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Name Your Inspiration – Follow Up Post

Posted By John Arcadian On November 19, 2008 @ 2:51 am In GMing Advice | 10 Comments

A while back I did a post about Inspiring the game, wherein I talked about various sources of inspiring moments that could be ported over to RPGs and some problems that might be encountered when doing that. This is a follow-up post to that one. I’m hoping to lay out a few sources of my own inspiration and chart the paths they took into games that I ran. More than that though, I want you guys to lay out your own sources of inspiration and how you got them into games. What worked and what didn’t?

So here we go:

Source: Final Fantasy X – The Entrance into Zanarkand
Inspiring Moment: The epic feel of the group walking up the cliff and seeing this dead city of the ancients.Entrance Into Zanarkand

How it Worked:
For my Silvervine campaign ending game I had the party walking up a long snowy cliff. They came to a cave opening which was iced over so heavily that they couldn’t pass before getting around the ice. After epic attempts and struggles they managed to get through the ice. After moving through the cave (complete with mystic and creepy sounding background music) they got into the sunlight on the other side and found a desolated and ruined shell of the gate of a city and the cliff edge where the rest of the city should have been. A large shadow passed over them and they realized the city didn’t fall into the gorge, but was raised into the sky. Finding a teleporter and decoding the runes, they were able to get into the deserted city.

What worked:
Drawing out the tension
Effective and low key background music
Vivid but quick descriptions of unique elements (columns, cloud passing overhead)
Puzzle elements that were explicitly known by the players as puzzle elements.

Source: The Dirty Dozen
Inspiring Moment: The excellent moment when the group of prisoners is planning out the attack on the German base.The Dirty Dozen

How it Worked:
I had wanted to have a big bank heist planning session in the Eberron game I was running. Let them plan out the heist beforehand and then give them bonuses when going into the actual heist. My players pre-empted me though. By realizing that all of the Kundarak banks were connected by teleporters (Eberron setting canon) and realizing that they had already found work-arounds to being in the mournlands (a large “dead” area of the world where healing doesn’t occur and magic gets a little screwy, also Eberron setting canon) they decided to just raid one of the abandoned banks that had to be in the area. Not at all what I had planned, but I figured I would go with it. Instead of a long planning session they just travelled to the nearest city which would have a bank and took their time overpowering the defenses. Ostensibly this was going to be their test run, but instead they just got into the teleporter of the abandoned bank and went from there.

What could have worked:
I was fully intending to have the group do some planning and then give them tokens which they could trade in for a +5 circumstance modifier. I intended to do the planning as sandboxy as I could, and then let them apply the bonuses during the actual break in. I ended up using this in another Shadowrun game when the group didn’t want to role-play the planning sessions. It was a great time saver.

Source: Train battles from any number of sources.
Inspiring Moment: A kickass fantasy battle on top of a train.Wallace and Grommet chase a penguin on a train

How it Worked:
My group encountered train tracks in the wilderness (in an anime-fantasy setting, so it wasn’t out of sorts), whereupon they decided to follow them until the train came by and then attempted to get passage on the train. Once the train arrived they opted for cow class (i.e. in with the cows in the livestock cart) tickets and got into combat. With the cows. Why. I don’t know. I was fully intending to have them fight some horse-riding bandits off, but instead they decided to attack the cows, and then eventually the train and its staff. The bandits never even got to them. They wrecked the train by stampeding the cows and overweighting the livestock car on one side.

Why it happened:
I think the group was in a let’s just cause chaos mode that night. They were into the story but between big plot pieces and were just looking for some fun. I decided to improv, as no plan ever really survives engagement, and took all my cues from the players. It ended up being an incredibly fun night that has spawned many “remember when . . . ” stories.

So there are some of the moments I’ve taken from other sources and how I’ve tried to get at the inspiring moments in games I’ve ran. The biggest thing I realized is that improv is your friend. Even though in only one of my examples did I get close to the intended result the group had fun in each scenario. So what about you? Tell me where you got an inspiring moment from and what that inspiring moment was. Did you ever run a game that got close to that? What worked or would work to get the same level of awesome out in an RPG setting?

About  John Arcadian

John Arcadian is the head of Silvervine Games, a freelance writer and art director, a website developer, a builder of sonic screwdrivers, and a purveyor of kilted mayhem. When he isn't out causing trouble in his kilt... Well, no, that is pretty much what he does when he isn't running RPGs or or trying to take over the world.




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10 Comments To "Name Your Inspiration – Follow Up Post"

#1 Comment By deadlytoque On November 19, 2008 @ 10:01 am

I used the train thing in an Eberron game once. There were some supplies on board that were going to be hijacked by some zeppelin-piloting dwarven thieves, and so to start things off, they dropped a Warforged Titan onto the back of the train to cut in to load up the cranes.

By the end of the fight, the titan was raging around near the tracks with the party’s rogue sitting on its back, stabbing desperately, the sorcerer staying at safe distance with a wand of magic missile, and the other party members scrambling up the rigging on the seppelin’s cranes, trying to recover the swag and prevent the dwarves from escaping.

#2 Comment By John Arcadian On November 19, 2008 @ 11:16 am

@Deadlytoque: Eberron games are great for trains. I know there are even train combats written into some of the Eberron Adventure modules. Did you use the geography of the train in combat? I know battles were raging from car to car or roof to roof when I used a train in my game. Adding the aerial element had to have encouraged some interesting tactical moves.

