Friday, August 31, 2012

Discussion: Your Source of Inspiration

One of the most common questions that any writer or story teller will hear over the course of their life is "where do you get your ideas?" It is an interesting question when you think about it. For one thing, it implies that there is a set location in one's life, privy to only the writers/story tellers of the world, that houses the idea for stories. The other thing, at least that I'll mention here, is the expectation that this secret location - if there is one - would be given out freely. In truth, there is no secret. Story Tellers are inspired by the events around them. Things experienced in real life, and in the realms of the media that they consume. The same is true for GMs and for players. After all, it's not a secret that most RPG books I've read tell players to go to TV shows, movies, and books when looking for concepts to play.

Still, this is supposed to be a discussion. So, my discussion question today is what do you use for inspiration for your games? Is there a favorite place that you like to steal ideas from? Perhaps a show or series of books that none of your players have read and thus don't know how things will play out? Movies? Games? Other RPGs? I'm sure most folks list will be varied, but I'm curious what media do you go back to the most when looking for ideas. Or are you even aware that when you consume stories and creative material that you are also working out how to use it yourself?

Personally, I like to go to related but not directly related material for inspiration. There is a lot of stuff in westerns that works well for Samurai tales. Science Fiction and Space Opera can often work very well for inspiring fantasy, and vice versa. The best part about this is is that when you swap the genre (i.e. western to samurai, space opera to fantasy) you have to modify it to fit into the new realm, and that modification often hides the location while making the story different.

In a more direct theft, one of the first investigations I have for my L5R PCs is stolen almost directly from an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess. Obviously the nuances will be different, but that is where the fun comes in. How will Samurai handle this problem? What do you do when the object isn't to be a good person but rather an honorable person? I think it will be fun to find out how the PCs come down on this matter.

How about you? Any fun tales of inspiration or story theft you'd like to share? How did it go?


  1. As a GM-to-be (post-apocalyptic RPG), my input here is limited. But I seem prone to get ideas from places or characters I want to introduce and even monsters.

    My first story came to be because I thought it would be awesome to have the players deal with a giant trapdoor spider - those beasts are fast and sneaky and I hope it will make for a creepy story. Everything else evolved from that, the setting (a abandoned water tower with the spider hidden in the walls) and how the characters come to stay at the tower ect. I hope it works out.

    I absolutely steal from books and movies and comics. Metro 2033 is th main reason why I want my players coming to the ruins of New York. Myths are a great source for stories because they resonate with us - people have been telling them for a long, long time and the archetypes and tropes used in them work. Look at Hellboy: The Chained Coffin for a great modern use of myths.

  2. Some good advice to almost anyone looking for inspiration, and something I've done myself on more than one occasion, is to pick up a random book that has a title that intrigues you. Turn it over and read the blurb on the back. If there's anything on there that sounds interesting, put the book back and walk away.

    Later, think about how you would tell a similar story in your world, bearing in mind that you have no idea about so much of the plot of the book that the story you'll be telling will bear little or no similarity to the synopsis you've just glanced at. I did this for a book caller 'haters'; never read it, just thought the concept was fun, and worked the very basic idea into my game.

    It works better if the book isn't well known, but since so much of it is going to be your own invention, it shouldn't matter too much.

    My current inspiration, and subject of next Monday's blog, will be a comic book setting. Not the plot, and not the characters, just the world that the writer created, that I plan on thrusting a group of players into.

  3. Lately I've taken a similar tack to what Paul described. I'll pull a quote from a story and use that as a theme. Maybe it's a line from Lovecraft or Poe, maybe it's from a movie. Whatever it is, I look for mood or provocative imagery, and let that drive my writing or GMing.

  4. This post had me thinking a bit about inspiration, not just where it comes from, but how it then gets translated into a game. So, I thought I might as well write about it. So thanks for giving me the inspiration to write this blog.