A while back, I wrote about creating a campaign arc for your campaign here. If you've been following this series and have read that entry, you'll note that although I advocate creating a campaign arc early on, its certainly not set in stone, nor does it need to encompass every single encounter your party will face in the campaign. This of course means that during the course of your campaign, you will have to adjust adventures, write adventures, come up with new side plots (or even main plots), etc. The problem with this is that, particularly when you are playing on a regular schedule, it can at times become difficult to keep coming up with material that is new, fun, and interesting (though I suppose those last two are somewhat synonymous). Even the best and most prolific writers run into bouts of writer's block. If it can happen to them, it absolutely can happen to us as well. Even moreso if, like many of us, you also have a day job and family concerns to take care of as well. So what to do?
Edit: After posting this, I read cthullulovesyou's blog post here which covers the same area and a brilliant idea he had. I highly recommend reading it.
Good things come to those who steal
If Rule 0 is that the DM is always right, then Rule 0.5 is, the DM can always steal ideas from others. (Side note: Don't steal if you are seeking to have your work published, but for your home games it's perfectly acceptable). The fact of the matter is, it will be almost impossible to avoid using cliches at some point during your campaign. Cliches become cliches because they work. The damsel in distress is as old as time practically, but it still can make for a good story. So, the moral here is, whether it comes from the Lovecraftian short stories you've been reading, a recent episode of your favorite television series, a movie you love, or even a comic you've been reading, if there's good material in there, use it.
The key to making this work of course, is to adapt it to your campaign. I'm a fan of the show Supernatural, but giving your PCs an Impala, shotguns, and EMF meters doesn't exactly work in a high fantasy setting. However, the story about the demon that has reneged on a contract to "borrow" a person's soul does work. You just have to adjust the problem solving method to fit your personal campaign. The beauty of this is that even if your players are also fans of the show, movie, book, etc., there's a decent chance that they won't recognize the story line as having come from the show.
Grab a Published Adventure
This kind of piggy backs onto the above section. Even in an entirely homebrew campaign, there's nothing wrong with tossing in a published mod every now and then. Doing this serves a few purposes. First, it can give you a ready to go adventure that buys you some time (usually at least a couple of sessions depending on the adventure and your session length). Those couple of sessions can give you the chance to get over your block and back to creating the exciting adventures you had going previously. Second, it can simply be used to give you the framework. There's nothing to stop you from largely reworking the adventure to fit into your campaign. The adventure itself provides the basic plot and then you can tailor it to flow right into your campaign. Finally, it simply gives you another perspective on things. You know the old saying: "Two heads are better than one." Different authors come up with different ideas, and reading through a published mod gives you the chance to see those ideas. Perhaps something in there will spark your own idea, or you'll see an idea there and see a way to incorporate it into your own campaign. Either way, you are applying the "Two is better than one" adage.
Ask and You Shall Receive
If two heads are better than one, then surely hundreds of heads are better than two. In my experience, forum users are only too happy to help out when you are stuck and need an idea. Whether you use the "What's a DM to do?" forum on the WotC site, or one of a number of other sites out there, the other users can provide a wealth of ideas for you. If anything, in my experience, you'll get too many ideas and want to incorporate all of them but be unable to.
Before you post; however, you need to have a few things ready. First off, most of your forum mates will want to know a little about your campaign. What has been going on so far, where are you hoping to take it, who's the bad guy, what kind of world are you in? An idea about pirates attacking an airship might be really neat, but if there are no airships on your world, then it doesn't help too much (though of course you can put the ships in water). Secondly, you'll want to tell them a little about your PCs. A good plot will usually lead to a good session. However, a good plot that plays into specific aspects of your PCs can lead to a great session. A drow invasion is usually a fun idea; however, if your campaign is taking place in an elven kingdom and half your PCs are elves or eladrin, the invasion will even more personal to them. Finally, you'll need to let the forum know what level you are at and how many levels worth of adventure you are looking for. Revenge of the Giants is an interesting adventure, but if you are only looking to fill the gap from 12th to 13th level, it won't help you much.
Over the years, I've often found the answers I've sought on the forums, or through a published mod. Recently though, I found myself turning to the forum again. In my homebrew campaign, the PCs are fast approaching paragon tier. They are about midway through 9th level and just finishing up an adventure. I already have an encounter planned out to close out the heroic tier; however, I was struggling with how to get from the end of the current adventure to that final encounter. In other words, I had no adventure, just an encounter. (Side note: I don't normally recommend doing things this way, but I've had the conclusion of heroic/beginning of paragon idea in my head for a while).
So I turned to the forums and asked their advice on pointing me toward a published adventure that I could modify to fit into my campaign. I received a couple of ideas, and one of them in particular fits almost perfectly. I still need to do some adjusting (both for levels and for plot) but it has definitely saved me. The moral of the story here is that there's no shame in asking for help, and even when you are provided with an answer (whether in the form of an encounter, and idea, or an entire adventure) you can still make it your own. I once ran my party through a published adventure that one of them (unknown to me at the time) had previously played. However, I had adapted it sufficiently to my campaign that the player didn't realize he was replaying the same adventure. In other words, NPC and town names changed, the flow changed, an encounter was added or removed, etc. At the end of the day, the adventure was still more or less the same in terms of plot, but there was enough difference that the player did not recognize it.
That's all for today (stupid job :p). Next time, I'll tackle the issue of the recurring villain.