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Article - 'Deja vu All Over Again... And Again... And Again..' by KaosTenshi

An item about Plots/Characters posted on Aug 8, 2003


Kaos Tenshi takes a look at some of the more over-used cliches in RPGs, and suggestions on how to break out of them.


"Oh, there’s a girl with a staff. She’s a sweet, demure healer who’s going to fall in love with the hero.”
“Nice village, to bad it’ll be burned to the ground in fifteen minutes.”
“An honorable villain. Wonder how long it’ll be before he switches sides then dies?”

If you’ve ever found yourself saying these things when playing an RPG, then you should know exactly what this article is about. Even the pros fall victim to over-used RPG clichés. This doesn’t mean that these story elements are bad by any means, it’s just that they’ve been over-used not only to be point of being boring, but that players already know what is going to happen before it happens.

The Hero’s Party

The hero’s party is quite often the same thing, time and time again. First you have your main character, which’s quite often a young man with a sword, between the ages of fifteen and eighteen. He only has one parent, who oddly enough, isn’t concerned with him adventuring all over the planet at all hours of the night. Next, you have your love interest; she’s quite often either a rebellious princess (rebelling against her own single parent of course), or a sweet, demure healer who has no parents. Why? Because she’s the last survivor of an ancient race, that’s why!
Then you usually end up with a ‘washed up old soldier’ (AKA: someone over the age of 20) who sees himself as a father figure to your hero or the love interest, and an incredibly cute (and annoying) mascot that isn’t really good for anything.
This kind of writing makes all characters turn out to be incredibly easy to pick out of a crowd. But then, we haven’t even started with the bad guys.

The Bad Guys

Bad guys are either really evil (and ugly) guys who kick puppies, steal candy from small children, and burn orphanages… really, really loony guys that shouldn’t be outside of a padded room, much less leading an army of evil minions… or an achingly beautiful swordsman with a dark past and a wish to destroy the planet. To top it off, if there’s a chance that he could be the hero’s father, then he certainly is the hero’s father. He also has a beautiful female henchman that’s in love with him, an honorable and loyal henchman that will join the good guys, and one, two, or three total idiots that do nothing but blab the boss’s secret plans to your heroes.

At some point or another, he will also kidnap or kill your princess/healer love interest.

But what can be done to avoid these clichés? You don’t necessarily have to avoid them, just change and/or hide them. Nobody cares that the girl has fallen for the hero again, if she’s not your standard pretty, shy, sweet little girl. Or maybe he just falls for her instead? Is it returned? Can you see how many possibilities a small twist can bring up?

Well what about a lot of twists? Sit down with two or three over-done story elements and consider how you could change them. It may seem a little awkward or slow at first, but once you get on a roll, the story starts writing itself.

The Grand List Of Console Role Playing Game Clichés is a truly great place to find lists of RPG clichés. While this list is given in a humorous light, it’s all funny because it’s so true. Just remember, not all clichés are bad things; they can actually be wonderful additions to the story line so long as they’re used alongside some less than common story elements.

Kaos Tenshi