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In the LARP system I play, there are some stereotypes heavily in-grained into the player base. For instance, goblins are squeaky-voiced, hyperactive, and (often) violent humanoids.

These sorts of stereotypes are strongly impressed on the players. There are "weak variations," such as Rock Goblins, but these are essentially Goblins with one or two minor additions.

How can I safely break these stereotypes to add more flavour to the world? I want to gently introduce these changes when I run a game, but I'm worried that this won't be received well. Players tend to strongly associate characters with stereotyped traits, and without them the Goblins may seem incomplete or just plain "wrong." This could lead to lack of immersion and dissatisfaction with the game.

How do I safely break stereotypes in my games, without confusing or disenfranchising players who are used to a well-established world?

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What measure are you judging "safely" by? Clearly you're not worried about being knifed over it. ;) So you may have to be more specific about what what you want to avoid happening while getting to your goal. –  SevenSidedDie Sep 6 '13 at 21:11
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Do you want to gradually mix stereotype and non-stereotype NPCs, or do you want to jump straight to non-stereotype NPCs (but want to introduce that deviation from expectation gradually)? Basically, it's unclear if you want to gradually deviate from established in-world standards, or whether you want to deviate from the beginning. Or putting it a third way, is this a setting consistency question, or a how to handle balky players question? –  SevenSidedDie Jan 4 at 0:15
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3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

The largest problem with breaking stereotypes in a game/setting is if it breaks immersion - basically being seen as either unrealistic or inconsistent writing.

The single biggest counters you have to this is to:

  1. Make sure there is some reasonable justification from this "deviation from the norm"
  2. This deviation is remarked on as a deviation by the rest of the world and not just the PC

As for part one, this is where you counter the lazy/inconsistent writing assumption. "I made this one orc a pacifist supergenius just because I thought that would be cool" = lazy writing. Are these goblins from someplace far away, or were they under the heel of some other race that caused their difference?

For part two, if you telegraph some new smarter goblins for a while with other goblins complaining about those "dumb smart-smart goblins that act like hu-mans, they think they're better than us" then you counter the unrealism argument - it's weird, and everyone else darn well thinks it's weird too. That puts PCs in the role of being the ones that can be accepting of it.

Also, make them different enough especially visually - in a LARP type medium it's hard enough to differentiate visuals but "it looks just like a goblin - oh wait it's that different type" can frustrate players; you need a different skin color or something (I had a clan of blue goblins in one 2e campaign...) to mark it.

Not really an RPG example, but recently I've been playing Fallout: New Vegas, where you have several opportunities to interact peacefully with atypical Super Mutants and nightstalkers, and they make use of these techniques so you (optionally) don't just snipe them at a distance when you see a Super Mutant. Most players in 2013 have gotten used to the concepts of factions and variation, so it shouldn't be that hard to pull off.

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I remember writing a supergenius pacifist orc and now I feel really embarrassed about past me. –  Hovercouch May 19 at 18:42
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I think mxyzplk got most of it. But I will add a few points.

Don't do anything too drastic. Chances are, if you have to say "Ok guys, forget everything you know about..." then there's something else out there that is much better suited to what you want.

You can also try making the character "technically" fit the stereotype but give them an unusual view on the matter. For example in 4th edition D&D silver dragons are virtuous and champions to the weak. I have a silver dragon in my campaign who is a crime boss. Why? Because the government running the city neglects and overworks the poor and the only way for most of them to survive is crime, so she uses her power and knowledge to aid them.

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First you must ask yourself why you are trying to redefine a locally rooted or established, cultural stereotype (meme). Why is it important to you, the game, or the story to invest the time and effort when it may be simpler to introduce a new LABEL or word into your players' lexicon to represent the ideal that you desire?

On one hand, you may be able to scrounge around into alternate historical contexts and dig up other creature names that better represent the imagery you wish to convey.

On the other hand, this is a growth opportunity. Be creative and make something up! I suppose I'm suggesting a dichotomous question... do you want to be happy or do you want to be right?

LARP is a slightly different beast... the story is facilitated (not told). So... How do you want the story RE-told?

Follow the 80/20 rule.

Don't waste time and effort on those things that will never be remembered... or worse, on things that draw your game down.

Put your energy toward those things that advance good story and make for legendary re-telling of events.

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