Tuesday, 22 December 2009


If you're a veteran roleplayer, then you probably know the problem of coming up with new and interesting ideas. If you're new to gaming, then you'll need inspiration. Here I’ll look at ways to get those creative juices flowing.

It's Sunday evening. There are five people sitting around a table. Four players Bill, Bob, Brenda and Belinda and a Gamesmaster. The atmosphere is quiet and expectant. All eyes are on the GM, waiting for those few words to start the evening's session.

GM: Right. It's evening, and you're speeding towards the town of Boord-um...
BILL: Is this the town from the other week where we killed those bounty hunters?
GM: (Suddenly remembering the PC's had been here before) Yeah... yeah, that's right. The whole place seems to be deserted...
BOB: Like that place we visited where pirates had kidnapped all the people?
GM: (Scrapping the notes he'd made about the evil pirates) Yeah, something like that. There are signs of savage fighting, but no bodies are to be seen...
BRENDA: Servitors.
GM: What?
BRENDA: I bet Servitors killed them all. We visited that space station last month and they'd been attacked, remember? The place looked like this.
GM: (Forgetting his idea about the Servitors) Well... it doesn't look exactly like this, there's more blood. (Starts making notes about giant worms)
BELINDA: Like when those giant worms killed all those colonists on Tedee-um and ate their bodies?
GM: Sort of... but... Oh, I give up.

Well, it happens to us all. We dry up. Sometimes the GM may just need a bit of a break from running games to recharge and re-evaluate their campaign. Sometimes it's because of lack of ideas. Scenarios and whole campaigns are up to the GM to supply. They must create and breathe life into their NPC's, locations and gaming worlds. Each different character and location must have some form of originality to keep the player's interested. After all, you can only defeat a particular type of arch-villain only so many times. Even pulling the planet back from the brink of destruction can be boring if the players do it every other week.

So where do all these ideas come from? Lets say the average GM runs one game a week, fifty weeks of the year. If that GM has been gaming for five years, that means they would have overseen at least two hundred and fifty games. That's two hundred and fifty original story lines and scenario ideas. Phew! That's some creative genius! Surely the ideas department would have run dry even after the first fifty!

Not at all. A lot of games are very similar in overall plot, but are very different in execution. Fair enough, the game this week may be about investigating another murder, but it's how the murder took place - and for whatever reasons it took place - that make the game original. A number of games can revolve around the same plot device but the events in that game can run in a very different order to resolve a very different situation. This is what keeps the players interested.

But what happens when the plots get thin, the action becomes repetitive and the NPC's sound all the same?


Sit back. Relax. Leave it. Stop designing and running games for a couple of weeks. The reason your drying up may be due to the fact that your just working too hard at it, especially if your GM'ing more than one game a week. That little break may be all you need to get your brain back into gear. You'll be surprised how many ideas just pop into your head when you're thinking about something other than roleplaying. If you need space, then run a couple of published adventures, that's what they are there for. Those scenarios you bought may give you ideas for a sequel in future games. Also, try playing for a while instead of GM'ing. It can be quite refreshing to sit on the other side of the GM's screen for a change and actually participate in a game. You can watch the other GM run the scenario and think 'if I was running this game I would do this instead of that', and come up with your own ideas. Of course, it's not a good idea to do blatant re-hashes of someone else's scenario.


If the PC's have become quite powerful or they have explored pretty much every inch of the location they are gaming in then it may be time to start a fresh campaign. It can be difficult to come up with new challenges in an already well-used location for high-level characters, and so a change of place and PC's would be a good thing. If the genre you are using is restricted to one planet then go to another area of that planet, say the tropics or the desert. If you can, change the planet.
If your players are regularly planet hopping then take them to another sector of the galaxy. It is quite easy to change the gaming area, and a change of surroundings means a fresh new location for fresh new ideas.
If the players are a bit unsure whether they want to retire their favourite PC then just change the style of the game you are running. If your players are diverting world shattering events then bring them down to earth a touch by making their encounters more personal. It pays to read whatever background the players have written for their characters. Those little notes about PC childhood's and adolescence can spray forth ideas on how to get PC's more involved with the game instead of spending every waking moment battling the forces of Evil. Vice versa, if the players are doing a lot of adventures that don't mean much in the overall scheme of things then run a huge groundbreaking adventure. Ending a campaign on a high note may make the players more comfortable about retiring their powerful characters.


