Grand List of Fantasy Clichés

Note: The original text of this was copyrighted by Kathy Pulver and J. S. Burke in 1998. They have proven difficult to reach since then. Rather than see their awesome creation fade into obscurity, we have chosen to add it here, in its entirety. If you know one of the authors, we would love to hear from them – Karl R.

by Kathy Pulver and J. S. Burke

Inspired by the “The Grand List of Overused Science Fiction Clichés” by Jon VanSickle.

This list, like the SF list that inspired it, is intended only to list various cliches common to the fantasy genre. It is not our intention to say these ideas should never see the light of day again (though some we could do without). Rather, we’ve compiled this list to amuse and educate.


  • Little people come from a country resembling England to defeat the evil wizard/king/complete the quest/save the world/etc.
  • Hero has a wise old teacher who turns out the be his grandfather or mother.
  • Hero falls in love with someone he knows he can’t have, but gets her in the end anyway.
  • The quest is for a jewel/sword/ring/box or other artifact that can destroy/save the world.
  • Retelling of Arthurian legends or the Robin Hood story.
  • A rag-tag band of adventurers who don’t get along have to team up to save the world and along the way discover that they really do like each other.
  • Untrained/untried novice goes up against a battle-hardened veteran and wins.
  • Modern human, usually an American, gets pulled into a fantasy world, usually a pseudo-medieval one, and manages to save the day without dying of disease or ignorance.
  • Virtual reality used to create a game environment that becomes real, trapping the players in that created world.
  • The people the hero thinks are his parents really aren’t–he’s actually the son of a king/wizard/famous warrior.
  • Villain is hero’s father.
  • Twins separated at birth meet accidentally and fulfill a destiny.
  • One twin is good the other is evil.
  • Hero goes to dwarves to get magical gifts.
  • Hero falls in love with heroine at first sight.
  • Hero becomes ruler of the land and all is good and peaceful, even though he spent his formative years as a swineherd.
  • Woman is raped, becomes and adventurer to avenge herself. Child sees family killed, becomes adventurer to revenge him/herself. Revenge as a motivator.



  • Evil guy wants to take over the world just because he is evil.
  • Heroes who are utterly selfless and only think of the Greater Good.
  • Evil rulers/wizards in general.
  • Girls who disguise themselves as boys in order to adventure.
  • Spunky/feisty/spirited heroines.
  • Handsome/rugged/dashing heroes.
  • The wise old wizard/hag/witch/herbalist/shaman/healer/etc.
  • Hero saves the world to win the heart of a woman.
  • Hero is identified as the one true heir by a birthmark/ring/sword/other artifact.
  • A loyal servant who knows the true heir’s identity lives with him/her as a guardian/protector/teacher/etc
  • Priests who go adventuring.
  • Hero is too humble for his own good.
  • Novice hero is too competent and/or never makes a mistake.
  • Hero and heroine have constant sex and she never gets pregnant.
  • Evil men who are pedophiles/homosexuals/male chauvinists or any combination of the above for no other reason than to make them more distasteful.
  • Evil = ugly, stupid and mean while Good = beautiful/handsome, wise and kind.
  • Mages who use their powers indiscriminately and to ridiculous excess.
  • Mages who are also master swordsmen.



