How do you use Arneson elements without them feeling like clichés?

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How do you use Arneson elements without them feeling like clichés?

Post by Big Mac » Tue Oct 01, 2019 7:02 pm

I started playing Dungeons & Dragons during the 2nd Edition AD&D Era, when many of the tropes of D&D had long since been defined.

I've been hearing more recently about where many of those tropes came from and some of them actually originated in Blackmoor games.

With a later campaign setting, I might try to emphasise the unique elements of that setting (so flying ships for Spelljammer, modrons for Planescape or draconians for Dragonlance).

But if I were to ever run a Blackmoor game, I would have to include all of these iconic elements that have been recycled a dozen times by other campaign settings.

There is a risk of the fresh ideas of Blackmoor seeming like old ideas or clichés because players might have experienced rebooted versions of those ideas in multiple other game worlds.

What is the best way for a GM to avoid this risk?

And how can a GM go beyond the level of avoiding the vibe of clichés and get to the level where they can make one or more of Dave Arneson's early RPG ideas into something vibrant that engages and excites newbies?
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Re: How do you use Arneson elements without them feeling like clichés?

Post by Havard » Tue Oct 01, 2019 9:17 pm

Big Mac wrote:
Tue Oct 01, 2019 7:02 pm
I started playing Dungeons & Dragons during the 2nd Edition AD&D Era, when many of the tropes of D&D had long since been defined.

I've been hearing more recently about where many of those tropes came from and some of them actually originated in Blackmoor games.

With a later campaign setting, I might try to emphasise the unique elements of that setting (so flying ships for Spelljammer, modrons for Planescape or draconians for Dragonlance).

But if I were to ever run a Blackmoor game, I would have to include all of these iconic elements that have been recycled a dozen times by other campaign settings.

There is a risk of the fresh ideas of Blackmoor seeming like old ideas or clichés because players might have experienced rebooted versions of those ideas in multiple other game worlds.

What is the best way for a GM to avoid this risk?

And how can a GM go beyond the level of avoiding the vibe of clichés and get to the level where they can make one or more of Dave Arneson's early RPG ideas into something vibrant that engages and excites newbies?
Well, this is a problem with both Dave's and Gary's campaigns. So many of the unique and original ideas they came up with have become so closely woven into the fabric of D&D that we don't see them as special anymore.

Dungeon Crawls, Wilderness Exploration, Magic Swords, Monstrous Puddies and Jellies. Yeah, not much new there.

Dave Arneson's campaign did involve a bunch of things that never made it into mainstream D&D though, so perhaps that is a way to start?

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Re: How do you use Arneson elements without them feeling like clichés?

Post by Zeromaru X » Tue Oct 01, 2019 10:37 pm

Havard wrote:
Tue Oct 01, 2019 9:17 pm
Dave Arneson's campaign did involve a bunch of things that never made it into mainstream D&D though, so perhaps that is a way to start?

-Havard
I was going to say this as well. Emphasizing more in Blackmoor unique things, such as the use of steam and clockwork technology, the sci-fi stuff, and even the fact that Blackmoor seems to be less humanocentric than other old school settings is a good way for make it pretty unique even if a bit cliché.

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Re: How do you use Arneson elements without them feeling like clichés?

Post by Yaztromo » Wed Oct 02, 2019 2:14 am

I'm not sure this is a problem: it is like playing Shakespeare and considering a problem the fact that it is full of Shakespearian cliches!
If you go and watch a play from Shakespeare, you do it because you want to "drink" at the original well and not from other authors that made use of many tropes from Shakespeare, turning them into cliches...
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Re: How do you use Arneson elements without them feeling like clichés?

Post by Yaztromo » Wed Oct 02, 2019 2:15 am

Anyway, also Blackmoor makes use of various pre-existing cliches... just mixes them up in a different way.
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Re: How do you use Arneson elements without them feeling like clichés?

Post by Big Mac » Wed Oct 02, 2019 12:35 pm

Havard wrote:
Tue Oct 01, 2019 9:17 pm
Big Mac wrote:
Tue Oct 01, 2019 7:02 pm
I started playing Dungeons & Dragons during the 2nd Edition AD&D Era, when many of the tropes of D&D had long since been defined.

I've been hearing more recently about where many of those tropes came from and some of them actually originated in Blackmoor games.

