View Full Version : DM Inspiration

2007-02-28, 03:45 PM
So, I've been throwing around a few small ideas for games, but when I sit down and think about how I would actually write it out into a campaign, I draw a lot of blanks. So how do you guys and gals get your inspiration to write campaigns? Do you brainstorm it all yourself, get ideas from movies, what?

2007-02-28, 03:49 PM
I like taking snippets of other media and putting it in it. I've done games based off of things like paintings, pieces of music, books, colors, just anything like that. I've made one that's based on haydn's seven last words. Something off of paul klee's heroic strokes of the bow. Just basically anything that moves me. Sometimes it's hit or miss though, because I tend to write it out like a story and sometimes that doesn't translate well.

2007-02-28, 03:54 PM
Thats a problem I encounter too. I find ideas for games, but they tend to work out like stories, and I have problems making it open enough to not completely railroad my players.

2007-02-28, 03:55 PM
Take a look at this thread. (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=35747)

2007-02-28, 03:58 PM
Read stories from ancient religions, folklore, and local legends. Think about the interaction of the supernatural with a world you want to create. What separates your world from any other?

2007-02-28, 04:03 PM
In addition to the "Top Down" approach, the "Bottom Up" approach can work well, too.

Start in even a canned or prototypical village or city. The campaign will be forced to grow as the PC's venture further afield. IMO, writing out the campaign beforehand is asking for trouble-- the best laid plans and all that. A bit of a sketch is all you need...E.g. "In my world the Elves will be the dominant race, creating an Empire of Grace and beauty built on a rigid caste system. The dwarves, living in the mountains to the southeast of the Empire, will be indebted to the Elves for saving them from Orcish incursions 1200 years ago, but increasingly chafe at their lower status.

Sometimes turning a cliche about is a good way to start, as above, but don't pound on it too hard, or even the world full of good orcs, barbarian elves and dark-twisted heros becomes sort of dull.

Other than that, the campaign is really just the backdrop and glue for the adventures. So if you have adventure idea, you're 3/4ths there.

2007-02-28, 04:11 PM
I definitely prefer the bottom up approach.. but I dont keep it linear.. as in, a straight line from the bottom to the top. First I start with a place in a world, i flesh out the basic flavor and concepts... and then I brainstorm out from there, adding mini-stories which path out from the center which the PCs can choose from. I constantly run these stories in my head, daydreaming about them, and I come up with ideas how they branch, and how they network into eachother.. because its important that they dont just interact with the PCs but that they interact with eachother... because that is how you eventually get your PCs choices to have further reaching consequences in the world. Ultimately, the paths begin to converge into a higher plot, usually based on some kind of simpler ideal or moral or whatever... but with enough flavor that it is disguised and there is room for the PCs to have taken all sorts of paths and end with all sorts of relations to it.

2007-02-28, 04:14 PM
I use a mix of both bottom and top personaly - I get a vague idea of what I want to do (For example, my world of Vethedar. I wanted to make a world that was heavily dragon-populated, and focussed more on raw survival in a near-primitive world), place a few major areas like forests, mountains, cities, then I go down into those cities and work my way out from there. Tends to keep me focussed.

2007-02-28, 04:34 PM
I also used to have the problem with making games into stories. Fortunately, I had the mixed blessing of having a very experienced group of players, who took positive delight in dismantling the plot - forcing me to ad-lib about three quarters of the adventure.

I learned my lesson. Now, instead of writing everything out beautifully, start to finish, I create a situation that has no resolution until the characters arrive and come up with one. Oh, of course I try to predict several possible outcomes, but there's no accounting for the inventiveness of players.

Example of what I'm talking about:

Situation: The party arrives at a village and finds out that a band of goblins has stolen all the supplies for the winter. The peasants are facing starvation.
Solution A: Keep on riding.
Solution B: Help the peasants.

The players chose Solution B.

Situation: The party enters the woods in search of the goblin hideout. After stumbling around for a day or two, they receive a message that the goblins want to talk instead of fighting.
Solution A: Ignore the message, slaughter every goblin they see.
Solution B: Pretend to agree, and once inside the goblin encampment start the slaughter and mayhem.
Solution C: Agree to hear the goblins out.

Solutions A and B resolve the situation the quickest. The goblins are dead, the peasants get their food back. Yay, the adventure is over.
The players chose Solution C, even though they suspected a trap.

