GM Advice: STEAL!

Game Masters of the world, you are creative masterminds. You imagination can weave worlds of wonder and terror and sew them into the minds of anyone sitting at your table. You are careful creaters of entire worlds, forging a universe with little else than a thought and a dream. You are paragons of originality.

That being said, it is never a bad idea to steal shamelessly form everything around you.

"Just pretend you're the rogue."

Oh, come on. It's something all of us have done at one point. You find yourself reading  a book or watching a movie and thinking to yourself, 'This might make a good game.' or 'I think that would kick ass in my game.'. And the truth is, it would make a good game, and it would be kicks ass in your game. Don't let the fact that the idea is not originally yours get in the way of doing something cool.

A lot of times, we GMs get so wrapped up in the burden that all the ideas we come up with must be original and unheard of, that we actually end up stifling our own creativity. Take this for example; you watched Raiders of the Lost Ark over the weekend, and love the idea of the rolling bolder trap after Indy removes the idol, but, you feel bad about using such a cliche' trap from such a well known movie. Well, the movie is the reason that trap is cliche' and it is only cliche' because it is tried and true. Don't confuse cliche' with classic, and don't deny your players the chance to step into Dr. Jones' boots for a moment. They will thank you for it.

 "The real unsung heroes here are the guys that spent countless hours getting that boulder so smooth"

If you need more proof, look no further than Dungeons & Dragons itself. The granddaddy of the roleplaying game was lifted heavily from Norse and Greek mythology, folk and fairy tales from around the world, and no one can deny the heavy influence the Lord of the Rings had on the final product. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson knew what they were doing, but they also knew that it would make a fun game, capable of offering a limitless amount of storytelling in a variety of different ways.

Where To Steal From
As any thieves' guild can tell you, the world is ripe to take from, you just need to know where to look. There are a ton of excellent outlets to pilfer from, and half the fun if finding ways to make them work for you.

  • Books, Film, Video Games and Television: The modem medium of storytelling, these are excellent places to start looking for ideas. It could be an action scene from a movie, a story arc from a TV show, an over-the-top minor character from a video game, or the magic system from a book. Folks like Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan have rich, expansive worlds with tons of ideas you can use for your game, and since Mistborn and The Wheel of Time both have RPGs, they've made it super easy to convert it to whatever you are playing. Delight as your player characters are forced to face down a Steel Inquisitor.

"I SEE what you've done there."

  • Other Game Systems: Ever look at another game system and wish that some of their mechanics and monsters and flavor existed in the campaign you are running? Steal that shit! Why not? If you are playing Pathfinder, and you have a hankering for a beholder somewhere down the line, convert it over! If you are playing D&D and desperately want the Golarian campaign setting and/or Gods, roll with it! If you want the delightful post-apocalyptic feel of Numenera, take it for your own. Just do those guys a favor and buy the supplements you take from. We may be thieves, but we aren't savages.
"Kudos to the person that thought eyeballs needed more teeth... and more eyes."

  • Other Game Masters: A large contingent of us take a break from tormenting out players to walk among them, probably to get a better feel for the kill. As players we get to experience a new Game Master, a new style, a new story and best of all; new ideas. Game Masters can offer varied and interesting takes on things, takes that you can transplant into games of your own. If your Game Master has a cursed magic item that randomly shows up and turns people's hair into snakes, you may want something similar in your game. A note, however. There is a certain honor among us thieves, so before you shamelessly steal, ask the Game Master's permission, and be sure to give credit where credit is do. There is a chance that the idea you liked was taken from someone or something else in the first place.

Making It Your Own
Now that you have an idea in mind, it is time to start twisting it to make it more yours. After all, anyone can blatantly steal something, but how many can steal it and reshape it into something almost entirely original? You can, because you are the Game Master!

Earlier this year, at a local convention, let's call it SnowCon, I ran a game in which the players were traversing their way through the bowels of a dwarven city. They entered near the mines, where there were a fair number of enchanted mine carts that would move on their own. The party decided to enter the carts and ride up to the city proper. I took the original idea from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (because who didn't like that mine cart chase), though I substituted the thuggee (yes, that's what the bad guys were called) with an undead dragon. The result was a zig-zagging battle a hundred feet over a lava field while a dragon flew along side darting in and out, breathing necrotic fire and taking claw and bite shots at the characters and overturning mine carts. I took the idea, changed elements of it to fit my story and setting, and threw the players into it, much to their delight.

"No time for love, Dr. Jones."

A Word To The Wise
Taking ideas and re-skining them is one thing for your home game, but if you intend to venture out into the big scary world of publishing, I highly advise against it. Plagiarism is one of those black clouds that will follow you forever in the industry, whereas your friends and players are a lot more forgiving, and even thankful. There is nothing wrong with certain elements influencing your ideas, much the way that Strahd Von Zarovich is influenced by Count Dracula.

"Honestly, I don't see the resemblance."

There should be no shame in stealing in our little world of mad creativity. After all, it is built on a constant exchange of ideas and collaborative storytelling. It can be quite flattering to see elements of your campaign show up in something you end up playing in the future. I cannot tell you the number of times I have had to interact with some of my own NPCs, run the way that I would have run them.

Does anyone else take a little creative license with lifting other ideas not quite their own? If so, what have you taken and how have your morphed it. Let me know in the comments below.

It's all about give and take, with an emphasis on the take,
+Ed The Bard 

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