A lot of time and effort can go into prepping your game, and a lot of advice is given on where to draw inspiration from or how to come up with original ideas. How can I make X encounter the coolest thing ever, the most original setting? The most out-of-nowhere plot twist? How can I become an endless font of creativity and originality?
Don’t be original, be fun.
The answer to that is simple, you don’t. Theirs an old adage that goes something like “Good authors cite their sources, great authors don’t.” While that might be a bit of an exaggeration, there is no reason why you as a GM can’t blatantly steal from anything that inspires you. We are running a game here not trying to produce an indie art house film. If your players have a great time playing in the most unoriginal and blatantly ripped off setting ever and they are none the wiser, then why make all that hard work for yourself? Even if I believed Intellectual Property was a real thing (I don’t, if you wanna fight me on it go ahead.), it doesn’t matter because we running an RPG, not making a product for consumption. Unless you actually ARE making something intended to be a product..in which case…be careful?
This comes with a few caveats, the main one being you should know what types of content your players consume and what things are in popular culture. You should have an idea of this because if your plan is to borrow ideas from some super weird anime you are into and your players are into as well, you will look like a buffoon if you try to pass it off like some super-creative twist you invented. Of course in one of my previous posts I advocated using common tropes or touchstones to help paint an image and that can still be done to great effect, if you are up front about it. “I’m imagining this city a lot like the one in Blade Runner, but in a much colder climate and slightly less dingy” is kind of what you should be going for with that one. When the creativity comes natural then use it, don’t get hung up on being original because most of the time your players will not even notice or suspect it.
Give it the ol’ Ben and Jerry treatment.
Another technique is simply re-flavoring common tropes or scenarios into a different setting or genre. Take Mt.Doom in the Lord of the Rings and use it as a hook for your science fiction adventure. Take the plot from a Star Trek episode and use it as a seed in your fantasy sandbox. If you just think a bit to translate everything appropriately from one setting/genre to the next you’ll be fine. This works because almost all stories are structurally the same at their cores. See This reddit post about Joseph Campelling your campaign.
It’s also fun to simply take parts from fiction you enjoy and mash them together into a collage. What would normally be a quaint fantasy hook can be given some spice by mashing in ideas from science fiction or trans-humanism (especially this one!). Essentially this idea boils down to “Familiar thing everyone knows but with a..twist!”
Not in Rivers, but in Drops
I won’t pretend to know how other peoples creativity works but for me it is rarely a constant flow of ideas. I rarely spend hours and hours sitting and writing or thinking up ideas. They come up in my head randomly, when I’m working, driving, exercising. I’ll get ideas for my fantasy campaign when I’m supposed to be prepping for my sci-fi one, and vice versa. Inspiration AND preparation for your games should be happening constantly. See something cool or get a weird idea? Put in in a list of random ideas, for now or later. See a cool movie recently? Write it down. Get inspired by a song you heard? Write that shit down. Prepping games for me is -actually- fun, it never feels like a chore and part of the reason is that I’m always doing it. If you can compulsively check your twitter feed, you can spend 5 seconds writing something down on your phone. Google Drive is great for this.
It should never feel like work. If it does you might be overthinking your prep too much, or not prepping in the way that’s best for you or simply not prepping economically. A lot of these strategies are most useful for coming up with something on the fly, especially the re-flavoring technique. Trying to come up with some truly original concept is hard enough in itself, trying to do it on the fly is near impossible and I’ve had some training in the subject.
- Steal ideas, screw being “original”
- Re-flavor those ideas you like into different genres or settings to mask their origin
- Add small twists to familiar tropes
- Always be prepping
Metal of the Day..best band ever. If you think differently you’re just wrong.