GnomeStewPolaroidsAs Game Masters, we each have our unique and individual style for running games. There are certain elements we all feel comfortable with and enjoy using in our games. We don’t want to get stuck in the familiar and the easy when we present a new game for our players, and I recently came across a nifty way to broaden the elements I include in my games. An excellent way to get inspiration that removes me from my comfort zone.

The other day I heard an NPR story about a project where film-makers were creating short movies based on pictures taken by others. These images became the inspirations and foundations for the narrative of the films and created a story through crowd-sourcing.

It struck me that this would be an excellent technique to use to create a plot for an adventure or a campaign, so I wrote up the process.

Five Pictures For Inspiration

Step 1 – Source – Find a website or gallery of Images that would fit the general theme of your campaign. Here are a few good ones that I use.

Step 2 — Randomize – Go through the images randomly, if available, or browse through sections without a lot of thought to what you are looking for in particular.

Step 3 – Save And Search Again – Save images or bookmark them for later. Grab 5 to 10, depending on what size of a campaign you are looking to create. It’s not a bad idea to have extras in your morgue file.

Step 4 – Conceptualize – Look over the images with an open mind and put together a story around them. Put them in Opening, Climax, and Resolution slots in your story, then write notes about what could be going on there. Use extra images to fill in gaps or create unique elements to add.

Step 5 – Polish – Take these notes and images, and work them into a more comprehensive adventure. If you find yourself wanting images of specific things, go back and do more focused searches to supplement new story paths.


An Example


Note: I used Deviant Art’s picture sharing mechanism, so if you are blocking scripts you might need to allow deviant art to see the images. 

I began by doing a search on Deviant Art, just looking at random stuff for an up-coming fantasy game. On the first page, I found this image of a futuristic horse. I rarely ever do anything with futuristic elements, especially in fantasy games, but this made me think of an awesome time travel idea. What if the characters encountered this weirdly armored horse with no owner. The horse could be the transport of some time-traveller sent back in time to fix something. This alone gave me all sorts of ideas, but I kept going through the galleries to find more pictures.


Horse armor futuristic by ~AlfaZentaura on deviantART


After going through many images with nothing really grabbing me, I came across this image from a reboot of the Evangelion anime.I loved the idea of someone playing piano in a clock tower. Tacking on the idea of the futuristic horse, I considered that this was the owner of the horse who took a bad turn through his time travel, perhaps losing his memory. He ended up in this clock-tower as a maintenance man, being able to fix it because of his futuristic tools.


You can (not) Replay by `yuumei on deviantART


Enjoying the look of this, but not quite digging the anime theme for my game, I decided to branch out and see if I could find something for a villain. After a couple of targeted searches on villain, dark villain, futuristic knight, sci-fi knight, etc. I came across this wonderful piece. It sparked the idea of a robotic, but armored looking, villain who had a leg up on the PCs because of superior technology. 


Mecha by *el-grimlock on deviantART


Ok, so I’ve got an idea for what the villain looks like, but no idea why he or she is the villain. At this point, I’m kicking around the time-travel idea and considering that the odd man from the future was sent back to find and defeat this guy, but doesn’t quite know why due to his memory loss. The PCs have been pulled into helping him. I find this next picture, and think about how awesome the idea of a final battle inside of a graveyard would be.


forgotten graveyard by ~molybdenumgp03 on deviantART


Then the ideas started flowing. I was deep down the time-travel hole by this point, and figured it would be nifty to play one of those paradox games. Perhaps the villain is actually the older version of the young man from the future. He came back to this time to escape something from the future. Some force in the future sent back the younger version to defeat the older version, figuring that the older version would not do harm to his younger self. The paradox knocked the younger one for a loop and caused his memory issues. I could see an awesome battle scene where the incredibly powerful older version (decked out with really futuristic battle armor) kept avoiding killing the younger, eager, and oblivious version of himself. The battle in the graveyard would be mainly the PCs against the older version, and I liked the atmosphere it would create.

When the older version gets defeated and killed, the younger one goes a bit insane, possibly starting the journey to become his older, villainous self. This was a lot more complex than what I was originally thinking, but after a few minutes of trolling the images, my mind was just racing with ideas.

Xiron’s Arsenal +Updated+ by *LordKnightXiron on deviantART


I still wanted something to tie it together and reward the players for the, likely confusing, adventure. I figured the final battle would see the younger version running off somewhere with his horse, but the armor for the older one would still be around. I don’t want to give them an undue advantage, so I’ll declare that it no longer works, but the advanced metal proves malleable enough that a master blacksmith could make them some really kickass weapons. I found this picture that had a good feel for the weapon style I was thinking of.



Spending about 25 minutes going through the galleries gave me an idea for a great story, something I wouldn’t normally do in one of my games. The general adventure idea still needs polish and writing up in a more codified fashion, but it sparked some incredible ideas. This story might be something I use for a future game, or I might just save it for when I need a quick adventure.

What do you think of this method of inspiration? What kinds of stories can you come up with in 5 minutes by grabbing pictures from a gallery? What other galleries or resources would you use to grab images from?