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    Default Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    So, I have an idea for a game setting, to be used for both a wargame and a homebrewed D20 system. The core concept is to make a game that's the direct opposite of typical fantasy, by figuring out what's common and then taking the inverse.

    So far, the cliches I've thought of are:

    Combat Heroes- Characters can slaughter their way through entire armies. For my setting, characters are far more important in leading armies than killing them.

    Fantasy races- I'll be using no established fantasy races, and any humans will not be patterned after medieval England.

    Magic- In Warhammer, D&D, or Lord of the Rings, magic consists of extremely flashy fireballs, lightning bolts, and conjuring things out of midair. My setting uses a sort of psionics, that manifests as telepathy, clairvoyance, and other intangible but nonetheless extremely useful abilities.

    One-faction races- It always seemed odd to me that a lot of fantasy works have all of a particular race being one nation. I plan on having a number of different nations for each race.

    Basically, I'm just asking any readers to share what tropes come to mind. What others can I add?

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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    Well, it has always gotten on my nerves that dragons invariably have a lair in which they sleep on a big pile of treasure. Not only will that pile break the game's economy if it ends up in the hands of the players, but there's no reason for a dragon to even have that much treasure. What do dragons need with money? And they make great antagonists without all the bling; they just raze a few villages & they're at the top of the player's hit-list.

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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    What exactly did you mean when you mentioned established fantasy races? (I'm not sure if you just mean things like Elves and Dwarves or if you mean half animal races as well.)
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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    Elves are better than you (though this works for many fantasy races). Though you have sort of hit it with the restricting nations. I'd suggest simply for all races and each faction of the races to make them work as different real world inspired societies. They are not good, they are not bad. They commit violence for political, social, and economic reasons.

    BBEG. A very simple one. The big dude that is so evil he'll kick a dog then find some way to graft it in a sick mindless duplicate and use it to terrify more dogs. Usually they control the only empire that ever has plans for expansion because the other races all work together so perfectly. Ex. Sauron. Make some flavor, maybe attach onto the opposing cultures to just representing a different faction than the heroes. More amusing points if you can end up having your heroes being more bloodthirsty and violent than the BBEG stand-in is.

    Random item of power. Sword, armor, ring. Yeah they can be anything. But people will always kill for it or have an entire adventure around this item.

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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by Tempest Fennac View Post
    What exactly did you mean when you mentioned established fantasy races? (I'm not sure if you just mean things like Elves and Dwarves or if you mean half animal races as well.)
    I'm not planning on using any existing races. That means no elves, no dwarves, none of them. This gives me the opportunity to create interesting and different societies.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dienekes
    Elves are better than you (though this works for many fantasy races). Though you have sort of hit it with the restricting nations. I'd suggest simply for all races and each faction of the races to make them work as different real world inspired societies. They are not good, they are not bad. They commit violence for political, social, and economic reasons.
    Now that is a VERY good one. I will definitely implement that, having elves be generically good and orcs being generically evil always seemed off to me.

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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    For the Combat aspect, either GURPS or E6 sound like something you might want to take a look at. In standard D&D, a 10th level Fighter is going to be be able to burn through dozens of 1st level Warriors, and the Fighter is hardly one of the 'cool kids' of class abilities...

    Another option to make high-level combatants less overwhelmingly effective against masses of lower level opponents is to give all characters starting hit points equal to the Constitution as a bonus, but then get rid of level based HD increases entirely. The higher level character would get +1 hp / level after 1st (for wizards, bards and rogues) or +2 hp / level after 1st (for clerics, fighters and barbarians). So a 1st level Fighter with Con 16 would start with 16 extra hit points at 1st level, for a total of 29 hit points! But at 10th level, with the same Con, the same Fighter would have only 47 hit points, having gained only 18 extra over the last 9 levels! Even pitted against some 1st level Warriors with a 10 Con, the 10th level Fighter can expect them to have 20 hit points, nearly half of what he has as a 10th level Fighter, making the 'low-level character' not nearly as easy to blow through or ignore as they are under current 3.X hit point rules. (This idea would mesh poorly with evocation spells, but it sounds like you are phasing them out anyway, making this flow better.)