With a later campaign setting, I might try to emphasise the unique elements of that setting (so flying ships for Spelljammer, modrons for Planescape or draconians for Dragonlance).

But if I were to ever run a Blackmoor game, I would have to include all of these iconic elements that have been recycled a dozen times by other campaign settings.

There is a risk of the fresh ideas of Blackmoor seeming like old ideas or clichés because players might have experienced rebooted versions of those ideas in multiple other game worlds.

What is the best way for a GM to avoid this risk?

And how can a GM go beyond the level of avoiding the vibe of clichés and get to the level where they can make one or more of Dave Arneson's early RPG ideas into something vibrant that engages and excites newbies?
Well, this is a problem with both Dave's and Gary's campaigns. So many of the unique and original ideas they came up with have become so closely woven into the fabric of D&D that we don't see them as special anymore.
Oh sure.

If you can solve this issue for Blackmoor, you can also solve it for Greyhawk. (I find it a bit frustrating when people refer to Greyhawk as "generic", considering it was not really generic, when it was created. So I've been trying to improve my Greyhawk-fu, so that I can try to look at Oerth through fresh eyes. It would be nice to be able to do the same with Blackmoor. It would be nice to be able to look at all D&D tropes, their origins and see past the rules to the ideas that inspired them.)
Havard wrote:
Tue Oct 01, 2019 9:17 pm
Dungeon Crawls, Wilderness Exploration, Magic Swords, Monstrous Puddies and Jellies. Yeah, not much new there.
The key here is probably to look at the specific ways that Blackmoor uses those things (that other settings may have changed).

I believe that the Dungeons below Castle Blackmoor are sealed up and opened on a regular timescale for adventurers to explore. That's a pretty civilised way of regulating access to a dungeon. Do they do that in the dungeons below the ruins of Castle Greyhawk? Does Waterdeep control access to Undermountain the same way? I'm not sure, but I don't think so.

And I bet that I could get you to talk about Blackmoor's dungeons vs other dungeons and spot other differences that people might overlook, because they think they are trivial.

As for Wilderness Exploration, that's going to tie into some sort of hex-crawl system isn't it? I remember reading Robert Conley's awesome tutorials about that sort of stuff and hex-crawls give you fixed locations (which would be bespoke to Blackmoor) and encounter tables (which would also be bespoke to Blackmoor).

Ghostwalk had some cool rules for Magic Swords that Sean K Reynolds came up with. All of them get names. Every single one of them. Did Dave Arneson do anything at all with his Magic Swords that other campaign designers might not have done?

As for Monstrous Puddings and Jellies, they don't really have too much of a personality (they are just mindless things that eat people. But are there any evil factions that spread them? Are there any underground tunnel systems that spread them around? Do they ever contain treasures (or even worthless stuff) that is unique to Blackmoor? (Could you infer their last victims by going through undigested remains?)

And what happens when the Egg of Coot meets things like Oozes? Can the Egg of Coot take control of Puddings and Jellies?
Havard wrote:
Tue Oct 01, 2019 9:17 pm
Dave Arneson's campaign did involve a bunch of things that never made it into mainstream D&D though, so perhaps that is a way to start?
If only there was a What elements of Dave Arneson's games got cut from D&D? topic! :P
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Re: How do you use Arneson elements without them feeling like clichés?

Post by robertsconley » Wed Oct 02, 2019 2:08 pm

Big Mac wrote:
Tue Oct 01, 2019 7:02 pm
There is a risk of the fresh ideas of Blackmoor seeming like old ideas or clichés because players might have experienced rebooted versions of those ideas in multiple other game worlds.

What is the best way for a GM to avoid this risk?
Look at Soap Operas

No I am not kidding. Soap Operas are one of the longest running form of entertainment and somehow they manage to do it within the constraints of a limited cast and small number of location.

The trick is that they focus on the people i.e. what kind of trouble Erica has gotten herself into this time.

The equivalent in fantasy roleplaying is what is X in Blackmoor or Greyhawk are up to this time. You can have explored all the dungeons, visited every locale, however because people are people there are endless permutations to deal with it. Because we are talking a whole worlds, even when largely confined to multiple layers of mazes with rooms filled with monsters and treasure, there is a lot of room to come up with unique situations involving NPCs.

Dark Shadows is a example of a different kind of soap opera that involved the supernatural. The Greyhawk/Blackmoor kind would be more about those who adventure and who they fight. Last year it was bout Garm the King of the Orcs, the next year was the Mad Wizard Ludwig, the year after that it was about events surrounding Garm's son Angarak avenging his father.

