Sure the printed words would hold a heavy spell, but it was those little line drawing and full cover art pieces that could just blast off little neurons at a mere glance. I often would immediately pull up a piece of graph or notebook paper and just start riffing.
Poring over back issues of Dragon magazine the other day old forgotten memories of campaigns, dungeons, and the like came crashing back. Crazily it was often the small things that would start off things.
Indeed one wee ad for an obscure little town setting, Jonril: Gateway to the Shrunken Lands, tucked away in one corner of a page (that the adult part of me now knows to be the pet campaign of the relatively well-known, if somewhat yawn-producing fantasy novelist Raymond Feist) launched my own first attempt at a homebrew campaign. The sight of those exotic, stylized-looking adventurers watching a caravan cross a narrow little wooden bridge into an inviting town clicked something off in my brain.
Although as a kid I never once laid eyes on this product, my own Jonril quickly took on a life of its own as my first real attempt to do something other than a dungeon. My Jonril became this mysterious, seedy city of merchants, necromancers, and thieves covering a small island in a volcanic lake cauldron. Literally years of adventuring went by without the PCs ever even leaving the confines of the city. Crazy elaborate heists and countless expeditions to the layers and layers of undercity beneath the streets were the order of the day. Good times.
So friends, I'm sure I'm not the only one that had these little golden moments of inspirations. Love to hear your own stories of what piece cranked it up to 11 for you.
And in honor of that kind of riffing I am going to be doing a series of posts on the images that launched a thousand ships for me. Next up is the moody, stylized art from the Rahman's brothers brilliant TSR boardgame Divine Right and corresponding series of Dragon supplementary stories, Minarian Legends.