The Sincerest Form of Flattery by Sean Murphy

by Sean Murphy

Most game masters at some point or another struggle to find ideas for their scenarios or campaigns.   More specifically, they know they will be able to spin colorful stories or cast dire portends once they get the basic story in place.  In this piece, we will talk about the best way to borrow from others and how to best do it.

If a piece of work appeals to you, chances are that you can bring it into your game.  The first step is to identify what appealed to you about that story in the first place.   Did you enjoy the tension as the teenagers made their way through the haunted house in a horror movie?  Try to isolate what made you sit at the end of your seat – the lack of light, the strange noises in the dark, the gothic interior.  You want to identify the specific aspects of the story that spoke to you and figure out how to apply them to whatever genre you are currently playing.   The villain in that spy thriller could easily be the next nemesis for your players in a fantasy game if you can key into what connected to you in the first place.   I recently purchased a book because I randomly opened a page and read one line: “And she never saw him again.”  I really want to find a way to bring that kind of foreshadowing into my next game, whatever the setting.

Once you have pulled out the critical elements of the plot, characters, or setting that interest you, now you will roll them around in your head to put in your own spin on it.  This step is important for two reasons.  First, any story you create should come from you.  In the same way I always modify a published scenario to fit my tastes, you’ll want to do the same with someone else’s creations.  Second, you never know if your players will have seen the same book or film and it is hard to pull off a twist ending if someone has already experienced it.  Even after I’ve contorted a story plot a good distance from where it began, I’ll often have a player say “That reminded me of…..”.  I have a pretty good idea of what media my weekly player groups consume but in a convention setting you never know who is going to sit at your table.   Sure, that issue of Conan may have been published 40 years ago but in this digital world the player sitting next to you might have downloaded just last week.

As a final note, it probably goes without saying but if you are going appropriate someone else’s work it should only be for private entertainment.  You don’t want a situation where you put your “brand new work” on the internet and get a cease-and-desist order from a media company trying to defend their intellectual property rights.   Now go out there and figure out how to bring the elements of your favorite episode of Battlestar Galactica or the latest book by Stephen King into your D&D game.