Sunday, September 30, 2012

Falling Into Autumn

"Gee, I like this season best of all!  The trees are like nature's own fireworks display!"
- Hobbes

Autumn is upon us, and I'm quite thrilled.  For me, autumn always means new releases (for some reason, the stuff that comes out in the fall is always my favorite), and the Michigan colors are getting ready to turn.  I couldn't ask for anything better.

With all the new releases, there's plenty of inspiration for D&D campaigns and adventure hooks.  This weekend has been a plethora of new stuff, and the gears in my mind have been turning.

First, this weekend marked the start of Clone Wars Season 5.  Darth Maul and Savage Opress came back in full force.  If you haven't seen Clone Wars, I highly recommend it for a couple of reasons.  One, it's Star Wars.  You can't get any better than that.  Secondly, Clone Wars is a great resource for how to create episodic stories.  Chris Perkins writes a lot about how he considers his campaigns to be like TV sitcoms.

 
Clone Wars episodes are about 22 minutes a piece, divided into three story arcs.  Even when they are in a story arc (3 to 4 episodes), each episode definitely has a beginning, a middle and an end.  The viewer always wants to watch more and see what happens, yet they are still satisfied with what they have been given.  It's a great format for TV shows as well as D&D games.

The Season 5 premiere is available on starwars.com/theclonewars, which leads off solidly.  If you have access to some of the older seasons, the episode Lair of Grievous from Season 1 is a solid illustration of how to have a kick ass session for the evening.  The episode Bounty Hunters from Season 4 is another solid episode, with a twist and moral decision.

In short, check this show out.

Before I ever started playing D&D, I was heavily involved with Magic the Gathering (another WotC game).  This weekend was the pre-release for the newest set, Return to Ravnica.  We first journeyed to Ravnica six years ago (although it feels much longer).  The premise of the set was a large city-world with 10 different guilds vying for power.  Each guild had a different feel/played differently.  It is my favorite Magic set of all time.

My favorite guild was the Golgari (I started off a Gruul fan, but the Golgari were so much cooler as I dove into them).  At the pre-release, you got to choose one out of five available guilds.  You were given a box with your guild symbol.  My box looked like this:

 The inside of the box had a letter from the guildmaster, all your cards (random, you then had to build a deck to play), as well as a guild symbol sticker.


 Personally, I think the stickers are awesome.  The problem is, I don't know where I would stick it to, which kind of defeats the purpose of it. 

I also got a sweet pre-release promotional card for the Golgari.  My little brother opened up the guild leader in foil, so we were able to trade, so now I have a new Commander deck.


At this point, I can hear all my (faithful?) readers asking what the point of reading this blog post was.  Well, besides telling you about the great weekend I had, I also wanted to re-iterate the fact that just because something isn't Dungeons & Dragons doesn't mean that there isn't potential to plunder for stories.  Magic the Gathering has great art (and has over ten years worth).  Think about all those galleries you could plunder to look for inspiration for your campaigns.  Think of the character concepts you can find.  Think of a new world setting you could develop for a new campaign.

Let me give you my own real life example.

I was 15 when Revenge of the Sith came out.  I was super stoked (seeing it twice in theaters).  I though Anakin Skywalker had the greatest story ever, despite his fall.  To this day, I still understand his reasons for joining the Dark Side (and the Clone Wars show has been showing this more and more).  About a year ago, I experienced his temptations firsthand and understood them: if we truly thought the person we loved most was going to die, we would do anything to save them.  I spent a week wondering if my fiancee was going to be ok after a horrible, horrible car accident.  Miraculously, everything turned out great, but it's always been something that dwells in the back of my mind.

Anyway, as a 15 year old self, I was creating a new character for some story ideas my friends and I were doing.  I came up with a druid (since I was always the earth/nature guy), but I made his order of druids a lot like the Jedi Order.  My characters name was Ragnarok Senzez, and he was also a werewolf.  He had some attachment issues.  I tried to give him some differentiation from Anakin (for one, he never fell from grace...at least he was never temped to), but Star Wars was heavily inspiring my life at that point (it always had, but with the completion of the six movies, it was going on in full force).

