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D&D General Leaning into the tropes

TheSword

Legend
Other adventuring parties are essential to the game... so when they disappear in the dungeon your adventuring party can enter after them and either save their asses or solve the mystery of their mangled, twisted corpses.

Ive lost track of my characters who’s reason was a relative, lover, mentor etc that investigated some evil and subsequently disappeared.
 

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Doug McCrae

Legend
One thing about D&D in all its forms is that it has a lot of "D&Disms" -- tropes that the game possesses that aren't really part of other forms of fantasy...

The world is populated by at least some superhuman adventurer types that vastly outperform regular folks and are the only ones that can stop horrible monsters and dastardly villains and angry gods.
Isn't this common in other fantasy, and its foundational literature? In the Old English poem, Beowulf, Grendel wages a "lonely war" for twelve years "inflicting constant cruelties on the people" (Heaney translation) until he is finally stopped by the eponymous hero.

Superhuman adventurers are not unusual in Appendix N -- Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and Bilbo (once he acquires his invisibility ring); Zelazny's Corwin and Shadowjack; the god-slaying Elric; John Carter of Mars; Ganelon Silvermane in Lin Carter's World's End series.
 
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Puddles

Explorer
I think most of the time I fight against D&D's specific tropes rather than embrace them. The one thing I do embrace is the monsters. I love D&D specific monsters (from Beholders to Gelatinous Cubes) and try to get as many in my games as possible - that's not really a trope though. Other things I embrace that are more like D&D tropes:

1. There is a language called "common" that most use to communicate.
2. Gold coins are legal tender the world over.
3. There are various planes of reality (the Material plane, Astral plane, the Abyss etc).
4. The world will cater for lots of combat, exploration, dungeoneering and social interaction.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
I grew very tired of tropes. They are so very predictable (as is their subversion). By now I find it more interesting when things work like in the real world as that looks more exotic than the tropes you encounter again and again.
Also, most tropes are not well thought out and do not tie very well into the setting. Things which should have huge effects in how societies work and tacked on because they are tropes and have no affect on the wider world at all.
That works for as long as you play the tropes, never question them go along with them. But for me that leads to to very stale and railroaded games in a medium which one big advantage is, in my eyes, that it is (can be) very interactive.
 

Reynard

Legend
I grew very tired of tropes. They are so very predictable (as is their subversion). By now I find it more interesting when things work like in the real world as that looks more exotic than the tropes you encounter again and again.
Also, most tropes are not well thought out and do not tie very well into the setting. Things which should have huge effects in how societies work and tacked on because they are tropes and have no affect on the wider world at all.
That works for as long as you play the tropes, never question them go along with them. But for me that leads to to very stale and railroaded games in a medium which one big advantage is, in my eyes, that it is (can be) very interactive.
I do not see how you can tie tropes to railroading vs agency. Can you explain that?
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Alignment is real and an understood part of the philosophy of the world.
For me, alignment has always just been a general descriptor, nothing more. Pure good and evil does exist, but it's fuzzy for most people and even the gods. Odin, a god many would consider "good" is actually neutral in D&D terms for example.

Magic works in the world like it says it works in the books -- precise, specific generally inflexible and largely focused on combat.
For the magic that PCs can learn and use? Yes. For magic in general? Not necessarily. There are always going to be those that start using magic without really understanding it, or are pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

The world is populated by at least some superhuman adventurer types that vastly outperform regular folks and are the only ones that can stop horrible monsters and dastardly villains and angry gods.
Yes, and while it's frequently the PCs that's not always the case. I view high level adventurers as simply those who excel at their profession. There are powerful people scattered around (not nearly as overwhelming as FR) but they're generally busy with their "retirement". Or they're powerful in ways that doesn't lend itself to adventuring. When it comes to magic, there will always be someone more powerful than the PCs in a specific specialization that isn't battle casting.

The world is full of horrible monsters, dastardly villains and angry gods, many of whom dwell in deep underground fortresses full of traps and minions.
I loosely base my cosmos on Norse mythology including the different realms. So giants and (mostly) evil gods and fiends come from Jotunheim. The underdark is really the realm of Svartleheim that can most easily be accessed from deep underground. Outsiders and aberrations are like infectious insects attacking Yggdrasil, the world tree and so on. Midgard (the "real" world) is often a proxy battleground for otherworldly powers.

There are also monsters of all types running around, it's a dangerous world.

