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Turn Clichés into Adventuring Gold in 5e Dungeons & Dragons – Web DM

Lord and you’ve once again saved Kingdom onea from a powerful threat today on web DM, we’re talking about cliches and in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, so we’re going to adventure in a dungeon and fight a dragon yeah and not be cliche about it.

Yes, we’re talking about those things and dungeons and dragons that have crept in over the years, those yeah meeting in taverns and the orc invasion, and all those things that veteran players will roll their eyes at snooze boring done this a million times yeah. What we can do to freshen those things up and maybe identify some of those cliches for the newer people who are, you know, coming into role-playing, games and Dungeons and Dragons the other first year they want.

They want to. You know, avoid some pitfalls or something. So I like a good cliche, because it’s classic you know well, I mean cliches early cliches because there’s something that people like they get told so many times that you just already know the story before it you’re like. Oh, it’s that one huh right, but we’ve been doing that with stories for thousands of years right. There’s a couple things going on number one: they’re cliches, because they’re done poorly and and if they take the easiest route to portray something or present a challenge or scenario or something it’s either done poorly.

It’s done haphazardly and this can be forgiven right, yeah, very few. Dungeon Master’s are professional, storytellers, mythmakers linguists. You know all these kinds of things: actors, improv actors, like all of these things – are kind of the job of the DM yeah, but we’ve got day jobs. We’ve got other things going on dungeons dragons is not our life as much as it really is kind of our lives. We can forgive the dungeon masters of the world in the 40 plus years that Dungeons & Dragons has been around for developing cliches.

That get used a whole lot because they’re convenient and that’s probably, why you want to use them. They are classic. They became cliches for a reason they were popular or they evoke some kind of emotional response from people they liked them, because you know everybody pretty much makes the the orphan. You know parents were killed right. I just blah blah blah right. I can’t tell you how many of my characters do that, but sometimes you know why not start the adventure with full family and that’s you got to support them and you know you’re a family man, let’s run through a couple of a couple of cliches and go Through different ways to subvert them, here’s the one I’m thinking of and maybe you’re thinking of something similar yeah starting in a tavern in a tavern beginning, your campaign in at average just having drinks having drinks sitting around yucking it up, mmm you’re gambling, maybe there’s some Carousing going on just fight and then somebody bursts in somebody bursts in the twit call.

The quest giver shows up right, it’s played out in display, and it’s a it’s a joke – that your character you’re, that they were in a tavern that they would meet and start in a tavern all right, let’s kind of think about it forum in taverns or places Where people gather yeah it’s perfectly natural and and and very relatable, a kind of beginning, it’s convenient yeah. I look at myself how many times have myself in a tavern at least three times a week at least right quiz, a quiz twice, and I played Indiana terrible.

So literally me, as a person goes to a tavern three days, seven days a week. Huh so am I living a cliche life, or am I just living? My life depends on how many mysterious Wizards come in and give you a quest that changes your life. Well, it’s happened a few times. It starts you out on the hero’s journey, cliche, here’s what you can do to liven it up. First off you can change the environment dub. The purpose of the tavern is that it’s a central location, that’s familiar to everyone.

It’s a touchstone, so maybe you don’t meet up in a tavern. You meet up at a fair or a festival or a town square, or something like that. The tammer is just a convenient excuse to have the characters together in one spot, relaxed they’re not expecting combat and, at the same time, there’s a lot of stuff that they can do as they’re working out who their characters are waiting for. The plot hooks and and everything to sort of draw switch that up.

Maybe it’s a tournament that they’re meeting at and the player characters, are either participants in the tournament or spectators or something like that. Yeah, someone or you can go back and you can say well what is it about meeting at the tavern that appeals to me? It’s rustic its familiar, it’s it’s, it’s close. It suggests characters who are low level who have concerns like eating and drinking and living in a place, the tavern kind of blogs, all that and and and you can have it – you know, be something that that leans into the cliche yeah.