In conclusion, inspiration is all around us.  Appreciate the little things, try something new, or look at your non D&D loves as a source of new D&D ideas.  As always, leave your comments below and be sure to follow me on Twitter @artificeralf

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Miniatures of Dungeon Command

"Gotta catch 'em all!" 
- Pokemon Catchphrase, but I think it can be applied to miniatures too

Despite being out for 2 months now, a lot of D&D players are still wondering whether or not Dungeon Command is a good investment.  I myself was skeptical a first, but the lure of getting a batch of miniatures drew me in, and now I'm hooked on the game.  My favorite part about Dungeon Command is that the strategy is a lot more complex than the game first appears to be.  This, to me, is a huge selling point.  

My fellow D&D players aren't so sure.  They keep asking if the game is worth the money.  The short answer (in my opinon), is a resounding yes!  I've taken pictures of every miniature from every set, and will describe them below.

Heart of Cormyr
This set was released at the end of July with the Sting of Lolth set.  The miniatures would be used best for PC's, with a couple of solid miniatures to use as monsters/NPC's.  Let's take a look.
 
The copper dragon is an amazing piece.  I'm a huge fan of dragons, being able to get a large sized one is a big plus.  The sculpt is solid, and it makes for a great patron for your players.


The earth guardian makes for a great adversary with all the Elemental Chaos support that came out back in February.  Getting two Heart of Cormyr packs gives you two of these guys, which I think makes for a great room to flank.  Alternatively, these miniatures could be used as a statues of a fortress or dwarf stronghold.


A dwarf cleric.  A standard hero miniature.


The War Wizard makes for another great hero miniature, but it could duplicate as an arcane enemy that the party must face as well.


The Dragon Knight is your standard knight in shining armor.  I've also wanted to use him as a guard for whatever powerful NPC the heroes must negotiate with.  He makes for a great addition to the new Dungeon Tile Set, Castle Grimstead.


The Half-orc Thug shows a versatility of weapons.


The Human Ranger is a great piece.  I love the cloak.


The Halfling Sneak is your typical rogue, skulking in the dark.


The Dwarven Defenders are awesome.  Solid guard miniatures, they make for great hero or NPC's.  In my home campaign, my party is about to be escorted by some Dwarves through a dangerous locations.  I've got the miniatures all set now!


Elf Archers are always cool, no matter what.

Sting of Lolth
This set was also released in July.  In a nutshell, if you want a ton of drow miniatures to throw at your PC's (say, as an Underdark campaign), this set is it.  If you need different looking drow PC miniatures (say, for a Menzoberranzan campaign), this is your set.  The monsters in the set rock to.
An Umber Hulk with this sculpt from the original set is about $20 on ebay.  That's half the price of Dungeon Command, and you get a GREAT game plus a bunch more minis.  It's a steal!  The Umber Hulk can also be used as a companion character, as a companion stat block was presented in The Dungeon Survival Handbook.


The Drow Wizard is a cool piece, both miniature wise and Dungeon Command game piece wise.  If you don't like this paint job, you can get an alternate one as a promo for the release (see below).



The Giant Spider makes for a great threat, whether it be an underground environment, a jungle, or the abandoned ruins of some old keep.


The Shadow Mastiff is a great piece for the Dungeon Command game.  D&D wise, I still haven't figured out what kind of encounters I want to use him in.  He could always make for a good animal companion/beast form for a Druid.


A pair of Drow House Guards.  Better watch out when exploring the Underdark!


The Drow Priestess is the epitome of fighting against the drow.  I'm glad I finally have one in my miniature collection (two actually, as I've purchased two of every Dungeon Command set).


The Drow Blademaster is one of my favorite choices for a male drow character.


I've always wanted a Drider miniatures, but my FLGS sold all of the ones in Savage Encounters.  I finally got my own and couldn't be happier.  Thie Drider is a female drow, which, given the whole female superiority in drow society, I found pretty cool.  She is definitely Lolth's Chosen!


Drow Assassin.  Makes for another great PC miniature.


