Beg, Borrow, or Steal: Dungeons and Dragons Story Ideas
How do you come up with a good idea for a Dungeons and Dragons campaign? Haven’t all stories already been told?
I don’t think that matters if they already have. Dungeons and Dragons is a great spot to borrow, steal, and ask the players to help create your story with you. I talk about this often, Dungeons and Dragons is a cooperative story telling game, and that means that you can tell whatever story you want. Even if you are ripping off something else, go for it.
But You Want It To Be Original?
I get that, I really do. When I say rip something off, I don’t mean fully do that. Stealing a whole story is not going to be nearly as interesting as stealing pieces that you like. But using pieces that you like, that makes it easier on you. You don’t need to come up with everything yourself. I use stuff that I’ve read all the time, because it is cool. If there is a giant set piece in a story that I like, I will use that to create a combat or encounter in my game.
Tower of the Gods is a great example of this, you can find what is happening in that in the Friday Night D&D Posts. What is stolen in there? Well, first off, the whole idea of the tower, that is 100% stolen from the LitRPG series Arcane Ascension and Towers of Heaven. Heck, I named my campaign Towers of the Gods, it’s a bit on the nose. But I didn’t steal the whole plot of either of them.
How Do You Keep the Balance?
That is the trickier part, keeping a balance so that you don’t rip off everything. I think it’d be easy to just try and create the beats from either of those stories and see what happens. However, if someone already knows the story, that isn’t going to be interesting to them. It would be like playing through the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If Frodo still needs to throw the ring into Mount Doom, that’s boring. And never give your players the One Ring, they will abuse the power.
Instead, pick and choose a few things. In Tower of the Gods, I took the leveling up or getting the class power from the tower from Arcane Ascension. In that book, you go into the power and you get a power of some sort and that is where it starts for the main character. But, I also took the idea of potentially fighting over the tower, but that was from Towers to Heaven. Two separate story ideas that I wove together.
So, with that example, borrow lightly. From Arcane Ascension, I took the leveling and the school idea. The plot that I run is very different. On the flip side, Towers to Heaven, I introduced the idea of fighting over the tower. But how I run that is exceedingly different than how the author of that book wrote it.
Like I was saying, grab nuggets of things. A concept or a image that you really like from a story. Weave that into your game and it saves brain power for you. But just borrow a little bit, even if people don’t know what. Because I want to tell my own story, and most DM’s are going to want to tell something that is fairly well their own.
This is basically the same thing as borrowing lightly. Don’t steal everything. But it is totally okay to steal things that stuck out to you. If there is an important moment in the story, such as the luck of the draw when getting your class in Arcane Ascension, steal that. I 100% just took that and put it into my story. They drink from a cup when they are about to exit the tower. My players picked a cup to drink from and that determined what class they got.
So that imagery, I really liked. It made sense to me for how you’d end up getting a class. Now, it totally went against how Dungeons and Dragons normally does it, but it was a fun way change things up for people who know D&D pretty well. I made it work different than it did in the book, though, giving the players more agency in potentially picking what class they ended up with.
Beg For Help
Now, this sounds silly, but asking the players to help will cause your story to verve at times towards story and tropes that have already been done. Most people who play Dungeons and Dragons know fantasy. You and I know all sorts of books, movies, and television shows that are fantasy. Whether we actively think about them all the time or not, that doesn’t matter, we know them. So when you ask for help in creating a location or character, you will find that tropes start to show up or ideas from books show up.
This is a good thing. Grounding your fantasy world and story into what people know is important. It means that you and the players are more connected to the world and can more easily understand what is going on. I get the idea to do something extremely out there and unique, but that isn’t always great. Sometimes it can take people out of the story, instead of keep them in.
Putting It All Together
So how much should you or shouldn’t you beg, borrow, and steal? That is a great question. For some stories, it might be a fair amount that is pulled in from other places. Or there might be chunks of the story that are and other chunks that aren’t.
In Tower of the Gods, the whole Dorin subplot, trust me, there is no way that is any published book. Or if it is, there is no way that I’d have made it to that part of a book, because it is just so weird. So while I borrow from Arcane Ascension and Towers to Heaven, there are other parts that you can blame the players for, or myself as the DM for letting it get there.
So don’t steal everything, people will know when you have the novel on the table with you. But borrowing a little bit, all of that is good. Stealing a memorable moment, that is amazing. And asking for help means that players will be even more engaged. Don’t be shy about it because what you do will never be exactly like that book, movie or television show.