Media Inspirations

We’ve all been in the midst of watching a movie, curling up with a good book or catching up on TV when it hit us. I Want to Believe

I should run a game like this!

In the same breath as inspiration, there’s often a deafening avalanche of questions in our inner monologue. Inspired by or homage? Straight port? Homebrew? Steal these three plot elements and nothing else? How do I even make a game for players that feels how this episode made me feel?

Porting heavily from movies, television and books aren’t perfect. Some things about other media won’t translate into games. We view a movie or an episode, we read a book. We hear music. Once you accept that it won’t be a perfect replica of your personal experience with the original media, you can start taking apart what appeals. As an example, I’m going to use one of my childhood loves: The X-Files.


FBI Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Sculley investigate “X-Files,” cases with unusual factors, seemingly paranormal facets or just too damn weird for anyone else to want to deal with.


Paranoia, belief, religion, aliens, bureaucratic struggles, interpersonal relationships, science vs belief, truth, humanity, family, friendship, sacrifice, trust, mythology, monster of the week.

Between the premise and the plot elements, there’s a lot I could run with. If I want to do FBI agents in a weird unit, I can use a lot of different systems. Or I can fall back to Project Twilight, a book from White Wolf. Project Twilight is about the Special Affairs Division, or SAD, of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. SAD hunts what goes bump in the night, and they know a lot more than they realize.

If I use Project Twilight, I can bring in using the Classic World of Darkness White Wolf system, which can potentially open the game to Wraith, Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, Changeling, Hunter—even Demon. That’s not even getting into the numerous small supplements White Wolf put out during the original run of Classic WoD. So I can choose numerous different systems, or I can see if the premise in my inspirational media ports really well to one system or setting. Either can be great—it’s very much a decision about what fits you and your players.

With the thematic elements you can

a)       try to shoehorn as many as you can into your game

b)      pick a cluster that seems fitting

c)       if you like the premise but hated a lot of the themes, throw the themes out!


If you’re worried you can’t keep the premise but throw out the themes, think of every “buddy cop” film you’ve ever seen. That dynamic of partners can also transcend the law enforcement setting in film. For example: I call The Order with Heath ledger a “buddy priest” movie. In The Rite, a young priest and a journalist assume the dynamic found in many buddy cop movies. You can keep a premise but leave the plot behind, because a premise is just a scaffold. You can build your interpretation with your players.

If you want to keep the premise and some plot elements, figure out what most appeals to you and your table. Keep in mind that some elements may be underplayed in your group, but it’s the exact thing one of your players is hankering for. Post-it note that and try to come back to it in game at some point if you can. It’s a new thing for the rest of the table to deal with, and you may have just made one or more players’ nights.

If you like the thematic elements but hate the premise, ponder those elements. Do you want your aliens on earth, or do you want to run something in outer space? At any point of pondering these things, particular systems may jump out as great fits. Follow your gut, and create an inspiring experience for you and your table. It won’t be the same experience you had while watching Mulder and Sculley go up against the things under our collective subconscious’s bed, but it’ll still be your experience, and your story.

Have a piece of media that inspired you as a GM or a player? Leave anecdotes and beloved tales in the comments.

About l

L is a freelancer currently working as a writer, editor, journalist and game designer. She hauls a suitcase decorated in stickers as she blogs, travels, and tours. She makes her home in Washington, California, and wherever the tour stopped last night. You can follow L on twitter (@lilyorit )

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