I won’t lie. My games are full of fairly blatant references, at least the homebrew ones are. The Pokemon game I have going is crazy for them. The party was recently set upon by a trio of assassins that looked kind of like this:
I like making up stories and interesting people for the characters to meet and interact with. I’m quite proud of Lorelai’s son, Gareth, who is wandering around with a chip on his shoulder and a total lack of appreciation for the power of the Elite Four, because he’s grown up around them. I really like what I’ve done with Blaine. He’s not at all what the party are expecting, but I won’t spoil that for them here. Quite frequently though, when I need a character quickly, or need a large array of characters to be created, I will just draw upon what I already know. Hence, Stark and Chad from Bleach are in the world. So are Scott Pilgrim and Ramona Flowers (the party narrowly avoided encountering them a while ago). I needed a plotline for their time in Fuschia, so suddenly one of the noble houses was titled the Iron Throne and a quest to go wreck an iron mine was created – fairly directly ripped from Baldur’s Gate.
Is this poor DMing though? It’s certainly plagiarism, though I doubt it can really be taken to court. It can add a little humour to the situation, and I do tend to run games which get a bit silly at times. However, it means that my world is a little less... mine. A little less... original. And it wrecks the 4th wall something terrible, as the players automatically know a bit more information about what’s going on than they really should, and it destroys a little of the atmosphere of a self-contained game world.
On the other hand, I just had the idea of a horrific boss combination: Deadpool and Psycho Mantis rip-offs. Nasty mind-screwing times.