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Offline MoonHunter

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Character Cliches
« on: July 28, 2005, 12:37:26 PM »
Character Clichés

this will eventually go to the article section

In a hobby where players are allowed to create characters as unique as themselves, it's frightening to see how many character concepts fall into the realm of the cliché. Clichéd character are not always stereotypes, in fact they often defy percieved stereotypes... just in the same way as everyone else.

Abused Child
Sometimes they turn into assassins, sometimes hackers, and they almost all end up killing their parents. Physical or sexual abuse does not make your character interesting. It is a cheap and overused method of adding drama to a character’s background.

Amnesia Victim
If there was a history or background for the character that the GM and player knows, then this can be quite intestesting. In many cases it is a crock, as the player puts together an uber character and tells the GM that they remember waking up in a ditch somewhere naked. So the GM has to make sense of this character.

Child Prodigy
As a young child, you were tormented by the other children. You withdrew with your intellectual interests, and because of this became incredibly talented at them. Most often, these characters withdraw with a computer and become a computer hacker.

Killer Priest
You’re a priest with lots of combat stats. Occasionally this involves some justification about cleansing the world of evil. Variants most often use the words monk and shao-lin.

Lesbian Asian Schoolgirl
I’m not even going to get into this one. Not only is your character concept a cliché, but so is the sexual fantasy you’re desperately hoping to enact in-game. Save it for the AOL chatroom.

Lone Wolf Cop
You’re a cop, and you don’t follow the rules! Unfortunately, neither do any of the other clichéd law enforcement characters. Police who constantly break procedure tend to end up in one of two places… the unemployment line or jail.

Mafia Thug
It is a common misconception that criminal organizations exist only to fight each other, instead of turn a profit. This character stems from this misconception. Rather than serve a useful purpose in the organization, you were recruited to beat people up. You have no other skills outside of combat. Variants change the organization, examples include the yakuza, the Russian mob, and street gangs.

Okay, in some games ninjas are appropriate. Please, limit your ninjas to these games. They have no place in medieval England, the modern world, or the future. Furthermore, Ninjas do not carry Katanas. Neither, for that matter, should anyone else. They are on the very short list of clichéd weapons, along with the Desert Eagle and MAC-10.

Orphan Bent on Revenge
Probably the most common cliché, your parents were viciously murdered and now your life is dedicated to getting revenge. Usually, this involves years of studying the art of killing. Variants usually involved changing the dead party to a significant other, child, or other close friend.

Trust Fund Child
Usually in college, this character has near unlimited resources from their parents. Variants gain their funds from an inheritance, instead. Often, this character seeks trouble out of boredom, or hatred for their parents. In my experience, this is the number one method used to justify a wealthy character.

So, now we know some of the clichés, let's talk about avoiding them. First off, try to keep your character largely realistic. The more believable your character is, the more special the exceptional things about your character will seem. Be careful using the word 'but' in your character concept, as in 'he's a company man but he wants to escape', or 'he's a ruthless killer but he has a heart of gold.' Bucking a stereotype often falls into the realm of cliché, believe it or not.

For those of you who find this list objectionable, please stop and examine your reasons. If you are happy playing a clichéd character, don't let me stop you! While I'd encourage you to try something new and original, the most important thing in a game is having fun. Furthermore, I understand certain clichés are appropriate to certain games, settings, and styles of play.

Finally, this list is not intended to be exhaustive. If you would like to make suggestions, please feel free.
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Offline Alec_Shadowkin

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Character Cliches
« Reply #1 on: July 28, 2005, 01:33:09 PM »
I have personal experience with how badly a cliche character can ruin a game, very quickly.

My friends and I used to play with this girl, let's call her Susan, who refused to play any characters without the "orphan bent on revenge" background. She had no less than 5 characters(the DM was her boyfriend and so she was allowed to do basically anything she wanted, including change characters every other session) and every single one of them had had their parents murdered for unknown reasons and the character was therefore going to kill everyone they came across just because she was angry.

