GM Advice: Inspiration is Everywhere

As a GM and game designer I’m always looking for inspiration. In many ways, I’m a bit like a magpie. I grab stuff and squirrel it away for the future – you never know when some picture or snippet of information might be exactly what I need. The challenge, of course, is to find those pieces of inspiration in the first place!

Dartmoor Photo


John Bennett recently posted an article about finding inspiration and making it work. This, along with a recent request via this blog’s 6-question survey, to talk about how I find inspiration got me thinking about where I get inspiration for both my Borderland of Adventure campaign and the products I release through Raging Swan Press. In his article, John talks about gaming books, computer games, television programmes, the internet in general, films and action novels. Other less obvious source of inspiration I use include:

  • Documentaries: I love watching documentaries about history, natural wonders and ancient civilisations. Adventure hooks, cool situations and more often seem to leap from the screen and slap me about the face when I watch these.
  • Charity Shops, Garage Sales and Car Boot Sales: It’s amazing the cool stuff you can find in charity shops and the like for not a lot of money. In the past, I’ve picked up DVD documentary box sets, atlases, nice full colour coffee table style books on history, architecture, natural wonders and more. All are so handy for sparking the imagination.
  • Family Trips:  I always have a phone (and Evernote) and notebook with me so I can quickly stop and take a photo or make a note about a certain feature, landmark or building. (The photo above is one such photo). I have an inspiration folder on my desktop machine where I dump all such photos. When writing a new module or supplement I often take a quick look at the folder and see if any of the pictures seem relevant.
  • Guidebooks: I’m lucky to live in the UK which is absolutely stuffed full of ancient monuments, castles and the like. Whenever I visit one, I always grab a guidebook. Now, I have a whole draw stuffed full of the things. Not only do they include maps, they often have extensive histories and fun facts about the place they describe and the people who lived there. Modifying and using such details adds an air of authenticity to my work.
  • Magazines: The best most awesome magazine to get inspiration from is the National Geographic Magazine. I’ve had a subscription for the last three years or so and keep every copy that falls into my clutches. With stunning photography and in-depth articles it’s an amazing resource that I cannot recommend highly enough. Of course, not every article is going to be relevant, but it’s a very rare issue that has nothing of interest.
  • Newspapers & the News: Be it the general situation, the personalities involved or locations, the news is rife with plot hooks, dynamic situations and more! Many are perfectly suited for adventures.

Help Your Fellow GMs

Do you find inspiration for your games elsewhere? If you do, share your sources in the comments below and help your fellow GMs run better games today!

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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

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