Before I begin, some of you have pointed out that I’ve been a bit quiet over the past week and most notably, where was my usual Titansgrave summary? Well for the most part I’ve just been really busy preparing and writing my new campaigns that I wish to start. There is of course my Trail of Cthulhu campaign “The Lost Expedition” and an upcoming Shadowrun campaign called Eden’s Ark. Eden’s Ark will get more of a description on the blog soon, but essentially think “Cyberpunk on a gritty Noir space station” and you’ll have the basic idea of what I am going for.
In any event there is another week and that means another game master tip on the Mary Sue by Wil Wheaton. Today’s topic is using other systems to inspire your own games and give you ideas. This is a terrific piece of advice and one that I couldn’t recommend more: Be inspired by literally anything and read widely. You can’t have too many systems, even ones that you might not actually enjoy running, because there are always potentially great things you can get out of them. For example, even though I haven’t run a lot of 13th Age, when I was running 5E Dungeons and Dragons I used a lot of the core ideas – such as escalation – from 13th Age in that game.
Likewise, I have also used adventures written by others in order to inspire my own games and give me some interesting directions to go in. A good example is when I read Sisters of Sorrow from Pelgrane Press, which is about a German crew on a U-boat being slowly driven insane by things deep under the ocean during WW1. The scenario is simply inspired and while I didn’t run what was actually written very closely, I used it to write and design the game I later ran in Dread (an entirely different system to Trail’s Gumshoe). Taking a really cool concept from someone else and putting your own spin on it is not only satisfying, it helps to overcome writers block or just mix up what your players might expect from you.
Of course there are more than just other game systems to look at in order to draw inspiration from. I personally like to use music to help me write, get into a suitable mood and generate ideas for various characters or games. In a similar way to music and even more important to me, is how different art can really get my ideas running. In my Shadowrun example, I was drawn to running a game in Shanghai China, based entirely on the fantastic futuristic art that I came across. Similarly, Eden’s Ark in Shadowrun is based upon some of the wonderful concept art of the (now sadly dead) Prey 2:
An image like this can inspire a lot of ideas and my immediate thought was “Strange subsectors on a cyberpunk space station in Shadowrun, where investigating odd disappearances upon the platform was the runner’s general daily work?”. Continuing this line of thought, when I was making more or new monsters for DnD or even in Trail of Cthulhu, I go looking at art for other games for ideas. Fantasy Flight Games is an endless great resource for potential art for a historically set Trail or Call of Cthulhu game, as they publish the Call of Cthulhu card game (which has so much great art, it’s hard to pick just one or two individual pieces). If you need inspiration for a new monster in DnD or 13th Age, just go looking through the amazing art that is used on numerous Magic the Gathering cards.
Another fantastic source of inspiration is just to read widely and absorb a lot of other peoples creations. Comic books, novels, video games, TV shows or anything else: It doesn’t matter. The more you read the ideas of others, the more you can develop and build upon their ideas to tell your own stories. Some people value “Originality” hugely, but personally I think that’s heavily overrated and isn’t always going to tell the best stories. Remember that ultimately you’re playing a game with 4-5 friends (ideally) and the goal is to give everyone a compelling reason to more forward in the plot and keep playing. If everything made had to be entirely original in order to do that, nobody would be able to make anything that kept people watching or playing it!
The point is that the more you draw from and the more sources you do so, especially outside of other gaming systems, the more you will have to work with on your own game and stories!