Every good Dungeons and Dragons campaign starts in a tavern. No wait! Every good D&D campaign starts in a tavern, and requires you to fight goblins. No sorry, hang on. Every good D&D campaign starts in a tavern, and has goblins who have kidnapped a princess. Wait, I’ve got it! Tavern, goblins, princess, seemingly trustworthy non-player character with a goatee who turns out to be the real villain. And he’s secretly a demon. Demon/vampire.
Every good Dungeons and Dragons campaign contains myriad clichés and tropes; it’s inevitable, and as a Dungeon Master, I’ve been known to liberally lace my campaigns with clichés, if not outright base the campaign on one. By and large, these tropes are so classic that to not include them would be a shame – starting your campaign in a tavern serves a practical purpose, that of an environment to introduce yourself, as well as almost being a tradition. Other tropes, though, are so outdated that whenever I come across them I have to quickly have a lie down in a darkened room, before rewriting the campaign to no longer include a useless, distressed damsel in a tower.
So at what point, then, does a trope go from “classic and campaign enhancing” to “tired and campaign ruining”?
The Dragonborn ranger lops off the heads of the goblins, as he and his companions – a half-elf, a barbarian, and a dwarf – enter the forgotten castle. As strange otherworldly lights flicker, an evil cackle echoes down the halls, but the brave adventurers press onward in search of treasure. This actually happened. Sort of. It took place in the wonderful world of Dungeons and Dragons, a world I’ve been part of for a few years, but have largely kept secret. Growing up, being a “geek” or “nerd” would get you beaten up – and there are few things more ‘geeky’ than rolling dice to explore an imaginary world.
Fortunately, times are changing. The growing trend of ‘geek-chic’ has seen the very things that made geeks outsiders – love of comic books, fantasy, and computers for example – become mainstream. As the tagline for the 1984 American comedy ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ says: “They’ve been laughed at, picked on and put down. But now it’s time for the odd to get even!”
The funny thing about Revenge of the Nerds, though, is that it was a comedy; the idea of geeks and nerds rising up and becoming popular at the expense of the jocks was supposed to be ridiculous, but in the thirty years since the film was released, that “joke” has become a reality. That said, it’s not all smiles and cheerleaders – there’s still a lot of debate around why geek culture is on the rise, and whether it’s actually a good thing for ‘real’ geeks.