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 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.

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 Day..best band ever. If you think differently you’re just wrong.

 

Star reign down on you.

Liches aint shit but woes and tricks.

Metal of the Day is actually metal.

Today’s topic is about liches. You know, those fun undead guys who performed some ritual and damned themselves to eternal unlife in search of a goal. Probably to learn the truths of the multiverse, or to get revenge. For starers here’s how Wikipedia defines a lich.

“In fantasy fiction, a lich (/ˈlɪtʃ/;[1] cognate to Dutch lijk, German Leiche, Norse lík and Swedish lik all meaning “corpse”) is a type of undead creature. Often such a creature is the result of a transformation, as a powerful magician or king striving for eternal life uses spells or rituals to bind his intellect to his phylactery and thereby achieve a form of immortality. Liches are depicted as being clearly cadaverous, bodies desiccated or completely skeletal. Liches are often depicted as holding power over hordes of lesser undead creatures, using them as soldiers and servants.”

It’s a decent definition, hitting all the familiar tropes we are familiar with as consumers of fantasy fiction. My favorite thing as a Game-Master is the ability to take familiar tropes and add twists or additions to them to make them my own, or remixing if you are trying to be hip. So with that said here’s some facts about my particular brand of liches.

Liches get Stitches

#1 – Liches don’t always appear as weird ugly corpses with fabulous robes.

lich_itself

Any living thing that has sentience has the capacity to be a lich, either through intelligent study of the lost arts of necromancy, or an unhappy arcane accident. I enjoy the idea of the more unusual races attaining lichdom, making throwaway foes like goblins into a fearsome terror. Also I envision them having them be able to control all of their internal body functions by will alone, they could appear as human as any of us providing they expended their magical resources to do so. 

#2 – Liches can be of any alignment, even good.

I never really enjoyed the prescriptive interpretation of alignment so liches can be anything. They have all kinds of motives, and their “alignment” reflects their intentions and philosophy. Perhaps the lich has noble reasons for needing immortality. Or if they did not intend to become a lich, they seek a method to reverse it instead. They might even serve as local sages and seen as a force of wisdom and guidance for the community, like a baelnorn from the Greyhawk DnD setting. Despite this they -did- or are a weird undead wizard, so at -best- their outlook is of pragmatism.

#3 – Anything can be a phylactery.

If we’re sticking with the idea that liches must have a phylactery, then we don’t need to have it be just a precious gem, nor must we have it be hidden in a trope-filled place. Liches are cunning, hyper-intelligent and are immortal (as far as old age goes.) As such they’d probably hide their precious phylacteries right underneath the noses of the PC’s, in a public place or in the royal crown of the King.

#4 – Liches are Timeless and probably have strange powers.

Liches can’t die from normal means, so a viable strategy for killing troublemakers is just let Time do it for them. As such when liches make their presence known or meddle in affairs directly it means their issue is more systemic or with a group of individuals and not one in particular.

They also probably have weird ways in sustaining themselves outside of the origination of them becoming a lich, or some funky behavior that makes them more interesting as a villain or NPC. I always subscribed to the idea that magic is magical and isn’t exact science.

So let’s make a Lich.

I’m a huge fan of random tables, and rolling on them. They’re a good way to organize and brainstorm ideas, trying to fill out and come up with entries into broad categories instead of trying to linearly come up with things out of thing air. We’re gonna roll on this table I come up with and see what we get.

The Lich Making Table.

So I rolled a 13 (The sword hilt of a long dead hero), 9 (coffin in a crowded graveyard), 6 (Myconid), 1 (Invasion), 5 (Neutral), 9 (A horrific smell), 7 (Ascended to religious leadership), 3 (Absorbs the memories/quirks/abilities of the souls it consumes). 

Inductive creativity is a term I heard just the other day and it perfectly describes the process. We’re going to take all these numbers we have rolled and use them as anchor points, filling in the gaps between to help us tell a story about this NPC.

His phylactery is the sword of a long dead hero, HIS sword to be exact. He used to be a hero of legend centuries ago. A holy man of The Pantheon, a brave and noble leader of men. Now all that is left of that is a memory and the hilt of this sword, buried in the mass graveyard of the warriors who perished in that bloody conflict. Upon his death he was blessed by the clergyman of his faith and bestowed with the gifts of undeath, so that he may exact vengeance and Their Will. With the ability to harness the memories and emotions of those souls unfortunate enough to cross his path, using them as a prism to focus his power and his hatred. The plan is to bring about the destruction of the Empire. Uniformed men, loyal men, dynastic men are the targets. He bears no ill intent towards average citizens, merchants, passers-by. As long as they stay out of the way of his unholy crusade to put an end to the dynasty that threw his life away. He also happens to be a fungus-man and smells so horrid no living creature with a nose can stand to be near him.

Okay so those last two didn’t fit the theme that well so we could reroll or just choose new ones that fit better. Even so the rolls gave us a lot of details which helped fill in the blanks. A lot of worldbuilding and sandbox design works this way, but the method can be used to apply to anything, even NPC generation. Most of these concepts/categories could be used to fit any kind of villain. I encourage you to roll up your own lich here and try to connect the dots.

Liches aint shit but woes and tricks.