There are lots of ways to get inspired to run your next game. For me it nearly always starts with a flash of inspiration — a partially-formed idea pops into my head, and I think “I have to run that.”

But that’s far from the only way to get things rolling. Here’s a short list of sources of inspiration, and a couple of big GMing questions to go along with it.

Sources of GMing Inspiration

  • Poof, an idea. The classic flash of inspiration, the end product of a random combination of things simmering on your mental back burners.
  • A long-considered concept. In the same vein, this is the campaign kernel you’ve been kicking around since grade school that finally demands to see the light of day.
  • A setting. I suspect nearly every GM has read a great book (gaming or otherwise) or watched a great movie and thought, “I want to run this.” This also applies to published campaign settings, of course.
  • Game rules. You pick up an RPG, read through the rules and find it so damned sexy that you want to run it. Now.
  • Your friends. Being asked to run a specific game, or a certain kind of campaign, by your friends is always a good thing — and feeding off of their enthusiasm is a great way to get pumped about a game.
  • Something different. “I always run games like [X]. I want to try GMing something completely different. Who’s with me?”
  • An old campaign. Dusting off a campaign that ended well (or one that didn’t end well), revisiting the characters, stories and places that inspired you once before, can make for a compelling source of inspiration.

As I wrote this list, I noticed how many similarities it bears to the list of factors in deciding whether or not to play an RPG. I suppose that makes sense, since inspiration and motivation are closely linked, but “Sure, I’ll play that” and “Holy shit, I must play that right this minute!” are also two pretty different things.

Now that we’ve got this list of ways to get inspired, an obvious question comes to mind: Which sources of inspiration most often do the trick for you?

I’ve made use of all but one of them over the years, but I’ve had the best luck with the flash, the long-considered concept and the setting, which is probably why I thought of them first. The rules are one of the main things that inspires me about Burning Empires, my current unrequited nerd-crush, but that hasn’t yet turned into me actually GMing the game.

Being asked to run games is always flattering, but it has to line up with my schedule and level of brain-fry at the time — when it does, it can be a great source of inspiration. My experience running games just for a change of pace has all been with one-shots, which isn’t quite the same thing. I’ve never restarted an old campaign as a GM.

Looking at the three sources that have most often gotten my creative juices flowing, I’d say my choices tell me I’m an idea-oriented GM. I love all sorts of things about GMing, but if you boil it down to just the starting point — what gets me to run games — it usually comes back to the ideas.

Knowing I’ve got a cool idea and wanting to share a game experience based around it with my players hasn’t always led to good campaigns, but for better or worse it seems to be part of my GMing DNA. I don’t know if that’s common or uncommon.

So how about it — what turns your crank when it comes to getting inspired to run a game, and what does that say about you and your GMing style?