Now, yes, I will admit that this cliche can potentially be used with good effect, though I abhore this particular background and refuse to use it, myself. "Susan's" problem was that it was the background she used regardless of the character. At one point she played a character who was a jester. The characters parents had been murdered and so this jester used her sleight of hand and juggling skills to kill everyone she came across.

I ask now, does that sound like a terribly reasonable background for a jester? You know, the type of guys who go around at rennaisance faires wearing brightly colored tassles and have bells dangling from their hats? Yeah, none of us thought so either, but she refused to acknowledge that the character made no sense. Circumstances changed and that girl was first kicked out of the gaming group and now my gaming friends and I have nothing to do with her, but this is just an example of how horrendous a cliche character background can be.
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Offline Ancient Gamer

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Character Cliches
« Reply #2 on: July 28, 2005, 02:22:46 PM »
"Funny characters" like:
Weird gnomish inventors jumping about on steam driven pogo sticks, wielding wind-up mortar guns firing explosives with banana flavour.


Ale yearning and complaining  dwarven warriors with battleaxes and rheumatism.


Halfling chefs with hilarious weapons made of kitchen utensils, an overactive appetite, penchant for pedicure and hair removal on their feet.


Dumb redneck warriors who try to head butt unusual trees, say "huh" to everything and otherwise only respond to food and women.


very, very,very bad. I have seen them all many times in vaguely different guises and usually it is the player type known as the looney who plays these guys. Once I had two loonies in my group and together they created this tremendous snowball effect, trying to top each others' ridiculous ideas... Woe! Woe!

In any case: Rarely do anyone escape all cliches. I frequently discover that I have used a cliche and equally often discover that other experienced GMs (or players) do the same. It is alright to be aware of the problem, but do not panic if you discover that your concept is a partial or even total cliche... It can happen to anyone.
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Offline CaptainPenguin

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Ruined solutions
« Reply #3 on: July 29, 2005, 01:02:15 AM »
Some cliches, like Elves tortured into Orc form by Morgoth, were born as actual solutions to replace cliches with. To wit:

Shamanistic "good" orcs who are nature-lovers
Wild barbarian halflings (sometimes with cannibalism; I know this sounds weird, but you'd be surprised)
Sociopathic elves with torture fetishes
Warriors who have a disability
Ninja or assassin trainees, OR assassins who are inept at what they do
Robots with emotional problems (as opposed to perfectly logical machines)
Superintelligent goblins

I have to say that sometimes, unless it's a really extreme cliche, it can be difficult to do something that is NOT cliche. Cliches are cliches simply because they are easy and (somewhat) logical- they are usually the first thing that comes to mind. Because cliches are built on stereotypes (and these ruined solutions are built on reversed stereotypes), they go hand in hand with the general perception of a character. If all warriors were presented as nomad samurai dog-breeders, that'd be the stereotype, and thus the cliche would be a wandering katana-wielding warrior with his trusty hound companion.
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Offline Kinslayer

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Re: Ruined solutions
« Reply #4 on: July 30, 2005, 12:03:55 PM »
Quote from: "CaptainPenguin"
And thus the cliche would be a wandering katana-wielding warrior with his trusty hound companion.

This adds a whole new definition to the phrase "Lone Wolf and Cub."

And the number one fantasy gaming stereotype:  a dark elf who is really "good," and lives on the surface trying to escape his evil kinfolk.  Also, he should dual-wield scimtars,  be a ranger, and have an unpronounceable name...
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Offline Monument

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Character Cliches
« Reply #5 on: July 30, 2005, 05:36:35 PM »
Quote from: "Alec_Shadowkin"
RE "orphan bent on revenge" cliche

Now, yes, I will admit that this cliche can potentially be used with good effect, though I abhore this particular background and refuse to use it, myself.