    As for the Magic aspect, it does seem that some of the most archetypal fantasy wizards (Merlin, Gandalf, etc) are as likely to function as advisors and to address purely supernatural issues, instead of the D&D role of 'artillery and one-man seige engine.' Using a more psychic style of magic, with wizards reading enemy minds, cursing select foes with the evil eye, dominating the minds of feeble-minded guards, etc. would go a long way to keeping them very, very useful, but not Tim the Enchanter-esque walking flamethrowers / rocket launchers.

    It sounds pretty neat, but I'd caution against throwing out all of the tropes! Sometimes it's fun to play within the rules, just going in an unexpected direction.

    Other tropes of D&D to consider;

    1) Altering the availability and nature of magic items in the D&D setting changes up the flavor quite a bit. Many fantasy characters get by with a single magic sword, or no magical items at all, while others (I'm looking at you, Frodo of the Sticky Fingers!) are decked out like a Christmas tree (mithral shirt, orcbane dagger, ring of invisibility, elven cloak, elven books, rope of climbing, flask of starlight that repels giant spiders, etc...) at like 2nd level.

    Can the wizards of this setting enchant items, or are magical items self-generated, as legends and great deeds make their mark on specific items, making them all very rare, and historied items that a Bard may be able to recognize and recall tales about? Perhaps consumables like potions and scrolls are the only magical items commonly seen, and even those items might not be as 'amazing' as they are currently.

    2) How about the divine? In D&D, a Cleric is just an armor-clad double hit point spellcasting wizard with a potentially infinite spells known pool and derives his powers from gods who are more or less active in the world. One way to *completely* switch this up would be to dump Clerics completely, and have all spellcasters use the psychic-style magics available to the settings wizards. One of the psychic style spells / powers would be a version of healing, which is the only thing a Cleric provides that a Wizard can't already do anyway. The 'priests' of this world could be just like the priests of the real world, no more or less superhumanly powerful than anyone else. Some priests might be Fighters. Some priests might be Experts. Some priests might be Sorcerers...

    3) And then there's healing magic. Is it available? In traditional D&D, the Cleric is the doctor, and no injury or condition is expected to last more than a day (time for the Cleric to prepare new spells, if he's out when you get the injury / condition). A setting with vastly reduced healing alternatives (say, having the only Cure spells being either life-force transferring empathy effects that allow the healer to give some life-energy to the wounded party, basically spreading out the damage so that overnight healing can 'top everybody off,' *or* Cure spells only transform lethal damage into nonlethal damage, which then take the usual hours worth of healing time, or some mixture of both!), would be radically different.

    The Heal skill might need to be slightly buffed up (heal 1 hp of damage on a success of 15, only as many points per day as the characters Con mod + HD can be healed through this method) to compensate for less effective healing magic, and a Cure spell might simply add +X (caster level + Wis mod?) to a Heal check, and allow an additional point of healing for every X points by which the Heal check succeeded or something wonky, making healing entirely skill-based and cure spells only truly reliable in the hands of someone who has maxed out their Heal skill!

    4) Altering several types of magic to significantly improve skill use could be an interesting route to take (spellcasting classes might warrant higher skill points though!). Cure spells boost the Heal skill to supernatural levels of effect. Charm spells boost the Diplomacy skill to supernatural levels of effect. Mind-Reading spells boost the Sense Motive skill to supernatural levels of effect. Fear spells boost the Intimidate skill to supernatural levels of effect. Divination spells boost various Knowledge skills (or Gather Information) to supernatural levels of effect. Each spellcaster needs to not only master a spell, but also the skill that the spell is based off of. If he doesn't know how to set a bone, his Curing magic is going to be weak and unreliable. If he can't intimidate his way out of a candy-shop, his Fear spells aren't going to cow the brigands into leaving him alone.

    Each skill would have 'normal effects' and 'enhanced effects' that can normally only be achieved by someone with a spell or magical item that allows them access to the supernatural level of effect. Anyone can climb a wall with the Climb skill, but only someone with the ability to 'lift his weight with the force of his mind' (cast spider climb) will be able to make a Climb check to run up a wall or even across a section of ceiling! Anyone can make a Jump check to clear a stream without getting his boots wet, but only the person with the appropriate magic can leap 60 ft. down a cliff face to land with a soft thump, unharmed.

    With magic this powerfully restricted, the spellcaster should probably be able to cast their spells much more freely, and not be limited by spell slots. Some other opportunity cost would be more appropriate, such as becoming fatigued upon botching a skill check (natural 1), meaning that the average spellcaster has a 5% chance *every time she casts a spell* of 'hitting a wall' and realizing that she's draining herself to a dangerous extent.
    Last edited by Set; 2009-06-19 at 08:59 AM.

