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July 2020

It’s Okay to be Cliche

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The Huey Lewis

Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden was announced last month at D&D Live 2020. It’s an adventure for 1-12 set in, well, Icewind Dale. I have no strong opinions on it one way or another, save that the art of the owlbearram looks pretty badass. That said, Icewind Dale was my very first foray into anything officially D&D. Cool story? I know, bro.

Unearthed Arcana revisited the Revived subclass for rogues and rebranded it as the Phantom. It’s a bit more broadly appealing than a character risen from the dead. It instead deals with someone who has unlocked the secret of death and has a new found mastery of negative energy and the abilities that might unlock.

There is also the Genie patron for warlocks, which replaces the Noble Genie. It adds more flavor with the expanded spell list allowing you to choose between general genie, dao, djinni, madrid or efreeti as set options. Overall the features are a bit more powerful and fit the theme well.  The changes here are not groundbreaking, just better.

Lastly, the Order of the Scribe replaces the Archivist for wizards. It took me a while to realize (and to read it in the actual UA article), that the original Archivist was actually an artificer subclass. It’s a big change in that regard, but has some neat ideas. The one that bugs me more than anything is the ability to change spell damage types. This should be something most spellcasters, if not all, can do at some point. I always felt it was rather limiting making things like fireball limited to just fire damage, especially if all the personal wants is a big boom boom with a spherical shape. Granted, there could be balance issues given that fire is a very commonly resisted element, but that’s a small balance type that only matters in a very typical play (likely AL). If I want to run a campaign in the plane of fire, I don’t want my players to be crippled by something so silly… or do I?

It’s Okay to be Cliche

It is, it really is. There is nothing inherently wrong with playing a cliche or tropey character. Sometimes it’s fun to be the brooding rogue who grew up on the streets, having to steal for his or her next meal. It’s fun to play the absentminded old wizard with a steepled hat, a robe and a crooked staff. Fuck, play the hell out of that stupid raging barbarian who barely knows his ass from a top hat. Hell it’s even fun to play the heroes rescuing the prince or princess from the evil dragon in those mountains and it’s great to have to overcome the evil necromancer coming to raid the lands.

While I don’t watch much of Matt Coleville’s content anymore, he has tons of good advice for the hobby, keeping in mind it’s largely relating to DMing. One of the baddies he likes to run is Kalarel the Vile, Scion of Orcus (bonus points if you can hear him saying it in your head). This character is an evil necromancer who worships, as the name would suggest, Orcus. He is simply evil, no two ways about it. He twirls his mustache, he kicks puppies, he is what he is, evil. While this may make for some lame D&D after you have done it too frequently, at times, it’s all you need. Just a bad guy, you know is bad. Whatever happens, your goal is clear, this person must be dealt with.

Now, what happens between where you start and when the final confrontation occurs should be the far more interesting part. That’s where you can easily put in tragic characters, new friends, old enemies, enemies who become friends and vice versa. That time can allow the DM to consider new ideas for this antagonist, increasing the complexity of the character, even if it’s only slightly. The same goes for players. Playing out the cliche character for a while can let you think of how this person got this way and why. To that end, the people in your party and NPCs you meet can change your character. This can occur for the villain too. The players may thwart one of their early plots which causes them, at the very least, annoyance. To that end they seek new allies and perhaps they find something they didn’t expect, altering them for the rest of the campaign.

There are plenty of games and stories where this is true and we don’t think less of them. It’s been 20 years since Final Fantasy IX was released and I’ve been replaying it. It’s a great game and very cliche, especially at the beginning. There’s the noble, if not dopey, knight whose only goal is to protect the princess without nearly any thoughts of his own. There’s the naive princess, whose beauty is known throughout the land. There’s the typical rogue thief who hits on all the girls and the cliches don’t stop much from there. That said, it’s easily my favorite Final Fantasy. I don’t know if it’s because of the simplicity of the story or in spite of it, but I don’t think any less of it because of those cliches. After all, as the saying goes, there are only seven stories.

Of course, cliches can be annoying, but they are comforting in a way. Something we can easily identify without much thought. Now, does that mean you want that every time? No, not at all. Sometimes you want to see a happy go lucky rogue who worships the sun god and refuses to steal from anyone. Sometimes you want the thoughtful barbarian who realizes that ‘Mongo only pawn in game of life.’ 

That said, don’t ever feel obliged to play something you don’t like because your idea is cliche. Anyone who gives you shit about that is just being shitty.

That said, you guys (my clanmates) can play a dwarf once in a while that isn’t a blacksmithing, beer-swilling, bull-headed, scottish accented, beard toting, hammer wielding dwarf for once if your damn lives. I mean, maybe they enjoy woodworking with a glass of fine wine while debating the pros and cons of fine subterranean cuisine with their long time elf-friend… ya know?

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