That’s that’s perfectly fun. You guys are meeting in a tavern, that’s probably what you guys do three days a week or I could just be an alcoholic, that’s true, but you don’t have to you, don’t have to be in a tavern, though that is true. Thank you. Yes right. Another cliche, of course, there’s a tower and in that tower, is a princess, yeah and and around there, probably some kind of beast or drag some kind of beast or dragon or a wicked witch or stepmother, or somebody that’s keeping her locked in the the princess.

In a tower is one of those where I, you know a big surprise, surprise, a game like The Witcher or a setting like the witch or The Witcher stories which have just started to read sort of tries to subvert those things and says like all right. These are the fairy tales, but what if they were real and what, if they were real monsters and what? If there was a monster hunter out there to take care of them yeah, you know the princess in a tower.

It could easily be a prince or some other kind of redeployment or something the point of it is, is that it’s a it’s a person in a tower or imprisoned some way in which they can’t get out themselves, and maybe they’ve been unjustly imprisoned or maybe they’ve Been just the prison’s. What? If what? If the princess in the tower is there because she’s, not a particularly good person and keeping her locked up, is sort of keeping everyone else safe yeah, but her agents out in the wild have spread the rumor that the innocent princess has been wrongly imprisoned by her Wicked stepmother and she really needs to be set free, yeah cuz.

What, if she’s a little bit more in lines with? What’s name Elizabeth Bathory, Bathory, yeah yeah, I mean the bloody Duchess or whatever is correct. You know they can’t kill her because she’s somewhat royalty yasur’s. They can’t they have got to keep her the away from rebel right because she’s going to just keep bathing in the blood of milkmaids, and maybe the the characters catch wind of this rumors and as they get closer and closer to what they see is like well.

If we rescue the princess, then we’ll win her hand in marriage and become princes of the realm and blah blah blah blah blah things like that. But as you get closer, they sort of uncover the mystery and realize. Well, maybe this person that’s being imprisoned, isn’t quite so yea good or maybe maybe it is maybe the fact that they’ve been imprisoned. It suggests a problem in the kingdom or the realm changing something about it, changing either, who was imprisoned, why they were imprisoned or the conditions around that imprisonment or what about this? What if, yes, there’s a princess, there’s a tower and there’s a dragon, but the princess is an evil sorceress and she has imprisoned a silver dragon and keeps this story going out.

So adventurers show up just so. She has something to feed her dragon, that’s imprisoned, they get up they’re like oh we’re going to defeat this dragon to get there like. Why are you chained up and then she hits them right? Oh, thank you. I don’t have to go and find food to know. I have to go out and buy them food today, a lot of times you just hint at a cliche or something how players will run with it, expecting something going off of assumptions that they bring themselves.

This is meta gaming on the DMS part, oh yeah. It’s fine, it’s how you build interesting stories and met it, there’s nothing wrong with metagaming, and so the players start expecting something they bring their own assumptions. They vocalize those things while they’re discussing it, the DMS listening to what they’re having to say, adapting his campaign or her campaign to what the players are doing and now all the sudden the players are expecting.

One thing you flip it on them: they realize that they’ve been making the wrong assumptions about stuff that that the way that they’ve been approaching, this has been in error, the entire time and now they’ve gotten themselves in a sticky situation that it’s harder to extract themselves. From and that’s kind of how you is honestly how you deceive and lie to the players and make them make them their own worst enemies, sort of practicing diem judo against ya, you have you have to use their own expectations and assumptions against them, because if they Only have one clue yeah and they try to extrapolate to the end yeah.

Well, you might need to get on one or two more clues. You can triangulate that, yes, you need to feed them enough breadcrumbs that they keep going and feel like. They have information, but not so much that they have a full and clear picture about. What’s going on right, the gaps that they’re filling in or where they start to stumble and make wrong assumptions about things and then as they get to the climax of the particular adventure or campaign or whatever they realize that they’ve been making some wrong assumptions now? It’s that’s difficult to pull off.