Situation: The goblins stole the grain because they were forced into it by their own food shortage. According to them, a dragon has taken up residence in the same forest and is overhunting the local game, leaving none for the goblins themselves. Attempts at peaceful talks resulted in crispy goblins.
Solution A: Refuse to tangle with the dragon and kill the goblins anyway.
Solution B: Agree to kill the dragon for the goblins.

The players chose their own solution, which was to try and talk with the dragon before getting into a fight (they were scared, which means I was doing something right).

Situation: Upon gaining audience with the dragon, the party finds out that crispy goblins resulted not from the talks themselves, but rather from the desperate attack the goblins mounted after being chased off by the dragon. The dragon himself offers to pay the party for getting rid of that nuisance permanently.
Solution A: Kill the goblins. Get paid twice. Yay, the adventure is over.
Solution B: Kill the dragon.
Solution C: Kill the dragon, and then kill the goblins, plunder both their hoards, and make the area safe for decades to come.

The players decided that fighting with a dragon is too risky, but that the goblins also have some right in this situation. At this point the adventure went off the map, since after my previous GMing experieces I honestly didn't expect a group that would prefer to talk and figure things out rather than swing weapons and chuck magic.

What followed was a lot of planning, a fair amount of implementing with mixed results, suffering a setback or two, and moment of brilliance by the wizard (who nevertheless had an "oh crap" moment over it, when he realized what the ranger would think about it). To cut this story short, the group decided to make the dragon the new goblin chieftain on the premise that you have to care for those you lead. Fast forward to the original chief finding out, and the resulting showdown between the dragon's and the chief's designated champions - one of the characters and the tribe's weaponsmaster.

All this happened over a month of weekly sessions, so between each game I had the opportunity to reasess the situation, consider possible PC actions and resultant NPC reactions - and this, for me, is the key to building a flexible adventure. I don't approach the writing process with the mindset of "this is what's going to happen." Instead I create the aforementioned situation, and create several NPC's with distinct personalities that give me a good idea of how they'll react to given developments. Then I let the players run through the adventure and, like in the above example, I find out that the contingencies I've prepared for were woefully inadequate. However, since I had a very good handle of the NPC's I've created for that adventure (the dragon, the goblin chief, the goblin guide the chief assigned the party), I didn't feel lost, or worse, compelled to railroad the game the moment the group strayed off the marked path.

I hope that helps. :smallsmile:

2007-02-28, 04:34 PM
I plan, agonize, chart, plot, create, then PC's happen and I wing it.

It would be a lot easier to dm without Pc interference, but I think that's called writing.

Honestly in our group, the pc's backgrounds provide the initial hooks, then expand based on thier actions.

Wow, Maxy, <bowing to superior dm> that's about twice as much planning as our last campaign.

Fax Celestis
2007-02-28, 04:37 PM
Get an epic Hero Metal song ("Divine Wings of Tragedy", for instance), and turn it into a plot.

2007-02-28, 04:41 PM
Create several adventure sites, two or three settlements and throw out the hooks. Let the players decide what they want to do, then think about how these various disperate elements interact. If the players don't come up with their own story, you can insert a typical 'big' story arc involving some item or creature of power.

2007-02-28, 04:43 PM
Grab random modules that go up in level at a fairly good pace and use them. AD lib when necessary, but then you don't have to create a whole town/encounter. You just need to make sure they stay on course. for example:

A small town needs a hero to destroy a dastardly temple. If they accept, pull out the module. If they refuse, then they move on, and three levels later while they are out exploring trying to locate an object they are questing for they come upon a mysterious ruins of a temple....

I also like to give out rewards that sound great, but make the PCs do something that you are planning them to do.

For example: Congratulations, you razed aforementioned nefarious temple. I now dub thee.... "Sir Whatever your name is" do you accept? Great! Here is the deeds to your land, did we mention that the previous Sheriff hasn't paid taxes in 5 years. Please serve him this notice of eviction. You get two years without taxes, but after that it is 5 gp per head. Have a lovely day!

Or if you have hack and slash party, the land has been captured by giants. Pull out your giant module and party. The possibilities are endless!

2007-02-28, 04:45 PM
I run a Call of Cthulhu game, and I borrow heavily from the stories inspiring that, as well as many many other things. In my current campaign, the players are going to spend a session dealing with an encounter inspired by the Parable of the Cave, in Plato's Republic.

