How often do you appropriate bits from books, movies, comics, and other sources as a player or GM? Do you like to steal names or flavor or go more whole-hog? Is there a difference between stealing for background and stealing for in-game plot?
I have pilfered a time or two.
Back in my first full fledged campaign of D&D, I had a number of concepts and names borrowed and then revamped to suit my own themes. This meant that you could find a few “weighty names” in the canon of my NPCs. These names might suggest points where you could anticipate something about the NPC involved. It was dangerous to presume too much though.
Today, this is much less a fact. Now such names usually represent a “subconscious” universal constant that revolves around the legends of Amberites in my Amber game. Since all shadows reflect, and some of those reflections are more true than others, it is valid for the GM to expect caution from Player Characters about the items they come across in shadow—even if they sound familiar.
So while the Lord of Bats might patrol the rooftops of City Gotham in some shadow I am describing for PCs—I don’t inform them that this vigilante is dangerous, or really a good guy, or that Roger Zelazny created the Lord of Bats as a very dangerous antagonist in one of his smaller stories.
Because none of those things might be true.
I don’t steal plots. Even though the tradition of literature says it is impossible not to steal plots.
Most often, today I might borrow themes. Take the Authority comic idea of a band of Very Significant Powers that has had enough of playing by rules set down by mundanes and see what they can accomplish.
That theme might go straight into a plot that is running concerning politics in some distant shadow. And it will get twisted almost from the word “go”.
Most of my campaign work is organic to the stimulus of the Players—so I don’t worry about stealing plots or characters at all. We go where the PCs go.