ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Games, Toys, and Hobbies»
  • Role Playing Games

Obscure Source Material for Roleplaying Adventures

Updated on December 19, 2010

Or you could go here...

Image Credit: Natalie Dee (www.nataliedee.com)
Image Credit: Natalie Dee (www.nataliedee.com)

Where do You Get Your Ideas?

When asked where he gets his ideas, author Neil Gaiman often replies: “I make them up. Out of my head.” He generally follows up with a much more interesting and useful answer, but when you boil it all down, he makes them up, and that’s really the end of it. But not every gamemaster is a Neil Gaiman, or a Terry Pratchett, or a JRR Tolkein. We don’t all have the talent, time, or inclination to come up with 100% original material for all of our campaigns, and most of us have day jobs. So, many of us use ideas from movies, books, and so on. This works fine, unless one of your players has seen or read the same story. If you’re lucky, said player will keep his knowledge to himself and not embarrass you by saying, “I know where the bad guy’s hiding: I saw this plot on Fringe last Friday!” But then again…

The problem with borrowing from currently popular movies, shows, or books is that those sources are, well, popular, and your players are just as likely to have seen or read them as you are. Everyone has either read or seen Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. When you’re playing in a scenario that’s been obviously lifted from your favorite episode of Dr. Who, it’s less fun, and when your players rumble your source, it’s less satisfying for you as a GM. Here’s a list of some good source material that’s not universally well-known, or else is old enough to have fallen out of currency.

Robin of Sherwood

This BBC series ran in the UK from 1984 to 1986 and on cable in the US shortly afterward. In Robin of Sherwood, writer Richard Carpenter uses both Robin of Loxley and Robert of Huntingdon (two different Robin Hoods from the Robin Hood tradition, played by Michael Praed and Jason Connery, respectively) as Robin Hood. He also introduces a strong supernatural element to the story, making the series very suitable as source material for a D&D-style fantasy campaign. Interestingly, this is the first time we’ve seen Robin with a Saracen companion (no, Morgan Freeman wasn’t the first one). Each episode has the makings of an excellent roleplaying scenario, incorporating political intrigue, Norman-Saxon racial tension, black (and white) magic, and even Arthurian legend.

If you live in the UK, this series probably won’t count as obscure for you, but we Americans (especially those of us younger than about 25) have mostly not heard of it. To further obscure your source, instead of Sherwood Forest (or your own fantasy equivalent), set the story in the Star Wars universe. It’s a perfect fit: The PCs fill in for Robin’s merry men, mid-ranked Imperial lackeys can serve as the Sherriff and Sir Guy, and the Force is the magic. If a PC is a Jedi, have the ghost of his old master fill the role of Herne the Hunter. And in the background, the rebels (Saxons) are continually battling the Empire (the Normans).

A Twofer!

Grindhouse Double Shock Show: Star Odyssey (1979)/Prisoners of the Lost Universe (1983)
Grindhouse Double Shock Show: Star Odyssey (1979)/Prisoners of the Lost Universe (1983)

This DVD includes the 1979 film Star Odyssey, which I haven't seen.

 

Prisoners of the Lost Empire

This 1983 fantasy film was released in cinemas in Europe but went straight to cable in the US. It’s not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination. The special effects, sets, and costumes make it obvious that PotLE was shot on a shoesting budget. Even the plot seems recycled at first glance: an unlikely couple from modern Los Angeles get zapped into an alternate dimension strongly resembling medieval Europe. But they’re not the only ones! They soon discover that a mad scientist from their own dimension has also come across, and is plotting to use science to help a local warlord take over the world! (Insert evil laugh here). Yeah, it’s pretty trite. But it’s not the plot but the details that make this film so useful to RPG gamemasters.

The alternate world is populated by an unusual group of characters with engaging personalities. The people use an interesting mix of magic and low-tech tech. One of their gadgets, the amber light, features in another one of my hubs. If you’re going to use this movie for source material, rather than borrow the plot entirely, focus on the unique characters, props, and creatures. Also pay attention to the interesting ways the “primitive” characters react to “modern” technology. Some of the characters and gadgets would fit in nicely in a steampunk adventure.

And Speaking of Steampunk…

Jack of All Trades stars Bruce Campbell as Jack and Angela Marie Dotchin as his beautiful (and much more intelligent) partner, Emilia Smythe-Rothschild (Mrs.). The couple are spies sent by President Jefferson and King George to thwart Napoleon’s Imperial ambitions in the South Pacific. The series is full of anachronisms, deliberate silliness, bathroom humor, innuendo, and Bruce Campbell’s irrepressible personality. It’s nowhere nearly as well known as Sam Raimi’s other productions, Hercules: the Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess (both excellent source material, but very famous: use at your own risk), as it only ran for two seasons in 2000/2001 on, I believe, the Fox network. Fox seems to have a habit of prematurely cancelling good shows (*cough*Firefly!*cough*), but in this case, it works out to give roleplayers a nice set of relatively obscure source material.

This is a work that you’ll want to mine for props and atmosphere as well as plot. Some--no, strike that--all of the episodes are full of deliberate silliness, so the ideas will work especially well if your gaming group enjoys a large dose of camp in their adventures. In addition to being the uptight foil to Jack’s brash devil-may-care persona, Emilia is also a brilliant natural philosopher. She creates (or manages to disarm) a slew of interesting steamy gadgets over the course of the series.