2007-02-28, 04:47 PM
I work bottom-up. I start off knowing the main events of the plot, but have no idea when and where to put them. However, I may want to make a few changes for fun. Still, the PCs always surprise me with their actions...For example, one time a monk was in a bar. He made a Gather Information check to see what there was to do. He ended up listening to a couple of guys talking about stuff, and he heard that one of them was having trouble working on a sculpture...Long story short, the monk ended up stalking these pair of guys, who turned out to be a pair of thieves planning a bank robbery. (A Monk failing a Sense Motive check...who would've guessed?)

2007-02-28, 04:57 PM
Base your basic campaign idea off of a historical events, kind of like what The Giant suggests in the World Building stuff. In the campaign I'm running right now, Humans, Elves, and Half-elves left their home continent due to famine and religious persecution, and sailed to a unexplored and uncharted land, where they were met by friendly but naieve natives (Gnomes, Dwarves, Orcs, and Halflings) who offered to give them some land and help them settle in. But being big imperialistic jerks, the Humans and the Elves started taking advantage of the "Lesser Races", until they owned the entire land. Now the races who owned the land originally are second-class citizens. Sound familiar? And to start a campaign, I immediately dumped my players into a big, complex dungeon that I knew would take them a few sessions to get through, giving me plenty of time to think of a suitable BBEG to be waiting for them at the end. I made the BBEG a powerful demi-god-type-nature-spirit-thing that had been imprisoned by the wizard who owned the tower, one of the things that the "Lesser" races used to worship before the Humans and Elves came. It's going to appear evil at first (amassing a huge army to attack the capital city) but the PCs are going to kind of see that it's not really evil, it just wants what is rightly his back. I thought most of that up either daydreaming in school or in the shower int he morning. Hope it helped.

2007-02-28, 05:03 PM
If you have an idea write it in a notebook, i mean a real notebook, not on the computer.(i find using a computer creates too many distractions)

if it works out too much like a story, adapt it a little, consider different options. alss i find it helps to use the aforementioned notebook to keep a record of the events of the mission once it does happen. that way you can look back later if you decide that a previous action taken by the chacters should have some consequences.

2007-02-28, 05:10 PM
Steal outright from J.M. Straczynski -- after you've built cultures and groups in the campaign world that you think are flavorful and interesting (steal heavily from history and literature), ask three questions about each of them:

Who are they?
What do they want?
What are they willing to do to get it?

Campaign plots just seem to blossom like flowers in spring when you imagine how those goals start to interact with whatever the PCs are, want, and do.

2007-02-28, 05:20 PM
Plan? What is this planning thing of which you speak?

I rough out a situation and some major players, then think of some what a portion of it can come to the party's attention.

A dragon decides he wants to take over a kingdom. It's a fairly strong and prideful kingdom; taking it by force would result in the destruction of the kingdom, which isn't the point - the dragon wants to possess it, not destroy it. So the long-lived dragon comes up with a plan that will take maybe a decade or ten to come to full fruition - make a ring to turn into an extremely beautiful woman while worn, marry the King, bear a royal brat suitable to inherit, then quietly assasinate the King. Royal Brat is too young to actually rule, "mommy" becomes regent, and molds Royal Brat into a puppet. Dragon owns kingdom in everything except name (and that, too, eventually).

Now I have a situation that spans a few decades. But there's a couple of interesting points in the "timeline" to bring in the party. There's a courtship, a wedding announcement, a wedding, a birth announcement, an assasination, several years of full regency, followed by the puppet regency, eventually followed by full-on draconic rule. It's not too hard to get the party to a royal party / wedding; guests, guards, or hired to look up the new belle's origins by a rival or unusually observant retainer. A royal birth can reasonably be accompanied by similar; the dragon might decide to hire out the assasination so as not to get his claws dirty (yes, I made it a male dragon - just for the players reactions); people might chafe under the draconic rule; draconic rule might occasionally need some mercenary enforcement. You can work a party of just about any alignment in there somewhere.

I dropped the party into the situation at some point (chose courtship - they were hired as low-profile bodyguards for a merchant, if I recall correctly - and let them get a peek at the king's fiancee... and the reactons from various factions... and the vanishing servants [dragon got hungry, and ordered midnight snacks, when delivered, took off ring, ate servant]), and let them react to the situation, and had the situation react to them.

