Star reign down on you.

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 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.

In Summary

  • 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 band ever. If you think differently you’re just wrong.


Star reign down on you.

2 thoughts on “Star reign down on you.

  1. vishalicious says:

    You should check out the live version of Locust Star from the ’90s. I think it was ’98. That’s the version that my wife and I love the most:

    That said, I have to completely disagree with you about intellectual property not being real. I’m part of a small company that develops an electronic medical record for nursing homes. I’m the main designer at this point, because our founder passed from melanoma 3 years ago. She was a nurse for more than 40 years, and was utterly amazing. She’s one of the smartest, most ethical people I’ve ever met.

    The majority of our design and clinical logic comes from her. She drafted tools for clinicians to use since the 80s and standardized clinical practice and flow for many facilities. All of her work was copyrighted and is her, and now our, IP. Our system is based on it.

    Other companies have tried to steal her designs and implement them in their own systems. She took them to court and won, in the early 2000’s. That design, that original IP, is the main reason that we exist as a company. Its the culmination of her experience, insight and effort. Other innovators and creators will lay claim to the same for their own work, and its warranted.

    You might be thinking of IP not being real because of the idea that there’s nothing new under the sun, but there is, in fact, plenty and it should be protected and used fairly.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice post. yeah I’ve seen that video before and its pretty rad.

      Mainly I say intellectual property isn’t -actual- property is because it lacks two attributes of physical property.

      Firstly, property is a social strategy that’s been around almost forever. It’s useful as a tool for reducing violence and settling disputes. The two attributes that actual property has that IP doesn’t have is scarcity and rivalrous. Meaning there isn’t a limited supply of ideas or well from which to draw from, and its possible for you and I to both have the same idea without somehow denying each other.

      That doesn’t mean that the -concept- of intellectual property isn’t useful. It’s perfectly valid to want to try and protect your ideas if you plan on making a profit off them, but that the enforcement of IP by government is illegitimate and it leads to things like locking up old grannies for stealing a Metallica song. There’s lots of economic evidence to support the idea that society as a whole would be better off without strict IP law, as can clearly be seen when you compare things like generic drugs to patent-enforced ones as soon as the patents run out.

      Of course I feel like originators of ideas should be rewarded, but usually first-mover status is enough to put them ahead of competitors (but not always, see Myspace.) It’s a huge topic but if you want to see more argumentation on it you can read some articles by Stephan Kinsella here . Thanks for the post bud.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s