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Worlds of Design: Citing Your Sources

In the early 1980s I wrote a column in Dragon Magazine called “The Role of Books.” I described nonfiction books so that Dragon readers could decide whether to read them as a source of ideas. But people have changed how they their ideas and inspiration.


Keep in mind this was only a decade after the invention of fantasy role-playing games. The expectation was that players and GMs would come up with their own ideas for the characters in their campaigns, perhaps derived from books and film rather than from game specific publications. There were certainly game specific publications around, but most of them cost money and the distribution system still followed the distribution of the games: in game shops or direct. Of course, there was The Lord of the Rings as well.

So I found nonfiction books, like a book about medieval life that you might find in a library, and described it for the readers so that they could decide whether it was worth reading. When Dragon changed its submissions to require purchase of all rights, I stopped writing anything for it, and that was the end of my contributions to that column.

I would not write such a column nowadays because of changes in how people get their ideas and inspiration:

  • There are a lot more fantasy films and novels than there used to be
  • There are vastly more game specific supplements
  • There is an immense amount of free material available via the Internet
  • Most people don’t try to make up their own adventures, that expectation is gone
Addressing these points in order...

There are a lot more fantasy films and novels than there used to be
, both from increased popularity and from more than 35 years of additional releases. Improvements in computer graphics have a lot to do with it as well. For GMs, it’s fairly easy to adapt incidents or entire plots from a film or novel to an RPG. Yes, some of that went on with The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit 40 years ago, too much some people would say, but with the advent of the LOTR films there are surely more people since 2001 who have seen the films than have read the books.

There are vastly more game specific supplements: some adventures, some settings, some descriptions of particular elements of fantasy (such as castles, or Vikings, or pirates). This is a result both of the ease of production with modern computers, but also the accumulation of 35 to 40 years. Many fantasy supplements don’t wear out; for example, even a supplement for first edition D&D can be applied without too much trouble to fifth edition.

There is an immense amount of free material available on the Internet. The Internet includes sites that will generate new characters, new dungeons, new cities, even character names and backgrounds, such as donjon.bin.sh (well worth a look). Many of the “old-time” supplements are now free, or “free.” I remember talking about music to one college student who said, “why would I bother to buy any, it’s all on YouTube?” We don’t quite have a YouTube equivalent for RPGs, but the material is certainly out there. For example: all the issues of Dungeon magazine.

Another reason for the change is that most people don’t make their own adventures as much anymore. They use existing ones whether free or at a cost. But even the cost is relatively low because of PDF distribution online (quite apart from piracy). This tendency to rely on the publisher helps keep them in business despite the wealth of free material available. In my experience, most RPG players don’t expect their GMs to make up their own adventures. I expect ENWorld readers are much more likely to make up their own stuff; but here we have an atypical group of RPGers!

Of course, the kind of nonfiction I wrote about in my old column may be more popular nowadays, and is more common because we have 35+ years of additional work to choose from. But why read something not closely related to games when you can read something made for games?

This article was contributed by Lewis Pulsipher (lewpuls) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. Lew was Contributing Editor to Dragon, White Dwarf, and Space Gamer magazines and contributed monsters to TSR's original Fiend Folio, including the Elemental Princes of Evil, denzelian, and poltergeist. You can follow Lew on his web site and his Udemy course landing page. If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!
 
Lewis Pulsipher

Comments

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
While I always have used published materials- and always will- I also design my own campaigns and adventures. Some stuff is completely original*, but I’m open to drawing inspiration from anywhere- not just genre-appropriate ones.

My best campaign EVER was a supers game that had a core built around the creations of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, as well as the RPG Space:1889. But I also took inspiration from comic books (duh- supers game), anime, Michael Moorcock and William Gibson books, James Bond movies, TV shows like Kung Fu, Wild, Wild West , Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr. and Fawlty Towers as well as actual history.



* or possibly inspired by sources I have no conscious recollection of being exposed to
 

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Mallus

Hero
My best campaign EVER was a supers game that had a core built around the creations of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, as well as the RPG Space:1889. But I also took inspiration from comic books (duh- supers game), anime, Michael Moorcock and William Gibson books, James Bond movies, TV shows like Kung Fu, Wild, Wild West , Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr. and Fawlty Towers as well as actual history.
It would be an honor to play in one of your campaigns, sir.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
It would be an honor to play in one of your campaigns, sir.


Full disclosure: that was my pinnacle as a GM. I have only reached comparable heights a couple of times, and that was the best ever.

And I owe a great deal of that to player buy in. I had the core ideas, but the players were so enthusiastic they kept feeding me good ideas via PC backgrounds and verbal or written speculation that I could incorporate. The initial anime influence came almost entirely from one player during his character generation. The stuff that inspired his design dovetailed perfectly with some of the sub/side plots I had in mind.

OTOH, nobody caught the Bond, Moorcock or Gibson references. :D
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
Full disclosure: that was my pinnacle as a GM. I have only reached comparable heights a couple of times, and that was the best ever.

And I owe a great deal of that to player buy in. <...>
100%. The GM can only take things so far. Without player buy-in and contribution, forget it. The times I really felt my GMing was best was totally, utterly aided and abetted by the players.
 

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