Beg, Borrow, And Steal
Got this comment in an email the other day: “I feel guilty ripping off other people’s stuff/ideas to use in my campaigns.”
I know that feeling. But I suggest you should use any source of inspiration possible to make your campaigns great.
Let’s get one possible worry settled first. Is using others’ ideas for your personal games legal? Under Fair Use legislation in many countries, this type of usage is fine.
I have to be extra careful because I publish this newsletter and GMing books and courses. So I cannot and do not plagiarize. But for my campaigns? Everything is fair game, under a legal standpoint.
In am not a lawyer, so this is my opinion. But I have researched this. And using copyrighted materials for personal gaming purposes is ok. It’s the purpose of all published materials put out by game companies. If you are a lawyer, I would love to hear from you about this.
The second worry might be an ethical one. Is it ok to use someone else’s ideas?
I’m no ethics professor, but the act of communicating one’s ideas will infect another person with them. A person sharing an idea implicitly understands this.
And for non-commercial purposes, I argue this is not only ethical, it’s desired. To make our hobby thrive, and to help other GMs, we should share our ideas when we have the opportunity.
What I could do a better job of is getting back to sources of inspiration and saying thank you and letting them know how it went.
In my experience, GMs are thrilled when another GM uses their ideas and shares the story.
I am biased on this, because it’s been the whole purpose of this newsletter for the past 20 years. I share my ideas and ideas submitted by readers to try to help game masters have more fun at every game.
When you find a cool idea online and use it, try to get back to that person and say thanks with details on how the game unfolded. They’ll be elated.
Where Your Originality Comes From
Years ago I wanted to learn how to draw.
I grabbed paper from the printer tray, laid it on top of a cool drawing, and traced it.
Then I traced more drawings.
I was literally copying other peoples’ work.
But this is how you become original.
You cannot learn just by reading. Going through a book on riding a bike will not do the job. You’ve got to hop on, pedal, fail, pedal again, fail, and pedal again.
You learn from experience.
And when you are just starting something, you can get fantastic experience by copying others. Whether it’s watching a YouTube video on how to serve a volleyball or copying someone’s dance moves, you start with an existing way of doing something.
You then get feedback and experience by trying something someone else’s way.
Do this enough times and you build up a library of ideas, options, and tools.
After building a library of experience like this you begin to internalize things.
And once you’ve internalized something, it begins to mesh with your uniqueness. It integrates with your thoughts, experiences, views, and ways of doing things.
This is where your originality comes from.
It comes from you combining ideas at either a subconscious level (shower thoughts, dreams, meditative moments) or at a conscious level (X + Y, What If…).
You get better at something, and become original with it, by copying what’s been done before to build up a toolset that you then combine with your life’s experiences to produce cool new combinations or angles.
So yes, do copy others’ ideas for your campaigns.
Beg, borrow, and steal ideas from movies, books, social media, and other venues to help you build up that library of experience.
Your uniqueness will soon subsume these experiences and produce cool new ideas.
And if we can make an effort to go back and thank the GM who posted their crazy encounter ideas, campaign hooks, or NPC builds that we tried out, they will be happy to hear they’ve helped a fellow GM.
Even better, go out there and share your own ideas to help inspire other game masters. This will boomerang back to you someday when they share their unique transformations and combinations to inspire your campaigns even further!