Despite knowing Blackmoor or Greyhawk, nobody can know what Garm, Ludwig, Angarak and the constellation of people around them are up to and who are allies and who are enemies. Thus the setting is refreshed and made ready for another round of adventures.

Don't get me wrong it not a panacea, it takes work to do the above and making it fun and interesting. Just as it take work to make an fun and interesting dungeon.

As an example take a look at Bramwald.

Even if all you had is the map as a source of information several things leap out. It one the road between the Great Kingdom to the southeast and Castle Blackmoor, it is on a navigable river, lies just south of a mountain range, and it obvious has farmers to feed it self. So right there are at least several distinct groups within Bramwald with their own concerns based on the surrounding geography. So in next year campaign, the players just deal who is in charge of Bramwald, the shops, and merchants while exploring a nearby lair.

But in next campaign after that, a large part of that is helping the miners and the evil they accidentally unearthed to the north. A series of sessions that benefits from having established some details about the town's ruler and the merchants.

Then everything in this campaign is used as background for the next. But it is not static, like repopulating an empty dungeon level, the lives of the NPCs are advanced. And that is interesting, on average, to players. Oh interesting Master Durnik has a adult son who now helping and prepared to take over the shop.

I had success with this approach with the Majestic Wilderlands.

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Re: How do you use Arneson elements without them feeling like clichés?

Post by Big Mac » Thu Oct 03, 2019 5:55 pm

Zeromaru X wrote:
Tue Oct 01, 2019 10:37 pm
Havard wrote:
Tue Oct 01, 2019 9:17 pm
Dave Arneson's campaign did involve a bunch of things that never made it into mainstream D&D though, so perhaps that is a way to start?
I was going to say this as well. Emphasizing more in Blackmoor unique things, such as the use of steam and clockwork technology, the sci-fi stuff, and even the fact that Blackmoor seems to be less humanocentric than other old school settings is a good way for make it pretty unique even if a bit cliché.
Well that wasn't what I asked, but it might be the answer I need to have. :D

So you are saying that rather than trying to sell the virtue of elements that have been over-shared, I should put the emphasis on the unique selling points of Blackmoor.

You are probably right there. Selling the unique selling points is probably the most effective way to make Blackmoor stand out from the crowd.

It would still be nice to find a way to make some of the ideas that got raided from Dave Arneson feel unique. Maybe tying them into unique themes, like the steam and clockwork stuff, could help with that. :?
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Re: How do you use Arneson elements without them feeling like clichés?

Post by Havard » Thu Oct 03, 2019 11:05 pm

Big Mac wrote:
Thu Oct 03, 2019 5:55 pm


Well that wasn't what I asked, but it might be the answer I need to have. :D

So you are saying that rather than trying to sell the virtue of elements that have been over-shared, I should put the emphasis on the unique selling points of Blackmoor.
Let's be more specific:
The original Blackmoor campaign included such unique elements as Dungeon Exploration, Magic Swords, Dragons of many different colors, Demons, Puddings, Oozes, Slimes, Vampires, Wilderness Exploration, Mass Combat/Warfare, Castle Sieges, Characters becoming landowners and achieving Godhood, Wizards, Warriors, Clerics, Merchants, Thieves, Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, Ents, Spells, Magic Items, Traps etc.

I wouldn't say these are elements that have been overshared. Its just that they are now such an integral part of D&D that we would never think of them as unique if we travelled back in time and sat town at Dave's table.


You are probably right there. Selling the unique selling points is probably the most effective way to make Blackmoor stand out from the crowd.

It would still be nice to find a way to make some of the ideas that got raided from Dave Arneson feel unique. Maybe tying them into unique themes, like the steam and clockwork stuff, could help with that. :?
Clockwork is a relatively new addition to Blackmoor. The main thing about Blackmoor is that Dave did not distinguish between Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror etc. This was not unique to Dave. I believe most people grouped all "Speculative fiction" together back then. So for Dave and his players, the fact that they encountered Vampires, blob like monsters, knights, wizards, dragons, but also aliens, space ships, laser swords etc was not all that strange.

The main thing about Blackmoor is probably that in those games, anything can happen. At least the things that the people around the table would think were a cool idea at the time :)

-Havard

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