You can easily get in a situation where the players like I have no idea. What’s going on and the DM z — being stingy with information, there’s a delicate act, yeah feeding the characters, misinformation and build and letting their own wild expectations get the better of them, but it can be done so sometimes the DM can do a bamboozle. So an another cliche, especially in this day and age of television, film uh-huh, the zombie horde good grief, everybody’s – got a zombie horde right, but he’s got his zombie whore and the fathometer slow, slow.

They puke, they run, they jump. They’ve got spikes they’re noxious. You know. I you know obviously they’re the one, interestingly enough, zombie horde that I’m less concerned about and actually kind of excited of seeing is the one that’s that appears in the later seasons of Game of Thrones. I’m I’m, I think, that’s a well done one just because the villains are interesting. The dilemma is interesting.

The world that it inhabits presents. This challenge is an interesting one. A zombie horde like that in Dungeons and Dragons is like well. We’ve got like 20 dragons on our side and a bunch of wizards that’ll come around and that kind of zombie horde and a typical Dungeons & Dragons setting is like a challenge for an afternoon. You know, let’s say an existential threat to all civilization itself and more the kind of a nuisance if they’re just regular as zombies like Walking Dead, and then you just drop some wizards and whatever in there like they’re, going to start mopping that up pretty quick they’re Going to start mopping it up, so how you? How do you do a zombie horde in Dungeons & Dragons? That makes it interesting or makes it you know a genuine threat and I have used them in the past in conjunction with something else.

So I’ve used a zombie horde in the past after the realm has been weakened by years of famine and drought, which has led to widespread death, which means there are a lot of unburied bodies and abandoned villages that there’s no one there to put up a defense Against this thing and every victory for the zombie horde feeds its army and the zombie horde is being led by vampires and Lich’s and ghosts and things like that.

It’s a whole necromantic threat, not just a horde of the shambling dead. You can do it sort of in the wake of a war or something you know, there’s a massive war. That’s come through. Untended, battlegrounds and dungeons and dragons would be terrible things right. A battlefield is already kind of a bad thing: medieval angels, disease, pickers that come by after the battle looters and Pickers that come by afterwards in Dungeons and Dragons.

It attracts carrion, eaters and other eaters of the dead ghouls, and things like that when what? If, in the wake of a massive war with all these unburied bodies or mass graves, or something like that, all of the death and concentrated you know dying and negative energy cause undead to spontaneously rise, and now the players have to deal with spontaneous pockets of undead. Rising up and it could quickly get out of control because, instead of one massive army of the Dead reading south, it’s a lot of little fires, yeah undead that keeps spreading you’re completely surrounded by that you’re, completely surrounded by and and if the army.

And if the realm has already been weakened by pervasive war and death, and things like that which usually comes with disease and famine and all those other fun things, that’s how you do it. So I find zombie horde is a good complication, not necessarily the centerpiece of a campaign, but something that rises as a consequence of some other kind of calamity. I remember you did that in in our fourth one of our fourth edition campaigns.

Yes yeah. This is a big problem with the undead, but they weren’t the problem, the people drumming and controlling them for the whole problem right, you know, so it became a thing about avoiding the zombies altogether cuz. There were just too many yeah like I mean they were literally everywhere right and it’s you know, a bunch of for three or third or fourth level characters aren’t going to take on an entire horde, but that one got drumming over there yeah, the one guy who Looks like he’s controlling them.

Yeah now becomes an exercise in getting to him right and around every other yeah. It was a lot of fun yeah, another one where we got the Dark. Lord, the Dark, Lord. Yes, the Dark, Lord, the evil, big bad evil, guy yeah rules from The Dark Tower and yeah. So why does this work in middle-earth? It works in middle-earth because Sauron is a part of the mythology and the creation or everything omnipresent across thousands of years and is the enemy right very often in Dungeons and Dragons.