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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    There are no fantastic races and, following that, no simple-to-understand but unlikely governmental systems consisting of entirely one people. There are no flashy and amazing spells, and individuals do not rise to nigh-unkillible juggernaut jaugernuut jagernut monsters but instead stop at Extremely Valuable Leaders. If you take away the psionics and replace it with unreliable, ugly, yet crafted by everyone magic items then you'd have something similar to another game called Real Life.

    The title of this thread seems at war with your request. These are inverted rather than subverted, and the overuse of this may be inverting your entire genre. Not saying that's a bad thing, of course. It just seems that inverting every aspect of fantasy turns it into everything a fantasy is not.
    Last edited by Parvum; 2009-06-19 at 08:58 AM. Reason: spelling

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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    I've made 3 half-animal races for use in D&D games; 2 of them are quite steriotypical so I don't think they would work (Vulpines are medium sized foxes which can talk to animals at will while favouring Druids in addition to be anature-loving race, Apefolk are humanoid nomadic chimps who specialise in melee classes and Fenneckin are a race of humanoid fennec foxes which typicaly live as hunter-gatherers in deserts).

    If any of those would suit your needs, I'll get their stats and fluff for you.
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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    In most settings, humans are the dominant race. You might want to subvert that, by making humans less numerous, seen as inferior, etc.
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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by M0rt View Post
    In most settings, humans are the dominant race. You might want to subvert that, by making humans less numerous, seen as inferior, etc.
    Another option is to have humans in control of most cities, make most decisions, etc. so they appear to be in charge to pretty much everyone (human and non-), but in reality it's a group of [insert race here] who runs things behind the scenes for the poor, incompetent humans.
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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    Subverting tropes or cliches can be a tricky business.

    To a large extent, avoiding them seems like a great idea, because you want to do things differently. But at the same time, the reason that the tropes/cliches exist are precisely because they work, so abandoning them entirely risks losing contact with the experiences and expectations of your audience.

    Also, the act of consciously subverting tropes is pretty much a trope in and of itself. For the paradoxially inclined, enjoy.

    Currently, I'm working on a setting that takes a "standard" D&D high-magic fantasy setting, and asks the question "what would happen if all of the magic suddenly disappeared from the world?" From there, I've proceeded to develop a basic picture of history and societies based on a logical progression of assumptions about human (and demi-human) behavior (note, this is a set of assumptions, others could be made, so someone with a similar starting point would create a radically different world than I am.).

    In some cases, I find that the cliches still hold true, and in others, I find the situations created by the assumptions wind up changing or discarding those cliches. Balancing them is the hard part -- am I changing things for the sake of changing them, or are the changes the a logical result of the world I'm creating? Will my prospective audience see this world and say, "yes, it makes sense"?


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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    Links to TVTropes indeces: Speculative Fiction (they don't have specific indexes for fantasy and science fiction) and Tabletop Games.

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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    A thought about the BBEG. As noted they usually are the guy wanting to go and conquer everyone else, but maybe in your case they'd just be the leader of some nation that just wants to hold its boarders while everyone else is trying to conquer it (likely due to some feature of the land or some such).

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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    Just be mindful. If you are the first to subvert a trope, you are original. If you are the second, you are following the trend... If you are the millionth, then the subversion is actually the trope and following it would be subverting it.

    Especially if someone very successful has done it before.

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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by Firkraag View Post
    Just be mindful. If you are the first to subvert a trope, you are original. If you are the second, you are following the trend... If you are the millionth, then the subversion is actually the trope and following it would be subverting it.

    Especially if someone very successful has done it before.
    This is true. However, my objective is not to create a setting that is directly the opposite of the established ones simply for its own sake. I want to create a world with a flavor very different from generic high fantasy, while still staying within the genre. In most fantasy settings, there are a number of things taken as a 'given', even if they don't really make sense (one-alignment races) or don't seem necessary to the setting (easy availability of magic items). I guess I'm just sick of the whole... generic-ness of it all, so I'm trying to make a game that'll keep my players on their toes and offer a different sort of experience.

