10 Ways To Find Inspiration
From Kate Manchester
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #49
Guest Article From Kate Manchester
As an administrator of an RPG, be your title Dungeon Master, Game Master, Story Teller or what have you, perhaps one of the most difficult tasks you will face is coming up with adventures for your player characters. While pre-made adventures can be terrific aids, they are not necessarily conducive to maintaining the continuity of an extended campaign and players can read the material in advance and know how to solve it. In addition, these adventures can be rather pricey.
Not to mention you can only go through “The Keep on the Borderlands” or “The Succubus Club” so many times and still make it interesting for your players. So just where do you look for ideas for adventures? Here are ten suggestions, in no particular order, which can be applied to virtually any sort of RPG.
Read, Read, Read
Read books not just in the genre of your game but also any other books that look interesting. With a little work, a plot from a book can provide an adventure for your players. Better yet, combine elements from more than one book to confuse your players that might have read the book in question. (Of course, I’m certainly NOT suggesting you plagiarize and use something exactly as written in the book.
If you do that, be sure you mention after the scene is over what book it’s from. After all, you don’t want to tell the players beforehand, so they can read the book and find out all the twists and turns of your plot)
For example, you might read a story of a prophecy and tailor it to the background of one or more of the characters. Make sure the prophecy is repeated, and the adventure is afoot. This method can of course, also be applied to movies.
Keep Up On Current Events
Perhaps not as useful for a fantasy setting, but read the newspaper for interesting news articles that can either be used as part of your story or subjected to a What If? analysis. News is being written every day, so you have a virtually endless source of possible plot lines.
For example, a story of a cure for a disease could be turned into a story of danger and intrigue as rival groups vie for control of the source of the drug, a rare plant found only in a government protected forest. Perhaps the characters are assigned to a team to find new locales for the plant, and accidentally stumble on someone’s illegal ‘plantation’.
This is a question frequently asked by science-fiction writers. Ask yourself what if? and create an adventure around it. For example: What if Fantasy Literature were outlawed? That is the premise of Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451.
This is not as easy. Take your personal experiences and let your imagination expand on them. For example, say you’re walking to class or hanging out with your friends. Extrapolate upon this. Perhaps on your way you witness a murder and the dying victim hands you a film container. Then present this scenario to your players.
Another way to get personal: Take your darker thoughts or feelings and turn them into an adventure. For example, after a particularly nasty breakup, I felt jealous towards women who had a boyfriend. Instead of continuing this negative thought pattern, I decided to create an adventure for my game where a female serial killer targets young couples, killing only the male, and leaving the woman alive to grieve. As a further twist, I looked for the PC that the killer would be the most jealous of, and framed that character for the murders.
It was a very successful scenario and helped in the healing process.
Insist that your players create backgrounds for their characters. Then look for possible adventures. Is the character being pursued by an old enemy? Have the enemy periodically show up and taunt the character. Was their lover/mentor/parent/dog killed by someone? Give them a chance at getting revenge.
Or look for common threads in the characters such as similar ability levels, skills, what have you. In one campaign I ran, all the female characters had fairly high appearance levels, so I created a story of a ‘beauty pageant by gunpoint’ with the ‘winner’ becoming the bad guy’s girlfriend for a year.
Check Out The Locale
If you are setting your game in a more modern setting or one based on specific fiction works, research the locale for places of interest that can serve as a springboard for adventures. For example, if your campaign is set in the Star Wars milieu, you could have your characters visit the Mos Eisley Cantina, get caught up in a bar fight, and then have the losing Imperial officers send stormtroopers to come in and arrest them.
Go To The Source Material
Read those pre-made adventures and use those as stepping stones for your own campaign. For example, one scenario may involve a reporter who decides to investigate the character(s). In my scenario, I had the reporter work for the bad guys, and he asks the characters to help him write an ‘expose’ of the director of a local battered women’s shelter, who he accuses of embezzlement, in an attempt to discredit her.
