I was asked the other day about where to find ideas for tabletop campaigns. The person I was talking to seemed concerned that they weren’t coming up with enough interesting ideas for their campaign setting, a concern shared by most gamemasters, I think. They were also lamenting not having the resources to buy the latest campaign and setting books. I let them know, I often don’t use gaming books for inspiration. I look to resources outside the gaming world to get my ideas, especially if I’m running a game set in some version of our world (Trail of Cthulhu or Urban Arcana, for instance). So here are some suggestions for inexpensive, non-game book alternatives, borne out of my own searches for inspiration.
Weekly World News – How can you not love a gaming resource you can buy at your grocery store check-out? Full of bizarre stories and strange photos, the Weekly World News is my go-to inspiration for any occult modern campaign I might run. Every issue is packed with pages of campaign inspiration. Take today’s top stories on the website as an example: “Blackbirds Attack Kentucky!” “Monster Titanoboa in New York!” “Saturn is a Giant UFO!”. If you read those headlines, nevermind the stories, and can’t come up with an adventure to run, then I don’t know what to tell you. Probably the best part is using WWN as a publication in the game world, and being able to give it to my players as a ready-made prop. I’ll often prep a bunch of the stories likely to catch the players’ eyes and let them pick a direction. And even if you can’t find a print copy, it’s available online so you can hunt for the choicest stories for your campaign.
YouTube – I’ve definitely talked about the gaming-related YouTube channels I follow, and those are a great resource. But there are plenty of channels, not directly related to gaming, which can be just as helpful and inspiring. Crash Course, for instance, is a fantastic resource if you want to learn the basics of a topic relatively fast, and can give you some great jumping-off points for campaign inspiration. History Buffs is another great channel, comparing the history we see in movies to actual recorded history. The rather uninspiring name Lindybeige hides a plethora of videos on a truly eclectic range of topics, from steampunk comedy to how a torch actually works. These are just three examples. Type in your subject and you’ll almost always find some sort of video to help you out.
Antique Shops and Flea Markets – Depending on where you are, you may have anywhere from a few to a seeming infestation of antique shops, flea markets, and other types of second-hand shops. Wandering through them can be a great way to inspire yourself, especially if you are looking for odd or clever objects to add to your campaign world. In addition, take a moment to imagine what sort of person would own the objects you come across. Now you’ve got GM character inspiration as well. You may also find a few cool little in-game props and visual aids for your next session. Plus it’s just a cool way to spend a few hours.
Online Libraries – Different from wikis, online libraries collect a variety of texts on an almost unlimited number of topics. Best of all, many of these texts are available free of charge, or for a nominal yearly subscription. While you can certainly just scroll through Wikipedia, I sometimes like to hit up an online library to get the full text of a book, rather than the bare bones a wiki provides. Plus many real-world libraries have sources available online, again either free or for a small fee. These resources can include scans of old and even ancient texts, old maps and charts, and copies of historical documents. Use any or all of these for inspiration or as handouts for your players.
Those are a few of my favourite non-rpg GM resources for generating ideas. What are yours?