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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    Well, one thing that you could consider doing is to shift your perspective from the generic 'Fantasy Medievel Realm' that is more or less a grubby copy from old France and Britain. There are plenty of other cliched settings that you could borrow from (ancient Egypt, ancient Japan, ancient Arabia) as well as regions that have been largely untouched (Babylonia, Aztec Mexico, Polynesia, Slavic Myth, Hindu and Buddhist cosmologies, etc).

    [For tips on dealing with alternative mythologies, I recommend the more scholarly Pantheon.org as well as the hilarious Godchecker.com
    If you're more comfortable with the previously mentioned Fantasy Medievel Realm/Fake France/Britain, then you could push it back a few centuries (maybe back to the Roman Republic?) or forward a little bit (Elizabethan Renaissance) or even forward a lot (Age of Sail). Alternatively, you could just shift sideways (The city-states of pre-Italian Italy always been interesting, and don't forget about Russia, which comes with its own villain in the form of Ivan Groznya and his Oprichniki!)

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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by Zeta Kai View Post
    Well, it has always gotten on my nerves that dragons invariably have a lair in which they sleep on a big pile of treasure. Not only will that pile break the game's economy if it ends up in the hands of the players, but there's no reason for a dragon to even have that much treasure. What do dragons need with money?
    Eh, 3.5 Draconomicon actually explains this. Its an instinctive thing and it allows a dragon to have a choice in their final fate(Dragon Ascendant or becoming a Twilight Guardian) . Just getting tired of people ignoring that...

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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    A common one in most of the fantasy I see is this, in the real world, 90% of our nations older than USA are based on race. Most of the fantasy stories I've read have this same issue on the species level(D&D calls it race). There are elven cities and dwarven cities. You can go north, and enter the Centaur's glade. The 'filler' residents are typically homogeneous. Narnia, LotR, OotS, Goblins, Dominic Deegan to name a few settings guilty of this. To subvert, make sure that governments and history are derived, not from specific species, but from unifying events, such as a slave revolution(The slavers enslaved everything but their own species), conquering nations setting up arbitrary borders grouping peoples that would otherwise not get along(Modern India), or perhaps someone is enslaving anyone incapable of using certain abilities, such as spellcasting.
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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    I'd just say make sure that empires rise and fall and aren't single-species, as others have before I.


    I mean, you'll have SOME racist monospeciefic empires (I am thinking Stereotypical Japan here) but you'll also have cultural blends where everything is fine and most people are open-minded (thinking Stereotypical Canada here).


    And the people in the cultural blends won't be all "ohhh he's a dwarf." They'll be rather race blind, except for the odd old-timer-from-when-racism-was-ok or foreigner-with-a-different-culture.

    Instead of:

    "Oh yeah, man, you should see Murgib THE DWARF's new shop. It is filled with FINE DWARVEN WARES and he even had the ceiling lowered for authenticity!"
    "Dude! I adore DWARVEN stonecrafting! I heard that Murgib's is expensive, though."
    "Well, you know how DWARVEN GREED is. Once he got people complimenting his work, he used it as an excuse to up the price."
    "Hohoho, oh those crazy DWARVES. <racist joke here>"

    you'd end up with something more like


    "Man, have you tried Murgib's cooking?"
    " Eh, I'm not really a fan of dwarven cuisine."
    " Your loss, man. He got ahold of some kind of crazy spice and the fried-pig-fat-garnished-with-baked-cat-fat tastes divine."
    " Yeah, it tastes good but the preservatives they put in everything make me feel sick for days."

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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by PairO'Dice Lost
    Another option is to have humans in control of most cities, make most decisions, etc. so they appear to be in charge to pretty much everyone (human and non-), but in reality it's a group of [insert race here] who runs things behind the scenes for the poor, incompetent humans.
    Or better yet, don't have humans at all. You could combine half-elves and half-orcs into one race.

    If your story has a Chosen One, make sure he was actually chosen, rather than simply born with power. There is a difference.
    Last edited by Faleldir; 2009-06-19 at 09:34 PM.

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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    One road you could travel is justifying the tropes, rather than merely inverting them. (I know you don't have dwarves, but this is just an example) Example: Normal setting: All Dwarves have beards. Why? Who knows?
    Your setting: All Dwarves have beards. Why? They have a religious compulsion against cutting their hair, similar to Rastafarians.

    Dragons: they hoard treasure because this is their function in mythology, to guard treasure (see Sigurd, Beowulf, St. George, etc.). But a good way to play with them is having dragons be completely unintelligent beasts, like in Reign of Fire.

