GM Advice: Working to add a couple of twists to your cliches on the fly
So what I finally came to was a three step procession for what to do when you don’t know where a game is going but you want something a couple of steps beyond a cliche. It could probably use a little tweaking, but the whole point is just to provide some guides for using the first idea that comes into your head and then making sure that you flesh it out a little more than you might otherwise. I know, for me, sometimes – in the spur of the moment – the only thing that I can think of is the most banal suggestions. Sometimes this happens even when I think in advance. This is just an exercise to try and get you to consider your ideas a step or two beyond your first idea.
1. What would be the cliche thing to do in this case?
Would it be that a hermit in the woods has the secret that the PCs are looking for? That the caves are filled with goblins? Perhaps the PCs need to obtain the XYZ artifact from ABC Mountain. You get the idea. Just pick the easiest idea you have. The low-hanging fruit is a great place to start. But, you say, that’s not very weird or memorable. Well, you’re very chatty, but you’re also right. That brings us to the next step.
2. Pick one of the following questions and answer it about what ties your cliche to the world.
Where did it come from?
What does it want?
What is protecting it?
What is using it?
Who would be happy if it was destroyed?
You can go on with the questions, but you get the idea: What we want to do is to use the questions (either these or some you come up with) to add an extra detail that gives you something else to hook the cliche into the world. It’s now two-dimensional, which is way better than what we started with. Now, you can stop here, but let’s take your cliche a step further.
3. Identify two branches off the cliche.
What we want here are two possible outcomes from the PCs interacting with the cliches. In the instance of the artifact, the questions might be ‘What happens if the PCs use the artifact?/What happens if they destroy it?’ The point is to make both of these outcomes interesting. If you have two possible paths, even if you don’t use them, you have further defined what is going on in your world. If you decide if the PCs use the artifact they gain the attention of a holy order who believes that they should turn it over to fight evil. Where does that lead? Well, we can just start the process over again for the holy order, but even if they don’t use it, we have identified that there is a holy order that, perhaps, is willing to try and tamper with power to banish what it perceives to be evil, and that says something interesting, too.
So, that’s it. As much as anything, it’s a tool to try and help you think a little more about the cliches in your game. To be sure, there is something to be said for embracing those cliches when you’re running a game, but it’s also good to flesh them out a little more. Hopefully you found it interesting.