, the Call of Cthulhu campaign I Skype into once a month is called “Road to R’lyeh” (an allusion to the Bing Crosby/Bob Hope movies of the era after World War II).

For me, at least, it’s partly a literary exercise: It entertains me to find just the right evocative phrase for a particular campaign. But I think it does also help players think of a campaign as an individual entity if it has a short name rather than a paragraph or two of description without a name. It’s like the way we don’t talk about a television series as “the voyages of a starship in an interstellar fleet carrying out exploration, diplomatic, and military missions on the frontiers of a multispecies federation of humans and humanoid aliens” (unless for some reason we’re not sure what that particular series was called and have to describe it in the hope that other people will remember it). So I try to think of a title as early as possible in coming up with a proposal, before any possible players have seen my writeup.

Some of mine have been Pulp Heroes, DC Realtime, House of the Rising Sun, First Contact, Unmoved Movers, Toon Suite Toon, Hong Kong Shadows, Zimiamvia, Gods and Monsters, Under the Shadow, Boca del Infierno, Whispers, Salle d’Armes, The Foam of Perilous Seas, Sovereignty, Inhuman Space, Nowhere Fast, Worminghall, and Tapestry. . . .

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I give my campaigns titles nowadays, but I’ve only done that since the later 1990s. That was when I started my current gaming group, which normally runs with two GMs, running different campaigns alternate weeks. The titles tend to be pretty basic and functional (Steam!, Infinite Cabal, Kourent Police) and usually emerge during the campaign planning.

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I think I started… hmm, it was when I was running a lot of Dark Conspiracy, because I did it with several different groups and I wanted a way of keeping track of which one was which in my notes. For that, I borrowed lines from Leonard Cohen’s The Future with vague connections to planned events in the games.

Then a few years later I joined John’s group, and because I was at least sometimes using published worlds that other members of the group had run games in, played in, or in some cases written, it seemed like a good idea to have a name for this particular campaign rather than the world in general.

Since I started doing it, I’ve found it to be one of my useful rituals of campaign creation – I often feel I don’t really have a handle on the overall feel of the game (at least my component of that overall feel) until I’ve found a suitable name, usually taken from a quotation. Recent ones (not all of which have got very far):

Irresponsible and Right - a Weird War II setting with mostly subtle magic
This Dim Spot - a blatant Aliens ripoff.
Age of Aquarius - In 1967, new psis try to save their country, or at least themselves.
Heaven’s Dark Hall - The early days of interstellar exploration.
Never Let Them See You Bleed - A modern cyberpunk campaign.
Wives and Sweethearts - the Royal Navy in space.
Leave Not a Rack Behind - 1930s non-Cthulhoid horror/investigation/magic.

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I’ve not really named my campaigns, beyond what’s needed to identify which ring binder all the notes are in. For instance I’ve run Werewolf campaigns several times, so they are: Werewolf Fianna Campaign, Werewolf Arizona Campaign, Werewolf Bastet campaign.

I suppose it might be because I’m from a documentary telly background, where you only have a working title while you’re making it, and it may have a radically different title for the finished product.

Also, these days I only have to recruit players for one-off games. Campaigns for the regular groups I’m in are usually a case of when Tom is finished running X, Dick says he could run system/setting Y or Harry could do system/setting Z.

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One of the big distinctive features of my long-established GMing style (it doesn’t apply up here in Riverside, at least as yet, and may never do so) is that I didn’t have “regular groups.” I had one semiregular group, which became known as the Stoddard Gaming Circle (even for players in other GMs’ campaigns), but it had fifteen or so players; we never all met as a group. Rather, each time I started new campaigns, I would organize new subgroups who liked particular proposed games—which is one of the reasons I found titles convenient. Several of my players also GMed at one time or another, sometimes recruiting from the same circle, sometimes not; I believe four of my San Diego players are currently GMing. So recruitment is a lot more of an issue.

At the moment, for example, I’m going down to San Diego once a month (ideally) to run Tapestry, a fantasy campaign in an invented low-tech world, and Skyping into Road to R’lyeh, a post-World War II horror campaign. One player (other than me) is participating in both. . . .

My titles were almost always just cities. That’s from a period with a lot of white wolf. So there was the Little Rock game, the Detroit game, San Harnac, Autumn GA, Seattle.

The longest running D&D game I’ve been involved with was just called “The World” because it was homebrew.

Our champions sessions always had “issue titles” in the campaign log.

I do tend to give games a title though I don’t always bother. “REIGN OF EXILES” and REIGN: THE SEVEN HILLS are more utilitarian than poetic. Likewise LORDS OF DRAGON PASS and AFTER STARBROW for my RQ games.

MOTHER OF CITIES was my latest IN NOMINE game and before that was “SONGS OF LIGHT & DARKNESS” which was my ill-fated attempt to run a campaign from the alternating viewpoints of demons and angels. It took it’s title from a wonderful quote from Father J.P. de Causade SJ in his "Abandonment to Divine Providence:

“Souls that walk in light sing the canticles of light: those that walk in darkness sing the songs of darkness. Both must be allowed to sing to the end the part alloted to them by God in his motet.”

I can’t recall now how I came across that but it was just at the right time to give me the title to the game.

I had several games in my Yrth sequence which involved Sir Alisande de Lacey, Knight of the Stone. The one that bore its structure on its face the most was called THE SEVEN VOYAGES OF SIR ALISANDE.

THE NAMES THAT LIVE was my GURPS game which started with amnesiac PCs. It took its title from Roger Zelazny and its McGuffin from UNKNOWN ARMIES.

The Dawn of Magic game was formally THE 36 after the number of people burdened with the knowledge of magic caused by Isaac Newton’s unwise ceremony.


About the only time I ever remember needing more than “The Champions game” or “The Greyhawk game” is when we had two GMs running multiple Champions groups in the same shared world at the same time. The GMs named the campaigns after the groups (although the first one was just called “Lance and Company” after the de facto lead mischief maker.) Later games set in the same world were just called “The Kids Game” and “The Government Game.”