How To Build Your Symbol Gallery For Easy Ideation

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0941

If a blank page blocks your muse, try staring at a blank world. Zoinks!

I’m creating my new world of DuskFall. And to prevent getting stumped and overwhelmed, I’m taking a three-pronged approach:

  • Draw a Boundary
  • Create a Bucket List
  • Create a Symbol Gallery

Use this approach when designing your own realms or even adventure regions to avoid the brain-cramp tarrasque.

Draw a Boundary

By the way, how do you eat a tarrasque?

One bite at a time!

As soon as I narrow a big thing down to a small bite the ideas come.

For example, simply drawing blobs for continents on paper helps me start to picture DuskFall and its possible peoples, wonders, and other broad strokes.

Even the abstract can be bounded with a good problem statement.

Regardless of design target size, define some of its edges to comfort the muse and it will gift you with ideas.

Create a Bucket List

Come armed with ideas. Even if unused, they’ll give you ingredients to inspire other notions.

I crank up Campaign Logger and create a new Campaign Log just for ideas.

Start with an initial catalog of possibilities:

  • Do an initial brain dump.
  • Go through all the places your ideas hide. Notebooks, other apps, rando papers. Do this regularly.
  • Your RPG books and past campaign logs. What’s inspired you in the past?
  • Art. This is a big inspiration. Just google.
  • (What’s your favourite forum? Lately I’ve been lurking a lot on Story Games.)

Keep adding ideas as they hit you — my Leuchtturm1917 is never far from grasp.

Tag your favourite ideas so you can bring them up instantly for review, connecting, or molding.


I start with Pinterest. Create a board and file cool pictures that inspire the people, places, and things players might discover in your world or adventure region.

For example, here’s one where I’m collecting my major villain ideas.

Pin stuff as you come across it. Add comments to pins about how you’re thinking of using what the image represents in your game. Add links to your Campaign Logger tags to hook up ideas from your bucket list.

This becomes your raw visual material.

Next, I go to the OneNote App. It’s an awesome app designed with a canvas philosophy.

I was using OneNote and Evernote for everything before I produced Campaign Logger. OneNote/Evernote just made it too slow to connect ideas together and log session notes where things could get automagically linked. Thus, Campaign Logger was born.

In OneNote, Tabs have pages. Pages have boxes of content. Click anywhere to place a content box.

Therefore, you can click and drop in images on a page that represent their relative physical or logical position to each other.

Perfect for creating an inspiring visual map of your nascent realm!

You know how they say a good picture is worth a thousand words?

Well, in your OneNote Symbol Gallery each image can represent a thousand hours of gameplay!

Well, give or take. 😉

Here’s an example of my first-draft villains Symbol Gallery for DuskFall:


The Creative Process In Three Steps

Getting ideas is a skill. Improve this skill by listening for ideas as you go about life, brainstorming, and writing your ideas down.

First, decide what you need ideas for. Draw a Boundary or define edges to leverage constraints for creativity.

Second, record your ideas and put your favourite ones into a Bucket List. Curate this often to help you refine and connect your best ideas.

Third, make visual Symbol Galleries to organize and inspire. Use images to get your emotions engaged and stir your imagination. Organize images to show where these ideas live in your world or how they might connect.

Take snapshots using Campaign Logger export, OneNote page copy, and bulk Pin copies as you iterate in case you want to return to a previous state. This gives you confidence to experiment.

What I like most about this process is the cement is always wet. Everything is easy to edit, change, re-organize.

Imagine doing this to quickly create things like culture maps, conflict maps, adventure site sandbox maps, economic resource maps and more to flesh out an adventure region or a whole new world without overwhelm or paralysis.

Cool beans.