The Three "F"s of Inspiration
by Roger Hannah
Ahh, Labor Day, the last call of summer heralding the arrival of autumn. I rarely have this holiday off from work but circumstances are different this year. Having an extra free day is a perfect opportunity to get creative with some fresh ideas and adventure hooks, either for a good one-shot or a longer campaign. Inspiration comes from many different places but here are a few of mine that might offer a good starting point.
First, folklore is a ever present and fertile source for great stories. Look no further than the bizarre incident of Roopkund Lake in the Himalayas. Discovered by a British forest guard in 1942, this shallow lake, at a height of 16,000 feet above sea level, thawed in that summer season to reveal a grisly discovery, the skeletal remains of about 200 people, all of whom died under mysterious circumstances. Each of the skeletons exhibited evidence of critical head trauma as the likely cause of death. The remains were too old to be very recent, despite the cold, dry alpine air preserving even flesh and hair on some. More puzzling, there was no explanation as to why they would even have been there. Though a mystery for decades, an archaeological expedition in 2004 concluded that the 200 people, one group from a single family and another group of unrelated individuals theorized to be the porters of the first group, had died from an unusual, massive hailstorm that trapped this group of pilgrims in the mountain valley where they had no shelter from the stones that fell upon them. Though the mystery is likely solved, there remains a folk tradition among the local indigenous people that tells of a goddess who saw this particular peak as sacred to her and punished with impunity any outsiders who trespassed upon it, raining hailstones, "hard as iron", upon those who failed to respect her wishes. Consider the many ways this intriguing story could be turned into any number of tabletop rpg scenarios for just about any game setting, Dungeons & Dragons to Call of Cthuhlu to Runequest. You can find loads more ideas to get started on this Facebook page, "Folklore, Traditions, & Legends".
Favorite fandoms are a second excellent resource for adventure ideas. The reasons we are drawn to these films, books, or televised serials is that they are, at their core, compelling stories. Tropes run through all of them that encourage us, as storytellers ourselves, to create our own take on the same themes, settings, or even characters. Wizards of the Coast hotly anticipated new release this month, Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frost Maiden, represents an example of this inspirational source on a grand scale. Principal author, Chris Perkins, has referenced on several occasions how we wished to capture the sense of isolation, distrust, and sheer terror of films like John Carpenter's The Thing, a movie inspired by its Hollywood predecessors along with the original novella, "Who Goes There," penned by John W. Campbell. See more on this here. While you would not want to simply copy the plot of the original tale, it can definitely fuel the imagination to try to place a unique spin on the same ideas. Your players, who likely share you love of those fandoms, will find the attempt engaging and exciting.
Lastly, our friends can be, perhaps, the ultimate source of ideas to fuel our imaginative forays into Faerun or other worlds than that. Role-playing games, by definition, invite collaboration between players, fellow DMs, even those we know that have never had occasion to roll initiative. It is the heart of the game, a point that should never be lost on the person behind the screen. Integrating our players' back stories into the plot of our tale only engages them with the world, driving the story toward its ultimate destination which may be a completely different place than the one you envisioned while writing it. That's the beauty of the story telling process--if you want to bring your players along, you have to let them, on occasion, take the reins and lead on.
A favorite bit of inspiration from friends for me is to give those fellow travelers a fond nod by having them add flavor to otherwise bland NPCs. In my current campaign world, I decided to have a potter among the town craftsman and I also decided to have him be a firbolg. I've never run that type of folk as a PC but I conceived of him as very laid back and easy going with a great fondness for pottery and the reverence for nature one would expect from a firbolg. The more I considered his characterization, the more I was reminded of a former co-worker and good friend who retired to run his garden sculpture business. My firbolg NPC, named Curneal, is a nod to my friend and I know will add a nice twist to role-playing the character when the campaign PCs encounter him.
So, I hope these ideas help add something to your stories to make them more exciting or memorable. The best thing about role-playing games is the nearly endless possibilities for styles of play that can be fueled by whatever source drives your creativity as a player or GM. Feel free to leave comments with this post on what resources help inspire YOUR stories.