Sometimes, it’s good to play to your players’ expectations. When you expect something about a game to turn out a certain way and it does, that can be quite enjoyable.
It’s like watching an action movie: stuff will blow up, the hero’s girl will be threatened, but he’ll win out in the end. In gaming terms, it’s fun when:
…orcs are always evil brutes.
…evil masterminds always employ elaborate deathtraps, rather than just killing you.
…the Big Bad is always in the last chamber of the dungeon.
…your NPC sidekicks never waver, happily marching into the jaws of death.
Those game elements are fun partly because they’re so familiar; there’s an element of nostalgia involved in encountering them, and seeing how your group tackles them keeps them different enough to be interesting.
Don’t shy away from incorporating the familiar into your campaign. Avoid using comfortable standbys as shortcuts, nail the details and your players are likely to greet them like old friends — which, of course, is exactly what they are.
Classics are classics for a reason. My campaign games usually always have the same feel, the same atmosphere. And we always have fun.
If I want to try something new I usually prepare it very well because my players will resist the change. We embrace the familiar so much they we’re reluctant to delve into the unfamiliar.
But these unique, different games are usually the best ones. Aren’t they? Anyone one else here finds it hard to impose a different game style on players sometimes
I agree to a large extend with what you’re saying, Martin. Some people try to break all the RPG cliches at once. In the spirit of breaking the mold, they allow for anyone to be anything. No stereotyping. No cliches.
While these can make for some memorable moments, things get disconcerting when they are the rule and not the exception. When they meet a cliche, players know how to react. They know what to expect and what it means to them. When everyone is different and no one fits a mold, then it is difficult to engage with NPCs. You just don’t know how to act from the get-go.
My rule of thumb is this: 9 times out of 10, the barbarian chieftan is a hulking brute who is violent and rude. The players will expect this and know what to do. 1 time out of 10, it is a small woman who is well spoken and polite. This will throw the players off and make them have to role-play a little more. It will probably be a much more memorable encounter than the others, but only because the others fit the mold. Only by having cliches can we appreciate where they are broken.
Nice contrast with the previous blog entry. 🙂
Agree with Micah – nothing’s exceptional when everything is an exception.
Communication is difficult enough when the information has to pass from NPC to GM to player to character; keeping at least a few stereotypes is a good way to maintain consistency with your players’ expectations.
It will probably be a much more memorable encounter than the others, but only because the others fit the mold.
Hmm… Do I smell a GM Law in the making?
If everything is equally memorable, nothing is particularly memorable.
This rule is very correct also in music, and useful for many things other than GMing.
I’m also a fan of the contrast between this entry and the previous one. The above discussion, especially Micha’s rule of thumb about “play to expectation often, and when you don’t it’ll stand out” is an important point.
I had a harder time writing this post than the previous on (about fighting the familiar), which made it an interesting exercise. I’m glad I didn’t muddle it up so much that the point didn’t come across. 😉