Saturday, November 27, 2010

Unconscious Influences

When you read enough, I suppose it's inevitable that one might be unconsciously influenced by a particular work and only later recognize this fact. Still, it can sometimes be a bit embarrassing to realize that a supposedly clever "invention" by oneself is nothing of the sort, especially when the origin of the invention ought to be obvious. Today, I suddenly realized that an element of my Dwimmermount campaign pertaining to the cult of Turms Termax is strongly inspired by a book I first read in high school and that I actually consider one of the better works of 20th century fantasy/science fiction. How I failed to recognize the source of my inspiration, I do not know; I can only assume it's because I haven't read the book in question in many years and so had forgotten the detail that inspired me.

Ah well.

19 comments:

  1. I've had this same thing happen to me many a time. I particularly hate it when I get a really great, on-its-own unique and powerful idea, but the basis for which it is modeled on comes from a different source entirely, and would be unable to stand on its own.

    Out of curiousity, might you share what it is that you borrowed, specifically?

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  2. I'd love to mention the book and the element of it I borrowed, but I can't, because it'd reveal too much to my players, who haven't yet figured it out. I don't want to spoil their fun :)

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  3. Our gaming group was formed earlier this year from a bunch of folks who hadn't played an RPG for several years to almost two decades. I've been referee for several games in a row, when suddenly a wonderful surprise! I get to be a player!

    We go around the table stating our names and our backgrounds. Me first. Damn. I totally forgot to put any thought in to it. Err... "Jeff the Magic-User". Background? Founding member of a team of budding private investigators who specialize in strange phenomena. OK, next player. *phew*

    It wasn't until the journey home after the game that I realized that I may have just subconsciously recycled "Jim Darkmagic" and "Acquisitions Incorporated" from the D&D 4e Penny Arcade/PvP/Wil Wheaton podcasts.

    Maybe no-one noticed.

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  4. "It has come to be practically a sort of rule in literature, that a man, having once shown himself capable of original writing, is entitled thenceforth to steal from the writings of others at discretion." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Shakespeare

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  5. I read once that there is no such thing as an original story. Everything is inspired by something that already exists. Don't be too hard on yourself.

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  6. Heath is so right! Star Wars, D&D, the stories of The Broken Sword and Children of Hurin (both based off the legend of Kullervo); all inspired from something before them.

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  7. I run into this quite a bit in my campaigns. There have been several situations where I will unconsciously add an element to a campaign because I saw or read it somewhere. Sometimes my players even call me on it.

    My brother most recently did this because I had scene a Dire Snail mount that pulled cargo in this really awesome wallpaper. Without realizing it, the mountain people in my campaign suddenly had snail mounts. My brother called me on it by bringing the picture in the second day just to taunt me with it.

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  8. Honestly, with the whole of humanity's written record to draw from, it's pretty near impossible to not borrow an idea from somewhere else. Honestly, I'd like to know where some of my more original seeming ideas actually came from.

    To a greater degree, realizing this property of humanity, I've given up "trying to be clever" and just openly take from this or that source that I find interesting, with only the names changed to protect the innocent. Put that familiar thing into a different, perhaps unfamiliar setting, and at the gaming table it suddenly becomes "original."

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  9. Hey, don't feel badly. Neil Gaiman has made a career of this sort of thing :).

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  10. Don't feel bad, but I think most of us have done the very same thing in one form or another.

    I started to write up a adventure about a year-ish ago. Got about 15 pages typed up when i realized the story was almost the same as a old Dungeon the mag. adventure I ran some 20 years ago. I think someone was using some jedi-mind tricks on me.

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  11. Many of my early NPC and place names were taken from books I was reading at the time, but their sources had long since been forgotten -- leaving me to believe I'd made them up. I was shocked recently when I re-read an old book and found it littered with my early campaign.

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  12. Since an awful lot of good fantasy has it's roots in myth and history and many a DM is well read (or at least they like to pretend they are) it's going to be a trick to come up with something totally absolutely original. I find it fun if the players discover the accidental rip-off and make it work for them before I realize what's going on.

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  13. A good way to avoid falling into that trap is to borrow -er, steal ideas from outside the fantasy/sci-fi genre.

    Personally, I make a conscious effort NOT to grab ideas from fantasy/sci-fi because let's face it: the game is already drenched in that sort of thing anyway. There's also little point in chewing the same piece of gum everyone else has already been chewing for many years.

    That's why I've always found the films of John Huston or Sam Peckinpah more useful as a source of ideas than the latest Tolkien wannabe.

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  15. Carl said: Many of my early NPC and place names were taken from books I was reading at the time, but their sources had long since been forgotten -- leaving me to believe I'd made them up. I was shocked recently when I re-read an old book and found it littered with my early campaign.

    Happens to me all the time.

    This is not that bad when it just happens in your home campaign (and the sources are so weird that none of the players have heard about them).

    But when you write for publication and have place names like "Ailgarthas" (which was a town in one of my campaigns) and "Tiraslin" or even "Minastirion" it could earn you funny looks, or bad reviews.

    I make it a habit to google every name I've put down on any map, sketch, or NPC description - especially the older ones!

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  16. "I make it a habit to google every name I've put down on any map, sketch, or NPC description - especially the older ones!"

    I know what you mean. When I came up with the name for my mega dungeon "the Mound of the Silver Flame" it sounded so natural that I was sure I was unconsciously ripping someone off. But if so, I can't find it on Google.

    Even if you could create something truly orginal, it would likely be so bizarre and unapproachable that no one could appreciate it. Just rip off a lot of different good stuff and combine it all in new ways.

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  17. I make it a habit to google every name I've put down on any map, sketch, or NPC description - especially the older ones!

    I used to do that but gave after just about every name I came up with -including ones I made up randomly- were found online.

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