Now that you are armed with your campaign's foundation, parameters, and power level, it's time to go to the next step: Inspirational Sources. The quickest way to get a player to understand what your campaign is about is to give them a comparison to a reference that they'll understand. The more references you can give, the better. Sometimes you'll end up having to add a qualifier "It's like X, but without Y or Z." Other times you can just use it wholesale "It's like X." This sounds simple at first, right? Every gamer I know does this "Hey, I'm running this game that's like X, but it's more all about Y in X, want to play?" Sometimes, that's enough to get the juices flowing for a player, sometimes they need more. I personally like to saturate my players in fiction, movies, TV shows, or whatever pop culture references I think are valid so that they know the exact feel I'm going for. This usually involves a list of some kind, annotated, separated, and with valid links if sent via email or shared digitally. Of course, if you did your foundation session right, you've probably already got a small list given to your by your players. That's just a byproduct of your players and yourself describing the kind of campaign you want to run/play. Though it's probably best to start small and work your way out from there, I tend to just pile it on (which may not work for you). What's more, start with the mediums that you know your players will view/read first. If no one reads comic books, don't both putting down any comic books - at least not to start. Once you have a good list, sort it out in the following way:
- Highly Influential/Must Watch or View
- Moderately Influential/Suggested Watching or Viewing
- Slightly Influential/Watch or View with Time Permitting
- Author Last Name, Author First Name. Title* (Publisher, Year). Pertinent snippet
- Movie Title* (Director Name, Year). Pertinent snippet
- TV Show Title* (Years Running). Pertinent snippet
- Game Title* (Creator, Year). Pertinent snippet
* Use a hyperlink if sending via email so your players don't have to look it up - Wikipedia is probably best for this purpose.
The Worked Example: Inspirational Sources List for Something, Something Kill Monsters Urban Fantasy Secret Magic
The following is the book list that both I and my players came up with for our new campaign, there are entries for movies, films, and such, but this should get you going on what we decided we wanted:
Inspirational Sources, Books
- Briggs, Patricia. The Mercedes Thompson series. (Ace, 2006). Features a secret world with werewolves, vampires, witches, and other things. Draws heavily on Native American folklore.
- Butcher, Jim. The Dresden Files (Roc Books, 2000-present). One man can't really make a difference right? Wrong. Dresden pushes himself to the brink to protect innocents. Considered the epitome of a "paranormal detective."
- Gaimen, Neil. Neverwhere (BBC Books, 1996). Has multiple "secret world" elements, including a hidden world underneath the streets of London and a meddling angel.
- Harrison, Kim. The Hollows Series (HarperCollins, 2004-present). Though it's not a world with hidden supernatural elements, the cosmology (how the demon world and the real world interact) is absolutely fascinating. Not to mention the depth of the background that makes the characters live.
- Lackey, Mercedes. Elves on the Road universe (Multiple publishers, 1992-present). Written with many other authors. Depicts a "secret magic" universe with all manner of creatures including dragons, fae, and witches.
- McGuire, Seanan. October Daye series. (DAW, 2009). Another amazingly in-depth world with all manner of faerie and centered on a part-fae "troubleshooter" (the eponymous heroine) who works for the local nobility.
- Correia, Larry. Monster Hunter International Series. (Infinity Publishing, Baen Books, 2007-present). This series is all about hunting monsters and getting paid for it. Though it does feature one of the biggest Mary Sues in history - it's also kind of the point. This is a "secret world" universe, even though the government does know about the existence of the supernatural.
- Correia, Larry. The Grimnoir Chronicles. (Baen Books, 2011-2013). Set in the 1920's this pulpy series features magic, samurai, and all manner of "powers-based" magic-users.
- King, Stephen. The Shining. (Doubleday, 1997). Featuring a haunted house, a psychic kid, and ghosts that can drive people mad. Also spawned two films (I prefer the 1997 miniseries) and a sequel (Doctor Sleep, Scribner, 2013).
- Hearne,Kevin. Iron Druid Chronicles. (Del Rey, 2011). Has a 2,000 year old druid mucking about with fae and Celtic gods. Though it has some of the same problems as the MHI series, it still proves to be a fun read.
- Hoffman, Nina Kiriki. Chapel Hollow/Families series. (Avon Books, 1993). Features a unique magic system and uses the idea of magical "bloodlines."
- Goodman, Susan. Dark is Rising Sequence. (Random House, 1984). Though it's a "children's series" the depictions of cosmic forces and "old ones" (keepers of mystical lore) are very cool.
- Steakley, John. Vampire$. (Roc Books, 1990). Another series about monster hunters working in secret and getting paid for it. Though it spawned a movie starring James Woods (1998's John Carpenter's Vampires), the book is much better.
- Stross, Charles. The Laundry Files. (Penguin Group, 2004). A secret magic universe that proves math is evil and programmers really do save the world.