There are websites that can provide you with inspiration for plots. One need only look for them. Just make sure that you let the website’s creator know what you’re doing if they specify that all the material is copyrighted and NOT to be used without their permission. Hit search engines that are tailored to RPGs or if possible, the specific game you’re interested in and you should be able to come up with some usable web sites.
Use Your Imagination
If you can recall your dreams in detail, by all means use them if you can. If your friends talk about dreams they have, try to use them. For example, if you have a dream of being chased, try to analyze it. Who was chasing you and why? If you dream about a monster that scares you, try to remember what it looks like, what it does, and then spring the creature on your unsuspecting players.
If you notice a particular locale or NPC that the players enjoy, by all means, continue using it. Maybe that annoying thief, that made off with the party’s treasure while they were sleeping, bumps into the party while trying to elude the local authorities. Will the party attempt to detain him and turn him over to them? Or will they use this opportunity to get even? Besides, if some of your adventures are connected, your campaign has the illusion of being well planned way in advance, even if it’s not.
To conclude, inspiration for adventures can be found just about anywhere.
The only limit is your own imagination.
A Brief Word From Johnn
Last week’s issue highlighted the problem of players wrecking the GM’s plans by not taking things seriously enough. There were so many great responses and stories from you that I could fill an entire issue with them alone! Thanks!
Also, last Summer, I polled you about your preference regarding periodically publishing reader submitted tips either in special ezine issues or extra-long Roleplaying Tips Weekly issues. The voting was pretty close between the options, so I’d like to offer you a third option which is a win/win for everyone I believe.
I have assembled the best tips and emails about players taking the game seriously into a single email which you can receive automatically (via autoresponder) by sending a blank email to:
No subject or message necessary. Just send an email to that address and you’ll have the tips in just a minute or two. This means no one receives extra, unwanted emails, and those who want the tips can help themselves.
If you have questions, comments or problems about this method of delivering extra tips to you, email me directly:
FYI, This week’s guest article about finding inspiration, submitted by Kate Manchester, can also be found in the Fall issue of the Amethyst Circle web zine:
(An excellent zine by the way. I recommend checking it out, especially the Academy Corner section for good GM advice.)
Reader’s Tips of The Week
First Game Session Tips & The Color Card Trick
From John T.
Tip: First Game Session Tips
- One of the other nice side effects of starting [the campaign] with a short fight is that it will allow you, as the GM, to gauge the combat effectiveness of the party. I often run Fantasy Hero where the combat power of my parties can be quite low. A mini brawl with a hungry wolf will let me know how careful I need to be.
- Make sure the first plot hook is really blatant and really severe. Hooking characters into the first game of a campaign is really important. Establishing a common ground and making sure the PCs are grabbed by the adventure makes the play smoother. After the first session you can let things slide. In other words, do things like arrest the PC and force them to clear their names, or run from the law. Whatever…don’t give them an option to escape the plot…at least for the first session. 😉
Tip: The Color Card Trick
From Casey V. Dare
Using color coded paper/index cards is a great way to organize notes efficiently, but also can trick the players and add excitement to the game.
Players watch the GM, and notice when he references note cards, books, papers, etc. This tells the players “something is coming” It’s akin to every ten minutes or so, or when there’s a lull in the game, looking at players and saying “Roll” Then leave it at that. But, that roll makes the players think something is up, and they start looking around for whatever caused the roll, which could spur the adventure along.
The same thing with colored note cards. If the GM reserves red cards for special events, and pulls out a red card, the players will know something is coming. This is good and bad: it builds excitement, especially if you pull out the card and wait a few rounds or turns, and ask players to “roll” every now and then.
But, it’s also bad because the players learn the system and know when something is coming. But, that’s easily defeated by altering the coding scheme or just pulling out a blank red card, getting them excited for nothing, then hitting them with something later one that was written on a plain white card.
The bottom line is that colors are not only good for organizing a game, they’re also good for adding excitement in the players minds and are another tool GMs can use to ensure the game is enjoyed.