Love the pair of Demonweb Spiders.  In my opinion, spiders just make for great monsters when Dungeon Crawling.  You could also use these guys in the Gardmore Abbey encounter where the PC's have to sneak past their webs.

Tyranny of Goblins
The latest Dungeon Command set came out on Tuesday.  I've been eagerly awaiting this set ever since it was announced, since I think goblins are awesome.  I got to play the set at Gen Con in August, which only made me want it even more.  Now that I finally have it, I'm very happy to be tinkering with my own goblin warband.
The Goblin Champion makes for a great Chieftain or otherwise powerful goblin enemy.  Or, if you want to be a PC, this makes for a solid heroic miniature too.


Heroes never can have enough goblin fodder to cut through.  The Goblin Cutters make sure you can provide enough miniatures as well.


The Goblin Wolfrider is my favorite goblin in the set, as well as my favorite Dungeon Command piece.  I love the eyes and teeth on this guy, and the wolf looks awesome as well.


The Bugbear Berserker looks like one mean, threatening goblinoid.


The Hobgoblin Soldiers are new miniature sculpts (which means you can't get them anywhere else).  These guys get an A+ in my book.  Their weapons look amazing, their pose is threatening, and I really want to plop them down on a map for an encounter and see what my players think.


The Hobgoblin Sorcerer makes for a great goblinoid leader, or even a Priest of Bane.


I love the Wolf, mostly because it's a common monster in lower levels, yet can also be used by Pack Outcast and Werewolf PC's when they transform.


I'm a big fan of the Goblin Archer, mostly because I like the detail.  I like how he's using two hands for his bow, and I also like the little shield he has on his back.


I have a theory that the bigger the miniature, the more impressive/scared your players will be when they encounter it in your game.  The Feral Troll is a big miniature.  Size-wise, it's considered a Large creature, but height-wise it towers over all everybody.  Glad I finally have one of these classic Dungeons and Dragons monsters.


The Horned Devil is something that looks sinister, evil, and wickedly intelligent.  The sculpt is pretty solid.  For many people, this is considered the best miniature out of the entire Tyranny of Goblins set.  I think there are lots of other cool pieces, but this one is definitely cool.

Hopefully this summary of all the miniatures will help encourage you to go out and pick up a set or two for yourself.  Consider giving the game a try.  It's a nice break from D&D, yet it still allows you to play with maps and miniatures.  

As always, leave comments below and be sure to follow me on Twitter @artificeralf

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Twisted Fairytales

"Shall I lead you through this haunted wood?" 
- Line I've Had in My Head for a Story for Years Now...

Out of all the Dungeons and Dragons characters and story ideas that I've read, my favorite has to the be the Feywild.  A magical, fairy-tale like reflection of our world, the Feywild is home to all sorts of magical, wondrous beings such as elves, satyrs, nymphs and pixies.  The evils of fairy tales also exist within, such as hags, cyclopes, and witches.  Things are not always as they seem within the Feywild, as many of the creatures can change shape to that of a more pleasing form.

About six months after I first got into the game, I subscribed to D&D's online magazine for the first time.  As I scrolled through articles and looked through all the new content, one of the articles caught my eye.  It was called Court of Stars: The Prince of Frost.  Written by Keith Baker, it opened my eyes to the Feywild and the potential of the villains that could dwell within.


The Prince of Frost.  Art by Wayne Reynolds
The basic story for the Prince of Frost was that he was once a joyful, kind eladrin (high elf) who's love rejected him for another.  His heart froze then, and his hatred and disdain for mortals grew, and so now he schemes, plotting against them and looking to cover the entire world in endless winter.  His servants are lovers of ice and darkness, and his humor is twisted and cruel.

This article created such a crazy amount of inspiration for me.  I sought to create a campaign based around the seasons, with the Prince of Frost as the final villain who was in charge of all the evils going on.  Needless to say, that campaign never finished (the very beginning was more of an introductory game for a couple of new players), but the character (and his other fey brethren) have stayed with me and my entire D&D inspiration.

