Inspiration in the Right Places

Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art © Rich Hershey / Fat Goblin Games

You can order The Demonplague, my level 1 – 20 fifth edition adventure, right now!

I know I’ve said this before about GMing. You should feel free to steal (and twist) ideas from other stories you love: adventure modules, video games, comic books, novels, movies, tv, podcasts, theater, and more have wonderful ideas that you can adopt and make your own. Do it!!!!

However some of my best and most original ideas come places outside the world of traditional entertainment storytelling. In this post I’ll talk about why that is and how you can find and keep inspiration that comes from the most unexpected places.

Why Go Outside the Box?

Before I begin let me say that there is nothing wrong with stealing and twisting a story from the entertainment industry. I’m one of the coauthors of Hunter, so I very much dig that kind of product. However, I do think my most original, well reviewed, and talked about ideas are inspired by ideas outside the entertainment industry.

When I’m not banging out RPG products, I work in the television industry writing and producing promos and other short-form content. People who require short-form video content say they want bold, groundbreaking ideas, but often only look for inspiration within their own industry. It’s how you end up with a million movie trailers using the same sound effects and editing techniques (to the point of parody). Often when an idea is pitched, it is expected that you will show a different video that uses the same or similar techniques to the one you are pitching, which means there likely isn’t going to be much groundbreaking in the pitch.

When I first started in TV, I struggled with making something original because I was always looking at other videos for ideas. It wasn’t until I attended a talk by Chris McKenna of Wee Beastie that I realized I needed to go outside of other videos for inspiration to really get original ideas. He said his company gives employees paid inspiration time off to explore and/or tour a different industry, hobby, or other pursuit. Chris said he would rather have see video ideas inspired by the way clothing is made at a textile factory or a birdwatching technique than another video. It clicked and some of my best ideas came from totally bonkers places, like this multi-award-winning SharkFest video that was inspired by watching my brother and father rant about some insane (and pretty mundane) topics.

I took my outside-the-box philosophy to roleplaying when I started in this industry. RPGs are a form of storytelling. It’s great to be inspired by other stories, but some of my best-reviewed and selling adventures were inspired by a creepy basement, a swarm of bees, strange face masks, and a visit to Times Square. Those are just the tip of the weird inspiration iceberg. This blog has had several strange ideas inspired by all manner of insanity and it does pretty well!

How to Get and Keep Inspiration

Inspiration from unexpected places often strikes when you aren’t searching for it. If you don’t record your idea when you have it, you may forget it! In the old days one used to need to carry a notebook to write down ideas, but now for many it’s as simple as opening up an app on your phone to take notes (or text/email yourself). I even keep my phone near the shower (a place where many ideas come as the brain wanders) so I can open the shower curtain to shout at Siri to record ideas. Make sure you always have a way to record your ideas on you and set aside 15 minutes each week to go back over your ideas so they stay fresh and to see if they inspire others.

That’s not to say you can’t or shouldn’t seek out inspiration from unexpected places. Like Chris McKenna, I encourage you to take your idea recording device of choice on an RPG inspiration quest, be it for home games or published products. Seek out new experiences that are outside of your normal comfort zone. If you aren’t big on nature hikes, take one. If you are, take a factory or city tour instead. Take an improv class. Volunteer at an animal shelter. Give blood. Read about topics online that don’t interested you. Introduce yourself a neighbor you’ve never talked to. When you challenge yourself to have a new experience, you get incredible ideas that you wouldn’t get if you only looked for inspiration inside the world of traditional entertainment mediums.

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