Sunday, March 22, 2009

Archetypes & Heroes

One of my problems with D&D is that everyone is special, so nobody is special.

By that, I mean that everyone is thought of as a hero. PCs are special and unique and different from average joes. All of the players are encouraged to be "heroic." However, this flies in the face of most storytelling. Obi Wan is not the hero of Star Wars; Luke Skywalker. Mary Magdelene or Paul or Judas are not the heroes of the New Testament; Jesus Christ is the one who conquers death with a boon for all humanity.

In one of the best campaigns I played in, a central character became the heroine. The other PCs were important but they assumed supporting roles: the protector, the trickster/instigator, the advisor, etc.

I think that the players should be encouraged to play one of several roles. 4E introduces the idea of tactical combat roles (Striker, Defender, Leader, Controller) but does not define a character's story role. I think its important to separate this idea of character archetype from mechanical class, as well. You could have three "fighter" types but one may be a hero, another may be a wise mentor, and the third a sidekick. Likewise, a Thief/Rogue might actually be the hero (not the Trickster), a magic-user could be a Goddess (abjurations, protective magic, etc) not a Mentor, etc. Based on Campbell's "Thousand Faces," these are the archetypes I've pulled out that seem most appropriate for player characters:

The Hero: The one who walks a hero's path is the focus of the story. However, their path is difficult and dark. They will face death and destruction, but rebirth is an essential part of being a hero. Worst than death itself is the chance for failure, or perhaps even the fear of confronting one's own nature. If multiple players want to be heroes, then they become Allies or Companions. More on this later.

One might think that all the players want to be heroes, but I think that is not necessarily true (especially if the system does not mechanically reward such a choice). Many players will be content to play a different role, especially if that role is valued, can contribute, and is rewarded.

The Mentor: A wise, usually older person encourages the hero to go adventure. This is Obi Wan Kenobi, Gandalf, or Merlin. The mentor provides advice, information, special tools, or even wields magic to protect and aid the Hero. The mentor may actually be more powerful in strict terms than the hero, but they cannot use all of their power for some reason. The mentor should be rewarded for encouraging the Hero to transcend his/her limits or fears.

The Goddess: The Goddess is a figure representing solace, healing, duality or completion. In typical D&D terms it'd be your cleric. If the heroine is female then usually the "Goddess" is a male. I think a different term for this archetype would be good. The Goddess should be rewarded for healing or revitalizing the Hero.

The Trickster/Rogue: The Trickster is an erratic character that brings change, unexpected developments, or sometimes just comic relief. This is Merry and Pippin, C3P0 and R2D2, and other such characters. The Trickster should be rewarded for providing humor or for developing the story in new and unexpected ways, even if they seem to be rash at the moment or bring short term difficulties.

Sidekicks: Allies and lesser characters that help the Hero. This is Samwise Gamgee, Riker (Star Trek), or some of the disciples (the Bible). These might be NPCs but could also be PC roles if properly rewarded. The Sidekick should be rewarded for aiding and assisting the Hero. They may be essential to the hero's survival or success. They accompany the hero for the quest but know that their final destiny may be different from the Hero... Or is it? A sidekick may end up becoming a Hero, as Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit does. A Sidekick might also veer into the comic relief role. A sidekick role is ideal for players who want a lot of spotlight time, but for whom the idea of flirting with death, making deep sacrifices, or making difficult emotional choices for their character may to too hard.

Companions: Allies who are co-heroes, on an equal footing with the Hero. For example, if Star Wars were an RPG, Han Solo's player might envision his character as a Hero just like Luke's player seems himself as a Hero, especially earlier in the chronicle. A Companion becomes a Sidekick if they are unwilling to make the sacrifices required of a Hero. For example, Han Solo becomes key to a main sideplot, he wins a treasure (the Princess, fame, and money), but he is not willing to face the depths of moral challenge and self-discovery that Luke is. This ultimately moves him to Sidekick status.

Aragorn from the LOTR is arguably a companion in a major side plot (assuming Bilbo's story is really the emotional meat and potatoes of the main plot). While Aragorn's struggle doesn't have the same metaphysical weight as Bilbo's journey, he still undergoes a transformation ("Put aside the ranger..."). This is what makes him a companion (co-hero) and not a sidekick.

Here is a post from K&K Alehouse:

Posted by foster1941 on Apr 6, 2005, 12:35pm

I've been re-reading Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces (always a dangerous way to start a post ) and thinking about classic fantasy and mythological archetypes and came to a stumbling block regarding my 'non-thief' stance -- that the rascal/trickster/changeling/coyote is very much one of the key archetypes, right alongside the hero/warrior (fighter), wiseman/mentor (cleric) and mystic/shaman (magic-user).

But, although they are typically played as such (thus the gradual transformation from specific 'thief' to more general 'rogue'), is this archetype really well repsresented that well by the thief class? Does a detailed chart giving percentages for opening locks and disarming traps really fit with the trickster archetype -- if anything it actually seems more akin to a laborer/craftsman, a completely different archetype (see below).

Giving this a little more thought, I was suddenly struck by something -- that the trickster archetype IS present in D&D, but is personified not by the thief class, but by the elf. Think about it -- elves break the standard rules (by operating as more than one class simultaneously -- wearing armor and casting spells), they are sneaky (silent and invisible per Chainmail), they have heightened perception (bonus to hear noise and spot secret doors), they're adept at ambushes and missile combat and 'unfair' fighting techniques (ability to split-move-and-fire), plus their typical personality is flighty, capricious, and irresponsible, unpredicatable and not necessarily trustworthy (even the alignment chart has them falling between law and neutral). These are all characteristics of the trickster archetype, and fit the elf at least as well as (better IMO) the thief class. This caused me to think about the other demi-human races and realize that they also fill archetypal roles. Thus we have:

hero/warrior/protagonist -- fighter
mentor/wiseman/'supernatural aid' -- cleric
shaman/mystic/wizard -- magic-user
rascal/trickster/changeling -- elf
laborer/craftsman/'wise uncle' -- dwarf*
child/innocent/maiden -- hobbit

*dwarfs are sturdy and reliable but also a bit dull, able warriors but not quite as able as the actual warrior archetype, plus they have a degree of wisdom expressed through practical/worldly knowledge -- ability to spot and disarm traps, etc. -- that marks them as representatives of the mundane in the realm of the fantastic (i.e. adults in a world of children) and makes them perfect as both loyal sidekicks of the hero and protectors of the child/innocent (think of the most famous dwarfs from literature -- those in The Hobbit and in Disney's Snow White -- who fill this role exactly)

So now I'm fully satisfied that not only is the thief class not needed game-mechanically (as discussed above), it's not needed symbolically either

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