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Patrick Zoch
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A question suggested by

Chad Bowser
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What are some of your favorite ways to upend tropes?

Do you have a question you want asked as QOTD? Post here!

And if you want to find an old QOTD: The big QOTD Summary and Subscription Thread Volume 3
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Steffan O'Sullivan
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"All history is made up. Good history is made up by good historians; bad history is made up by the others." -David Macaulay
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"We talked a little more of Milesians and Firbolgs; but I do not write what he told me here, as it is at variance with things I have written already, as is often the case with legend, whence comes a pleasing variety." -Lord Dunsany
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I know the definition of trope has changed since the rise of the internet, but I'm not sure what it now is. Do you mean cliched situations or setups?


"For rhetoric, he could not ope
His mouth, but out there flew a trope..."
-from Hudibras, Samuel Butler.
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Jonas
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N.K.Jemisin's "The Fifth Season" is awesome and fantastic.
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My guess is that "trope" here refers to conventions and devices in creative works. Cf. for instance the large collection of "tropes" in this sense at https://tvtropes.org/
"The word trope has also come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works."
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trope_(literature%29

I probably don't really upend any tropes, unless I use counter-tropes. gulp
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I typically embrace tropes. They just don't really bother me. I tend to find them charming rather than tired.

I guess my main way of upending them is to pick an RPG which bakes in something "unexpected." I'm thinking of something like Deadlands where some of the typical Western tropes are changed due to the setting elements.
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Paul Unwin
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By collaborating with the others at the table. That way, tropes are more likely to be upended only when necessary, and be done in a clear and entertaining way.
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One I came across (not mine) and liked: an "old, gray bearded man in ratty robes" took the PCs' skyship. The PCs assumed he was a disguised powerful being, handed over some magic items to "recharge" and the man got them to run a heist on a bank. The man never displayed any powers and was actually a low level character with an amulet that blocked scrying and other spells.
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Eric Jome
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brumcg wrote:
I typically embrace tropes. They just don't really bother me. I tend to find them charming rather than tired.


Me too. But I'm not above a distraction.

Often I like to take things players feel like they know and subvert a key assumption in a simple way. "Unintelligent" monsters want to talk and negotiate. The distress signal really is just a crew in trouble. The strange folk meeting in secret are a weird religious sect... of Abrahamic faith. Often I do this to make resorting to violence not always a good choice.
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Jonas
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N.K.Jemisin's "The Fifth Season" is awesome and fantastic.
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Azukail wrote:
One I came across (not mine) and liked: an "old, gray bearded man in ratty robes" took the PCs' skyship. The PCs assumed he was a disguised powerful being, handed over some magic items to "recharge" and the man got them to run a heist on a bank. The man never displayed any powers and was actually a low level character with an amulet that blocked scrying and other spells.

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FakeWizardry ?

Since there's nothing new under the sun, and since tropes are useful, I think it's less important to "upend tropes" and more important to choose which to employ (if you think about tropes that way at all).
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Hans Messersmith
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So I'm not sure this is about tropes or not, but I will mention one thing I do in super-hero games these days.

When I make up a super-powered character in a four-color super-hero game, I make them up completely then pause for a moment and swap the gender of the character. Does the character change, I ask myself? If so, why? If its because I just haven't seen a character like that of the swapped gender before, I leave the gender swapped. If its because it seems weird to have a character like that of that gender I definitely leave it swapped; that weirdness is probably a good thing. But if it makes no difference, I will leave the character whatever gender I first thought fit.

This test doesn't apply quite as strongly to other genres of games (particularly games with a strong historical reality bent) but could still be used.
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Caroline Berg
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...124 to run fleeing from the mountain. ...125 to use a rope to climb the cliff. ...126 to quickly cast "summon stairs." ...127 to dodge under the falling rocks.
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I rather enjoy turning tropes on their heads. Some tropes are terrible and should fade away. Some are little-used and deserve more screen time.

Sometimes a person who wants something found really did just lose it, and aren't laying a trap for the party. Sometimes the shadowy figure lurking in the caves has been lost for weeks, and is hiding because they know they need a bath (and don't want to impose/disgust anyone they meet).

Sometimes the person locked in a secret prison under a castle is locked there for a reason (like say, because they are a werewolf and if released they will attack the town) - which was probably one of my better moments, since the only reason the players didn't die was because they failed to pick the locks... and then moments later she transformed and they realized why she was there in the first place.
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To upend tropes you use the anti trope but it's really just another trope that doubles all the other tropes in a reflection...
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Mark Wilson
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Tropes don't bother me in RPGs. The fun isn't that you "cleverly" decided it's the princess who's evil, not the dragon. It's in the details and execution.

They also let me use cultural shorthand, so to speak, when describing people, races, regions, etc. I'll save my unique ideas for granular bits. For example, if I need a dwarven civilization but it won't be a massive part of my campaign, they're going to be a hard-drinking, Scottish-accented, bearded bunch, so that I don't have to spend forever explaining the intricacies of my new dwarven creation and can focus on the players and story.

