RPG Inspiration: Live-Action Streaming

Need inspiration? Great ideas for your next adventure are just a click away.

Need inspiration? Great ideas for your next adventure are just a click away.


Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

As any DM will tell you, game mastering can be creatively rewarding and also exhausting, with inspiration the fuel to keep you going. I find inspiration everywhere. Here's some live action ideas available on popular streaming platforms to kickstart your imagination.


Documentaries have taken off as streaming has become more prevalent, which means there's now a dizzying variety of true crime, post-apocalyptic scenarios, and deep delves into esoteric topics. Of particular use to game masters are historical documentaries that cover everything from wars to fortifications to historical reenactments. Netflix and HBO have too many to list here, but you can easily browse their selections online.

Horror Movies

Horror movies increasingly have their own mythos, going as far back as H.P. Lovecraft. This modern take means that there's an endless series of Friday the 13th (Netflix), Hellraiser (Netflix), Halloween (Netflix), and Child's Play (Hulu) media to pick and choose from when looking for horror inspiration. Franchises in their own right, each of them has (eventually) tried to explain the origins of their villains, along with the universe that contains them.

But more useful to game masters are the one-off movies that manage to come up with fresh ideas. The Cube (Amazon) took the modern dungeon crawl to new nihilistic depths. If you're looking for inspiration for your traps, the Saw series (HBO) is chock full of ideas on how to maim people. For a more nihilistic approach, there's the recent The Platform (Netflix) and Meander (Amazon).

The other great inspiration are horror movie monsters. Monsters inspired by other cultures are always fascinating stuff, which is what makes The Ritual (Netflix) and No One Gets Out Alive (Netflix) so much fun. Each feature monsters with surprising depth that differs from the aforementioned menagerie of slashers, demons, and killer dolls.

Reality Competitions

Reality competitions sit in a curious space between having contestants who aren't (usually) actors compete in games with sometimes a rough outline of the rules. The shows focus much more on the spectacle of winning and losing than the details, but many of them are essentially obstacle courses and (hopefully non-lethal) trap-laden exercises in survival.

One of my family's favorites is the live action Frogger (Peacock), inspired by the original video game, in which contestants compete to run an obstacle course to reach the exit the fastest (Peacock). Also on Peacock is Create the Escape, where kids compete (with the help of professionals) against their parents to create elaborate escape rooms. And then there's The Titan Games (Peacock) which has over a dozen types of physical challenges, many of them pitting contestants against each other in real time. All of these shows provide great ideas for puzzles and traps in your dungeons.

Your Turn: There are way more live-action sources of inspiration on streaming channels than I can possibly catalogue here. What's yours?

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


I recently found a National Geographic documentary vid online about a medieval monastery/hot springs/bath house in France. The legend goes that the monastery was founded by a saint that dug out the springs to kill a basilisk that lived in it. Boom. Adventure idea. A keep with hot springs that a basilisk lives in. Throw in a mundane jewelry heist of the guests, and a deeper cave to be found under the basilisks cavern that contains Yuan-ti in some sort of magical sleep that you have broken and they awake and you got a good thing going on. I'm thinking 3-5 level adventure. Make it a sleeping dragon and a whole clutch of basilisks and take it higher.

So get out there and look for inspiration!


Guide of Modos
Your Turn: There are way more live-action sources of inspiration on streaming channels than I can possibly catalogue here. What's yours?
It starts with Witch. Ends with Er. But more importantly...

where kids compete (with the help of professionals) against their parents to create elaborate escape rooms.

...there are professional escape room creators? Where do I sign up?


I don't believe in the no-win scenario
My Traveller food for thought is mostly made up of a combination of Deep Space Nine, Babylon 5, and The Expanse.

Bacon Bits

I tend to draw a lot of storyline inspiration from video games. Especially old video games that had pretty good stories. Plotlines from 90s RPGs (good or bad) and modern story-heavy games that got 6/10 are gold mines, so don't ignore games just because they're bad. Often they're good stories horribly executed. Anything by SSI tends to work well, probably because I played those games to death. The Dragon Quest games also have a lot of great quest ideas in them. Final Fantasy much less so because if that serie's focus on obtuse and surreal storylines. The great thing about video game stories is they demand the protagonist go out and do something, and that's what you need in D&D. The same is true of fantasy books, new and old, good and bad.

On the other hand, a lot of live action shows have the protagonists stand around until the final few episodes. So, I tend to not get storylines from live action TV or movies. I think it's because too many of them tend to rely on accidental luck resulting in humorous and unpredicted success. Live action shows also tend to focus on the character drama, sometimes to the point of melodrama, and that's not what my table is interested in. We tend to prefer and a more traditional adventure with a lot of exploration and combat more than a drama, and trying to get them to engage in politics is a non-starter. Westerns are a notable exception. They do tend to translate well to D&D.

For characters, I do tend to draw from live action. Crime, gangster, and western films in particular have a lot of examples of NPCs that work well in D&D. They have clear goals, they're quick to resort to violence, they're usually not moustache-twirling evil, and they're not always so smart. I think The Witcher's presentation of spellcasters is good. 90s sci-fi TV shows are great, too. Stargate SG-1 is a good representaiton of the range of different lawful characters that might exist. Star Trek is also good for a somewhat broader range, though that, too, heavily focuses on the lawful spectrum. Other shows like Babylon 5 have good examples of deeply flawed characters. Sci-fi is also useful for non-human or foreign cultures, although it grossly simplifies everything pretty consistently.

I have found that anything involving superheroics tends not to be useful. The design of the MCU seems to be to take sitcom characters and give them superpowers, which is a fun spectacle but that's hard to do in a non-visual medium. Also the humor can get grating. DC, on the other hand, seems to think that Batman needs to challenge 40K for the title of grimdark champion, and Zack Snyder's direction is uninspiring to me more than anything. The whole genre feels like it's in a rut.

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