    Or, you can go to full subversion of fantasy tropes. I have a setting which follows, more or less, all traditional high fantasy tropes, except magic doesn't actually work. All fantastic elements (monsters, wizards, magic swords, fantasy races, etc.) have perfectly mundane explanations, which the characters themselves are unaware of.

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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by TSED View Post
    And the people in the cultural blends won't be all "ohhh he's a dwarf." They'll be rather race blind, except for the odd old-timer-from-when-racism-was-ok or foreigner-with-a-different-culture.
    That's all well and good when races are essentially the same species, but falls apart when you use the definition of "race" that most fantasy settings use. In fact, the OP has explicitly stated that most races will be non-humanoid. There, you'd expect races to have different mindsets. In fact, the whole "non-humanoids are just humans that look different" trope is a very common one that deserves a bit of subversion.

    For instance, let's say one race is a reptilian race that lays large clutches of eggs at one time and merely hides the nest instead of guarding it, trusting in sheer numbers to get some viable offspring to maturity. Such a race would consider human parenting instincts to be strange and perverted. Even if such a race had a modern, enlightened view of individual rights, you wouldn't expect them to ever develop a nuclear family (they would most likely have some communal system of defending the children).

    Or, take an example from Ender's Game:
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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    You really want to subert fantasy -- no "nice" fey. Nope, not a one. They are all pretty hateful to each other, but they are even more distainful, arrogant towards non-fey.

    Not only do they hate other races, but they especially hate all humanoids who can trace their heritage to the realms of Faerie including Orc, half Orcs, Elves, Half-Elves, Gnomes, Halfings and the Goblinoid. The Fey consider all of them to be turncoats who exchanged their ties to the realms of the Faerie to become Humanoid.

    Dryads and nymphs and other "pretty" fey only use humanoid males {there is no accounting for taste among fey} for their own pleasure than toss them aside like used rags if they don't kill them first or feed them to their pets.

    Grigs force dancers to dance until they bleed or die. Satryrs are drunken kidnappers at best running off with human females only to abandon them later. Treants hate to be disturbed from their long slumbers. That talking unicorn is argumentative and rude. Pegasi love to buck off their riders....need I say more.

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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    How about orcs are stupid and love war? Although they aren't necessarily stupid even by D&D rules, since -2 INT would mean that humans are rather dim in general too (there's not much difference between a -2 INT and +0), rather the trope is often invoked.

    Another one is Black vs. White. The paladin is a holy warrior. The BBEG likely worships a dark god and wants to dominate the world or commit omnicide (destruction of all life). Evil people also seem to acknowledge the fact that they're evil.

    For a game that tries not to be 'ethnically exclusive', you might find a city with all sorts of ethnicities of humans. Black people live with white people in the middle ages, even though theoretically both originated from different environments, as one example. LOTR didn't have this though - I'm assuming 'black numenorians' are the african dirived of the real world.

    Similarly to the above, all sapient races that are humanoid oddly behave a lot like humans aside from physical differences. Some may even look like humans (demi-humans) or sound like humans in voice. The only distinction is culture or 'racial tendency', the latter being too subtle to really qualify for anything of a different species. Although it is hard to create a new race that is psychologically/socially distinct on a raw species-level (aside from communication, biological functions and supernatural abilities) from the only existing sapient race in real life.

    And then there's mooks. In an epic encounter, the bad guy always has an army that dies by the hundreds and perhaps the thousands, without any tears shed from either side and no consolation for their families. It would be funny if the GM brought up a side quest that involved a griefing woman who was widowed by the PCs actions against some seemingly random mook - it would only work as a 'lamp shading' to the actual adventure of course.

    Everyone seems to document how the world was born as the gods likely had something to do with it. Never something unknown and undiscovered, something that involves conflicting religious views, something involving an ancient spacefaring civilization (although the latter is often used in science fiction), or anything realistic.

    The PCs are never burdened by typical things like border guards for longer than the players attention spans.

    There's always more than one deity, and if they're mentioned at all they're often involved in PC affairs once things get epic.

    The PCs are famous after a good number of deeds, but are never once stopped by a mob demanding autographs. They may save the world undisturbed and unharried.

    In an epic scale campaign, the PCs are often the 'final' or 'last hope' of a crumbling kingdom and must defeat the 'ultimate threat' with naught but themselves, no army to support them. Also, the person giving them the most important missions is a king... sometimes a queen.

