3 unexpected books to inspire your next DnD campaign

Hey everyone! I’m Grace of Dungeons & Dingbats. I run a ttrpg blog over at dndingbats.com, tweet D&D ramblings at @dndingbats, and have a goofy discord you are welcome to join if so inclined. 

The folks at Dice with Death and I are doing a fun blog exchange this week; I’m excited to get to know all of you! 

Today, I’d like to chat about campaign inspiration. I am fairly new to D&D, and am a baby DM working on my first homebrew mini-campaign. For my entire life I have been a total bookworm. Warm blankets and a great mystery? Yes please! Staying in with a classic vs. a rowdy party? You bet! It’s who I’m at my core. 

So when I started playing RPGs and realized the endless possibilities with playing in pretend worlds, my mind instantly thought of playing out my favorite books. I know I’m not the only one with this thought, there are many games and content inspired by media (LOTR anyone?). 

Here, I’d like to run through three pieces of literature that I absolutely love, and would be great unexpected campaign inspiration. If you know of any RPGs that already exist based on this content, please let me know! 

#3: The Fall of the House of Usher- Edgar Allan Poe

If unfamiliar, the Fall of the House of Usher is a short story that has all the quintessential horror elements included. Creepy characters, death, mystery, a haunted house, and intrigue. The setting of the story is largely contained to one house, trying to convey a sense of claustrophobia and panic in the reader. The narrator remains unnamed (as in many of Poe’s stories) which makes it easy to jump into their point of view while reading. 

“I know not how it was—but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit” 

The Fall of the House of Usher

A quick read, chock full of imagery makes this a natural fit for a RPG. So what sort of content is this well suited for? Personally, I think with the setting constraints and vivid imagery, this would make for a great one-shot. Less combat and more RP focused, The Fall of the House of Usher would be excellent for puzzles and solving a mystery. With the narrator remaining unnamed, a DM could essentially replace him for the party and play through the story. Or, simply use the beautiful setting to create their own horror story. With the recent release of Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, I’ve noticed an uptick in horror RPG interest. This could even act as a great encounter in a Curse of Strahd Campaign. 

Really, most of Poe’s short stories would make excellent RPGs. Thinking of The Cask of Amontillado (converted to a dungeon crawl?), or The Pit and the Pendulum as a high-stakes escape, E.A. Poe could be a deep well of inspiration for you horror aficionados. 

#2: A Farewell to Arms- Ernest Hemmingway

A Farewell to Arms is a heart wrenching story about an American World War II Ambulance Driver serving in the Italian Army. In true Hemmingway style, there are adventures, battles, disease, alcohol, and love. Without diving too deep, our protagonist falls in love with a nurse’s aid. He suffers an injury from battle and undergoes a risky, experimental surgery to recover. After returning to battle and traveling the Italian countryside to meet up with his love (who is now pregnant), they escape to Switzerland hoping to put war behind them. Their harrowing adventure seemingly leaves them happy, and settled. Once his love goes into labor; however, she has a stillbirth and dies shortly after. The reader is left with a deep despair (and an hour of ugly crying in my case), in the fact that they traveled so far, accomplished so much, and didn’t make it as a family. 

Ok so why would this make a great RPG? For one, there are great “milestones” in this story that would create interesting encounters. Surgery, battles, navigating open water, etc. I see this more of a full campaign, maybe 10-15 sessions. There is travel and a mission built into the story, with really interesting settings as well. Romance in RPGs is not my thing (between PCs especially), but I know a lot of people dig it! This would be a great opportunity to explore that aspect of roleplay that would be a natural facet of the story plot. 

While doing research for this article, I found quite a few games modeled after this story, but no RPGs that I found. Opportunity anyone? 

#1: Slaughterhouse-Five- Kurt Vonnegut 

Slaughterhouse-Five is one of my all time favorites! Kurt Vonnegut writes in such a casual style, it feels like you’re simply dropped into his world, listening to someone speak. If you end up reading more than one of his works, you’ll find the same characters making appearances, similar settings, and woven storylines. I really can’t recommend this book enough. It is a bit of a trip, so you just have to roll with it. Slaughterhouse-Five tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, a WWII vet who recounts his time captured by German Soldiers. Told in a non-linear way (due to alien abductions) the story jumps around to different points of his life before and after the war. We also learn about Billy’s time spent on the planet Tralfamadore, where he falls in love and learns to see the world in a new way. Like I said… trippy. A tale of love, loss, and aliens, this book makes the reader question what is “real”, what is fabricated, and what is metaphorical. 

“He is in a constant state of stage fright, he says, because he never knows what part of his life he is going to have to act in next.”


I was honestly surprised that I didn’t find any existing RPGs based on this work. I found quite a few things with this title, but not relevant to the written piece. Kurt Vonnegut is often referenced in inspiration for designing RPGs as a type of game, and his short story writing style has influenced this space

If I overlooked something, please let me know! I think Vonnegut’s world holistically would be a really interesting world setting. Since many of his books are intertwined, it leaves the reader assuming they are set in the same universe. Move over Marvel, Vonnegut is comin’ for you!  It checks a lot of other RPG boxes as well. From time travel, aliens, and war battles, it combines a lot of common elements found in other systems all into one bundle of weird fun. 

Lastly, I did a quick poll on twitter/discord when preparing to write this piece, asking for other’s opinions on this subject. A ton of folks commented, and quite a few recommended the following. Check these out as well! 

  • Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles
  • Crock of Gold by James Stephens
  • Any and all Biographies

Thanks for your brain space and time! I hope one of these 3 books will get your creative juices flowing. Drop me a line on Twitter (@dndingbats) if you have additional thoughts or questions!