I’ve read every module, Dragon and Dungeon magazine and looked at every map that he owns and I expect to see everything I’ve read in his game someday. I just don’t expect to recognize it.
Good gamemasters borrow. Great gamemasters steal.
The first quote is from a good friend of mine and a former and future player in the World of Rilmorn. Mike expressed an unwritten rule of my world design. Take pieces that you like from other works and put them into your own game. By the time, Mike and I started gaming together, I had 5+ years GMing under my belt. During those years, I had had players suddenly decide that their characters were far more interested in the “Lands Unknown” sections of my map than any planned adventure. Well, when that happened I saw three choices: 1) Force my players to adhere to my story plan, 2) Pout, pack up, and go home, or 3) Improvise. Having been “railroaded to plots” or guilt-tripped into following other GMs’ adventures, the first option was out. Going home wasted the whole plan of having fun with my friends, so #2 was out. Thus, I improvised.
Some times, improv comes easy. Other times, the process stalls. During those stalled processes, I would get my players to talk amongst themselves and I would grab a book, module, or magazine and start flipping pages. As quick as I found something that caught my eye, I’d regain my players attention and off we’d go. I’d keep as good notes as possible during the game, then later I’d add what I had used to Rilmorn.
Over time, I began to see things that were cool that others did and wanted those things in Rylmorin. I’d already been borrowing other’s ideas, when I had to improvise. Why couldn’t I just add what ever I liked to my game?
WILLING SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF and INTERNALLY CONSISTENT WORLD. One of the major problems that all gamemasters have to face is the “Willing Suspension of Disbelief.” For the period of game, people who live in a non-magical world must accept that their characters are in a world where magic happens and that they are part of that world. To help players suspend their disbelief, GMs need to keep their worlds internally consistent. If one designs a world with a particular theme or trait and, suddenly, drops something into that world that violates that theme or trait, then the players are going to be jarred out of their disbelief. This led me to the second quote.
Borrowing something implies that you intend to return it and in relatively the same condition as it was before it was borrowed. When it comes to Rilmorn, I can’t just borrow things for my world. A borrowed object stands out. It is still sharp around the edges. When you steal something for a game, you plan on keeping it and you do what you need to do to make it a good fit.
When I began my BIG 4E game, I stole the Secpter Tower of Spellgard. I changed the spelling and the location of the ruins to place them in Rilmorn. I put a portal from Sigil to Spellguard, so my PCs could have a way to the ruins and for me to be able to add future adventure hooks. I changed the halfling wererats to dwarven wererats, since there are so few halflings on Rilmorn. I linked Spellgaurd to Castle Timeless (an extradimensional realm involving time and time travel). Saharel became a temporally displaced chronasarian. The undead below Sceptre Tower (changed spelling again) became “time-riven dead,” beings that were some how bond to the disaster known as the “Fall of the Castle.” The Monks of the Precipice became guardians of a cave under their monastery that opened into a “Gulf of Time.” Kuryon became a blue dragonborn from Sigil, who went back in time to found the Fortress State of Arkohsia (already introduced in a previous 4E game). The main villain of the story was renamed Thalen and linked to Galen, a big villain from the end of one of my other campaigns. Sister Chera became a disguised deva. Etc. I tied the adventure to my world.
If you like something and want it in your world, take it. You need a powerful, busybody wizard to direct the PCs actions. Take Elminster. Rename him: Elfmiester. Shave his beard and dress him in red robes. Make him Master Librarian in the port city of Palanthus who likes to send adventurers out on his ship Firefly to explore dungeons hidden on nearby islands. Take what you need and blend it into your world and it will work. Game On!