#3 Comment By raineym On November 19, 2008 @ 12:23 pm

I remember before the Lord of the Rings movies came out a DM I played with in the early-90′s used the dramatic scene near the end of The Return of the King where the forces of Middle-Earth went to Mordor’s gates to confront Sauron head-on, except the land was like Necropolis from Ravenloft, and anyone entering through the gates immediately died and rose to serve the evil master.

The scene he described when the gates opened and all those undead pushed out the confront us is one of the best moments in my playing days.

#4 Comment By John Arcadian On November 19, 2008 @ 3:16 pm

@RAINEYM: I remember when the LOTR movies came out. I had to fight off the temptation to incorporate so many scenes from them into my games. Ents in the woods, hordes of orcs, a wizard with a silver tongue, stone chairs and palantirs, etc. I had always loved the books and have read them so many times, but somehow the movies connected them to gaming in a new way for me. I capture a bit of the feeling from some of the scenes in an adventure or two, but never did an exact take from anything.

#5 Comment By BryanB On November 19, 2008 @ 4:21 pm

I’ve often found inspiration in music…

Playing the Star Wars soundtracks during Star Wars RPG prep or the LOTR soundtracks when working on a D&D game have usually helped me think about the game I am working on. Movie soundtracks in general have provided good mood music over the years.

#6 Comment By Karizma On November 20, 2008 @ 1:18 am

Movies themselves are inspirational. But often too much so. As soon as I see a movie, my first instinct is to replicate it, but I have to give some cool-down time.

I actually had to take a day or so to step back and try to figure out some specific influences. One off-the-wall influence for cultures and foreign lands is reading an ethnography (an academic writing about a culture from the perspective of the ethnographer, portrayed as a series of events. Usually it’s a very personal work with plenty of emotional moments). The most interesting part about such works is that the cultures are FAR from our own, yet the individuals who make up the culture are very much the same as us. This idea of a bizarre, alien land with awkward customs and quirky ways composed of people that are–at heart–simply human is something I think is important (especially for “save the world” campaigns; you got to care about a world to save it).

Funny enough, another inspiration is source books and splat books. When a book focuses on something oddly specific (For example: Rolemaster’s “Construct Companion”), it often digs so deep into the subject that a bizarre interest is aroused in me. The focus on Constructs and a recent viewing of “Beauty and the Beast” has made me want to design an adventure in a haunted castle where the souls of an entire town were imbued into the very bricks of the castle! “As you touch the doorknob, you hear a scream, which ceases as soon as you let go.” Hopefully I can pull off a quasi-horror session!

#7 Comment By John Arcadian On November 20, 2008 @ 12:16 pm

@BryanB: Music, especially soundtracks, are great inspiration for games. I never really find them inspiring in the sense of “I want to recreate this scene!” but in a “Wow, that would make awesome background music for a boss fight! Now I have to make a boss to match up to that music!” kind of way. Have you ever listened to the Xenosaga soundtrack? That and Finaly Fantasy 12 are great musical sources. The FF12 one takes a lot of cues from the Star Wars score as well.

@Karizma: An ethnography would be a great source of culture inspiration. You are absolutely right in the fact that while cultures differ, people are essentially the same. The haunted castle idea sounds interesting. I may have to use that sometime. I think my players would be really weirded out/excited by the idea that their entire surroundings could interact with them. I could see them bargaining with a room not to alert monsters outside, or trying to bluff their way past a door . . . Awesome idea Karizma!

#8 Comment By Bookkeeper On November 21, 2008 @ 3:47 pm

My current Scion game, I shame-facedly admit, got its start out of National Treasure 2.

I saw the movie on a transatlantic flight and the underground dungeon, with its tilt-a-floor and flood traps struck me as a classic D&D-style dungeon. At the same time, the addition of some modern sensibilities appealed to me and I was looking for an excuse to run a Scion game, so I created a hidey-hole for the Great Book of MacGuffin, built by the gods of the Paiute Indians.

Inspiring Moments: Moment of Awe for the massive ruin of a lost civilization, danger of fighting baddies in an unstable environment.

How it worked: like a charm, for the most part. It took them a bit to figure out how to drain the main chamber to get at the Book, but it gave our Epic Brainiac (played, most admirably, by my son) a true Moment of Triumph.

#9 Comment By penguin133 On September 3, 2009 @ 7:01 am

I also once had a fantastic battle atop a runaway subway train, in a modern horror/Fantasy battle where the characters, a stage magician turned Medium Buster (Borrowed from the Louis L’Amour story, “Haunted Mesa”, highly recommended) and his sidekick who’d always thought he was a fake Medium and then found out the hard way that he WASN’T a fake, had to battle the Hordes of Hell (mostly Undead, thank the Lord for silver bullets!) aboard the Train to Nowhere, a disappearing and reappearing train suggested by an SF story I once read about a Subway network with millions of connections that became a 3D Mobius Strip and sent trains careering through Dimensions!
Places and hazards can make an encounter memorable, too, over lava pits, in swam-ps etc; anywhere atmospheric can make an adventure truly memorable? That’s why videogames work so well!
Ian Winterbottom

#10 Comment By Sewicked On September 28, 2010 @ 1:10 pm

This was a little off the wall, but I ended up running an Ironclaw (anthropomorphic) game at a con and needed a new plot. My inspiration: what if Boris was the good guy? So I sent the PCs looking for the squirrel bandit, Rocco, and his henchman, the dim-witted moose mage, Buell Winchell.

The weirdest, BF ran a 7th Sea adventure in the fae lands based on “Lucy in the Sky.” That was surreal.


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