I really enjoyed a recent YouTube video by WebDM that discussed turning D&D clichés into adventuring gold. Most players and Dungeon Masters will recognize the damsel in distress, or the humble beginnings of a party meeting in a tavern. But how should the DM handle the story when using these tricky, well used adventuring paths?
The main takeaway point from the Web DM was to explore the origin of the cliché as it probably became a cliché for good reason. The cited the source material of Conan as being quite different to the lumbering, muscle-head most imagine. In fact, Conan’s savagery is very adaptable and he was a skilled thief among other things.
I always like to think of impersonating someone. If everyone impersonated the impersonator they had just heard, then very soon the resulting voice would be over the top and very one-dimensional; completely separate from the depth and tone of the original.
The other idea Web DM played with was using the player’s assumptions against them. For example, if the players believe the cliché that a damsel is imprisoned by a great beast, then they will not suspect that the ‘damsel’ is in fact sorceress who has captured the dragon.
So let’s look at the clichés that Web DM explored. I’ve compiled them into a table and added my own thoughts as well.
Overall, I’d say try to avoid too many clichés, but when going over familiar ground, look for the originality in it and don’t apologize for it. If players only see a classic storyline, use that to unbalance their perceptions later on!