Can anyone think of a fourth adventuring archetype?
So this is old, old gamer wisdom, but somehow it took James’ plea for space opera character classes plus MoR to make me realise that, at base, all the RPG characters I’ve ever played or heard of have come down, in essence, to Doer, Thinker and Plotter. Or, if you prefer to think in D&D terms, Fighter, Wizard, Thief. Or Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Slytherin. Or, if you want, Soldier, General, Spy.
What about Hufflepuff/Cleric/Medic? I’m ignoring them here because their original authors never considered them actual archetypes of behaviour: Rowling has nothing interesting to say about Hufflepuff except that its watchword is “loyalty,” which means it puts out mooks or, as MoR is kind enough to put it, “all the people who actually do the work” – ie not adventurers. Medics and clerics are second-string Fighter/Wizards who carry the first aid kit: they’re militarily necessary, but they’re not adventuring archetypes.
Why is this the case? Probably because all the games I’ve ever played have essentially revolved around criminal action plots – capers, for short – whether that means breaking into a dungeon, breaking into a library/haunted house/cultist hideout, or smuggling across the galaxy and therefore frequently breaking your mates out of backwater prisons. But is that because those are the stories that need archetypes (so you can get on with the plot as your main order of business rather than exploring who the characters are), or is it because those are the contests that ex-wargamers think of playing out, or is it because most other kinds of stories rely on the selective withholding of information or some magical match-up between the specific characters and their world and are therefore in some fundamental way not susceptible to interaction through play?
I understand there’s a whole load of other sorts of games out there, where you do fundamentally different things.* And those games probably involve a wide variety of different sorts of interactions and therefore characters. Or do they? Or do these new and novel plots still get tackled by action and caper movie stars? Are any of those new kinds of characters so frequently repeated that their characteristics have become a sort of grammar – that they yield character archetypes on which you can riff? Can anyone think of another fundamental style of action on the level of Do, Think, Plot (or, perhaps better, Execute, Plan, Manipulate)? Am I being unfair to detectives here, for instance, or are they limited to fundamentally reactive roles in stories, incapable of making their own worlds the way Adventurers do?
OR, is this 3- (or 4-) part division of skills merely an artifact of the size of the conventional gaming group? Comments to James’ post immediately raised pilots, reminding me that of course cheap mass-market publication coincided with the rise of the flying ace and the result was Thrilling Airman Stories with lone heroes.** Like Tintin.*** Had the Wrights got off the ground 50 years earlier or later, perhaps we would’ve had Thrilling Submarine Commander Tales, aka Star Trek, featuring large teams of heroes with command structures.**** Would RPG groups have changed in size together with genre expectations?
All wisdom gratefully received.
* I stopped roleplaying regularly about 15 years ago – just in time to miss the revolution in gaming – the attention to acting and storytelling, the freeing up of genres and options – that I’d so fervently hoped for and that made games like My Life With Master and Dogs In The Vineyard possible. How was it?
** yes, OK, lone wild west gunmen and knights errant and Beowulf.
*** he’s a lone hero with a bunch of comic relief sidekicks. Interestingly Star Wars vacillates between small team, lone pilot and fleet action, tending more to the latter with later movies and properties, so I have no neat flyer/swimmer dichotomy between the two great popular scifi entities.
**** It also occurs to me that any ship-based fiction has the commander who knows where he’s going, the men who execute orders, and a variety of ship systems specialists. And ships are wonderful adventuring platforms precisely because they come with a journey and destination built in, thereby fulfilling Bakhtin’s requirement for the most primitive form of narrative – that is, a stated goal that is frustrated (Bakhtin: the Dialogic Imagination). Bakhtin calls this “star crossed lovers” but I like the prudish 50s euphemism of recasting it as “ship and port.”