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Getting Inspired to GM a Game

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

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 [2]. 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?

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#1 Comment By Mike On July 4, 2007 @ 12:15 pm

Definitely from other campaigns. Pulling and recycling ideas (and tailoring them to your adventure) doesn’t require a lot of time, and old campaigns (especially old editions of D&D) are generally very cheap. It works well for me and my group.

#2 Comment By clem On July 4, 2007 @ 1:14 pm

My current long running campaign was inspired by bizarre medication induced dreams that had to do with pirates and Fantasia. Whatever works, I guess.

#3 Comment By robustyoungsoul On July 5, 2007 @ 5:34 am

Beware of Burning Empires. Since we’ve started actually playing that I am fast becoming convinced that I might never play D&D again.

#4 Comment By Telas On July 5, 2007 @ 9:04 am

It’s a slow process similar to the back burners… It usually begins with a book or movie, then gets other ideas added to it, and occasionally evolves/mutates far beyond its original idea.

Rarely is it a flash inspiration for a full-fledged campaign, and I don’t think I’ll ever want to run a boxed campaign – creating is the reason I GM.

#5 Comment By Geoff On July 5, 2007 @ 9:39 am

Does anyone else get stuck for ideas, sort of like writer’s block? What do you do when you’ve got a session to run in a few days and you’re fresh out of ideas?

#6 Comment By Telas On July 8, 2007 @ 9:30 pm

Geoff: Just write something game-related.

Sometimes you just have to prime the pump…