As a GM of Chuckling Cthulhu, I'm often asked "Where do you get your ideas?" and I've got to admit that I often want to cop out with the answer "Cleveland". As per any creative endeavor, inspiration for live-action RPGs can come from a huge variety of sources, and it’s very difficult to point to one (or three, or ten) things and say “That’s where it all comes from”
In this corner of the web, I’ll share with you some of my sources of inspiration.
What if... is a fun game to play, even without the intention of unearthing an idea for a LARP. Almost everyone plays it in one form or another – What if I won the lottery tomorrow? What if that soap opera vixen is having an adulterous affair with that mechanic from Boise? What if Jack Kennedy had doubled up on the pain meds during the Cuban Missile Crisis? See how it progresses? A willingness to play What if and follow it along some weird and unexpected paths is a key part of creating any LARP plot. Drag it out when you’re on a long trip with a co-GM, or riding the commute train to work. What if… is a very portable idea generator!
A Willingness to Entertain The Outlandish and Ridiculous.
In order to find new territory for your LARP to occupy, you’ve got to play What if… to extremes, occasionally. The animator Chuck Jones wrote of the “Yes Sessions” that he’d engage in with his co-workers. They would kick around ideas for cartoons and absolutely anything went, as long as no-one said “No” or words to that effect. Imagine if someone had said “No” to the idea of a wisecracking rabbit, or a greedy black duck with a lisp? Take your nascent idea and run with it. Follow it to absurd, illogical places, because that’s often where the seeds of good ideas lurk. Some of them might turn out to be unfeasible ideas, later, but the process of identifying them always gets your brainjuices fizzing and limbering you up, mentally.
The History Channel.
Yes, really. A large percentage of Chuckling Cthulhu events - Evil at Bay, Black Sun/White Light, 13 Days of Terror, and Fear Stalks Whitechapel – were inspired by simply watching the History Channel and playing What if… What if there’s another reason it was called the Golden Gate bridge? What if the Ripper murders could be ascribed to a supernatural being? What if the Nazis had known what to do with that cyclotron they captured in Paris in 1940? All of those were inspired whilst watching the goggle box, taking a What if… moment and chasing it all over the landscape.
Your Own Interests.
I’ve been accused of writing some games, just so I have the excuse to research a given period or event and I can’t say that such accusations aren’t entirely unfounded. If you’re a gamer, you’ve probably got some pretty interesting tastes in history and suchlike – be it a fondness for movies, an interest the Meijin Restoration of Japan, or a long-standing habit of spending every summer at a Dude Ranch. Your interests – again, combined with What If… - can bring up some interesting notions. As I’m a history wonk, I come up with a lot of plots featuring historical settings. As a fan of theoretical physics and history, ideas like Black Sun/White Light were practically inevitable!
Is This A Good Idea or Bad?
I strongly suggest you read another one of my bits: LARP Pitfalls and Clawing Your Way Out of Them, as that article gives a general overview of the types of bad ideas you can potentially encounter when creating and/or running a live-action event.
I wish I could tell you, oh reader, of a sure fire technique to create a crowd-pleasing LARP every time, but such a technique doesn’t exist, alas. I hope that by sharing my sources of inspiration, and how I evaluate a potential idea that I’ve helped you do the same!