Mini I would use for the Prince of Frost.  A Lord of the Rings High Elf (painted by me!)
 At the time I read the article, I began trying to find as much information on the Feywild (and other inspiration/ideas).  Unfortunately, there wasn't much to go by.  There were articles here and there, and just various monsters to look up in the Monster Manual to try and incorporate from there.  Fortunately, three months later, another Court of Stars article was released.

A setup I created for another dungeon that I realized could make a good throne room for the Prince of Frost.  He needs more lackeys present though. 
 Court of Stars: The Bramble Queen was written by Ari Marmell, was another great addition.  The Bramble Queen was another twisted, cruel fey who basically used plants, needles and thorns.  While I was still working on how to incorporate the Prince of Frost, the Bramble Queen was much easier.  In the early game with my players, I had a group of corrupted elves who had certain plant-like growths with their bodies.  They used a lot of poisons and thorns.

The Bramble Queen by Tyler Jacobson
I even made a disciple of the Bramble Queen who was creating most of the initial trouble.  I called her the Thornchilde, and made her a mini boss of sorts.  It was my first real foray into creating an antagonist for my players, and I was excited to play the whole thing out.

Mini for the Bramble Queen, the Warden of the Wood
The next Court of Stars article really didn't go live for over a year.  At the beginning of last December, the Mother of Witches, Baba Yaga herself went live in Court of Stars: Baba Yaga by Alana Abbott.  This character has been around in D&D for a long time, and when I had started researching the Feywild, her name always came up as a monstrous hag and curse weaver.  I really enjoyed this article because it gave new players like a myself a chance to understand the hag.  There was also a adventure published alongside her, Baba Yaga's Dancing Hut by Craig Campbell.

The mini I would use for Baba Yaga, a howling hag
Last November (before Baba Yaga was released), Wizards of the Coast published a book called Heroes of the Feywild.  It gave a lot of insight into the world of the Fey, as well as their backgrounds and mythology.  It mentions the fey power players and gives a lot of good advice and guidance for players who want to run Feywild inspired heroes.  It is probably my favorite D&D book, simply because of all the Feywild goodies and inspirations it gives.

The last Court of Stars article to be released was written by myself.  Court of Stars: The Trinket Lord  went live a few weeks back.  My goal was to create an unaligned/neutral fey that players could interact with in various ways, not just as an enemy.

The Trinket Lord by Tony Foti
The feedback I've received online for the article has been very positive (if there's negative stuff, I haven't seen it).  Needless to say, I'm very humbled/awestruck by the things I've read.  Being able to contribute to something I feel very passionately about is always an amazing experience, but to have it received so well just adds to the happiness of it.

As indicated in the summary paragraph of the Trinket Lord article (on the WotC website), the question of where lost things go plays a big question in the role of the Trinket Lord.  I created a map of ways to possibly find entrance to the Trinket Lord's demesne from Dungeon Command tiles.  My goal was to create a maze with lots of different options and ways to players to explore and be unsure of what lurks ahead.

Made from 4 Dungeon Command sets
There's a lot of narrow entrances and ways to explore.  The magic circles could be teleportation circles (something quite common with fey powers), and there's lots of underbrush and growth.  When describe what players see, they will never quite know what lurks around the next corner.  Maybe displacer beasts?  Owlbears?


On a side note, I really want a cool owlbear miniature, but I've yet to get myself one.  Hopefully in a future Dungeon Command set.

In the article, I've also mentioned the Trinket Lord's golems, made from various scraps and broken items.  I only have a clay golem miniature, which was unmentioned in the article, but I think it could work.  Maybe it's a golem created from broken pottery, glass and other artistic things, held together by mud and other melted pottery.


For a miniature of the Trinket Lord himself, I've always thought to use Gnome Tinkerer.  It's always been my favorite gnome miniature, and just seems to fit the Trinket Lord.


And that are all the Court of Stars articles to date.  I highly recommend taking a look at those articles, or revisiting them, as they provide great inspiration for villains or Feywild adventures.  They've greatly inspired me and my Dungeons and Dragons journey.

On a side note, I got this new miniature, and I really want to build a fighter or a knight just to use him.  His shield is also inspiring me to create an entire new culture/continent with a lot of faces carved into buildings and everyday objects.


