A few weeks ago I wrote a post about a fun and unusual way of brainstorming with oracle tables, which involved using a couple of dice and asking the right questions, and I’m back again today with another dice-laden writing activity!
I’ve never been particularly good at story prompts – normally when I get an idea, it’s usually small and takes a lot of time and brainstorming to turn it into something I might actually write one day. Still, as I’ve fallen more and more into the solo RPG space, my love of dice and roll tables had me searching out even more ways to incorporate it into my writing.
This November for NaNoWriMo, I’ve entertained the idea of using dice, roll tables, and a bit of solo RPG-ing to help outline some fantasy vignettes for me to write throughout the month. I knew I wanted to create this table to help me generate some starting plot hooks, and I figured it might also be useful for other writers and tabletop gamers out there.
The concept of keyword tables was heavily inspired by Ironsworn, the Story Engine Deck and the Tome of Adventure Design, all of which draw on random keywords and events to generate plot hooks. I wanted to create one with my own spin, as well as something a little easier to carry around if I decide to bring it with me for a coffee shop writing session.
I spent many hours brainstorming a list of keywords for generating fantasy prompts, and I organized them into six categories (who, what, where, a descriptor, an additional element and a sensory detail). And because I like to be extra, I made the table for d100 dice. That means that this table has 600 keywords for you to roll from to come up with your own writing prompts or plot hooks!
If you want to try it, you can download the keyword table below! Just know that these prompts are designed to be used for fantasy plot hooks and prompts. Some of the columns could be used more generally, but there are a lot of fantastical elements on this list that won’t really work for anything that isn’t a fantasy story.
Now, I’m not one to make something and forgo any sort of testing. And I happen to think brainstorming prompts in this way is a pretty good creative exercise, having done something similar with random emojis.
So I pulled out my dice, rolled some numbers, and now I’m going to put together some prompts with what I generated!
Prompt #1 :
Ruler, Hideout, Egg, Ordinary, Search, Running Water
The word that sticks out the most to me right right off the bat is the word ordinary because having a ruler search a hideout sounds like one of the least ordinary scenarios such a figure would find themselves in. But maybe, it is part of this ruler’s ordinary life. Maybe it’s a young prince, or a lord, who raises animals in secret, and has a hideout specially designed for that sort of thing. Running water makes me think of caves, creeks and waterfalls, so the hideout is presumably near some sort of water source. Maybe the egg in question is a creature that needs water, like a kelpie (a shape-shifting water horse from Scottish mythology).
According to mythology, Kelpie can turn into human form, so maybe it isn’t that the ruler is raising Kelpie, but that the ruler is a Kelpie in secret, and regularly retreats to their hideout to soak in some water. Maybe their eggs are safely tucked away in this water-logged hideout of theirs, until one day when the hideout is discovered and searched by the ruler’s own guard. Now the castle is on high alert for a possible Kelpie infiltrator.
The Final Prompt
After centuries of slaughter, the kelpies of Loch Moira have found other ways to survive. Posing as a foreign princess, a young kelpie becomes the queen of a kingdom that has hunted kelpie kind for generations. Secretly, they raise their eggs in seclusion until they are ready to don their own disguises and walk amongst their would-be killers. But one fateful day, a patrol needing a moment’s respite stumbles upon the queen’s secret hideout, as well as the tunnel leading back to the castle. The kingdom is on high alert – a kelpie has infiltrated the kingdom, and everyone is a suspect. Can the kelpie queen protect their identity as well as the lives of their children?
Performer, Barrow, Funeral, Massive, Suppress, Snapping Branches
A performer at a funeral instantly makes me think of some sort of ceremonial dance, presumably one that would be performed at the barrow. More than a funeral, it might be the anniversary of one, perhaps for a once-popular ruler of the people, and a grand event has been hosted that is drawing a massive crowd. The people may be growing tired and frustrated with their current leader, and this event in honour of a long-dead king is meant to suppress any dissension. The sound of snapping branches immediately makes me think that someone is trying to be sneaky and perhaps failing. Maybe throwing a huge ceremony wasn’t enough to quiet the growing embers of rebellion.
The Final Prompt
No expense has been spared at the annual Mourning Ceremony for the dead but not forgotten King Khater. It’s a vain attempt by his latest descendent to quell ideas of rebellion after the crown raised their tariffs, and announced their plan to close the academy that Khater founded upon his coronation nearly two centuries ago. The fear is justified, for the lead dancer, whose poise and grace catch the eye of many nobles, is but one among many who plan to ignite a revolution. With a poisoned dagger hidden amongst flowing chiffon, she dances in mourning for more than one king tonight.
What do you think of my prompts? Again, this sort of thing is not my forte, but I think they’re pretty good for something I came up with in about ten minutes!
What Sort of Prompts Can You Come Up With?
If you generate some of your own prompts with this chart, I’d love to see what you come up with! Leave your keywords and your story prompt in the comments! I might even use one as inspiration for my short stories this November!
And if you enjoyed this and want me to make keyword tables for other genres, let me know!