    The kingdom that the PCs are helping is always good natured in the long run, never at war with its neighbors, although bad laws do come into place to give something for chaotic aligned characters to do. The story treats itself as if helping the king is helping the kingdom, because the king is the embodiment of the kingdom. Also, it's hard to get everyone's views out there. Usually, if in letting a kingdom get conquored, thousands of civilians will be slaughtered in genocide by the enemy isn't the main reason the PCs choose to help the king. If it means they're famous then they will help.

    Conversation is very abrupt and straight forward. Always. A good aligned party might just blurt out to an anonymous NPC with a sidequest 'we'll help you, but only if it is for the sake of GOOD (tm)', without ever getting awkward stares.

    The PCs can walk into any mysterious town not knowing its customs and will always be greeted by a good natured and jolly innkeeper or barman and quickly eased in without any discomfort. This usually occurs if the party is good themselves.

    Random things that happen are random. The PCs usually must quest to reach significant plot points. Usually this involves travelling many miles as well. Rarely, a random encounter that is not actually random encounter (PCs only assume it is) might beget a sidequest.

    The tavern trope. Most adventures begin in a tavern. A good portion of these involve the barman.

    If there's a tough NPC lurking about that happens to interact with the players and is seemingly unimportant in that he doesn't offer quests (aside from the odd sidequest), he will likely adventure with the party for as long as the PCs choose - or whenever the GM feels like abruptly removing him.

    Odd places always end up as dungeons, visited by an evil or stubborn wizard beforehand. Traps and monsters usually occupy these places in great handfulls. Side dungeons are likely not that deep. Never do they 'end' with tunnels that continue 'infinitely' and with little content. Usually the PCs continue returning until every bit of reward has been scraped from the location clean.

    Powerful and high level stuff is always magical or involves magic. Never is it anything mundane that is especially dangerous, such as a rolling boulder that also explodes or anthrax.

    Speak of the above, technology hardly ever appears - even though tinker gnomes and goblins have become a distinct trope of their own. The most advanced technology will likely be a trap or merely something to gawk at while investigating some library abode.

    NPCs rarely betray the PCs.

    The Big Bad Evil Guy is often revealed far before he is slain by the PCs. He will usually escape the first or even second confrontation, which ascertains his significant role in the plot.

    The Big Bad Evil Guy is usually slain by the PCs. Never arrested. Never to make ammends. If the PCs lose to him, he usually slays them all. Rarely does a PC turn evil and join him - since that would be more effort on the GM's part.

    In a BBEG plot, the villain is always confronted at the end (after some penultimate plot point such as an epic battle), to be slain in combat. Once slain, the campaign is usually closed. If the PCs had to travel hundreds of miles to reach the BBEG in his lair, the plot won't be expanded to cover their journey home. If the BBEG never really existed to begin with (ala Sauron) then this trope may not be invoked.

    If the NPC who was helping the PCs out all along turns out to be the BBEG, he is likely a monstrous creature that is not what he appeared to be. Usually a vampire, a shapeshifting abomination, a demon, a god. Something wild and deadly.

    If there's a long combat session to invoked when in combat with the BBEG, the BBEG will usually have alternate forms. Defeating him will only result in him transforming into something more powerful, or at least requiring different tactics on the part of the PCs. When the final form of the villain is destroyed, there's always something flashy like an explosion.

    Actual combat is never longer than a few minutes. Ever. Never do the PCs take rests unless they're forced too. Or if the combat is arduos and involves puzzle solving somehow.

    When escaping a lair, the PCs always have to get out on a set timer, sometimes not revealed by the GM; usually it's escape or be crushed by the collapsing lair or exploding BBEG. If the PCs do get out, the GM can make it seem like they made it in the nick of time, thus invoking the common hollywood trope of an explosion eclipsing the hero like Bruce Willis in Die Hard or some James Bond film.

    The mcguffin is always an artifact that contains some unfathomable power that can destroy the world or 'be used for good' and in some cases only the former.
    Last edited by imp_fireball; 2009-06-21 at 04:19 PM.

  26. - Top - End - #26

    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by Zeta Kai View Post
    Well, it has always gotten on my nerves that dragons invariably have a lair in which they sleep on a big pile of treasure. Not only will that pile break the game's economy if it ends up in the hands of the players, but there's no reason for a dragon to even have that much treasure. What do dragons need with money? And they make great antagonists without all the bling; they just raze a few villages & they're at the top of the player's hit-list.
    Take a page out of Shadowrun's dragons.

