Now, I’m personally someone who can take the daily newspaper and generally come up with a number of plot ideas, even if running a fantasy campaign, but not everyone is at that level, so the question becomes what sort of tools are there that might help inspire ideas for stories or challenges or encounters?
The basics are books and tv shows and movies, definitely. You have players exploring ruins, try some tricks from Indiana Jones moves or the Mummy movies or TV shows like Relic Hunter. You’re doing a sci-fi game? Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, Babylon 5, Battlestar, the list just rolls off the tongue. There are a ton of books in each genre, and there was even one GM who said they were inspired by Soap Opera Digest in creating a town full of storylines. Don’t dismiss comics and cartoons as well; comics cover everything so you’re sure to find something, and as for cartoons. let’s say you’re running a fantasy game and need some inspiration, did you know Disney’s Aladdin not only had 3 movies but also a long running TV series, ripe with ideas you can use, as well as Hercules, Gummi Bears, even Tarzan. DuckTales has some episodes of treasure hunting that can be inspiring.
In all of that, do not forget folklore, myths and legends; just give them a slightly different spin. Maybe Hercules wasn’t super-strong, it was just that he was a showboat, taking credit for what other people did and Achillies wasn’t an invincible human, he was a living statue (or a robot, if you’re playing a futuristic game, just look at Aliens Resurrection) To quote from the Gargoyles’ comic, ‘All things are true… few things are accurate’.
Let me tell you about one of my favorite video game series. Ultima. If you read about it, it has a history that makes it influential in gaming history in many ways. However, what I want to talk about today is storyline. It is an important thing in gaming, and it ties a lot together in ways that make everything stem from the player’s actions. Let’s look outside the individual games and move towards the overarching story through the series, because unlike Final Fantasy, this series takes place in a consistent world, and how some of this stuff is connected.
The first game has Mondain uses the Gem of Immortality to try to take over the planet and the Stranger comes to shatter the Gem and stop him, with two of the four continents of the world now disappearing into its own little reality. In the sequel, Minax, Mondain’s apprentice and consort, attempts to avenge him, only to be avenged by the Stranger. Then we have Exodus, the offspring of the two mixed with technology to form a sort of demonic AI, raising what was known as the Isle of Fire from the sea and summoning the Great Earth Serpent to protect it as he redesigns the world to his whims, and the Stranger again saves the day.
Knights of the Dinner table has interesting storylines with it, sometimes giving ideas for campaigns or encounters and other such developments, so it’s not surprising that my first point to talk on comes from them. The Kryton Principle.
Page 8 of Issue 42, ‘A Hack In Time Slays Nine’ has Weird Pete, the owner of ‘Weird Pete’s Games Pit’ converses with main character GM B.A Felton, who just told him that his players had killed an influential NPC and were now running roughshod over his plot. His comment is that the GM had forgotten a comment from their Hackmaster GM Survival Guide that states ‘A man with power, money, friends or enemies fills a void in the world around him. Remove that man from the world and a vacuum is created.’
The idea behind that principle is that a number of people would love to replace the NPC as being the big powerful hero or villain they are, plus people would like to stop anyone else from filling that role either. As well, there would be friends, family, or even servants who may wish to do something about the loss of this person.