I have come to realise I definitely prefer running my own homebrew campaign to running a pre-published adventure. This means I have to come up with the idea for each encounter, session, location, setting and story arc myself. So where do my ideas come from?
I have an assortment of sources of inspiration.
First and foremost, there’s the overall campaign story. I want to try to make sure every session moves the story forwards. But that is very generic and high-level, and I want the sessions to be different from each other.
The next piece of inspiration is the setting. Since I use and love the world developed in the BECMI gazetteers, now known as Mystara, that gives me a rich starting point. I have developed the areas I use further and made them my own, giving fleshing them out with more NPCs, locations, connections and rumours. For example, Clifton Caldwell, mysterious sponsor of B9 Castle Caldwell and Beyond, has developed into local merchant owner of Caldwell’s Cauldrons, the main general store in Threshold, and has further developed into owner of a trading network, and maybe has other secrets…
So understanding this setting and how each section interacts with the overall campaign gives me some more themes and ideas to play on. It also allows me to respond to characters exploring in the location once I’ve fleshed it out, and give them repeated encounters to make the world feel more real (and so they know who they can call on for help).
For developing the characters, I raid freely from the many books I’ve read – fantasy and otherwise. There’s an imp who is, er, impish, and actually trying to help the characters without letting on (gotta preserve the street cred…). There’s a travelling troubadour in Averoigne who is friendly and enthusiastic and speaks better Common than most of the people in Averoigne even if he does speak with a very French accent. There’s the dour, racist barkeeper in Threshold who won’t have anything to do with the “invading Thyatian b&*$^%s”…er, maybe best not reveal my inspiration for him… There are characters lifted straight out of Kobold Press’s Tales of the Old Margreve, in particular recently Bluebell Inn. However, most of my characters just sort of grow out of the stock of ideas and options from my reading; I can’t point to any one specific influence.
Another source of inspiration are some of the amazing maps from Heroic Maps. An encounter where a couple of party members fell into a spider cavern started from their Cavern Lairs pack. The lizardfolk lair started from another map. An old temple which had been desecrated and taken over by dretches was another map – a combination of campaign and map led to that.
Then there are monsters (in the widest sense). Flicking through the MM or the Creature Codex, or doing playtesting can lead to some interesting encounters. The acid ants in the Creature Codex were part of my playtest packet, and they ambushed the players on a remote road; made for an interesting session. The Alliumite turned out to be friendly and helpful to the elf who spoke to her nicely, giving background information about the other inhabitants of a castle ruin.
And then there are published adventures, which I may not want to use complete, but are certainly useful inspiration – I used some of the road encounters from Hoard of the Dragon Queen and just dropped them into my campaign, for example.
And sometimes necessity is the mother of invention. I needed to get the party from the ground floor of Castle Amber to the basement, but I wanted to make something of it and make sure they actually found the way down (the original was a hidden trap door in a room with another exit so they might not have thought of looking). Hence why I created the water trap puzzle. It would worry them, give them something to think about, but with a bit of luck and persistence it ought to ultimately point to the path and close off all other options (okay, railroading, but we had all had enough of that floor and it was time to move on).
Where do my ideas come from? It’s a big melting pot…
Tomorrow we have “Suspense”.