    When I asked an ethused fan:
    Me: "How does that work? What exactly do dragons hoard in a cyberpunk setting?"
    Him: "Well what do dragons always hoard?"
    Me: "Money and power."
    Him: <expand to logical conclusion>

    Dragons don't *have* to hoard treasure when they can own caravans, invest in commercial enterprises and enact crushing taxes on their "citizens." A dragon that owns its own city-state or a small trade empire is going to get a lot more gold and magical doodads than a dragon that merely sits on top of treasure.

    Also keep in mind that dragons are a metaphor for greed. A personified force that merely keeps treasure for its own sake, rather than actually utilizing it to some meaningful end. As a result, the common people suffer. But there's no reason that you can't put a spin on the idea by making the dragon the equivalent of an unscrupulous medieval CEO.
    Last edited by LurkerInPlayground; 2009-06-20 at 12:30 AM.

  27. - Top - End - #27

    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by Debihuman View Post
    You really want to subert fantasy -- no "nice" fey. Nope, not a one. They are all pretty hateful to each other, but they are even more distainful, arrogant towards non-fey.

    Not only do they hate other races, but they especially hate all humanoids who can trace their heritage to the realms of Faerie including Orc, half Orcs, Elves, Half-Elves, Gnomes, Halfings and the Goblinoid. The Fey consider all of them to be turncoats who exchanged their ties to the realms of the Faerie to become Humanoid.

    Dryads and nymphs and other "pretty" fey only use humanoid males {there is no accounting for taste among fey} for their own pleasure than toss them aside like used rags if they don't kill them first or feed them to their pets.

    Grigs force dancers to dance until they bleed or die. Satryrs are drunken kidnappers at best running off with human females only to abandon them later. Treants hate to be disturbed from their long slumbers. That talking unicorn is argumentative and rude. Pegasi love to buck off their riders....need I say more.

    Debby
    Uhh . . . there's a pretty strong tradition of fey being inscrutable, borderline amoral, capricious and very dangerous. They're basically nature spirits who arbitrarily do things to humans on what appears to be a set of completely arbitrary supernatural rules. Or maybe because they thought it would make for a funny prank (which quickly gets out of hand).

    Neil Gaiman tends to love using them in his stories.

    To give examples:
    - The fairies ask you to do chores and pay you in gold for doing them. In the morning, the gold turns into flowers and blows away in the wind.
    - The Queen of the Faerie takes a liking to young boys and men and promises them pleasure, fun, gifts, an escape from the tedium of mundane life and so forth if only they would let her adopt them as a consort. Of course, accepting her invitation means that the young male is lost to the world forever and will likely vanish mysteriously after he's no longer fashionable.
    - Accepting a gift from a fey often comes the price of servitude attached to it, unless you can present something of equal value in exchange. Ignorance is no excuse as you are still contractually bound to the agreement.
    - Satyrs are incorrigible drunks and womanizers. Naturally this makes them scoundrels. They're too forward with women and they're alcoholics too boot. Addicts aren't exactly the most reliable people in the world.

    And so on.

    The whole notion that nature is wholesome, providenced and generally nice is a more antiseptic Disney-fied version of those myths. Older sensibilities made a point of saying that nature is whimsically dangerous in spite of its apparent beauty.
    Last edited by LurkerInPlayground; 2009-06-20 at 12:52 AM.

  28. - Top - End - #28

    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by Jacob_Gallagher View Post
    Combat Heroes- Characters can slaughter their way through entire armies. For my setting, characters are far more important in leading armies than killing them.
    The nature of power and leadership often makes for an interesting theme. As does exploring what "charisma" actually is.

    For one thing power is a relationship. Not a possession.

    For another thing: Charisma is often a combination of luck and reputation.

    Thirdly, leadership often hinges on both of the prior principles. Power from a leader often shapes, characterizes and inspires others.

    Fantasy races- I'll be using no established fantasy races, and any humans will not be patterned after medieval England.
    Or even better, just pattern them to a different culture altogether. Persian culture, for example, is rarely done. And we're talking about a Persian culture *before* Islam and its associated stereotypes broke out into the scene.

