I have touched on this before, even writing a book on it, Forge of Imagination: Spark of an Idea. For some of us focus challenged folks, ideas come very quickly and easily. We have trouble staying on one idea long enough to complete it, but we often have tons of ideas. Some of you don’t get them that easily, so I will try to give you some advice that has worked for me.
First off, read Spark of an Idea. OK, commercial over. For me, different types of ideas come from different places. Ideas for characters seldom come from main characters in books, TV or movies. I think it is that these characters are often more established and leave less for me to “make my own”. However, comic book characters really seem to give me some great ideas for FRPG NPCs. I also like to base NPCs on real people. There are a lot of dangers to this one, but sometimes taking a real person (typically one you actually know) and sticking them in a FRPG situation and thinking about how they would attempt to survive it can give you some really cool characters.
My best source of cultural or object ideas most often come from watching “brief” shows. What I mean by that is those shows that give you only a few minutes on each interesting thing. Mysteries of the Museum is great for this as are many of the Youtube top ten lists. Let’s face it; you’ve created a mythic world. Knowing everything about the Shroud of Turin is not going to help you because that object would never fit in your world, but hearing about mysterious stone spheres or an unexplainably large wolf in Russia for a couple of minutes might spark an idea for you in your game world. The other good thing about these is that you get hit by dozens of idea sparks in an hour, some good, some to be ignored. In the end, you have a broad pool to pull from and then make them your own.
I seldom get mission sparks from external sources. This is one of the reasons I spend so much time in these blogs talking about developing your world and understanding what is going on in it. For me, while I am working on some cultural aspect of a river town, the mission ideas just start flowing. While I’m thinking about the bridge, I wonder if they need some special zinc covered iron bolts, then I think about where those would come from and who they would need to get them past in order to bring them in. If the travel isn’t dangerous are others trying to steal the technology? If I am trying to protect the town from bandits or dragons, I often think first about whether the protection is valid (will it work). If it will work, then those bandits or that dragon are going to go somewhere else to make their living and they will need adventurers to put them down. These are actually some pretty poor examples. A better example was when I was writing a blog post about zombies and how they work as monsters for civilians and then came up with a whole campaign based on this. (Check it out here.)
For ideas/sparks, quantity is more important than quality. Quality can come later. But this does work from a critical mass perspective. The more you have figured out in your world, the more you will be thinking about other things (either that you haven’t figured out yet or brush against what you have done). More and more world details generate more ideas. Stuck for some ideas - Re-read your own notes on your world. Something in there is going to stimulate the creative juices and get you moving forward.