  • Doomsday weapons.
  • Totally good/evil races.
  • Someone has a cute pet.
  • Lots of apostrophes in fantasy languages without good linguistic reasons.
  • Fantasy names beginning with X, Z, G, K, or any other hard consonant.
  • Fantasy names/words with a lack of vowels.
  • Fantasy names with too many vowels.
  • Names that are too suggestive of a character’s personality, i.e. someone named Cipher is an enigma.
  • Person sacrifices life to save others, but is resurrected later.
  • Evil villain is physically scarred in some way.
  • Evil villain must always kill at least one henchman no matter how loyal he is.
  • Slightest infraction/failure is punished by death.
  • Big dark castle/tower/fortress/keep, usually impenetrable except for the secret passage only the hero’s guide knows about.
  • Dark minions are idiots.
  • Parents of hero are dead. (Or, in the Disney variation: mother is dead, father is loveable buffoon.)
  • Fight breaks out in a bar.
  • Innocent people rescued from nasty death/fate worse than death just in the nick of time.
  • Secret passages are never booby-trapped.
  • Sidekicks/flunkies who are mindlessly loyal/devoted.
  • Deformed man with a heart of gold/Handsome villain with a heart of darkest evil.
  • Fantasy societies based off of the Celts or Norsemen.
  • Fantasy empires based off the Romans.
  • Warrior cultures based off of the Samurai or Spartans.
  • Elves, orcs, dwarves, trolls, dragons, unicorns and any other race that has appeared in Dungeons and Dragons.
  • Amazons/stoic women warriors.
  • Large-breasted Amazons in tiny brassiers who have no trouble keeping their clothes on, let alone their balance.
  • Artifacts of power.
  • Pseudo-medieval societies with 1990s liberal sensibilities about things like womens’ rights and homosexuality.
  • Hero’s culture has no brothels, no bars and everyone smokes a pipe but nothing stronger.
  • Black magic vs. White magic.
  • Magic systems that follow laws too much like modern physics.
  • Magic systems that follow no discernable rules at all.
  • Magic systems that change when its plot-convenient.
  • Virgin sacrifices.
  • Human/animal psychic bonds, especially with dogs/wolves/cats/horses/dragons/etc.
  • Characters speaking in 1990s flavored English.
  • Churches based on the medieval Catholic Church but that have a history totally unlike the Catholic Church.
  • Matriarchal religions/societies are good while patriarchal ones are bad. (Ditto for polytheism vs. monotheism.)
  • Everybody in the world worships the same god/pantheon of gods.
  • Noble savages/barbarians/etc.
  • Everybody in the world speaks the same language.
  • City dwellers are automatically corrupt and weak.
  • Female warriors wholl only surrender to a man if he defeats them in battle.
  • Cities in the middle of the desert with no water or food supply that somehow survive.
  • Women as prizes/booty for barbarian (or even civilized) heroes.
  • Societies where no one seems to do anything but adventure.
  • True feudal societies where the king holds absolute power.
  • Shops called Adventurers’ Supply or the like.
  • Village taverns, especially those populated with saucy tavern wenches.
  • Worlds that read as though they were created by a really bad Dungeon Master.
  • 50-pound broadswords.
  • Swords that shoot lightning, glow, etc.
  • Fur loincloths and chainmail bikinis in winter.
  • Worlds where morals are strictly black and white.
  • Societies where the morals are exactly the same as ours.
  • Slavery.
  • Boy slaves get released after 5-7 years of service; girl slaves do not.
  • Worlds where the nobility are all corrupt and/or perverted.
  • Prostitutes/brothels.
  • City neighborhoods where you can get anything anytime for any amount of money.
  • Healing potions work instantly, so death is never a real threat.
  • Zombies, vampires, werewolves, shape-changers, etc.
  • Vampires as tragic, romantic figures.
  • Vampires/werewolves/the fey exist among modern humans without detection despite there being a whole lot of them.
  • Pantheons based directly off of Greek, Norse or Egyptian religions.
  • Elite guards who aren’t.
  • Worlds where the fairies are always good and the witches are always evil.
  • Perfectly balanced parties of adventurers
  • Fantasy worlds populated entirely by sentient animals.
  • Worlds where all the humans look alike, regardless of geographic location.
  • Animals who raise human children.
  • Riding dragonback.
  • Friendly dragons.
  • Animals who act like humans
  • Someone goes to the underworld, either spiritually or physically
  • Magic users/psionics harassed and persecuted for their powers.
  • Horses treated like cars with legs.
  • Men and women have different sets of psychic/magic powers.
  • Brutality is excused so long as the good guys are the ones doing it.
  • Thieves having organized guilds and public meeting places that are known to the general populace.
  • Medieval cities with immaculate streets.
  • Grid-pattern streets in medieval cities.
  • Plucky young beggar boys/girls.
  • Magic shops that appear and disappear at whim.
  • No drug except alcohol exists in the world.
  • People running around after dark without lanterns and not falling down or getting hurt, especially in wooded areas.
  • Elaborate tests to determine if a woman is a virgin, no such test for men.
  • Heroines who always remain pure no matter what, even if all the other women around them are defiled.
  • No such thing as an atheist in the world; everybody believes in a god/gods (the exception being worlds where the gods are a real physical presence.)
  • Societies that never evolve.
  • The language has been the same for the last 10,000 years; there is only one Olde Language and no intermediate languages.
  • No bathrooms anywhere.
  • Societies with no discernable economic structure.

Special thanks to the following people for their assistance in the creation of this list:

Brian Burke

Jeff Myers

This page is copyright 1998 to Kathy Pulver and Jeff Burke

Comments (11)

  • Mike


    I had to laugh out loud at all of the famous, popular and lucrative books and films that use one or more of these. I like the list; but I won’t be using it to inform my writing 🙂

    After all, without revenge and the opportunity to save the world, where would fantasy be?



  • SHARE: List of Fantasy Cliches – jmwwriting


    […] This list, like the SF list that inspired it, is intended only to list various cliches common to the fantasy genre. It is not our intention to say these ideas should never see the light of day again (though some we could do without). Rather, we’ve compiled this list to amuse and educate…READ MORE […]


  • WHATS IN A WORD: TROPES – weebletheringskite


    […] On the Grand list of fantasy clichés street planning and good eyesight in the dark get a mention. Not sure they’d make it on to my Grand list, actually I’m not sure they’d make it on to my small and unimpressive list. The Grand list of sci-fi clichés did top even my weird attention to detail by noting ‘ the vast number of aliens who consider 20C to be room temperature,’ as an issue, and the inclusion of ‘intelligent confident women who can be bribed with a dress’ did make me wonder what sci-fi they were reading. However, apart from these couple of oddities, the rest of the list, as an avid sci-fi fan, read like a Name Your Favourite Sci-fi Movie quiz. And in almost each entry there were multiple answers.. […]


  • Sasha


    “Evil men who are pedophiles/homosexuals/male chauvinists or any combination of the above for no other reason than to make them more distasteful.”

    Being a “homosexual” doesn’t make someone automatically distasteful, and it’s not synonymous with pedophilia either.


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