As always, leave your comments below and be sure to follow me on Twitter @artificeralf

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fleeing Combat

"Cowards die many times before their deaths." 
- William Shakespeare

September is here!  Well, technically it was here last week too, but it suddenly feels like autumn over here, so September seems even more real.  The school year is just beginning, I'll soon be watching my little little brother play football, and I'm getting ready for all the fun releases to come out (Dungeon Command: Tyranny of Goblins, I'm looking at you!).

I was supposed to start my Winter campaign this Thursday, but due to some unforeseen circumstances with my host, it was not to be.  Hopefully this Thursday.  While preparing for the adventure though, I realized that I would need to create some encounters/enemies to battle (this was actually fairly obvious).  However, I've learned one thing about myself.
 
Creating combat encounters make me nervous.
 
Not nervous as in anxiety, just nervous as it is not my favorite part of the game.  The more I've read and brainstormed and created all sorts of characters and dungeons, I become more and more aware that combat does not excite me.  I would rather explore than fight.  Combat can drag on, and hack and slash is not my idea of fun.
 
And so, I had to stop and think about why I didn't enjoy combat.  I came up with these reasons, and the solutions to them.
 
I don't like combats where the monsters are simply dealing damage.  That just becomes a huge hack-fest, and it gets slow really quick.  As my friend P@ put it, "it just becomes about dice rolling and math".  Truer words were never spoken.  In the last few sessions I've DMed, I've been trying to create some fast encounters.  These generally involve lots of minions.  Combat feels more cinematic, and the players are generally more involved.
 
The other thing I've really pushed myself to do is to create more exciting combat locations.  Without giving away one of the encounters in my campaign, figure out ways that the players and the monsters can deal a lot of damage to one another, based off of where they are battling.  Nobody wants to fight goblins in a hallway, they want to have to jump pits, climb ledges, and pull levers to open and close doors.  
 
I ran a completely non-combat session once.  In it, the PC's interacted with the Council of Genkar.  The players were intrigued by all the NPC's and their interactions.  They were many people to talk to, and many relationships to learn about.  Combat should be the same way.  There should be things that intrigue the party.  One of my favorite combat combat encounters was the one where Chris Perkins has the Robot Chicken guys battle in the Tomb of the Orc Slayer.  In the center of the room are dangerous runes surrounding the sarcophagus.  Jaundice the Mauve, the party's wizard, pretty much chose to focus on those runes every round.  In a previous encounter, he chose to try to a get the mechanized contraption under his control.  Both of these encounters involved him not damaging any monsters.  He was so wrapped up in the other features of the room that he was content in dealing with those.

Combat should not be about fight to the death.  If characters really value their survival, they will look for other means to speed things up.  Mike Shea, of slyflourish.com, references an article often, but it really paints a good picture of what DM's should hope to achieve with combat.  The article, called 'The Combat "Out"', by Dave "The Game" Chaulker is an excellent read and resource.  It can be found here: http://critical-hits.com/2011/02/28/the-combat-out/

Dave makes a lot of good points (he's also a really nice guy, and looks exactly the picture on his Twitter handle).  Most importantly, he says that combat shouldn't always end simply when one side dies.  Characters should flee, monsters surrender, terrain gets in the way, etc.

I've started to look at combat like movie fight scenes (something referenced to by Chris Perkins in his weekly column).  I ask myself a few simple questions:
  1. Is the scene cool?
  2. Does this fight serve a purpose?
  3. Are there ways for the PC's to excel/do exciting things?
  4. Is there a combat out?
  5. Is there emotional connection to this encounter?
  6. Does it advance the story?
  7. Is this encounter against a major campaign villain?
  8. Do I think the encounter will last super long?
If I have some solid answers to the majority of these questions, I generally feel better about running this combat encounter.  It helps my combat anxiety so to speak.

With that being said, I'm typically looking only to have 1 or 2 combat encounters in a 3 hour session.  Any more will generally bog down the evening, and I want players to be able to explore as they want and develop their characters.