The most powerful magical items in the world are beyond even those superhuman heroes. In fact, the world is full of the ruins and detritus of an age of immense power and apparent malevolence.
Yeah, this one goes way back to when I first thought up my campaign world. Long ago there were a powerful civilizations that had the equivalent of a magical nuclear war. I rarely use dungeons, preferring either exploration or urban campaigns but my world has a long history. Technology is somewhat stagnant though because things like steam engines and gunpowder often lead to unintended consequences. Like a steam engine coming to life or fire mephits discovering that gunpowder makes the most delicious explosions.

So I lean into a lot of tropes, tip my hat to others but don't really use them and ignore others.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
I do not see how you can tie tropes to railroading vs agency. Can you explain that?

Lets take some of the tropes from the first post

- The world is full of horrible monsters, dastardly villains and angry gods, many of whom dwell in deep underground fortresses full of traps and minions.
Why are the monster there? What do they want? Can their deep underground fortress even sustain a monster population? How have nations changed when being constantly threatened by monsters?
Most of those questions are unanswered, because answering them is hard and the answers would result in some big changes away from the usual representation of the setting, possibly violating other tropes. Monster are there because its a trope, you are heroes, go kill them because <quest> sends you into those dungeons. Thats how you get XP and equipment.

- Alignment is real and an understood part of the philosophy of the world.
This again would have a huge impact on society works when you think about it. Screening the alignment of important people would be normal which also would make priests more important compared to normal RPG games. But better not bring that up as it would shake the usual representation of settings to its core. Just nod and accept it is a plot device only used in very important moments and then forgotten.

- The most powerful magical items in the world are beyond even those superhuman heroes. In fact, the world is full of the ruins and detritus of an age of immense power and apparent malevolence.
From fantasy to scifi this is so very common. In the past there was a very powerful A which made things unachievable today. And when you want the best X possible you do not seek out master craftsmen, try to curry favor with nobles to gain access to them, etc but you go down some ruins, kill the monsters there because of course they are there and pull it out of some rubble or hoard because you were apparently the first one who thought of that despite the world being littered with magic items in ruins. It is all so very predictable.
And it also raises always the same expectations. So if you happen to find a lost legendary sword and it turns out it is a +2 bronze short sword, because that was the best they could make with their metallurgic and magical knowledge back then players would be upset because the expectations through tropes is old & found in ruins = better what you have now.
 
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aco175

Legend
  • The world is made up of various goodly races that need to band together to fight back the horde of the BBEG and his minions of the evil races.
This is more LotR and several of the Drizzt books over the years where an overwhelming bad guy gathers an army of orcs and giants to sack the good, human kingdom. The PCs need to gather allies to save the day. I think tis one has loosened over the editions in terms of scope and what is labeled as goodly races and evil races. We always had a some stuff on playing a goblin or such, but most campaigns did not have these monster races as part of the world towns and cities where humans gathered. There was elves and dwarves who mostly looked like humans. 4e started with dragonborn and tieflings that are human-ish, but more monster related. Today we have even more relaxed guidelines with the new rules on orcs and such. Maybe it was more a troupe once.
 

Alignment is real and an understood part of the philosophy of the world.
Magic works in the world like it says it works in the books -- precise, specific generally inflexible and largely focused on combat.
The world is populated by at least some superhuman adventurer types that vastly outperform regular folks and are the only ones that can stop horrible monsters and dastardly villains and angry gods.
The world is full of horrible monsters, dastardly villains and angry gods, many of whom dwell in deep underground fortresses full of traps and minions.
The most powerful magical items in the world are beyond even those superhuman heroes. In fact, the world is full of the ruins and detritus of an age of immense power and apparent malevolence.
I feel like this was basically ruined for me by the Paksennarion novels by Elizabeth Moon.

They're basically about a D&D setting played "straight" from the perspective of a Fighter who becomes a Paladin. You can pretty much see everyone's alignment, guess almost everyone's class, and so on, and it just felt so... mawkish, and less exciting or involving than most written fantasy because it was having to abide by these sort of guidelines, even though it wasn't badly written, and was truly committed to what it was doing (particularly re: alignment).

Since then I've increasingly moved away from D&D-isms. They're present, but to a limited degree. I particularly don't like D&D's magic system for most settings. If I'm running the FR it is what it is and it's part of the setting, but I was familiar with magic in fantasy lit and games before D&D, and the Vancian take (even the quasi-Vancian take 5E has) is... crummy... combining the worst and least interesting aspects of a few approaches to magic. It's not even as delightfully bizarre are Vance's own take.

For me the biggest question is always "Why is this here?", and if that can't be answered, it's not going in my game. This puts me at odds with a lot of early D&D material, where the answer was often "Errr... because?" which is not good enough. I don't design dungeons which don't make sense. I don't put in monsters or traps which don't make sense. Doesn't mean the players will know why, but unless I know why, I just don't like it. And I know my main players like similar stuff because the bits they really engage with are always interacting with NPCs and realistic-ish places and so on. That doesn't mean there isn't really wild fantasy - but it'll be stuff that makes sense (like using an apparently one-way portal to another dimension to attempt to dispose of incriminating evidence).
 


