Getting Ideas for D&D

In his excellent book, On Writing, Stephen King discusses the most common question he receives when he’s talking to his fans. “How do you get your ideas?” seems a common question given to many fictional writers. Neil Gaiman had one of the best responses: “From a little ideas shop in Bognor Regis”.

Of course, the real answer is “everywhere”. Creativity comes from every part of our lives, from the strange guy who sold us Starbursts at CVS to the smell of a collapsed and rotting tree.

Like authors, DMs can likewise get their ideas from everywhere. The world is a source of inspiration, all you have to do is recognize it.

That all sounds well and good, but how do you go about doing it? First, recognize it when you see it. Second, record it.

I always carry my trusted Moleskine notebook in my pocket along with my favorite fountain pen. Anytime inspiration strikes, whether it’s for a story or a Twitter DM Tip, I whip out the notebook and record it. Sometimes a song will stir up an idea or a scene for me. Sometimes I’ll remember a favorite scene in a movie. Writing these down and letting them jumble up in your head is how good creative works happen. It’s no different in D&D.

There’s another common understanding among authors. There are few truly original ideas but there’s lots of mashups. D&D is all about taking concepts found elsewhere and wiring them together. Take the story of “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” and set it in a cave you once visited under a resort in Bermuda. Take the main characters from “No Country For Old Men” as your NPCs and villains. My next adventure is going to be based on gangster-house slaughter in the TV show “Rome” and the bride’s bloodbath in House of Blue Leaves in Kill Bill 1. Then I mix in just the right amount of Iggy Pop and Supertramp and I have something pretty unique.


Another good idea, if you use the Twyla Tharp campaign box, is to write ideas down on 3×5 notecards and throw them in the box. When it’s time to come up with your adventure or campaign thread, pull out the cards and start putting them together.

Start to think of your dungeon mastering the same way an artist thinks about his or her artwork. This is our medium. We’re part writers, part performance artists, and part battle strategists. We have to combine all of these talents into a single performance of storytelling and game management that others find entertaining. The more we consider the habits of artists, the more creative our games will be.

If you want to read two great non-D&D related books to get you in the right spirit of this, read Stephen King’s On Writing and Twyla Tharp’s Creative Habit. Neither one has any direct relation to D&D, but both of them have extremely valuable tips to make your D&D game better.


2 Responses to “Getting Ideas for D&D”

  1. Ameron Says:

    I find the two places I get the most ideas from are reruns of Law & Order and old comic books (usually Batman).

    If you’re going to borrow ideas for your game it’s important to draw from sources that none of you players are likely to have access to. In my case, none of the guys in my group read comics so I have thousands of issues full of ideas ripe for the plucking.

    As for TV, any show may inspire you, but if it’s rerun that’s many years old it probably doesn’t matter if your players watch the show. By now they’ve probably forgotten episodes from 10 years ago.

    Just remember, there’s no such thing as a bad place to look for inspiration.

  2. Aaron Says:

    There are a number of places where I have taken inspiration from for my current campaign, with two primary factors. It has the classic “unleashed primordial evil” storyline, but also Doctor Who themes and stories play a role in it (albiet subtly, and much most fantasy-like).

    As for the one I’m writing up on my blog, it takes its inspiration from Stargate SG-1, as well as a few resources on the Wizards of the Coast website that I’ve hijacked for my own use.

    Hmm… Fascinating. All of my campaign ideas have sci-fi elements. I wonder what this says about me.

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