Embrace the Cliche

Sometimes, originality is overrated. When you’re creating a character or dreaming up a story for your next campaign put aside your worries and embrace the cliche – I almost guarantee that it’ll make your game better.

This may seem like a crazy piece of advice. After all, fresh and original ideas are always held up as the ideal pinnacle of creation. While this is true, however, it’s important that we take a look at what most of us are trying to achieve with our home games.

Despite our fantasies and idle wonderings, the world and the stories we’re creating in our RPGs are not grand pieces of high art. Nobody is going to be lining it up against Game of Thrones or critiquing the fact that we haven’t subverted every expectation of the genre.

No, the aim of the characters, countries and cultures we’re creating is to provide the backbone of a fun story that the gaming group can tell together. If something we dream up furthers that aim but is a little on the hackneyed side, so be it.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t even try to be original, to break free of the cliches that define so much of fantasy writing and gaming? Of course not. All it means is that we shouldn’t be afraid to fall back on the old archetypes.

Have Elves live deep in ancient woods and embrace their haughty and arrogant natures. Create an order of grizzled but noble rangers that protect civilization from the shadows. Roll up a hard-drinking, grudge-bearing, axe-wielding Dwarf who can’t overcome his fondness for gold.

Yes, everyone at the table has probably run into similar themes and characters a dozen times before, but so what? These archetypes are familiar because they work and everybody knows how to deal with them.

More than anything else, this makes roleplaying so much easier for new or inexperienced gamers. Everyone who has so much as poked around in a Player’s Handbook should be able to take a decent punt at playing the Stalwart Human Fighter™, the Grumpy Dwarven Cleric™ or the Happy-Go-Lucky Halfling Rogue™.

Once everyone is established and happy the DM or the players can start subverting things, creating new twists on the familiar tropes and building them through experiences until they’re much more than a cliche clad in plate mail.

In an age where every group is exposed to the exploits of a dozen others through social media, podcasts or subreddits, it can be so tempting to make yours stand out by turning everything on its head. While this is fun and in the right circumstances can be incredible and fulfilling, it’s also very, very hard to do properly.

Make things easy for yourself. Embrace the cliche, and then once you’ve got a good grip on it you can drag it to new places.

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