Since tomorrow is the Annunciation — when Gabriel comes to the Virgin Mary to announce that she will bear the Christ Child in her womb — and since it is one of the great feasts of the Orthodox Church, today is a blend of both celebration and anticipation.
The feast of the Annunciation is itself a culmination of anticipation — the hope for and expectation of the coming of the Christ. In Scripture we see a consistent pattern unfold over and over again when God wishes to give his people children of promise — the barren woman (often beyond the age of childbearing) is made pregnant and bears a child:
- Sarah, wife of Abraham, gives birth to Isaac (Gen. 16-21).
- Rebekah, wife of Isaac, gives birth to the twins Jacob and Esau (Gen. 25).
- Rachel, wife of Jacob, gives birth to Joseph and later Benjamin (Gen. 30).
- Samson’s mother was barren until she saw a vision of an angel (Judges 13).
- Hannah, wife of Elkanah, gives birth to Samuel (1 Sam or 1 Kings by LXX reckoning). As a fascinating side note, the Song of Hanna (1 Sam/1Kings 2:1-10) mirrors the Magnificat of the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:46-55).
- Elizabeth, wife of Zachariah, gives birth to John the Baptist (Luke 1)
- The extra-biblical account in the Protoevangelium of James (which mirrors the stories associated with the Orthodox feasts of the Conception (Dec. 9), Nativity (Nov. 8) and Presentation at the Temple (Nov. 21) of the Virgin Mary) sees Anna, the mother of the Virgin, barren and well beyond childbearing age when she becomes pregnant with Mary.
This pattern, however, is broken with the Annunciation. Note that Mary was “deeply concerned” and she asks of Gabriel, “How can this come about, since I have no knowledge of man?” The anticipatory pattern highlights the uniqueness and importance of the Annunciation — Mary is not only the mother of a child of promise, she is the Mother of God Incarnate.
I highlight this idea of anticipation because I see it as a tool we can use to create truly memorable moments within a campaign, if not memorable campaigns in and of themselves. My most rewarding moments as a player and as a referee were set-up long before hand by laying an anticipatory foundation.
When I was in high-school, I was involved in a campaign with twelve(!) players that saw the party investigating strange occurrences within the realm. As the campaign wore on, we discovered that these were due to a breakdown in the walls between the PCs reality and one of the realms of the Abyss. Though we went on several different kinds of adventures, this was always part of the background noise. The memorable moment was when the party finally found the source of the breakdown and the battle that ensued as the PCs did what they could to shut it down. All the normal D&D stuff — heroic deaths, well timed natural 20s, etc. — were heightened because this was a battle for which we had been preparing since being level 1 nobodies.
My favorite moment of my Lost Colonies campaign was the reveal of a Brain Lasher. From the very beginning of the campaign, I had dropped hints that my favorite Cthulhu-inspired monster was operating somewhere in the background. Therefore, when my party realized that all those hints and rumors were not only real, but standing right in front of them, their reaction was priceless. It was a reaction made possible because of anticipation.
There are several simple ways to add anticipation to an adventure or a campaign:
- Rumor Tables
- Background Political Events
- Architectural Styles/Clues
- Legends via Sages or Found Items
- Themed Monster Encounters (like the demons above)
Note that some of the things these hint at will never come to fruition — and that is okay; however, when they do, it makes our celebration of these events (when we retell our adventures and/or reminisce about them) all that much sweeter.
I will end with a question: What are some of the ways anticipation has been achieved in the campaigns you’ve played?