The Black Hole

In the late 70s, Disney Studios jumped on the SciFi bandwagon. Star Wars had opened the floodgates for a horde of imitators, including such forgettable efforts as The Cat from Outer Space and Galactica: 1980. The James Bond franchise, heaven help us, even gave us Moonraker. Disney’s The Black Hole, though, is a pretty good movie. It suffers from an apparent obligation to include cute R2-D2-looking robots with an unnecessary subplot all their own, but it also includes obsession, madness, murder, intrigue, suspense, theoretical physics, and the threat of forced lobotomy. There’s an amazing action sequence with meteors crashing through the ship. Realistic? Not really, but it’s believable, which is more important. In spite of being nominated for two Oscars (for Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects) and a Hugo (Best Dramatic Presentation), it doesn’t get a lot of screen time these days. Unlike some other late 70s/early 80s SciFi and Fantasy films (Beastmaster comes to mind), it hasn’t got much of a cult following. Unless you saw it in the theater or on cable, you’re probably completely unaware of it, and most likely, so are your players.

This over-arching plot could easily be transplanted to other genres. The monomaniacal Dr. Reinhardt could be a Nineteenth Century scientist/explorer, an Age of Exploration sea captain, or a long-missing commander from the days of the Old Republic. The android crew can be adapted as well. They could be zombies, brass-and-wood-encrusted automata, cyborgs, you name it.

Don’t be Afraid to Take Liberties

Of course you can take material from these sources and use them in the same genre of roleplaying game, and you’ll probably be safe. Most of your players will never even have heard of these shows, let alone have seen them. But any source material will be less recognizable if you drop it into a different genre. An idea taken from The X Files will obviously work in modern times, but what if it were set in 1890s London? Or on Ord Mantell?  Tabletop RPGs aren’t constrained by budget, only by your imagination. Your adventures don’t have to be realistic. They only need to be believable.

Out of Curiosity...

Where do you get most of your ideas for roleplaying scenarios?

See results

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      GamerGeek 4 years ago

      Thanks for the trip down memory lane! I actually used both Robin of Sherwood and Prisoners of the Lost universe as background material/idea fodder back when I was running AD&D games. Not great movies/TV, but fun places to crib from.

    • profile image

      Dave 5 years ago

      A good set of sources for D&D adventure ideas. I don't think anyone I know has ever seen that Robin Hood show. If I order it from Amazon, will it play on an American dvd player?

    • kcmorris profile image

      kcmorris 6 years ago from South Bend, Indiana

      It's kind of a mix for me. I tend to take a lot of inspiration from popular media, but it all gets filtered through my imagination, and the setting I've built. As a result, it tends to be fairly difficult to pinpoint the exact source for any one scenario or another in my games.

    • profile image

      Horizonblue 6 years ago from Underground Lair

      Another fun source for obscure plots are the innumerable fantasy and mystery novels in second hand book shops. Many are out of print, and can be bought on the cheap.

      For a mean twist, throw the party into a cheap romance novel or an old political commentary book, and watch them squirm.

    • Jeff Berndt profile image
      Author

      Jeff Berndt 8 years ago from Southeast Michigan

      Yeah, early in my career as a GM I tried a couple times to 'borrow' entire plots, but the players always came up with ideas that took the game to all manner of strange new worlds. Some of the best games I've ever run were done from a half-page of notes in the long-running Star Wars campaign that Ken mentioned above. We had established characters, established recurring NPCs, and all the players had a great rapport going. My job as GM was amazingly challenging, but also at times amazingly easy. I'd give a lot to be able to reunite all those players for another go-round. (Except one of the PCs got killed in the Battle of Endor. Oh, well.)

    • starvagrant profile image

      starvagrant 8 years ago from Missouri

      Some great source material here, I think. How you could rip off an entire plot for a game seems a stretch, as characters always take things in unexpected directions. One great way to lift source material my college friends used was the "Matt style one shot" where the players play themselves transported to whatever universe the game master had picked (in my instance, Jurassic Park). If you've had a long history of playing characters it can be interesting to play yourself. My characters tend to be cautious combat- avoiding types, but playing myself I savagely attacked a velociraptor with a tire iron. Good times

    • Sufidreamer profile image

      Sufidreamer 8 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Likewise - That was the version we played, and we went LARP, too. Sadly, that was many years ago - not much opportunity in this part of Greece :(

    • Jeff Berndt profile image
      Author

      Jeff Berndt 8 years ago from Southeast Michigan

      WEG's Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game is responsible for a lot of wonderful memories for me.

    • Sufidreamer profile image

      Sufidreamer 8 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Ahhhhh...Star Wars. Many great memories of exploring the dark, seedy underbelly of Lucas' universe :)

    • Jeff Berndt profile image
      Author

      Jeff Berndt 8 years ago from Southeast Michigan

      "holy moly, are you a Nerd like I am?"

      Card-carrying. :-)

    • Evan G Rogers profile image

      Evan G Rogers 8 years ago from Dublin, Ohio

      holy moly, are you a Nerd like I am? (Me and my friends have "Nerd Party" each week and play D&D... I'm so ashamed!)

    • Jeff Berndt profile image
      Author

      Jeff Berndt 8 years ago from Southeast Michigan

      It's not just HubPages; Steampunk is the new cyberpunk. Heck, there's even steampunk bands starting up. I think maybe there's a hub in that...

      And Ken, that campaign back in the day was my best experience as a GM, before or since. I miss the ability to game so regularly, and more importantly, I miss that particular combination of players. You guys were a brilliant group!

    • deltamonk profile image

      deltamonk 8 years ago from UK

      Nice work, thanks!

      As for the poll, I'd have to say 1, 5 and 6 - so I had to say "other!" Steampunk really gets around HubPages, doesn't it?

    • profile image

      Ken 8 years ago

      Man I miss playing STar Wars with you. That was the most fun I'd ever had playing a roleplaying game before or since.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)