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D&D General Common gaming clichés (and how to subvert them)

Mort

Legend
Supporter
Some D&D situations/tropes are so cliché that you want to groan/run away the moment you encounter them!

With that in mind, how about listing out those situations/encounters but adding a twist that turns it from a cliché to a fun memorable experience.

So list one (or more if you really want) and then explain how you would change it to be a great experience instead.

I'll start:

Cliché:
The campaign begins in a tavern. The hooded stranger who has summoned the players beckons them to his table and begins to explain how he wishes to hire them for an important assignment. This can be hammed up for all it's worth.

Subversion:

Just as the players are about to go along with it or, more likely, as they are about to revolt from actually being subject to this scenario -
A massive dragon's tail sweeps through the wall and slams the "stranger" into opposite wall - mid speech. The Inn is under attack from a dragon. The players have to run, get patrons/employees to safety, negotiate, or otherwise deal with the dragon.

I did this with the start of my last campaign and the players had a ball - plus it led to an immediate hook of what the heck just happened and why.
 

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Esbee

Dungeon Master at large.
Cliche (of which I wholeheartedly admit I'm guilty of playing!): Surly, scottish dwarves wielding battleaxes.

Subversion: Cheerful dwarf with a lisp, wielding a frying pan. :unsure:
 

Esbee

Dungeon Master at large.
Cliché:
The campaign begins in a tavern. The hooded stranger who has summoned the players beckons them to his table and begins to explain how he wishes to hire them for an important assignment. This can be hammed up for all it's worth.
I have to say, the idea of starting in a tavern is fine as a standard. Taverns are, after all, public meeting places. I just hate when campaigns start there and no one knows each other, thus leading to some very awkward stares and bland attempts at roleplaying before being shoehorned into an adventure together.

One alternative to the tavern campaign opener that I've used repeatedly with new groups is that of the training session. I start the characters right in the middle of a goblin hunt, tracking down a group that has kidnapped a local. They find the hostage, suspiciously left alone in a clearing, and have to go about the next steps. It usually ends up in a "TPK" where all the players are like WTF?!? only to be revealed that it was all a training exercise with the local militia.

This serves to give players a heads up as to just how deadly the game can be and not to underestimate opponents, or how fickle the dice are. In every scenario, this has lead to players being cautious on subsequent encounters.
 


Mort

Legend
Supporter
Aw, man, don’t be messing with the classic meet-in-a-tavern campaign start! It’s a classic for a reason!
Nothing wrong with taverns. Mysterious strangers who want to meet the group (in the tavern) and hand out a mysterious quest - well that gets old fast.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I have to say, the idea of starting in a tavern is fine as a standard. Taverns are, after all, public meeting places. I just hate when campaigns start there and no one knows each other, thus leading to some very awkward stares and bland attempts at roleplaying before being shoehorned into an adventure together.
Yeah, starting with the PCs never having met before is generally ill-advised, whether you start in a tavern or elsewhere. (I’ll admit to it being a guilty pleasure of mine anyway though.)
 



Mort

Legend
Supporter
Eh, I think it’s perfectly fine. Maybe not the most novel kickoff, but it gets the job done.
One time perhaps. When it's the same group but doing a new campaign? Time to change things up.

Or if it's a veteran group in general, they've all seen this opening - change it up!
 


aco175

Legend
You all start off as prisoners in an underground jail cell with no memory of how you got there....

Maybe to speed this up, have a drow lackey sneak some of the PCs equipment to them and aid them in escaping so they can overthrow the captors. Unknown is that the lackey wants to take over the slave ring at a later time.
 

Stormonu

Legend
Instead of starting in the tavern and no one knows one another...

PCs have all received engraved invitations to meet at a nearby manor house. The only occupant is a butler who leads them all to a decked-out drawing room. There they find starting equipment that is tailor-made for them.

At that point, the butler reads from a group will - the characters forebearers, who had adventured together have left instructions for these specific individuals to be found and brought together to seek out a threat that is destined to return from a hundred year banishment/sleep.

The house is a safe haven for the character’s use between adventures, the butler is knowledgeable and helpful in the character’s employ, and secret rooms/caches are hidden within that reveal themselves as the campaign plays out.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
Yeah, starting with the PCs never having met before is generally ill-advised, whether you start in a tavern or elsewhere. (I’ll admit to it being a guilty pleasure of mine anyway though.)

I always start with a session 0 so players can brainstorm some ideas on their group - even if the idea is they don't know each other.

Also helps avoid the cliché of the "lone wolf who plays by his own rules..."
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
One time perhaps. When it's the same group but doing a new campaign? Time to change things up.
Sure, variety is a good thing.
Or if it's a veteran group in general, they've all seen this opening - change it up!
Meh. Again, classic for a reason. If this veteran group is so jaded they object to classic D&D tropes like this... I dunno, I guess they can have fun however they like, but I don’t get it.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I always start with a session 0 so players can brainstorm some ideas on their group - even if the idea is they don't know each other.

Also helps avoid the cliché of the "lone wolf who plays by his own rules..."
Absolutely. That way if not knowing each other is a thing the players want, they can decide that together. No one is forced into it.
 


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