As always, thanks for reading and be sure to follow me on Twitter @artificeralf

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Karl's Appendix N

"The following authors were of particular inspiration to me. In some cases I cite specific works, in others, I simply recommend all of their fantasy writing to you. From such sources, as well as any other imaginative writing or screenplay, you will be able to pluck kernels from which will grow the fruits of exciting campaigns. Good reading!" 
- Gary Gygax, AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide

The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide had an appendix in the back simply referred to as Appendix N.  From here, Gary Gygax talked about the works of fiction that inspired Dungeons and Dragons rules and game style.

I did not play Dungeons & Dragons at the beginning.  I was introduced to the game during 4th Edition, and have been learning about the worlds and the lore while others have been studying it for decades.  However, I have spent my entire life creating characters, wondrous lands and exotic adventures.  Dungeons and Dragons became a great way for me to expand on those characters and places.  In fact, Dungeons and Dragons was the game that I always wanted, but didn't even realize it existed, or what it could become.

Growing up, I had my own list of influences.  I would like to share them.  This is my Appendix N.  Enjoy!

Star Wars

This one is pretty obvious, but I got into Star Wars back when I was 8 years old.  I liked the vast number of aliens and characters, along with the mythology and how vast the galaxy really was.


I grew up as a Han Solo fan
In terms for D&D inspiration (and creativity in general), I was always liked creating large amounts of NPC's, each with different backstories and goals.  You never knew who was going to be a major player, or who just had a interesting fact to present.  One of the other great things was that all these little stories sooner or later seemed to tie into a larger plot and paint a bigger picture.

For a side note, I would highly recommend that Dungeon Master's watch some episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars to get a better understanding of how to pace a session.  I've found that the typically best way for me to run a session is to plan for about 3 hours.  In 3 hours, I introduce questions, intrigue and throw in some action.  I always try to leave my group wanting more, and the Clone Wars TV series demonstrates all these lessons really well.


I've also looked to Star Wars as inspiration for characters I've created.  While in high school, my friends and I wrote in notebooks.  We would each create a character, and then write from that character's point of view, passing the notebook around and stitching together one large plot.  My favorite character I created, Ragnarok Senzez, has now found his way into my D&D games (when I get to play), and has many traits of myself, as well as the Hero of the Republic himself, Anakin Skywalker.




Of course, as time has gone on, my favorite character has to be Boba Fett.  The guy just reeks mystery, and he has so many cool gadgets and his own code of honor that he just makes for a great character.

 

