For June's Blog Carnival, Johnn Four kicks it off by asking, "What inspires your games?"
I'm often inspired by images I find online, either because they reflect what's in my head or send sparks of ideas into the back of my brain. There are a lot of good places to find images, and I want to share some of my sure-fire sources.
Pictures speak to me
I am, in many regards, a very visual person. As a roleplayer I am very invested in the aesthetic socket: as a player I seek out wondrous and strange places in the game's setting to immerse in them; as a GM my campaign preparations and inspirations are often a compelling images that I want to realise.
Often enough the images behind a campaign I want to run are just in my head[1. Right now, I have a far-future, post-fantasy, post-technology, apocalyptic setting bubbling in my head that involves a dead sun, radioactive god cadavers, a weird hill where time runs backwards, and soldiers of the god-killer nation in sleek power armour wielding god-cadaver-powered assault cannons. It's such a weird mix of inspirations that it's probably good for a second carnival post.] The inspirations might have their roots in a videogames I've loved or places I've been, but the real driver is an image on its own as it encapsulates senses of place, time, emotion, and theme.
Other times I'm inspired directly by images, or I've found images that come close to what's in my head.
Show your players
The wiki for the one setting I have online, the country Tayel, is peppered with images that I found inspiring or reflected the imagery in my head. The Serpent River slips green and placid through the wood for which it's named. The Swift Valley farmers grow fields of bright red amaranth for their grain, oil, rich red dye, and greens.[2. Amaranth is a real crop, versatile and easily-grown.] The Winter Weald is a frozen forest year-round. The Briarwind Hills are windy forage land below the Sunset Mountains for the hardy shepherds who call it their home. Belying their name, the Spine is a string of low, wooded hills that define the southern boundary of the Swift Valley and offer fertile hunting grounds.
All of those images helped me put what was in my head when I was building Tayel in front of my players. They also serve me as reminders of the particular diversity of the landscape within the small country, keeping me from using mental shorthand and picturing every acre of forest identically.
All of those images are also freely available—every one I sourced from Wikimedia Commons. For example, the representative hill of the Spine is a hill in Aizu, Japan. Although the paddies below the hill are rice in the image, at that distance they serve admirably as amaranth paddies.
When I already know what kind of image I'm looking for, the Search box at Commons is one of the first places I turn to. Usually it will give me some images or categories that are close enough, and from there I can start browsing the categories, looking for the image that will convey the idea I'm looking for.
Feed your creative process
Right now my desktop has this image on it. (Choose a screen resolution below the thumnail and click Download to open a new window with the image full-size. It's really worth seeing at high resolution, and full-screen if possible.)
It's an image of a very tall stone house on a hill overlooking a road and a plot of cultivated yet scrubby trees, with a snow-scrubbed mountains rising above it, glowing (or glowering) under a portentous sky. It's incredibly atmospheric, and makes me want to play that, right now. I don't know what kind of game "that" is, but it makes something primitive and creative thrash about in me. I like that, and when I need inspiration for a location I can tap into that.
I have my desktop wallpaper on a constant cycle, randomly filling it every hour with an image from a selected folder. Any time I want a quick dose of awe, I can just swipe all my windows out of the way and soak in the atmosphere of whatever has been hiding behind them.
The images in my current cycle have all come from one site, Interfacelift. Originally I was simply drawn by the way you could set the image filters to match your screen aspect ratio and resolution, but I was blown away by the number of images that are perfect for feeding the creative beast.
Beaches, mountains, lonely buildings, and bodies of water seem to be very popular with the photographers that contribute daily to Interfacelift, and that just so happens to be exactly the kind of imagery that works for me and my focus on fantasy settings. There's an RSS feed that I've subscribed to as well that keeps my folder updated with the most recent pieces that fit what I find inspiring.
Share your inspirations
The current blog carnival has just started, and we can always use new sources of inspiration. If you blog, share your own sources of inspiration and link back to Johnn's June Blog Carnival article.
If you don't have a blog your inspirations are welcome in the comments here or at Johnn's article.
What gets your creative juices flowing?