The old saying that “Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal” is no less true when it comes to being a GM.
One of the most memorable games I played in had our party, looking for a witch to remove a curse, arrived in a run down city built primarily of the local green marble. None of us spoke the local language, and the halfling citizens were annoyingly helpful, though we couldn't understand them. It wasn't until after that session that I realized we were in Oz. The groans from my fellow players and the grin from the DM showed just how effective it was.
Some of the sources I've stolen from include Earthsea, the Conan cartoon, Narnia, Star Trek (TOS, TNG, DS9), real life history, Sailor Moon, Highlander, Valdemar... and on and on. Movies, books, radio (I love old radio dramas), people I know in real life.
People? Yes people! Renaissance painters had a habit of inserting people they didn't like into their scenes of hell. I've done the same sort of thing. Some NPCs are modeled on people I know, and not all of them people I like. If you know someone with a really strong personality, USE IT! If you're at the table and their dealing with a really grump gnome or goblin, think about Danny DeVito. Brash young military officer? Chris Pine as Captain Kirk or Amanda Tapping as Sam from SG1. Noble leader who's doomed to die? Sean Bean in just about any roll he's ever played. Need a farm kid who's going to tag along with the party, Renee O'Connor (Gabrielle from Xena) or a young Mark Hamill.
If you're gaming with your friends and fellow nerds, it's very likely that they'll be familiar with the many of the same sources you are. That's ok! Even after knowing that we were in the Emerald City of Oz, it was still exciting to see how our DM twisted and changed things for his game. Plus it helped unify our collective vision of that the city looked like. Those twists and changes though... those made it really memorable. So go ahead, snag something, anything, from whatever is inspiring you right now! Give it a tweak, a twist, splash a coat of paint on it and call it yours.
Day 5 of the 30 Day GM Challenge