Conversely, tropes bore me in popular media, because it's a more passive endeavor. Big budget movies are starting to be more miss than hit for me for exactly this reason. The formula is safe, so they stick to it.
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Mark Wilson
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And to actually answer the question, probably my favorite is that my ratio of NPCs/hooks/etc. that are out to kill the players is lower than most GMs. It doesn't stop my players from being paranoid about everything, but I enjoy some benign scenes to make a world believable. So like, "NPC betrays the party" is likely a big trope, but it's not one I tend to use.
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Ryan Ahr
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Most recently I've been messing with gods in D&D. My brother's character in my game is a dwarf paladin who has a homebrew god my brother came up with called the Voice. The Voice is me, so, I can tell him to do whatever in a given situation and I really love it (because, naturally, I'm CN aligned), though he also uses it to metagame in hilarious ways himself.
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Geoffrey Burrell
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Buy not playing them anymore. Zombies are a trope that I don't like.
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Michael Ink
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bluetaj:Weird cults that want to improve the world. Unfortunately, by calling them cults, my players always want to lay waste to them. cry

browntaj: goblins with a culture of strict literal empiricism (allowing for magics that they have observed and literal to the point of silly at times), cunning, and tribalism rather than dirty, selfish brutes. Every PC I have ever run through this assumes the negative stereotypes which leads them to interesting confrontations.

graytaj: I would love to try playing something with a Continuum tv show upended trope where the legitimately sociopathic terrorists are seriously trying to improve the world and the heroes are trying to maintain the status quo (which they realize maintains their families' lifestyles)






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Mark Wilson
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A few sessions back, my players were at sea. They kept looking out for pirates, pirates, pirates. So finally, they run into a pirate ship and they're like "HERE WE GO!" And the captain was friends with the pirates...they ended up drinking and gambling together.

They fought mind-controlled goblins aboard a ship shortly thereafter, so there were some elements of cliche to provide some action. But the pirate example is a good specific instance of the "everything out to get you" trope-breaking I mentioned above.
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Mark Wilson
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VanillaCokeMule wrote:
Most recently I've been messing with gods in D&D. My brother's character in my game is a dwarf paladin who has a homebrew god my brother came up with called the Voice. The Voice is me, so, I can tell him to do whatever in a given situation and I really love it (because, naturally, I'm CN aligned), though he also uses it to metagame in hilarious ways himself.


This is great!

I've not done anything with this idea yet, but I love the concept that "good" gods were misunderstood and their followers are all evil, and it's too entrenched in society for the god to alter it. Or vice-versa. So then the PC gets messages from their god that set things straight, and they have to be a devotee of a god who is opposed to every other devotee of that god. "Uh, hey, no guys, we're supposed to protect the children, not sacrifice them." Wonderful trope-breaking stuff, imo.
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Joseph Hellar
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The never ending battle between hero and villain, that ended:
The city is riddled with a evil villains secret lairs, now 50 years after his and the hero he fought death the players keep running into death traps meant for the hero and the villains old lairs repurposed by others.

Fated prophecy given by deranged person with no special abilities.
"It's okay, I'm the chosen one. That old woman told me so"

Mixing genra
A wild west age in a fantasy world shortly after a war against a ancient secret underground empire forces the colonies to unite together and build a thin veneer of civilization across the new continent to support their war effort. Players are soldiers who decide to stay in military service to receive their promised full back pay at the end of their enlistment instead of cashing out for half their owned pay in land and war surplus.



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Clark Timmins
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So stop your cheap comment, 'Cause we know what we feel...
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The Steve Martin method has always worked for me - say "I break with thee, I break with thee, I break with thee" and throw dog poop on it.

On a slightly less serious note, if you know the trope well enough it's rather simple to stonewall it simply by not responding appropriately. Most pop-culture tropes rely so heavily on common participation that if you feign ignorance, they'll fall flat.
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Robb Minneman
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Jackasses? You let a whole column get stalled and strafed on account of a couple of jackasses? What the hell's the matter with you?
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Inkwan wrote:
where the legitimately sociopathic terrorists are seriously trying to improve the world


Environmentalists make good movie villains because they want to make your real life worse.
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Matthew Banner
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I don't care for the racial stereotypes for fantasy races. They don't even make sense to me. Humans can be as diverse as they want to be but dwarves are always gruff, Scottish, greedy, heavy drinkers? Boring. I always treat any character as an individual and let the palette really stretch its legs with each one. There is too much variety out there to play with and it also gives a greater reality to the milieu, in my opinion.
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Alan, "Son of Hett"
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I am not sure if this counts, but I have been contemplating a sort of anti-murderhobo idea, by humanizing the enemy. Instead of "After sneaking into the lair, you come to a door; you open it and …goblin warriors! Roll for initiative! Kill them all!" I would like to see "After sneaking into the lair, you come to a door; you open it and …there are goblin mothers with goblin babies! Everyone is screaming in terror at you, the murderhobos who have broken into their home! What do you do?"
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Michael Ink
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JVgamer wrote:
I am not sure if this counts, but I have been contemplating a sort of anti-murderhobo idea, by humanizing the enemy. Instead of "After sneaking into the lair, you come to a door; you open it and …goblin warriors! Roll for initiative! Kill them all!" I would like to see "After sneaking into the lair, you come to a door; you open it and …there are goblin mothers with goblin babies! Everyone is screaming in terror at you, the murderhobos who have broken into their home! What do you do?"


The only way to do this I know of is to humanize the races by giving them a nuanced culture.
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In my 2.5 year space opera game, the PCs were never betrayed by anyone who employed them. Not once. The players were always convinced it was going to happen, and never trusted any of their employers, but it never did.
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