Inspiration at the tabletop.
This month is "Fandom month" and that means I'm going to be taking a close look at how your favourite shows, books, movies and games can influence your tabletop roleplaying experience in a whole variety of ways. This article is going to go through the basics.
To start off it's important to recognize that there is no such thing as a work that is wholly it's own creation. The first stories were recounting of real events, and later tales and epics were built upon those, and so on to this day. This is not a bad thing by any means. Without Gilgamesh there would be no Heracles, without Heracles no Superman. Everyone to ever sit down at a gaming table has based at least some of their ideas on other mediums, the only difference is how much, and how overtly.
Subconscious or cursory inspiration: This is the most common form of burrowing from previous stories. It's that moment that we roll up a barbarian and think "Conan". It's when our wizard loves to read and has a long beard and a staff. It's also when the plot is it's most simplistic. A princess captured, a war begun, an item lost, or the like.
Intentional imitation: This is the purposeful idea of "I'm basically ash Ketchum but with summoning". It's the campaign that says "You're on a world spanning quest to collect seven wishing stones so a dragon will grant you a wish". It's when a character or campaign is copied almost whole cloth to give a player or DM a starting point. This can also feature making adjustments to the way an ability looks or feels to better suit a theme. Perhaps your Barbarian's hair gets spiky and golden when they rage, or drawing your magus' black katana blade comes with a whole new outfit. Many people look down on this approach, seeing it as unimaginative or lazy but I disagree. Certainly its faster to not develop your character or campaign as much in the beginning but a good campaign should make it nearly impossible to stay that way. What begins as a direct rip-off loses its original flavoured coating and exposes a new creative entity underneath. A stoic and grim Kratos imitation, who dreams of slaying gods to avenge his slaim family can only stay serious and dire so long. Once the party Gnome keeps making everything taste like butterscotch and the elf can't find his +1 flaming pants the player must think beyond the initial concept. And a campaign to cross the world and throw a ring into an active volcano changes tone dramatically when the evil deific being recaptures the ring and now the party must take the battle to the fortress of a god. Just as no storyline or plan survives contact with the players, no character concept can stay entirely separated from the rest of the party.
The homebrew: This is to go one step beyond. To create custom homebrew around a franchise or mechanic that you love but has no suitably accurate analogy. This is used when you need more than just calling spells per day "Jutsu's per day" and when your Belmont family vampire slayer realises they can't actually HURT a vampire with a whip. Many of the best and most creative homebrew's are developed by people looking to emulate a specific character or setting. And while some people may not have much of a taste for a game like Ponyfinder, There are a lot fewer who would object to a whole plethora of Kaiju's to terrorize their setting. Homebrew campaigns can also be an amazing experience, one with a plethora of existing maps, characters, storylines, locations and lore to draw upon. I've rarely been more excited to work on a campaign then when I can take a franchise or series I love and dig my fingers into it and tweak and change and expand on my favourite aspects. Telling a player "I'm going to set my game in Lordran from Dark Souls." is all it takes to set their mind ablaze with ideas. Creating a new setting from scratch, while deeply rewarding in its own ways, is more of a slow burn. You gradually build up and explore and explain more and more about the world and work with the player on how they will fit in and what they'll do. In an already existing setting the player can do research on their own to learn about the world, about its people and culture and abilities. This can be a double edged sword however. If the DM hasn't done enough research, or even if their players have simply done more, the DM could lose control of the setting for their game. Players correct them on tiny little tidbits of lore, and sometimes an entire plot point may actually not fit with the original rules of a setting. While some DM's find this quite unacceptable, or even terrifying, others relish the chance to see their players so deeply engaged in their campaign.
So how much is too much? Well, as with anything about role-playing games, it's a matter of taste but the best idea is to work things out as a group and decide together what inspirations you'll be drawing from and how strong those influences are. For a lot more information about the ways you can use these concepts join me next week for my follow up article next week!