Giving nods to other campaigns and settings to immerse your players
By MARK WILSON
In books and movies, easter eggs are small, hidden elements for hardcore fans that reference something else they’ll be familiar with. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has turned this into an artform in recent years with references to the comics, but they’re hardly the first to have done it. At worst, they’re harmless fun for fans. And at best, they create subtle links between various media and franchises that can make worlds seem more alive.
I like rewarding players, and easter eggs can be ones way to give a subtle wink to the work they’ve put in, and also do a small bit of worldbuilding in the process.
The White Castle
In a homebrew campaign, I created a tavern called “The White Castle” in the city of Waterdeep. It wasn’t intended as anything more than a quick pun for the players to chuckle at, but it turned into their base of operations for more than half the campaign. They befriended the owner, hid bodies in it, and converted the menu into something similar to our real-life White Castles, complete with mini-burger “Slides.” And as it happens, I accidentally located it a stone’s throw away from The Yawning Portal, the most famous tavern in the Forgotten Realms.
Fast forward nearly three years, and I’m beginning Waterdeep: Dragon Heist for another group. One player from the earlier campaign is in the Dragon Heist crew. And the adventure starts in The Yawning Portal. So I describe their journey to the Portal, and as part of the description I spare a paragraph or so of exposition on The White Castle, which is almost exactly across the street.
This was just for the one player, but even before the campaign started, she had briefed the group on the menu and history of The White Castle. It was great fun, even if it had nothing to do with the central plot. And just like that, the players were a bit more invested in the world. And by doing this, that player also gets a sense of when this takes place, and potentially knows some allies around the city they could meet and befriend from that earlier campaign. As I write this, it’s too early in the campaign to know if she’ll actually use her knowledge from the past campaign, but if she does, I’ll probably allow it (within reason). She could even conceivably run into her old character.
With cameo appearances in other campaigns (it’s also being franchised into other parts of Waterdeep and potentially other cities), The White Castle has become the unexpectedly common link in literally every campaign I’ve run or played in during the last three years.
“In a homebrew campaign, I created a tavern called “The White Castle” in the city of Waterdeep. It wasn’t intended as anything more than a quick pun for the players to chuckle at, but it turned into their base of operations for more than half the campaign.”
I have this poetic (see also: silly) notion that everything I run or play in D&D happens in the same coherent universe. It might be in different locations, at different times, but it’s all one coherent experience. So I’m constantly thinking of ways to tie together such things, and The White Castle example is far from the only time I’ve done this. And while I don’t necessarily think DMs should always be looking to do this sort of thing, I do think it offers a fun way to generate interest and fun little moments for players who will get the references, but without detracting from the current adventure.