A lot has been made about the books different editions of D&D have cited as inspiration. The Dying Earth, the various tales of Conan, the Swords series by Leiber featuring Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Lovecraftian tales, the Elric books—it's not hard to see those elements of the game that sprang from these sources. But, truth be told, for the beleaguered DM, almost any work, fantasy or not, can serve as an inspiration, i.e., a source of Stuff To Put In Your Game.
I just took a look at the bookshelf in my study (one of five bookshelves in my home), and listed a couple dozen works (and in some cases, series) that jumped out at me. Several are fantasy, some are 'literary', but all of them have elements to mine for a game:
- A Prayer For Own Meany: A halfling-sized protagonist with a literary bent and a prediction of his own death; after the fatal event transpires, he possesses a minister and forces him to reveal secrets of the narrator's heritage. This could easily become a literal halfling, and if we pushed the magical end, maybe a gnome magic user or illusionist. His relevance to the players could come in the form of helping them with other NPCs, perhaps by magically digging up the dirt on them. And what about that possessing spirit? If our gnome/halfling is still alive, perhaps it's a ghost that accompanies him and can be persuaded to do favors for the NPCs, if they do one for him.
- The Catcher in the Rye: A wealthy, disaffected teen has a personal oddyssey through Manhattan after being kicked out of school. His wanderings bring him in contact with prostitutes, cab drivers, a former teacher, some would-be girlfriends, and his own sister. A picaresque masterpiece; Holden could easily become a low-level Thief/rogue who knows where the secret doors and back alleys lead. Being broke and without a girlfriend, he might lead the PCs somewhere they need to go for a modest fee. He might also have a completely unrealistic view of his ability to handle danger.
- Howard's End: A rich, dying woman wishes her home to be given to a poor but intelligent friend. Her pencilled note isn't legally binding, but the controversy over it eventually leads to the man's demise. Although we know whodunnit in the novel (the death is unintentional, but he did physically assault the victim), removing that piece of information could make for a good mystery scenario. And the dead man's ghost might not rest easily.
- The Trial: A man is accused of an unspecified crime, and spends a year trying to find out what it is before being murdered by one of his oppressors. Of course, in your campaign, those oppressors may be a secret society, and perhaps, in perfect Conspiracy Theory style, he's accidentally stumbled upon their operation, but doesn't know it. Maybe they're the power behind the throne. Maybe their power is even more widespread, and the players are in for a world of hurt if they try to investigate.
Characters, factions, locations, magic items, secret information. Even the most high-brow 'serious' work of fiction has Stuff in it; Stuff that can be extracted, exaggerated, twisted and disguised until it becomes a seemingly natural, organic part of your campaign.cheers,