    Asian culture is also done a lot, but it's not particularly *overdone.*

    Magic- In Warhammer, D&D, or Lord of the Rings, magic consists of extremely flashy fireballs, lightning bolts, and conjuring things out of midair. My setting uses a sort of psionics, that manifests as telepathy, clairvoyance, and other intangible but nonetheless extremely useful abilities.
    LOTR actually had pretty subtle magic -- which was often just literally technology or advanced knowledge. Saruman used his "magic" to crossbreed goblins and orcs to create a new breed that could move around in sunlight. Most of the magic was really in various devices such as the rings, swords, elven rope/bread/cloaks, etcetera. Gandalf's fireworks were a kind of "minor magic."

    Warhammer 40k (not so familiar with WH) actually made a point of making psionics and magic synonymous. Sorcerers were necessarily psykers. And it's still very very dangerous and unreliabe -- as magic generally should be.

    It's often magic that's too convenient, safe and well-understood that's cliche.

    P.S.
    The notion of a one true bloodline also generally annoys me a lot.

    A peasant-turned-hero often turns out to secretly to be from a long lost line of kings. Or the royalty is often an inherently noble and divinely ordained group of legitimate good guys. He can't be a virtuous person unless he has the right blood. This is incredibly stupid and elitist.

    Which generally wasn't the truth of it in history. Serfs in feudalism were little better than slaves and didn't get the same rights under the law that nobles did. If you were a serf you put in long hours of backbreaking labor and were probably chronically undernourished -- which only made you all the more susceptible to disease. It's even worse if where you're from has a terrible climate for agriculture, because that would mean *more* hours of backbreaking labor and worse malnourishment.

    Nobility were often little more than glorified mafiosos or bandits who then settled-in and made a name for themselves. Then they often created myths about their superiority -- which mostly stemmed from being better-fed, having more leisure time for things like self-improvement and not having to work themselves to the point of self-injury. The myths tended to be about having "better blood" and something about how God or the heavens gave them a divine mandate.
    Last edited by LurkerInPlayground; 2009-06-20 at 12:58 AM.

  29. - Top - End - #29
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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by Debihuman View Post
    Dryads and nymphs and other "pretty" fey only use humanoid males {there is no accounting for taste among fey} for their own pleasure than toss them aside like used rags if they don't kill them first or feed them to their pets.

    Grigs force dancers to dance until they bleed or die. Satryrs are drunken kidnappers at best running off with human females only to abandon them later. Treants hate to be disturbed from their long slumbers. That talking unicorn is argumentative and rude. Pegasi love to buck off their riders....need I say more.

    Debby
    I wouldn't make nymphs evil, just a lot more sexual and a lot like Nanny Ogg and Captain Jack Harkness in personality. They're basically manizing (if that's a word) fey seductresses who'll sleep with just about any good looking man they meet. This would include Captain Jack Harkness, Captain Malcolm Reynolds, Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Hammer. They don't care if the object of their attraction is male or female or even humanoid in shape. If it's gorgeous and willing a nymph will shag it with gusto. Whether that partner is Revy or Nanaki is up to the individual nymph of course
    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Mann View Post
    It's worse than the time some friends used a silver piece, a platinum piece, a delayed blast fireball and a scroll of passwall to make a nuclear explosion in a game...
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  30. - Top - End - #30
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    Default Re: Subverting Fantasy cliches for a Fantasy setting

    Nah, the nymphs want one thing--they'd be going for Orcs and Barbarians, anything with big feet and a hairy back. Usually they make do with satyrs, but the satyrs are usually drunk and stealing human brides.

    The succubi would be wanting the pretty boys -- simpering, angsty, namby-pamby types. Have you seen what passes for male down there? Slim pickings. Plus they get to wear all the cool goth leather gear since it all goes with their wings. [On that note, the next succubus I make will be named Vanity].

    Dryads well, they've probably got sap in their unmentionables. That explains why there were no entwives, eh Tolkien?

    I think I need to step away from the gutter now.

    Oh and I recently discovered "Fairy Meat" -- that's what we need. Cannibal fairies on the warpath!

    Here's my contribution (The Monstrous Vampire Pixie):
    http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showp...9&postcount=30



    Debby
    Last edited by Debihuman; 2009-06-20 at 03:18 AM.
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    Please, please, please when using non-core material, cite to the books. There are too many books to wade through to find the one with the feat, special ability or spell you use.
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