NPC's secrecy wasn't total - the Belle was kind to those whose favor she needed to curry to catch the king's eye, and intimidated everyone else into line. Servants were vanishing. Belle fell for the old "No, he's just a dumb animal" and took one of the PC's home as a pet. And so forth.

2007-02-28, 05:30 PM
Thats a problem I encounter too. I find ideas for games, but they tend to work out like stories, and I have problems making it open enough to not completely railroad my players.

To avoid railroading, I try to think of the stories that'll happen if the players do nothing, and then I think of how to get them involved in those stories.

With that in mind, you'll need to flowchart all the bits of the antagonist's stories that'll get derailed by the players.
Like if you were writing Star Wars, you'd begin with Palpatine's plan to rule the galaxy, and look at all the ways the rebels might mess that up.

2007-02-28, 05:49 PM
Hmm, thanks for all the suggestions. A lot of these have provided some major help. I think I'm going to try and leave everything open and work on events in between games, but I think I'll probably work up the backbone of the plot and have that pretty constant. After all, if the PCs decide to do something else, the BBEG is still going to do whatever they plan on doing. Thanks to everyone who gave suggestions!

2007-02-28, 05:54 PM
I plan the world top-down. I've mapped out countries, figured out rough histories of rivalry and friendship, determined trade routes, cities, etc.

Then I write up some rough meta-plots. My current game started with a group of colonies rising in rebellion, tension between the elves and the dwarves, and...something else that I don't recall at the moment. Currently, an ancient, evil cult of necromancers, in cohorts with a nation seeking revenge for a previous humilating defeat, is attacking these other two countries.

Once I have meta-plots, I basically turned my PCs loose in the world. Wherever they go, the meta-plot also is, and as these meta-plots are Significant Parts of History-in-the-Making, the PCs cross their paths frequently. As it happens, they've seized the opportunities for profit that the meta-plots have offered--wars create demand for mercenaries/privateers/adventurers, and they've accepted various job offers, which have brought them in contact with other parts of the meta-plots.

I find that if I have some rough idea of what's going on in the world, I can roll with whatever crazy plans the PCs adopt. Most of the time, anyway...

As far as inspiration for meta-plots and for smaller bits of plot, I pull indiscriminately from historical events, my favorite books/movies/songs/other sources (the current war has smatterings of world war II and Battlestar Galactica, among other things), and the dark recesses of my imagination. Basically, if I like something and/or think it's cool, it has a decent chance to end up in-game; I see no problem with stealing other peoples' cool ideas and recombining them.

2007-02-28, 11:22 PM
I take one thought and work my way up. I write alot, wait to see how the characters act on it and keep working after that part's finished. I like to tailor my custom campaigns directly to the characters.

2007-03-01, 12:58 AM
My inspiration comes from books and movies. I love the LoTR, the movies and the books, and stuff like "Sleepy Hollow" and "The Mummy." I teach History and I used to teach British Lit, so that stuff gives a lot of inspiration also. Dracula and Frankenstein make for a lot of cool ideas.

My current campaign is in Eberron and set 5 year after the official start of the campaign world. I've modeled this campaign on Europe during/post WWI and the Russian Revolution. Having written the campaign while I was teaching the Russian Revolution, I thought it would make an interesting campaign: Karrnath in revolution, countries on the verge of war: it gives the party a whole new set of priorities and things to think about as they adventure.

So, yeah, books, movies, history, (I'd love to run an adventure based upon the story behind the "300", having just taught that this October. Crazy, cool Spartans.) But I don't have enough fighter types in the party.

2007-03-01, 04:47 PM
I have three major sources of inspiration.

One is the PCs: any backstory, goals, enemies, or the like they make is sure to find its way into the story at some point or another.

Another is the world around them: As I build it, does any one thing strike me as something that it would be fun to get a good story out of?

And the last is preexisting plot threads and images. A place I want to get an excuse to describe. A character it might be fun to introduce. A fight that's just too cool not to run. I even got one session out of asking myself, "What happens if I let the group run wild in a defensive dreamscape created by one of their favorite NPCs?"

For everything, once I have an idea, I start asking why. Or what, occasionally. But mostly why. Questions lead to more questions, which eventually lead to answers and ideas, and then I just work backward and fill in the gaps.