That’s less the case and the Dark. Lord type characters, often they’re just for the campaign. They’re not embedded into the world and meshed in it yeah they’re more trying to become a Dark Lord trying to become a Dark. Lord, you know you can avoid that. I think, by by having the Dark Lord, be either a myth or a rumor or something that a cabal of equally nefarious, but maybe less mystical adversaries have concocted sort of a story that they’ve made to present and everybody’s afraid of this Dark.

Lord. But it’s really just a figment to fiction perpetuated by something else. You could lean into it and say yeah. This is a Dark, Lord and the kingdom that this this Dark. Lord rules, this realm, that it governs, is a nasty horrific place and the people there are oppressed and – and it’s not a pleasant place to be, but you need to take that seriously. How do they deal with the neighbors that they live with yeah? What did they do for trade for food? It still has to be a functioning society in some way, otherwise there that there would be no power base that this Dark.

Lord could draw no one there to feed its armies. No one there to you know to pay the taxes. You know it’s extracting from the from the populace. Also, the Dark Lord at some point needs to have experienced a defeat in the past and they’re just lying in wait lying in wait same with Sauron uh-uh, Voldemort Voldemort, another great Potter series. You know he was this thing he got defeated, oh he said.

Oh, don’t worry, he’s gone yeah, you know, or even the Emperor and Darth Vader from an oratorio. They have weaknesses. You know, maybe it’s weaknesses like Darth Vader has weaknesses which is like you know they. It’s. The weakness is the emotional attachment to to the people who stand against him: the there’s a magical weakness or something like the Horcrux that that the party needs to exploit and find in order to overcome the the Dark Lord.

But I think like having that one massive brooding kind of dark, evil figure, that’s irredeemably evil or wicked, or something like maybe they’re, not maybe in the best villains, don’t see themselves as villains and see what they do as a type of good. Yes, and so maybe it’s entirely possible – that the rumors coming out of the Dark Kingdom are of a horribly oppressive place where everything is terrible and horrible.

But when you visit it’s not set not that bad yeah and – and there is a reason for several of the things that are happening. Maybe there is a greater threat that that Kingdom is fighting often so that has to be a little harsher. It has to be a little bit more brutal or maybe they look at it and say like no well guess what I don’t see myself as a wicked person. I see myself as the lawful ruler of this land.

These are things they’re mine by right, and I have an obligation to the to the subjects of my land and I take care of them and in return you know they they give back the fruits of their labor kind of thing and making the villain more three-dimensional And its motivations, a bit more murky yeah, can can can really subvert that cliche. Well, yeah, I mean I mean hell, you can wrap them all up together and the party gets over there to take on a Dark Lord, but you find out that he’s just trying to protect his kingdom from an invading zombie army controlled by the dragon that stole His wife and his whore wage in a tower.

You learn all of that, while starting the tavern and you learn all that. One attack from my fairies, wizard from a mysterious, mysterious, wizard and the mysterious wizard is a great, is another great cliche. It’s the idea of the wizard who has all-powerful, but it’s just like, like whatever that kamek kamek is of the wizard like hand me that book, but the book is right. There give me the book just give me the book cuz that’s kind of what it’s like right right, but they have better to do.

They have better to do so. Why is that wizard running around all mysterious, like seeking aid from first level, characters to go? Do stuff well, there’s variety of reasons: maybe it’s busy, maybe it’s not the real wizard and it’s like a projected image or something like that and the real wizard is dealing with yeah elsewhere. Maybe the wizard is just powerful by reputation and not necessarily by actual deed.

Yeah there’s a lot of different ways that you can subvert it. This is one of those cliches that I don’t really can. I don’t like to use that much just because that kind of quest, giver, here’s the character, here’s the plot hook, I’m going to shove it off on the PCs, is not something I usually like to do. I usually like to include powerful NPCs that have some significant weakness that only the party can help shore up when you find yourself either as a DM or a player.

