Home » Do all roads lead to an inn? – cliché in RPG

Do all roads lead to an inn? – cliché in RPG

Can using cliché such as meeting in an inn be beneficial in RPG?
Can using cliché such as meeting in an inn be beneficial in RPG? Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash

Even at the world’s lowest backwater, there’s an inn, a bar or other gathering place of some sort. And in it, you will almost certainly find rumours, mysterious strangers and, most importantly, the main plot. It sounds irritatingly obvious or overused, isn’t it? Well, maybe. But I also disagree about using cliché themes in RPG.

I think employing widely known and recognized themes have at least a handful of advantages, but this one is the single most important. You as GM and your players all meet for sharing a story. Or at least sharing a narrative. The game is just a means for doing so. Whether you play a tactical grid-based D&D dungeon crawl or a psychologically extravagant game of lost memories, you all agree to a given rules system and setting. Including some hallmark motives is just a simple way of evoking the atmosphere you as a group seek in the game. After all, would a town fit into Forgotten Realms if it didn’t have an inn? Or could you realistically play a character with amnesia without staring absently into space just a couple of times each session?

Cliché ensure that you all are at the same page

What I mean is that playing around with the setting and narrative devices is OK. It actually can be the most fun part of being a GM. But if you remove or substantially change enough of its elements, would it still be the convention you want to play? What you could look down upon for being too cliché could also make the scene or the story thread instantly recognizable for what it is. And having this background established, you can have more fun bending it. But if you start with the change, the result may be too riddling and break the immersion.

I tend to think that clichés are essentially just building blocks. From them, my players and I create together a story. Whether we use every block as intended or now depends wholly on us. By ‘as intended,’ I mean the default context and structure of a given theme, scene or character. To be more specific, let’s return to my Brown Lands campaign.

Could you play more cliché in an RPG? – Mysterious strangers in the inn

We last left Rook and Bruni making haste to the hamlet of Limesplice. The bandits that stole from the Rook were not mere marauders but seemed to have some fearsome sorcery on their side. The two arrived at the village and headed to… the settlement’s meeting place, an inn if you’d like. Or at least a mead brewer’s house. Nevertheless, if anyone would seek a place to stay in this empty land, it would be at Tugor’s hearth. And in fact, someone did on that same afternoon. Two strangers, their faces hidden under the hoods, have just arrived. They were looking for someone in these parts.

Now, could this scene be more of a cliché? I bet no, especially in the world of The Lord of the Rings. It may seem almost like a repetition of the scene in the Prancing Pony inn. Even more so when one of the strangers is one of the Rangers of the North. But the similarities end just there. The roles are reverted – it is the Ranger who seeks someone in the inn, not the other way. The ‘inn’ is as far from the centre of the civilized world as it gets in Middle-earth.

On the other hand, the context is clear for everybody. The Ranger’s player, right at the beginning of the scene, was perfectly in-character. He intuitively knew – and I saw that from his role-playing – how his hero would’ve acted. After all, everyone knows how behaves a weathered traveller, not wanting to be recognized for who he is.

That’s it for this time. I hope to stir some discussion, so please, go ahead and share your thoughts or criticism of my point. You can use the comments section below or add a comment on my brand new Facebook page. Anyway, I’ll be happy to hear how you see widely-known narrative elements in your RPG as a game master or a player.

2 thoughts on “Do all roads lead to an inn? – cliché in RPG”

  1. Invented worlds and characters inside it shall be entertaining for players and DM. If cliche is serving this purpose I will go for it.
    Example of inn is most common one for all high fantasy RPG for good reason. Being inside inn and listening to stories is similar to taking part in RPG session which is storytelling too. For AIME and TOR it is also worth to mention the idea of circle of light – inn/meadhall with it’s hearth/fireplace could be used to build story around this interesting theme.

  2. Pingback: How to link player-character story to the main plot - Shadows in the Fog

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