When it comes to fantasy unit design, I find three constant sources of inspiration:
- Historic – that is the most obvious and often works flawlessly. Make your choice from Varangians to Teutons to Tartars. The big downside is avoiding cliches and meeting the player expectations. For example, making Teutons to be light-armored archers will surprise your players a lot!
- Word combos – sometimes a cool word combo will trigger associations for a unit design. Most often, I’ll keep the coolness for the name itself and the description will twist it a bit around. For example, the Gutrippers are one of Riftforge’s elite assassin battalions. However, the description states that they started as kitchen help before moving on to active duty (but the nickname remained).
- Music – for a long time, I’ve only focused on cool names and here rock and heavy metal come in handy. From the Ironmaidens to the Blackhearts (Joan Jett’s band) to Harvesters of Sorrow. Unfortunately, I have a problem with all of these – they are too literal, so the direct association breaks the immersion.
So music is relegated to inspiration about LOOKS!
Yes, punk rock becomes tribal, black leather becomes cultist/savages, and disco… Well, I’m still processing disco but it’s hard to top disco when it comes to flamboyancy, so it shouldn’t be hard to place it with a highly-individualistic race.
Exercise One: Here’s an over-the-top punk-rock-new-wave band from the 80s, see if you can find a place for it in your game design.
Now tell me you’ve already thought about putting a ripped pantyhose on the face of a character. No? Well, now you know it looks great. For the record, I first heard Sigue Sigue Sputnik in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, so sometimes it takes 20+ years of movie watching experience to pull off a single unit.