Luke’s kindly agreed to share some session prep advice with Geek Native.
Both tomes offer creative and challenging prompts, and both are designed to help spark new ideas and inspiration.
So, the scene was set for a guest post with both tomes out fresh and ready to download.
In this article, Luke first clarifies what we might mean by a ‘writing prompt, then gets into how DMs, GMs or Storytellers might use them to prepare for a tabletop RPG session and shares some tips for getting the most out of them.
We’re not finished there, though, since it’s not just DMs who can use writing prompts.
How DMs Can Conjure Up Creativity into Session Prep Using Writing Prompts
Week after week, month after month, those of us that take up the glorious mantle of Dungeon Master are tasked with coming up with creative, engaging sessions for our players. Some sessions are easy, with a ton of great content to pull into your games that will wow your players and advance the story. But other weeks, that well of creative ideas can come up a bit dry. For me, that’s when I dive into some writing prompts.
By helping me to step out of my normal process and into a different creative mode, writing prompts are often the creative kick I need to get some new or reworked ideas for a session. Some of my favorite ideas in the campaign I’m currently running, set in the Forgotten Realms region of the Sword Coast, came out of a random writing-prompt-turned-great-idea.
They might just be what you need to turn a lackluster session into one your players will remember for years!
What are writing prompts?
In general, when I talk (a lot) about ‘writing prompts’ helping me with session prep, I define them as any question or statement that asks you to think creatively about your response. Typically these are created for other creative writing applications, such as novelists or journaling, but can fit in really well with lots of modes of prepping for a tabletop roleplaying game session.
By taking whatever the focus of the prompt is and aiming it at some element of your campaign, whether that’s a player character, NPC, in-world location, or some bit of worldbuilding of the world at large, you often find new bits of inspiration.
Here are some quick examples of prompts I’ve used recently in my own session prep that have led to some interesting lightbulb moments:
- What kinds of evidence exist in the party’s current location of that place’s past? Is it visible generally, or would someone need to seek it out?
- Imagine your character is removed from their current location and placed somewhere they are a total stranger. How would they act? What would they do?
- Play a game of “But why?” with your character, or your story’s villain. Ask them about their motivations, and when they offer an answer, ask “But why?” Repeat this exercise a few times, and you might be surprised what underpins their actions and emotions.
- Imagine that your story’s villain got exactly what they wanted, right now. How would things change for your protagonist? What would change about the world around the villain?
How can DMs use writing prompts in tabletop RPG session prep?
When you’re ready to sit and do some prep for your session, pull up your favorite collection of prompts (see below for some good sources of prompts) and scan for something that catches your attention. It might take a few tries to find something that fits thematically, or is general enough to apply to the use case of prepping for a tabletop roleplaying game, but you should be able to find a few good candidates.
All you really have to do is sit with each prompt and consider it through the lens of your campaign setting. By applying the inherent (or explicit) question of the prompt to some aspect of your world, you’ll start to see new sides to the thing being examined, or even come up with entirely new ideas. It’s a creative process, so let your imagination go wild!
Here’s an example of a prompt above, along with my answer from a recent session prep:
Prompt: What kinds of evidence exist in the party’s current location of that place’s past? Is it visible generally, or would someone need to seek it out?
Answer: The party is currently in the Beggar’s Nest district of the city of Neverwinter, one of the oldest and most run down areas of the city. After the decades of strife and destruction that the city had experienced, much of the other districts has been reclaimed and rebuilt. The Beggar’s Nest, in comparison, is a warren of clapboard housing and ruined stone, all picked clean over the years. Even the city wall in this section of the city has yet to be repaired, relying on haphazard wooden fencing to patch up the walls.
Aside from thinking to myself, “Yeah, the Beggar’s Nest is probably really run down still, maybe the city hasn’t repaired it yet,” I hadn’t gotten to any of these details before. They might have come out in some form during play as my players explored this district, but now I have a far more evocative idea of what they’d see and I’ll be able to describe it better in-game.
