If you read this blog or Board Enterprises’ books, you will see that phrase: Make it your own. By that we mean, take ideas from other sources, but change them enough so that they are your own original creations. It doesn’t matter where the spark of the idea came from, as long as by the time you are done, it is your creation.
Case in point - You may have seen that I was thinking of having a civil war break out in my world of Fletnern. Thinking about civil wars and other forms of revolt, I realized that first things first - everybody makes a mad grab for all the weapons. Well, if that’s a pretty standard activity throughout history, then other things that happen during these armed insurrections could be pretty standard fare as well. In fact, I was telling myself that I could rewrite the American Civil War into a fantasy campaign without even working up a sweat (figuratively). Don’t believe me? How many people are watching Game of Thrones?
Game of Thrones is a fictional reenactment of the Hundred Years War, especially of the War of the Roses. But I have a problem with Game of Thrones. First off, I read some of George R. R. Martin’s early works and I’m not a fan. To each his own. But with Game of Thrones or probably better yet with the Song of Fire and Ice, I just don’t feel that he made it his own. Yeah - I’ve avoided this topic because I’m going to attract a lot of hate with this, but it has been boiling inside me for too long. I am not outright accusing GRRM of plagiarism because you cannot plagiarize history, but when fans can so easily see right through your barely changed names and your cloned characters ...
OK, here comes the hate - GRRM does not have original ideas. He took some history, jammed a whole bunch of it into a much shorter period of time to make it more exciting, then added just enough fantasy elements to make it seem fictional. Look - I’ve sort of liked watching Game of Thrones. I won’t read the books - I’ve got much better literature I need to read - but I’ve watched the show. And I can even sort of respect the kitchen sink aspect of it - as in, they threw everything including the kitchen sink into this. Even if you hate half the characters in the show, you might be interested enough in one of them or their story line to tune in to see what happens. I say that because I hate at least half the characters, but I do enjoy watching them “get theirs” which they seem to do with regularity. Then again, the good guys die a lot too, so, not like it’s a guilty pleasure.
Why should you care what I think of GoT? Because he’s made the mistake that so many young and inexperienced GMs make - He made his world look too much like his source material and he didn’t make the ideas his own. Happens all the time! I would hazard to say that every GM under the age of 19 made this mistake in their early years. Hey - for so many of us, our worlds looked too much like Middle Earth or characters looked too much like Elric, could have been anything. GRRM went for the history angle, but his source material is showing through in all the wrong places. Don’t do this! Your players are not going to be fanboys. They’ll rip you apart over this, or at least rip the campaign apart. Once they smell the source material, they will start making decisions based on who they think your NPC really is and what his motivations are. At this point it is their perspective on your source, which likely differs from yours. This will either send them spiraling down a rabbit hole or if they are right, then the player knowledge will overwhelm your plans.
Look - Not every idea is original. Several literary critics believe there are a finite number of plot lines in the world, so there cannot be original ideas. But you need to do enough work that your final product doesn’t feel derivative and, let’s face it, plagiarized.