For myself, my latest character embodies this cliche.  Because I've always liked playing role playing games from a more sinister angle than most of the people I play with, it's one of the few reasons that I can come up with to be justifiably ruthless and merciless within the context of an otherwise "good and just" group of PC's.

In my instance, however, the character was a friend of the PCs before the "vengeance" incident.  They know about the death of the protagonist, and appreciate the reasons for wanting vengeance, even though they don't approve.  I'm going to play it out along the lines of "realizing the futility of such emotions" over the course of the campaign.  He has a decided attachment to father figure types, and while I haven't decided which PC he's going to latch onto as his "new father figure", during the course of the campaign, the other PC's are probably going to seriously influence his viewpoint on the whole vengeance thing, and probably at the very end, as he's inches from killing the quarry that has been his life's goal to eliminate, he will probably reach the conclusion that the other PC's have it right, that his vengeance is best done through the channels of law and justice rather than personal vendettas.

If people can come up with reasons why a good and just party would keep around a merciless and ruthless killer that DOESN'T involve some semblance of justification, I'm all ears, but this one seems to fit nicely, aside from the cliche'd aspects of it.

Offline EchoMirage

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Character Cliches
« Reply #6 on: July 30, 2005, 07:27:13 PM »
I guess the main problem is not one NPC who wants vengeance, but PCs whose sole goal that is.

To add to the list of cliches:

*The &^%$@: a female PC, mostly played by a male. The character sees her dual X chromosomes as sole reason and justification for misbehaving towards anyone and everyone, specializing in kicks to reproductory organs and verbal harassment.

*The Eternal Slut: for no reason other than playing out fantasies of sexual nature, this character has stunning looks, and a very promiscuous attitude.
Shallow in character, her only depth is rather physical and located below the waist.

*Lesbian Amazon Princess: see Xena. Lots of her clones running around.

To come up with a non-cliched character, seek inspiration in art, music, or a dictionary (flip it open, choose two random words and work from there). Just relax and let your mind make random associations. Something interesting might result.

Or: try character sets made in accordance with a type of thing:
*characters inspired by different kinds of chocolate
*characters made to hint at kinds of cheese (so, Limburger will be no elf :D )
*characters inspired by cars (I want to play the Hummer! Or the Ferrari!)
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Offline Siren no Orakio

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Character Cliches
« Reply #7 on: July 31, 2005, 12:46:27 AM »
Quote from: "Monument"

If people can come up with reasons why a good and just party would keep around a merciless and ruthless killer that DOESN'T involve some semblance of justification, I'm all ears, but this one seems to fit nicely, aside from the cliche'd aspects of it.

One of the more 'interesting' hardened killer characters that I've ever played was kept around by the 'good and just' party for the very good reason that he was a competant, hardened killer. He had a skill set that the party absolutely required, that is, sticking the pointy end of his spear into bad guys, and getting pointy bits stuck in him without dying easily. He was also very, very well  recompensed for following orders and not wandering off to leave the party to its own demise. He was the party protector and guide. Reguardless of what they thought of his methods, they -did- work, and they did rather need him. "It'll cost extra to do it the other way, too much risk."- (Here's his cliches: Born to a bottom class family, he lied about his age and joined the king's army for the promise of three meals a day. After surviving a particularly brutal war, he got discharged, found he didn't really have any marketable skills besides killing people, playing dice, and washing socks, so he went into business, swearing he'd never go hungry again. And he didn't. )

Another 'killer' character was a lycanthropic character, in a setting where werewolves and the like were a seperate species, no spread of a disease. She just happened to pick up a taste for human flesh along the way. When pressed about, she raised an eyebrow, and said, "You mean you want to -waste- all that good meat?" And that was the end of that. Of course, that party wasn't exactly 'good' nor 'just', more, 'Good, just don't kill me for the sake of eating me.'

Offline Murometz

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Re: Character Cliches
« Reply #8 on: December 18, 2009, 11:22:04 AM »
Great thread. Someone should make this into an article (Moooooon)
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