Saying like you know, one of the character I’ve got or the idea. I’ve got for a scenario or an adventure or something that’s kind of cliched. I find that it’s best to go back to the source. What is the origin of the cliche that that you’re, using or that you may have accidentally fallen into and examine that? Because I find very often when you go back to the source where these cliches originate, you find something fresh and new and interesting, something that’s multifaceted and with depth that, as it’s been copied over and over and over and over again ad nauseam that it’s lost.

That so in example, I’m thinking of his Conan Yeah right, like Conan for a lot of people less so maybe than in the past, is a dumb barbarian who has a great sword and a fur loincloth and grunts and punches camel, punches camels and hates magic. And it’s just kind of a big dumb bully you know, but reading the original Conan stories he’s much different and his savage upbringing born on a battlefield raised in the hills of of Samaria and and and that that upbringing that he has imbued him with a savagery That civilized men lack and yet he travels through the civilized lands getting into scraps and adventures and thefts and heists, and he’s a pirate captain one story and he’s a mercenary company.

The next and now he’s off here, fighting pics and other sort of other barbarians, and then the next minute he’s fighting Stygian, cultists and those stories are evocative and feral. And that primal and you see Conan in a variety of different ways. And if, if the Conan you’re thinking of is lumbering towards you muscles bulging with a giant sword, then the real Conan is lurking in the shadows behind you and you don’t see the knife that he’s got that you’re about to be gutted with right.

So Lord of the Rings is another great one: yeah it’s been copied so often and and the the amount of fantasy literature that has grown out of the middle-earth stories. It’s worthwhile to go read the stories. Don’t read the movies they’re great, I like them they’re fun, but they also have a style to them. That’s a little played out their action movies kind of write, fantasy action, movies, yeah, like going back in like rereading Fellowship, is it’s a fun movie, but at the same time it’s aged and yet going back and rereading fellowship is a different thing entirely and you spend Time with the characters – and you see the world-building going on yeah – don’t skip the songs read through those are the kinds of moments where, if you’re wanting to freshen up a cliche, going back to the source yeah using that original source as inspiration and forgetting all the Derivative stuff that’s come after can be a good way of livening up a cliche or giving you a fresh perspective on it, so that you can then subvert it in a different way than maybe it’s.

I don’t know. I don’t know if we might have to edit this later huh but kind of the the main hook of two of annihilation, that that’s what it is. I mean everybody kind of knows that there’s a magical disease and you can’t be brazed back right who were previously raised or being affected and they’re sick, yo. Guess what you get employed by a wizard who’s sick. I literally can’t go adventure can’t go.

Do that yeah! Normally, in any other day, they just go, do something about it, but no they’re, literally sick and losing hip hip points every day and they need someone to go. Do this thing go, do this thing and that’s a good way to to let the players expectations? Sort of propel the action of the story, because then it’s like the player should be thinking themselves. If this wizards so powerful, why does they? Why do they need us yeah, which must mean that they may be either are not as powerful or there’s something else going on, and so those are the kinds of questions that players should be then asking themselves yep.

Why in the world, is the this NPC? Acting this way and the DM, if they’re thoughtful, if they’ve, given their NPC’s, proper motivations and and flesh them out, they will be able to answer that question, and it’s in asking that question. Why is this powerful NPC approaching me for aid that they can start? The players can start to piece together clues about the threat that they face? Why in the world in the great city of Oracle, apollon teen what a lot? What a powerful wizard ask? A bunch of lowly six level people to help it kill a demon.

The answer to that question is obviously they cannot do it themselves, yeah. They could and revealing that information reveals a key weakness for them and that there’s something that the party or the players need to do need to help with and and it’s vital and maybe they you know the NPC’s, don’t want to reveal that information and reveal their Vulnerabilities but the players can piece together the clues and go okay, yeah uh, okay, and then they can start in piecing.

Those clues can learn more about the threat that they face, learn more about their allies and and sort of develop an appreciation for the campaign that the DM is trying to run for. Well there. You know

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