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Enough With The Cliches!

posted Tuesday, April 10th 2007 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering AdviceGame Design

Adventure writers and Dungeon Masters, listen.

Back in July I linked to Dungeon magazine’s advice to avoid stereotypical material when writing adventures. Battling insane wizards at the top of towers, rescuing kidnapped daughters, that sort of thing. Having read some of the adventures of the past three years, I’m going to have to extend that list a little.

Under no circumstances should you write, or even ad-lib, an adventure in which the following occurs:

  • An evil, insane, robe-wearing cult is hiding in the sewers/mines/caves underneath the town, where they have somehow built an elaborate temple
  • Members of an evil religion attempt to summon their deity to the material plane (this never works)
  • A wise, bearded old man, who is usually a wizard and always friendly, helps the player characters out by doing arcane research at a nominal fee (call this the Gandalf rule)
  • A statue suddenly comes to life and attacks

That last one is a real pet peeve of mine. Stone golems, gargoyles, animated objects, normal statues protected with animate object traps, normal statues possessed by demons, angry petrified creatures who revert when you enter the room, brand new statue-monsters. There’s nothing wrong with any of these – unless you expect your players to be surprised by such an overused technique. My players now routinely destroy all statues on sight rather than risk one of them being a monster.

Are there any other ridiculously overused adventure ideas you guys are sick of?

Comments

  1. Steven

    April 12th, 2007

    Well, my players are sick of mundane animals. You know how every first level adventure has got to have some random normal predator just minding its own business ’til the party shows up?

    yea, well after a bad experience with a panther in the published adventure “Bad Light,” my players are quick to immobilize or even destroy any animal I see fit to mention.

    Basically, the fighter in full plate was a little astonished that the big cat’s claws could pierce his armor enough to damage him. We had a half-hour debate on the nature of abstract rules, and in the end, the party swore to exterminate any and all “Jedi Cats” with “Lightsaber claws.”

  2. Nexus Xavier

    September 16th, 2007

    Skeletons! I know that these little numbers are one of the most important monsters in any necromancer den.
    As the DM for my group I set up an adventure, I think the title was “Journey into the misty and mysterious Caves in the foggy bay of the Cliche”. It reeeaaaalllly made my friends angry HA! I used ALL the cliches I could think of…

  3. Borka

    September 24th, 2007

    I think I invented the shortest D&D game:

    You all meet in a tavern. Then a rock falls, and everybody dies.

  4. Jonathan Drain

    September 24th, 2007

    @Borka: Mine was shorter, but the game began underwater. The players were not aquatically inclined.

    Perhaps shorter still is my friend’s RPG “A Dragon Eats You”. You use a single d6 for all rolls. On a roll of one, a dragon eats you. This goes for any roll, including but not limited to character generation.

  5. Al Gender

    March 27th, 2008

    The first basic exception, of course, is if you are playing with newbies.

    I’m not even sure that using these cliches in-and-of itself is a bad thing. It’s simply HOW they are used. My first D&D character had to rescue the kidnapped princess and had to fight a golem and prevent a robed evil advisor from summoning an evil deity back from it’s 1000 year old seal – and it was fun as heck! The things that made it so fun were the details, having the kidnappers turn out to be our future allies, finding out that the stone golem was not only preventing us from passing, but the only thing standing in the way of evil advisor and the seal.

    You’re talking about basic fantasy cliches, and I think that they have their place when you’re playing, well, a fantasy game. I think that NEVER having your players rescue a princess in any of your campaigns is like swearing off The Hero’s Journey when writing fiction. No story is original anymore, the devil is in the details and all that folderol.

    I think the most important thing a DM can do when dealing with cliches is never, ever repeat them, even if they worked the first time. Doing so is a creative cop-out, and if you’re doing so with players who have done it before, you might as well re-read LotR.

  6. Digo

    May 20th, 2008

    I like to change the stereotypes of some creatures in the Monster Manual to surprise the players. Like the princess needing to be saved in the tower turns out to be an Orc princess. Yeah, not quite what you’re expecting? Or how about the red dragon who was a shrewed, but legitimate, businessman. After attacking the dragon (Who strictly defended himself) the party found itself in jail for a few nights. Well hey, the dragon broke no laws and if he’s paying good taxes to the king, why can’t he do business here?

    Hey, it could happen! :)

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