I tend to avoid tropes related to D&D rules but lean heavily into tropes related to action movies.
predator_handshake.jpg

Is all I can say to that! :)
 


Voadam

Legend
The 13th Age RPG has living dungeons like the Stone Thief. I saw an indie game that took the concept one step further: dungeons are demonic entities that spawn monsters which can eventually overrun the area. The only way to kill them is to enter them and remove the "anchor" which us usually in the form of some great treasure.
The Nightmares Underneath (the free indie publisher OSR game your reference) provides a great justification for heroic characters (or moral justification for mercenary characters) to dungeon delve and loot. It also makes dangerous growing spontaneous dungeons a manifestation of Chaos in a cosmological fight against a world of Law, tying into 0e/BX alignment tropes.

The Percy Jackson novels have another example of the living dungeon trope, Daedalus the inventor created a self-sustaining dangerous trap filled Labyrinth for the Minotaur which continues to this day and travels and continuously changes. I forget if it splits like an amoeba to reproduce. Easily grabbed conceptually for a D&D cosmology.
 

Reynard

Legend
Isn't this common in other fantasy, and its foundational literature? In the Old English poem, Beowulf, Grendel wages a "lonely war" for twelve years "inflicting constant cruelties on the people" (Heaney translation) until he is finally stopped by the eponymous hero.

Superhuman adventurers are not unusual in Appendix N -- Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and Bilbo (once he acquires his invisibility ring); Zelazny's Corwin and Shadowjack; the god-slaying Elric; John Carter of Mars; Ganelon Silvermane in Lin Carter's World's End series.
Of course Appendix N is going to have examples of the kind of characters that appear in D&D, although I would say that the Tolkien characters don't actually fit the mold since none of them are adventuring for pure profit (except Bilbo, arguably). But most modern fantasy does not focus on characters that go into holes to uncover lost wealth and kill the monsters found therein. Some modern grimdark sword and sorcery kind of leans that way, but more often it's about mercenaries fighting wars or thieves going on heists than what we would call D&D adventuring.
 

Rabulias

Hero
Other adventuring parties are essential to the game... so when they disappear in the dungeon your adventuring party can enter after them and either save their asses or solve the mystery of their mangled, twisted corpses.
And those same corpses can provide ominous clues to traps, monsters, horrible fates... :devilish:

And the players believe they can recover the treasure, adventuring gear, and magic items of the adventurers that went in before them... :)
 

OK. I'm seeing a Glaive and a . . . Poleaxe?
What about those weapons gives the impression that their effectiveness is not based on the athleticism of the wielder, and the force that they can exert through the haft to maneuver it rapidly and strike hard.

Its hard to tell with the one in blue, but the other person in the picture certainly seems to be quite muscular and athletic.
 


vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
I once used to subvert tropes and such, everything was flipped, foes became friends, monsters were your allies, yadayada.

Now? I prefer to go hard in the classic D&D-ism: obvious quest-givers, clear evil & good, big-damn adventurers, very loose medieval inspirations, magic swords in a trapped chest and all that stuff.

Comes a time when a trope has been so much subverted that its subversion itself became a trope.

The only tropes I dont tolerate a my table is cliché'ed characters: drunk scotish dwarves, stoned druids and snoby elves can stay home, you need to do better.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
But most modern fantasy does not focus on characters that go into holes to uncover lost wealth and kill the monsters found therein.
Yes. I’d say a distinctive feature of D&D, particularly in the 1970s, is the combination of the following elements:

Zero to hero.
Players mainly motivated by desire for their characters to go from zero to hero.
Zero to hero is achieved by looting and killing. This is repeated many times.
The mega-dungeon as the location where this is achieved.

Some of these do appear in some fantasy fiction but not, as far as I know, in combination. Today they are most common in crpgs such as World of Warcraft.
 
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Faolyn

Hero
The 13th Age RPG has living dungeons like the Stone Thief. I saw an indie game that took the concept one step further: dungeons are demonic entities that spawn monsters which can eventually overrun the area. The only way to kill them is to enter them and remove the "anchor" which us usually in the form of some great treasure.
I'm (slowly) working on a setting where the Dungeon is an extradimensional location created by minor liminal gods who are hoping to increase their power. This isn't known to the inhabitants, many of whom are just regular people trying to survive in what seems to them to be a hostile and ever-changing environment.
 

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