This can apply to any aspect or subject within your game, so spend some time going through your chosen prompts and examining things you’d like to get more information about or come up with new ideas about. NPCs, locations, game mechanics, and the world at large are all fair game and can all benefit from a little creative boost.
Once you’ve spent some time with the prompt and your subject, consider how you might use what you’ve learned through the process. You might find some amazing new ideas and inspirations for the coming session, or something you want to use later. In the end, it’s your creativity and your campaign setting, so use the ideas as you see fit.
It’s also possible that you find yourself at a loss, or that you came up with some ideas that just don’t quite fit with the direction you want your setting to go. And that’s okay! Give it another try or pivot to examining another subject through the same prompt or something different and keep the creativity rolling.
Tips for making the most out of your chosen writing prompts
While this process is meant to make session prep more creative, it’s not always easy. Here are some tips to try to help make the processes easier:
- Don’t force it! If you just can’t seem to find inspiration with any of the prompts you find, give yourself a break and try going back to your normal session prep. Try again next week, or after a brief break.
- Grab prompts that catch your eye, even if they don’t exactly fit. That prompt that captured your attention about a lost brother might not be a perfect fit for the NPC you’re wanting to flesh out, but make it her mother and you might be in luck!
- Pull from a few different writing prompt sources. If you go back to the well of a single source too many times, you’ll start to see the same prompts over and over again, which can be frustrating and cause your creative energy to stall out.
Is using writing prompts for session prep only for Dungeon Masters?
No! I try to prep for gaming sessions as a player in some similar ways as I do as the DM, and that can include the use of writing prompts.
Typically, as a player, my angle on some of the prompts or the types of subjects in-game that I apply them to are just different. Rather than looking at the mechanics of the world around the whole party, I may seek to explore how my character relates to parts of the world around them.
Rather than inter-party dynamics, I might want to find out more about how my character feels about a specific party member, or even an NPC.
Really, the possible ways players can get in on the magic of the writing prompt (and, for that matter, dedicating some time to session prep) are endless, and how you embody your character and interact with the world and people around them will only be improved.
Where can I get good writing prompts for my session prep?
When I say that there is a metric ton of writing prompts out there, know that it’s not hyperbole (despite the weight of that information on servers being unknown). There are so many interesting resources out in the world chock full of great prompts.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Graycastle Press’ Tome for Game Masters and Players – I created this pair of creative session journals specifically to help add creativity to tabletopificallyrpg session prep to help add more creativity to tabletop presents four tabletop RPG-specific prompts each week, as well as an interesting creative exercise
- Written Word Media’s 500 Writing Prompts to Help Beat Writer’s Block – A writer-focused resource with a wide range of question types and subjects
- Reedsy Prompts – this website built for book reviews boasts over 1,100 prompts currently, often seed prompts for a creative story or idea
- Writer’s Digest’s Creative Writing Prompts Archive – this archive of blog posts around writing prompts is fantastic if you have some time to explore
If you spend some time searching “writing prompts” in your favorite search engine, you’re bound to find a ton more, too.
Now you have all you need to jumpstart your next session prep with some creative writing prompts and find some new ideas. All you need to do is:
- Go through some writing prompt sources and scan for a few that jump out at you
- Tweak them or think about them creatively to apply them to some element of your campaign setting (NPCs, the antagonist, organizations, locations, the world at large, etc)
- Jot down (or think through) your responses to the prompt, mining that perspective on your subject for new and valuable inspiration
- Apply those ideas to your campaign as you see fit
- Reap the creative rewards!
What interesting ideas came out of your session prep from using writing prompts? Share some in the comments and let me know!
About the Author
Luke Miller of Graycastle Press is a tabletop roleplaying game designer. He’s the creator of Journey, the bestselling solo worldbuilding game that helps you explore your worlds, and Tome for Players and Game Masters, a pair of creative session journals that help add creativity to your session prep. He lives in sunny California with his husband and two corgis.
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