If you have really bled the game dry then it may be time to change the gaming style. Go from soldiers to smugglers or from smugglers to bounty hunters. Of course, players may be loath to do this. After all, it is them you are entertaining and if one player is unhappy with the setting the game is in then the sessions will suffer. The gaming group will have to come to an absolute decision on how the game is to be played. It may take a little while for the players to get used to a new setting, but a new game may generate new story ideas. If the group is really serious about gaming then a change will not be a problem, but make sure that everyone is comfortable with it.


If your running games for two different groups, then it's not impossible to run the same story for each one, even if they are gaming in two different genres. Designing a setting that virtually any game can use is possible. With a little work you can quite easily adapt the game you designed for your smugglers to be used for your group who want to defeat the alien scourge. It's easier, of course, to run the same game for the two groups, but this may not always be the case. If you design your adventure without restricting it to a particular style, you can quite easily use it for two different sessions, and even save it for future use.


A great source of information and inspiration comes from one huge source that is easily accessible- entertainment. Television, radio, newspapers, the movies, novels... all these mediums can inject ideas. It can be very easy to take a movie plot and 'adapt' it to suit your game, although be careful... it can be quite annoying when one of the players has seen the movie or read the book and second-guesses you. The original movie or book plot can be 'tweaked' sufficiently to keep the players on their toes. It's also fun to take a few ideas and mesh them together. Wouldn't it be fun to run around a Blade Runner type city being hunted by Terminator type robots and avoiding Geiger's Aliens? I bet that's given you a few ideas already, hasn't it?
Even taking dull ideas from dodgy television shows and spicing them up can give you all you need for an evening's play. An edition of the news, giving you current affairs and important information, can inspire scenarios. That Middle-Eastern conflict or this political scandal can be easily adapted. The stories are there if you look hard enough.


Communication is a great forte of roleplayers, and so swapping ideas and stories with other GM's is an excellent way of keeping the fires of creativity burning. If you know of a local club then it may be worth going along and talking to other gamers about their experiences and favourite settings, and sharing in their character's exploits may give you the spark you need to start writing a new scenario. Talking to your own players and ascertaining what kind of adventures they enjoy and figuring out their passions... all these factors can contribute to original scenarios. In a lot of cases, as long as the game is done in a particular vein the players will appreciate, it doesn't matter how unoriginal a scenario is. If the players enjoy running around space stations, blowing up the bad guys and escaping in a battered old freighter, fine. As long as they have a goal to aim for they can pretty much do what they want. So, as you can see, there are quite a few sources and methods to choose from. Even events in everyday life can inspire the GM.

A good point to remember... if you communicate your ideas with the players and get their feedback, then you can all settle into a game that everyone will enjoy. The aim of the game, after all, is for everyone in the group to be social and enjoy the evening. At the end of the day it is the sole purpose of roleplaying, and continuous fresh scenarios is a major contributor.


  1. Unfortunately the main problem in the above example is that the GM is either an idiot and doesn't read his own notes or is suffering from some sort of disease that causes horrible memory loss. ;)

    Other then that, these are some great ideas. Perhaps they don't go quite far enough. I try to avoid things too many people might have seen. Instead of getting inspiration from books, tv shows, pre-made modules or even other GMs in my group, I go to sources its unlikely the rest of the group is familiar with.

    When was the last time you researched Russian Folklore from the 12th century? How about searching out obscure Japanese Anime if the majority of your group aren't Anime fans? Canadian, British or French comic books for an American Champions group anyone? The internet itself is the most powerful tool every devised for adventure generation.

    One of my favorite ways to get ideas is to do an image search on Google, then on deviantart and then on another art or illustration site for something in my head like, say, "Organic Starship" and see what I get. Most likely you will see pictures of things you've never seen before. These images often inspire a lot of ideas for me and I also end up with a neat pic to show the players when they encounter my creation.

  2. You mention the internet - I've not noticed it before but that's not mentioned in the article. This is because I originally wrote it back in about 1996/1997 for 'Arcane' magazine, a long time before I got the 'net and jacked in. Wierd. I've not noticed that until now!

    Thanks for the additional ideas. Always welcome.

  3. Gosh, I remember Arcane!

    Following up on the image search idea, searches in general are very useful for ideas. Type in something in Google or Wikipedia, pick the first three results and try to combine them into a story. Even if they're very random and seemingly incongruent, that sometimes makes for better, more realistic, less "designed" stories.

    Also useful for this are "on this day" or "today's featured article" pages at Wikipedia or news sites.