Unlimited Ideas for Your RPG StorylineWritten by cyberkyd - Published on September 8, 2010
This post was contributed by Cyberkyd, a member of the DungeonMastering.com community
Books for DMing Inspiration
Often times I have read a book and thought, that would make a great RPG storyline. For example, the Ranger’s Apprentice series. Translated into RPG, the summary could be as follows: A human orphan is accepted into the order of Rangers. He is given Ranger armor, weapons, and a steed/animal companion. He is trained and receives skills and feats related to stealth and accuracy. When he levels his class up, he becomes a fully fledged Ranger, with better equipment and stats. Another orphan is accepted into training to become a Fighter, and progresses much along the same path as the Ranger. In several books a party of Rangers, Barbarians, etc. are formed to complete a quest or mission.
Other books like The Hobbit would be an obvious choice, and many aspects of D&D are actually derived from the book and its companions. For example, Orcs were first introduced in this book. A good DM can take a book and essentially harvest at least a few good elements to use from it. Even a book that has nothing to do with the current game can be full to the brim with ideas just waiting to be used. For example, a plot hook from a sci-fi or Victorian-era book could easily (with a little tweaking) be just as effective in Ebberon as on Earth in 18000 AD. There are several steps that can be taken to convert any book with a characters and a plot into valuable RPG resources.
The first step is to read the book at least twice. The first time is a fast read, just to get a general feel of the story. Then, the second time, the book is to be read slowly, with notes being taken about interesting characters or key points the DM liked. This step can be repeated as many times as needed. Then, an outline of the book must be made. As long as it includes the main points of the book, it can be as simple or complex as the DM wishes. The outline will help show the different ‘encounters’ of the book separately, so that they can be easily picked out or mixed with others. Obviously, many of the different plot hooks and thickeners will not be able to be used, (for various reasons) but they will make the ones that are usable readily available.
The next step is to analyze each of the characters. Write out their name, their personality, their age and size (if possible), and anything else you see fit. Put down what their alignment would be if they were in an RPG, and any weapons they use (if any). To go even further, also put down any ‘Feats’ they would have, as well as their stats if you want to go that far. Are they a hero, or a villain? Are they a Main Character (Player) or Background Character (NPC)?
Once you have your plot ideas from the outline, convert them so that they are compatible with your current setting. If the plot idea was that a few teenagers were being chased through a radioactive wasteland by robotic drones armed with lasers, causing them to need to hide in an abandoned shack that contained a lost technological droid that can be used in battle; this equals the players being chased through the forest by Orcs armed with crossbows, causing them to need to hide in a cave that contained a powerful, ancient sword.
Characters from a book can be modified to suit a campaign, as well. Sometimes the main idea of a character could be changed, but the core personality kept intact. For example, a cool, focused marine in a war story could be transformed into a Ranger with an allegiance to his king, a cold, calm personality, and a quiver full of adamantine arrows. Villains also make a good subject for ‘borrowing’ for an RPG. Sometimes, they are easier to transfer than main heroes. The hero almost always undergoes some sort of personality change in a story, whereas villains often times are a clean-cut constant throughout the entire story. Some features of them might make them very appealing, in a creepy or revolting sort of way. Of course, your players won’t think so when the villain has wounded half of them and imprisoned the other half. Or maybe just one small feature of a villain could be implemented, such as a large, pudgy man who is deceptively fast and agile. Of course, he keeps his skills hidden until the PCs make their move to attack.
With a little reading, and a bit of work, a DM can take almost any book and glean a slough of exciting or dramatic encounters from it, as well as a few NPCs to spice up their campaign. Of course, it is time consuming, but your players will enjoy it much more than the same old ‘mysterious stranger with a hooded cloak in an almost empty tavern’ routine. Take the time, and they’ll thank you in the long run!
Cyberkyd is the creator of the BlakLite RPG system. He enjoys writing articles about all things RPG and GMing his own game.