This is something my players often ask me. Where do you get your campaign inspiration? While I don’t have a simple answer, I can say that I borrow and steal from nearly everything I experience in life.
I know some DMs who pick up a book for a table-top gaming system and never waiver off the railroad that is the setting’s campaign. Never do they dare to make up new situations, new creatures, new NPCs, or new adventures. I, on the other hand, have a little secret. I stopped planning my campaigns years ago and usually session preparation is a list of ideas. Why do I run my games this way? Because I got tired of my players doing exactly opposite of what I planned and I don’t believe in railroading my players. My campaigns are much more dynamic than that and I’m not afraid to think on my feet and make stuff up as I go.
So where exactly do I get my inspiration from?
When I went to college, I took classes that I really didn’t need to for my degree. Ancient world history, ancient art, Shakespear, creative writing, and a load others as my electives. Why? Of course it interested me but it gave me knowledge that I could throw into my Vampire the Masquerade games since the setting IS the real world. It doesn’t matter if it’s Darkages, Victorian, or Modern Day. For each and every one of them you can either arrange for historical events to happen in the game or at least bring them up.
And of course, I’m fascinated with time travel. When the Suzerain setting made it out for Savage Worlds I was pretty darned excited because it’s kind of like Quantum Leap and Sliders all rolled into one (or at least that’s how I see it!). Hop into parallel worlds, or send your players up and down the real world’s time line! And of course, to send players up and down the real world’s time line, you need to know about historical events!
But history isn’t the only place I’ve mined inspiration from. I’m an avid reader. I can remember in 3rd grade my mother got called in for a conference with my very concerned teacher over my reading material. H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, Shakespear. My teacher wasn’t impressed that I had the reading comprehension for this type of reading material, she was more concerned about the death, destruction, and horror that these classics harbored. My mother did absolutely nothing to limit my reading and by high school not only had I gone through most of the American Classics, Greek Classics, and whatnot, I’d devoured a lot of the fantasy series from the 70s and 80s.
At this point in my life I’ve probably read thousands of books (I can usually finish a 3-500 page book in days if I have the time) and my players, if they’re familiar with any of them, can see bits and bobs creep in.
Lets not forget about movies as well.
I could go on and on, but if you open your eyes and use your imagination, you can get inspiration from most everything. You don’t have to rely on the source books for a certain RPG system or setting. You’re the master of that world, take your players on a real adventure and let them explore the world!