As Gamemasters we all have those days when we are staring at an upcoming session and all we can think about is running straight to the pre-gen modules at DriveThruRPG or whatever is in the back of the book that we’ve been holding out on for a rainy day. This post is designed to give you the tools that you will need to fend off such a gaming block. Instead of relying on other people’s creations, you’ll have the tools you need to fend for yourself when the sharks, I mean players, begin to circle… your table.
Being a GM, a DM, a Storyteller, whichever you prefer to call it, is equal parts writer, storyteller, actor, mediator, judge, jury and executioner… ok maybe that last part is a little heavy handed. Coming up with new and exciting stories falls squarely in the writer portion of the job, and we all know how much writers love that question, “Where do you get your ideas…?” To quote Stephen King, “I have the heart of a small boy… I keep it in a jar on my desk.” Writers hate that question, and the true answer is everywhere. As a writer myself, I constantly get ideas from the books I read, the music I listen to, the t.v. shows I watch, sitting in the doctor’s waiting for an appointment, driving down the road and reading bumper stickers.
What does this mean for you? It means that there are thousands of experiences waiting for you with the seeds of ideas, you just have to look for them. “But I’m not a writer like you. What do I do?” you ask? Very well, here are my top five ways for assauging the creative juices into flowing, or just plain cheating the system, whichever you need at the moment.
1. Movies. Sit down with a few movies that sound compelling. They don’t have to be in your genre, because what you are about to do is genre-less (is that a word?). You are looking for scenes that you can boil down to the bare bones because that’s really all you need. Say for instance you sit down with Apocalypse Now! and as you watch, you start to mull over the horrors of war. Is there one raging in your game? No? Start one. No, I’m joking, you don’t have to, but it is quite possible in any game there was a recent war. What would happen to two men, who’ve been through that, seen what it can do to each other and then are thrust back into civilization? What if… and that’s where the ideas begin. All you need is the bare bones, and a little What If Juice.
2. Books. These are great resources for quick scenarios. I have yet to meet a gamer who doesn’t like to read. Pick up a favorite book, look for one of those chapters or sets of chapters that told a compelling story, that hooked you in right away. Pull it out, boil it down to its basic premise and then build off of it. One of my favorites is the chapters in ‘The Hobbit’ where Thorin and Company are headed up into the mountains. As they seek shelter from a storm in a cave, they are awoken by goblins. Captured and chained, they are dragged to the Goblin King. Basic premise – a group traveling in a deserted area takes shelter from a storm. They are attacked by the local denizens and taken to their leader. This jump off point could be used in any style game. See what you can build off of it?
3. Music. One of my favorites. I love listening to music when I am creating. Especially music that tells a story. A lot of people simply let the lyrics roll in one ear and out there other, without really comprehending what is being said. I recommend truly listening. You will find some great nuggets that can spark the flames of imagination in them. Take these lyrics, for example: “Carry on my wayward son, there’ll be peace when you are done, lay your weary head to rest, don’t you cry no more…” Pretty famous song, right? Use it in a game. A sad, lonely, bone weary traveler comes to town. He keeps to himself, but he seems to be searching for something. Who is he? What does he want? These questions can help you build a story for your game.
4. Your Players. This is probably one of the best ways to build a story. One of my favorite methods is to “pretend” I am calculating experience, or making notes, giving my players time to talk amongst themselves. When they get this opportunity at the end of a game, it normally turns to what is ahead of them. The paranoia and suspicion can give you ideas that you’ve never heard of. For example. Your group has just finished routing the kobolds from Stormfell Keep catacombs. As the players talk, you hear this: John “I’m pretty sure that chalice we found is cursed.” Peter “I bet it is, I bet it came from the chapel up in the keep, I wonder what’s hold up in there?” The chalice was just a random item you rolled for on a table, but now, with this player suspicion you can build off of that. Maybe it is cursed, maybe there is something up there.
5. The Co-Op Build. Sometimes you just have to be honest and tell your players you are having a hard time creating a new story. They will appreciate your honesty and want to help. This is a good thing. Sit down with your players and tell them you’d like to take them up on that help. Ask them where they want to go, what they want to do, what their characters are itching to try out. It might take a bit, but one of them will pony up with an idea. Susan “I’d like my vampire, Rachel, to try to take over the Goth club Wreckage.” This one, character-driven idea, will spark a floodgate of other ideas from the players. In fact, you will probably have so many ideas, you’ll be in spades for the next few sessions.
There you have it, five ways you can use to build stories for your upcoming games. If this post has helped you, please share it with your friends. Cheers!