Look, we have all been there - the moment when the well of creativity is tapped out, when we are staring at the blank page or the blinking cursor, wondering how in the living hell we got ourselves in the position of coming up with major plots for our games. It’s only normal to turn to other sources of inspiration, be it splat books, our favorite fiction, music, or, when all else fails - Netflix, Hulu, or any other outlet of good television.
I will be the first to admit that I am an unabashed Anglophile, so don’t be surprised if a lot of these have the BBC or Masterpiece Theater involved. I’m not saying you should straight rip out plot points, but there are times when you need to look at situations from someone else’s point of view, or just let your mind wander elsewhere for a few hours.
1. Sherlock, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman
I have been madly in love with Sherlock ever since I watched the first episode. The sheer amount of clever thought that goes into portraying a mind that works like Sherlock’s is mind-boggling, and when you get into the interplay with Moriarty and Mycroft - well, it’s unbeatable. Add in the compelling NPCs like Mrs. Hudson (and her own amazing backstory), and The Lady, and it’s just pure glorious cinematic candy.
I love the puzzles and the misdirection and the sense of oh-gods-will-he-figure-it-out, and the long-running rivalry between Moriarty and Sherlock, the eternal internal struggle of Watson between the medic and the soldier, and then his wife...
2. From Time to Time, featuring Dame Maggie Smith, among others
This is a movie that presents the fascinating idea that there are thin places in the world where one can see through time to where things may have been. The plot itself is a bit plain, but the idea of having characters that can find the “thin places” and see into the past, to find special things or understand certain puzzles or see ways through things that others cannot, that’s something that’s just crying out to be fit into a tabletop roleplaying game - and not in the it-stopped-being-funny-in-about-2001 “I see dead people” Sixth Sense sort of schlock.
3. Downton Abbey, PBS Masterpiece, written by Julian Fellowes
The Crawleys of Downton Abbey directly inspired my most successful LARP character, as well as my husband’s most frustratingly unrealized character. It is an interesting period drama, if you call early 20th century a period drama, and the interplay between the characters is second to none. Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess and Penelope Wilson as Lady Isobel Crawley delivered some of the most savage dialogue I have ever seen in the courtliest manner possible. An excellent primer for an Upstairs Downstairs kind of game, where you might have two sets of intrigue going on at once.
4. The West Wing, written by Aaron Sorkin
You absolutely cannot do better than West Wing for a primer on a political game, whether it’s royalty or dictatorship. Beautifully fleshed-out characters, believable problems, compelling writing, and just enough shine on it to wish that you actually could vote for the characters involved. I’ve found myself referencing it many times in the political sort of games I prefer.
5. Futurama, by Matt Groening, et al
Look, one of the first Futurama movies, Bender’s Game, is entirely a love letter to Dungeons and Dragons, and there’s even cameo portrayals of Gary Gygax (may he rest in peace) and allusions to Al Gore being a “tenth level Vice President”. How many games have turned into glorified FedEx missions? “Go here, get this Thing, take it here, get rewarded. Repeat.” You can do a hell of a lot worse than binge-watching Futurama as idea fuel.
I will be the first to admit that what works for me may not and probably will not work for you, but I urge you to find inspiration in shows you enjoy, that have good writing, good cinematography, good senses of place and time - because that kind of attention to detail will eventually inform your storytelling as well. It may be a turn of phrase, or a scene that sticks with you that you want to recreate, or a stunning landscape that you want to use in your own world. Take it, use it, build upon it.
Remember that pearls begin as tiny seeds of grit. Go forth and find your grit, wherever it may be.
Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as an ordinary office employee who holds vehement opinions about Oxford commas and extraneous hyphens. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and Feline Overlords. She can be reached through Facebook at In Exquisite Detail or on Twitter at @feraldruidftw.
Picture Reference: https://www.wired.com/2008/11/futuramas-anima/
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.