The Chronicles of Prydain

For those unfamiliar with these books, there are five of them, written by Lloyd Alexander.  Their titles (and the order) are as follows:
  1. The Book of Three 
  2. The Black Cauldron
  3. The Castle of Lyr
  4. Taran Wanderer
  5. The High King
My 5th grade teacher introduced me to these books when I was 10, and I never forgot them.  The central story was about a young man growing up, but I really didn't realize that until much later.  For me, they were always about a boy going on adventures in ruined castles, fighting un-dead (the Cauldron Born) or negotiating with hags over magical objects.  His friends always aided him, from the girl who always gave him advice (whether he liked it or not), to his beast-like companion who was always hungry.
The world in this book was big, but not so large it was incomprehensible.  It introduced me to thinking outside of the box on some things (such as an oracular pig) to learning about sacrifice and storytelling.  At some point, I think I need to re-read them all.
The Lord of the Rings
I'm sure that these books are on every D&D player's favorites (or at least they respect them).  Gary Gygax put them on his list as well.  I read them all before I was 12 (the movies hadn't even come out at that point), and I thought they were amazing.  They weren't always easy, fast reads, but I respected Tolkien for a lot of what he conveyed/explained to his audiences.  Tolkien was definitely a world builder, and he did a great job of it.
A lot of the monsters (the Nazgul, Shelob) were always able to create tension and I found them to be terrifying.  You can go and read in my previous post about how Moria was the original dungeon crawl for me, and I loved it.  Between these books and Star Wars, my imagination was already going pretty crazy.
Always wanted to play a character like this.  Thanks to the DnDNext playtest, I plan on trying it out.
Harry Potter
The coolest part about Harry Potter was the fact that I got to grow up with him.  I started them when I was 10, and the last book came out the summer I graduated high school.  Rowling does a great job of creating mysteries and making readers want to know the definite answer.  I think this is a trait all DM's should look to emulate, as it is a necessary thing for storytellers to do.
There's really not too much else to say about Harry Potter, because everybody understands what makes it so remarkable.  It's permeated into our culture.
For the record, Prisoner of Azkaban and Half-Blood Prince are my favorites.   
Calvin and Hobbes
Readers are probably wondering what a comic about a boy and his stuffed tiger have to do with D&D, but  as a middle schooler reading every volume, I can tell you that they had a strong pull on my own imagination.  For Cavlin, monsters and foes were everywhere, and he was the hero to (sometimes) stop them.  Sometimes there were foes he couldn't vanquish.  And other times, it was just a funny, sarcastic comic that made me feel happy.
I don't think that reading Calvin and Hobbes will make you a better DM.  However, the writing is good, and the characterization is amazing.  We learn a lot about Cavlin, Hobbes, Calvin's parents, Susie Derkins, and the other repeating characters after just a few comics.  For me, this always kept me coming back, since they were so entertaining.  Bill Watterson (the author) was always looking for ways to branch out with his artwork, doing something abstract for one comic, then doing something else entirely for the next (not always, but if you've read enough of them, you know what I mean).  As DM's (and just people in general), we shouldn't be afraid to jump out of the box every once in a while, just to see where it takes us.
While some of these may be pretty weak reasons for why Calvin and Hobbes helped my D&D games, I'm confident to say that I would be a much different/less imaginative person without them.
Redwall
A fantasy series about woodland creatures protecting their home and having adventures, these books always seemed to have interesting locations to explore.  Redwall Abbey, for one, always seemed to have some new history or place that was being discovered, and the wider world in general possessed a ton of them.  Salamandastron, Castle Marl, and even the lands in the far south made you really wonder how much Brian Jacques had created that he just wasn't letting the readers onto.  As I read through (most) of the series, I began to see how the timeline would shift back and forth, and more information would open up/become apparent.
These books are kind of another thing that I don't know how they inspired me for D&D, but I know that they helped.  I think mostly due to their heroic nature and noble characters, they made me want to tell my own stories or be one of those characters myself.
Marvel Comics
This one is kind of obvious, as most younglings get all into super heroes at some point.  My personal favorite is Spider-man.  Once again, the cast of characters is what I love about them, and the stories of the hero against the villains and saving the day.  I spent a lot of time drawing these guys in middle school, and even more time making up stories about how I was really Spider-man and would go off saving my township at night.
The more stories I read, the more plotlines I saw developed, which really helped me understand how to craft stories/give plot twists.  I've fallen out of the comics loop for a while now, mostly because I think that they are being overdone.  However, there are still some classic stories that I love simply because I think they tell their stories very well.
On a side note, I think Marvel did a great job by setting up the Avengers movie.  Genius.  
 
Pokemon
This game has crazy replay value.  It made me appreciate team work and team building.  You could probably say the same thing about knowing your strengths and pulling your weight.  Yes, I am stoked for White 2 and Black 2.
  
The Legend of Zelda
I've mentioned that I consider Moria to be the first "dungeon crawl" I loved.  I think that was something of a lie, mostly because Zelda introduced me to the term dungeon.  Looking at the game now, I see how much D&D stuff made its way into the game: collecting treasure, fighting monsters, etc.  It was all there.  I've always had a blast playing Zelda games, mostly because I loved solving the puzzles and rescuing the princess.  I also always enjoyed having to collect 7 sacred items (or 5, etc) in order to complete the final task.  I've tried putting such items into my games as well.  The first time I did it, my players could've cared less.  Sometimes those things always don't go well.
I believe that D&D games need more puzzles.  Most DM's don't seem to want to use them.  I think they make for some great dungeons and can create some interesting tension instead of just fighting a monster.  I've been slowly trying to work more puzzles into my games, and this post makes me want to try even harder.  Expect it.  
I hope everybody enjoyed this blog.  Feel free to leave me comments talking about your inspirations, and be sure to follow me on Twitter @artificeralf