Researching Your One-Shot


Research for a creative project can seem daunting, but it's actually a really fun part of the process! Even stories that are set in completely new, fictional worlds often require some element of research. RPG authors often look to existing research on history, science, nature, etymology, mythology, and more to add rich details to their stories. 

Like writing, research requires planning. The more research you do prior to writing, the more you can incorporate your findings into your story.

What does "research" consist of?

It's essentially a collection of data that will help you flesh out your story so that it's accurate and rich in detail. For an RPG one-shot, your research might consist of:

  • Pictures
  • Primary sources (resources written from someone's perspective, such as a journal or diary)
  • Audio clips
  • Maps 
  • Recipes
  • Definitions/translations of words

Remember that your mood board counts as research! The images and inspiration you collect are part of your research process.

Making a research plan

Rather than tackling all of your research at once, consider doing a little bit at a time. It helps to break it down into topics:

  • People/characters
  • Languages/names/etymology
  • Creatures/monsters
  • Environment
  • Holidays
  • Additional world-building details (such as political structures, food, cultural customs, etc.)

You can conduct your research in phases. Start just by searching and reading. Then, collect your favorite resources that inspire you most. Comb through these resources more carefully, taking notes as you go. Compile the most important data into a document that you can keep as a reference sheet to aid in writing. 

Research tools and resources

Here are some tools/sites that may aid in your research. (This is hardly comprehensive; just provided here to give you some ideas.)

Google Drive

Take notes, create spreadsheets, upload documents, and more to this free cloud service. If you're already using it for your writing, this makes it easy to keep all of your work in one place.


Bookmark pages online with just one click. Pocket is a browser-based tool that stores pages you want to return to. Tip: Use their tagging feature to organize your findings by type (such as “article,” “photograph,” “podcast,” etc.).

Behind the Name

Learn the meaning of names from around the world! You can also search surnames. 

Food Timeline

An extensive history of food from all over the world. (This is a really fun resource that you can use to add interesting details to your story.)

Mostly Medieval

There are no shortage of medieval history websites on the interwebs, but this is a good one to get started if you're writing a classic fantasy story and want to pull from history.

Your Local Library

Pssst... did you know that your local library likely has a ton of awesome resources available for FREE? It's worth finding some time to hang out at the library and look at their resource books. What's better than discovering an old tome all about pirates and nautical history, or an encyclopedia with detailed drawings of medicinal herbs?

Most of the world’s best libraries have online databases with free access to documents, photos, and more. I recommend starting with these: