Not too long ago, Ign did a piece on Top Ten RPG Cliches. No surprise, the list could describe almost any RPG of recent – or not-so-recent – times. It reminded me of a few irritating (understatement) “plot devices” that often turn up in games.

Who Am I? – Amnesia most often appears in adventures, but can rear its ugly head in other genres, as well. It’s a cheap way for designers to get around the problem of why the player doesn’t know much about the in-game world.

This is almost always paired with being hunted because the character is an escapee from: “The Evil Government Project”, “The Evil Secret Intelligence Project”, “The Evil Corporation Project”, “The Evil Scientist Project” or “The Evil Alien Project”.

Naturally, the character experiences strange flashbacks/weird dreams/odd meetings/etc. while trying to reclaim memory and figure out what is going on. The finale usually features “the stunning plot twist” which most players have seen coming long beforehand.

The most recent sighting of this chestnut seems to be The Witcher. I gather from readings around the ‘net that Geralt (our hero) has lost most of his “critter killer” powers and doesn’t know why. A little blind spot in the brain there. And it’s such a wonderful way of explaining why an experienced professional has all the abilities of a newbie.

There are times (like now) when I wish developers would develop some amnesia of their own and forget this hackneyed situation.

Pick Up Sticks a.k.a. The Rod Of Seven Parts – When designers run out of ideas on how to progress a story – which seems all too frequent nowadays – they can always fall back on “Fetch, Fido”.

Veteran D&D players know the Rod Of Seven Parts; it’s a powerful artifact whose pieces grant special abilities, and even more when fully assembled. Too many developers have taken that idea and created games that focus on finding the “parts of something or other” to forestall Foozle.

So you run hither and yon across the landscape, picking up whatever items are required, spending the entire mid-game portion on nothing more than padding.

In Ultima VI, for instance, you spent a lot of time retrieving pieces of a pirate map. It led to a treasure that was not really germane to the plot. But it did help to pass the time.

More recently, in Neverwinter Nights 2 (the movie), you slogged away to grab the silver shards so a sword could be re-forged. This was closer to the original Rod, as each shard granted abilities, and the complete weapon had powers of its own. Ho hum.

It’s bad enough when you have to do “fetch and carry” jobs for hapless NPCs; it’s much worse when practically the entire game is built on that premise, too.

Where’s My Stuff?? – This loathesome practice shows up in sequels. You finish Bard’s Ultimate Magic Pool Of Wizardry, export your character, and wait for BUMPOW II.

Only when you start the game, your character has somehow lost all (or most all) of his/her equipment. How nice. There’s nothing like a high-level character running around with third-rate stuff.

Of course, there is always some specious reason for that. For example, way back in Secret Of The Silver Blades, it’s a wish. The mayor of a besieged town wishes for adventurer help; he just forgot to wish for the equipment, too. Oddly, the party does not appear there naked as newborns; maybe the mayor at least remembered to mention clothing.

A little closer to modern times was Hordes Of The Underdark. Here you’re snoozing in bed when a thief swipes all your goodies preparatory to your assassination. This makes no sense.

You’re asleep. No weapons. No armor. A perfect target. The assassin just has to show up and slit your throat. Even if you wake up, you don’t have time to paw through a chest to equip yourself. So why bother with this two-step process that wastes precious seconds?

The typical tattered shield developers hide behind is “game balance”. If stealing equipment is the only way they can figure out to “balance the game”, perhaps they’d be better off designing something a little less demanding, like Bejeweled.

The Sword Of Foozlebane – We finish up with that hoary old cliche, The One Weapon. It needn’t be a sword, of course. However, it’s always the only thing that can take out “The Big Evil Whatever”.

Naturally, you spend a good deal of gameplay looking for this Doodad of Death, and it’s often mixed in with “Rod Of Seven Parts” activity. NWN2 does that; the silver sword is what you need to take down the King Of Shadows.

This idiocy has a long history, going back at least to Might & Magic: Clouds Of Xeen, which required a special sword to destroy Lord Xeen. It may go back farther, but that is the earliest I can recall offhand.

In party games especially, this is arrant nonsense. Either everyone else stands around being useless, or they fight “Foozle’s Friends” (or Fiends), thereby presenting the appearance of being helpful.

These and other “plot devices” (I’m stopping here, thank you) have been so used, abused, mis-used, and over-used, that just reading the brief description on the back of the box is enough to work out the story, even before installing the game.

While I’m still hopeful that someone, somewhere, will finally present a fresh take on the RPG, omitting all those trite situations….well, I’m not as hopeful as I used to be.miniscorp

Top 10 RPG Cliches on IGN