Monday, February 26, 2018

Finding Inspiration Elsewhere

Sometimes you read something that burrows under your skin and sticks with you. I remember reading an interview with Jello Biafra (I think it might have been in the second volume of Incredibly Strange Music put out by Re/Search, but don't quote me on that) where he was talking about where he sought out inspirations while writing for the Dead Kennedys. The Dead Kennedys were a punk band, but despite that--or rather because of it--Biafra made a point not to listen to punk rock while crafting his own songs. 

His point was that an artist working within a certain genre or mode of artistic creation who only surrounds themselves with artifacts bearing the expected tropes, signs, and signifiers will inevitably create derivative work. 

To sidestep that paucity of tone, range, and influence, Biafra said that instead of listening to records by other punk bands, he listened to lounge music, oddball country & western, and whatever else seemed fundamentally different from his own creative project. Letting those other influences drift in, as opposed to just coloring safely within the lines, opened the doors to different possibilities for the Dead Kennedys and for what constituted the accepted category of "punk rock" in a larger sense. 

You can hear the end results all over the Dead Kennedys' records. They are recognizably "punk," but I'd be hard-pressed to name bands that are truly similar in sound or approach. 

Of course, the idea of finding inspiration elsewhere is not solely applicable to music. Obviously, the idea can be applied to role-playing games as well. It's easy to get stuck in a rut--such as a sword & sorcery campaign that only takes its inspiration from Howard, Lieber, and all the other usual names. I'm willing to bet that going a little farther afield could liven up what many consider to be the nadir of exciting settings--TSR's canonical campaign worlds. Here's a few campaign ideas that put a new spin on a well-worn setting by going outside the usual inspirations:

High Noon Under a Dying Sun
Dark Sun, but all the adventures are built off of classic Western movies. Water bandits, duels with weapons of bone and obsidian, struggling desert villages in need of black-hearted heroes, escaped slaves, psionic warlords and their cruel mining operations, etc. This one should have enough brutality to make Cormac McCarthy blush.

The Accursed Inheritor
A megedungeon campaign set in Ravenloft, executed in the style of Darkest Dungeon. One of the characters has inherited a manor house in Mordent, but below the house are warrens filled with eldritch things that must be dealt with before the house is habitable; along the way, the players will discover the horrible secrets lurking in the inheritor's family line as they delve deeper in the manor's depths.

Dark Souls of Moonshae
The Moonwells of the Moonshae Isles are dying mysteriously, their sacred waters dwindling, threatening to bring a new dark age without the protection of the Earthmother. The players must travel into the wilds of the islands, braving hordes of barbarous Northlanders and the mystic trickery of malicious fey, to discover that is causing the Moonwells to dwindle and, if possible, replenish them once more by linking their waters to the power of the Earthmother.

Gangs of Sigil
The characters are members of a newly formed criminal organization in the City of Doors looking to take over the territory of their more entrenched opposition. They engage in fights for domination against the orc and goblin gangs of the Hive, backstabbing and double-dealing, planar skulduggery, daring crime sprees, and evade both the Mercykillers and the Lady of Pain. Throw ideas from Peaky Blinders, Dishonored, Taboo, Gangs of New York, and Ripper Street into a blender--and add tieflings on top.