Killing the Cult of Originality

Have you ever thought of an idea for a campaign so good that you immediately get to work? You crack out a first draft, some maps, NPCs, you even do a bunch of world building. You decide to show it off to your friend Steve, he’s a fellow Dungeon Master and you know he’ll love it.

Steve in our story is a massive fantasy, sci-fi nerd. He’s the guy who can tell you about some obscure Japanese movie based on a Armenian fairy tale that the Matrix was total based on.

Steve tells you that it’s almost an exact copy of a movie / show / anime / TV show / novel / short story / dream he once had / meme / commercial / interpretive dance routine and apologises.

The implication here is that you should fire up the shredder, all that work you just did isn’t original and therefore bad.

There’s this weird thing when you start talking to some creatives, an unspoken rule that shall never be ignored!

For something to be good it has to be original.

Here is my response,


Every artist steals, every story has roots from somewhere, nothing is truly original. Even very famous people have a voice and even if it was originally a new take on an old story, that voice tends to linger.

Joss Whedon does strong female characters, so if I see a weak willed female in one of his films, I’m expecting her to turn out to be a strong kick ass woman hiding it.

Who doesn’t watch a M. Night Shyamalan movie and does not expect a twist, because there is always a twist.

Think about your favourite creative author, director, film maker and think about one of the aspects of their work you love, then think about how often that concepts appears in their work.

If you don’t believe me, try reading The Hero with 100 Faces or The Hero’s Journey. Most western stories follow a common path, events unfolding in similar manners every time. Even if you try a different culture, stereotypes rapidly come to the surface, the same motifs and styles constantly bubble to the top.

However, be warned, looking “behind the curtain” is dangerous, my nickname is the Ruiner according to my loved ones, my superpower is destroying the ending of shows and movies because I can see it coming. If you learn these common story structures it can be hard not to see the workings in your favourite movies.

So here’s something that it took me a while to learn, don’t worry too much about being original, tell the story you’d want to tell, you’ll quickly learn if your players are enjoying it.

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