Sunday, December 26, 2010

CRPG Tropes

By now, probably everyone is familiar with the glorious thief of time known as, a self-described "catalog of the tricks of the trade for writing fiction." The site cautions that tropes are "devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations," but that they are not clichés. The catalog nonetheless has plenty of examples of clichés, too.

Despite the name, the wiki includes every form of media you can imagine: TV, movies, comic books, art, theater, music, and, of course, video games. Lately, I've taken to visiting the site after each game to see if any tropes are mentioned. There are far more tropes associated with more recent CRPGS, partly because more people know about them, but mostly because tropes require a certain level of storytelling, and the earliest CRPGs didn't have that.

Nonetheless, these are some of my favorite tropes from the games we've played so far:

"Always Chaotic Evil": Every orc that approaches you in Ultima II, every creature in the dungeon in Dungeon Master, everything that moves in Faery Tale Adventure, wants to kill you, and is thus naturally deserving of death themselves. Imagine if CRPGs forced you to treat every such creature as an individual? This trope, by the way, is wonderfully (if unintentionally) subverted in Wizardy, when you randomly encounter "friendly" versions of your foes. I thought one of my commenters had reported encountering a "friendly Werdna" upon achieving the final level of the game, but I can't find that comment.

"Gurrrrglrgug...How are you today?"

"Arbitrary Headcount Limit": Honestly, if I really want to defeat the Chaos Lord, why can't I resurrect every character in the hall of heroes and have them swarm the dungeon? In later games, like Baldur's Gate, I would play a paladin and pretend that he'd sworn an oath to never travel with more than five companions--it was the only way it made sense.

"Dude Where's My Respect": This happens in almost every CRPG. You've been tasked with saving the world, but the world can't spare enough money to outfit you with a decent suit of armor. In Ultima II, Lord British makes me pay him for hit points! I love the entries for Oblivion on this.

Or, you could just give me 9,999 hit points, and I'll go take care of Minax right now.

"Get Back Here Boss": Foes that make you chase them around. This was one of the most annoying parts of Ultima II--and also the thieves in Dungeon Master.

"Karma Meter": It shows up first in Ultima IV, as Hawkwind keeps track of your progress towards various virtues. It's also a key element of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Baldur's Gate, and other games.

"Level Grinding": Love this quote from this one: "Only the hero ever has this advantage. It never occurs to townspeople to walk around their village and bash slimes until they're strong enough to face the pirate who's taken over."

"Nigh Invulnerability": Applies to Lord British in the Ultima series. Not even Mondain's skull or the Armageddon spell--which kills everything else in the entire world--kills him. I did defeat him with a cannon in Ultima III, but his death wasn't permanent.

"Order vs. Chaos": At the end of Dungeon Master, I questioned whether there was a deliberate connection between it and The Saga of Recluce. Well, apparently, there are about one billion examples of this.

"Science Fiction vs. Fantasy": This trope deals with the genre-blending that occurs in games like Might & Magic, Tera, and Legacy of the Ancients. I don't have a problem with it, exactly, but somehow spells and technology always seem to me like an uncomfortable fit.

"Sdrawkcab Name": We've joked about this a lot with Trebor/Robert, Werdna/Andrew, Yendor/Rodney, and so on. There are other examples in Ultima V, Baldur's Gate, and Might & Magic, among others.

I've made one contribution to the site, under the "Wild Mass Guessing" category, offering my theory that Mondain from Ultima I is a Sith Lord.

Exhibit A

A couple of weeks ago, an anonymous commenter said he was going to create an entry on "spellcrafting," but I haven't been able to find it yet.

For those of you who haven't discovered TVTropes until this posting, the rest of your evening is gone, so I'll leave you to it. But as the stories get more complex in the games I'm playing, I'm going to keep checking in to this site for fun references.


  1. TVTropes is fun, but some people take it entirely too seriously.

  2. I think I'm the commenter you reference, and yes, a friend and I did once encounter a friendly Werdna at the bottom of the Wizardry I dungeon. It turned out to be a game-breaking bug, though, since if you leave in peace you are left without the Amulet and thus have no way to escape the dungeon. D'oh!

  3. Great alternate ending, though, right? You battle your way through nine levels of hell only to find that Werdna isn't such a bad chap after all. You exchange pleasantries, decide to leave each other alone, and game over.

  4. If you ask me that should have been the main ending.

    It would have been a great subversion.

    1. Actually it would destroy the magic of Wizardry I since both Trebor and Werdna are jerks, like in real life.

  5. "Order vs. Chaos"....Great, now I have a desire to go read some Micheal Moorcock books...

    I wonder if anyone has based a CRPG on them? There have been tabletop RPGs based on Elric, but I would love to see a CRPG based on these, as I suspect that a well done Corum RPG would be a drastic change of pace from your typical RPG. What with the antiheros and slaying of gods and whatnot. The environments you would explore alone... Anyway, I'm learning that I should not comment on blogs past midnight, as I suspect that I've left the topic of the post far behind, as I've closed my eyes at least 4 times while writing this. I also apologize for any silly/stupid/banal comments I've left on earlier posts.

  6. I never 'got' TVTropes, just seemed like a bunch of stupidly obvious things given names for some reason and then a million anime references. The site seems also notable/notorious for certain sections of the site for some pretty messed up stuff.

  7. "For those of you who haven't discovered TVTropes until this posting, the rest of your evening is gone"

    Just the rest of the evening. Curses be upon you and your spawn for linking me to tvtropes, The CRPGAddict. Curses!

    Then again, I all into the tvtropes on my own as well so...

  8. Great, now I have thirty tabs up and each one I manage to close spawns three more. I'm going to have to take off and nuke my browser from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.


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