Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Archetypes in Character Generation

I was reading a fascinating thread over on Google+ posted by Zak from Playing D&D with Pornstars. It, of course (as these things do) went off on a tangent. Yes, yes, I guess I had some fault in that process, but it was productive.

I came up with an idea about character generation, based on Joseph Campbell's ideas about the hero archetype. Briefly, I think I should be able to generate a character for a game based on only the characteristic system used, and some variation of the following:

  1. Unusual circumstances of birth; sometimes in danger or born into royalty
  2. Leaves family or land and lives with others
  3. An event, sometimes traumatic, leads to adventure or quest
  4. Hero has a special weapon only he can wield
  5. Hero always has supernatural help
  6. The Hero must prove himself many times while on adventure
  7. The Journey and the Unhealable Wound
  8. Hero experiences atonement with the father
  9. When the hero dies, he is rewarded spiritually
Clearly, one can have a character without that character possessing all of these traits. This is just a laundry list. 

Conan, for example gets 1, 2, 3 (sometimes), 5 (only sometimes), and 6. 
Han Solo gets 3 (picking the wrong passengers), 4 (the Millenium Falcon), 6, and 9 (in a sense, he is redeemed). 

Anyway, you see where this might lead. At the point of character generation, none of these may yet have happened, unless you're rolling up a higher level character, at which point it might help to answer these points. 

Of course, you could also argue that not all characters are heroes. That being the case, what other traits could be put in? I suggest the following, which could easily be adapted to just about any chargen scenario:

  1. Who is he/she?
  2. Where did he/she come from?
  3. Why did he/she leave?
  4. What does he/she want?
  5. What means will he/she use to get it?

1. He's a a barbaric warrior.
2. Cimmeria
3. Family killed, he was enslaved.
4. Dope, guns, and money (or the period equivalent)
5. Steel, strength, toughness, and audacity.

If you keep in mind that all of those things are what makes Conan, Conan, then you can be reasonably sure he'll act Conan-ically.

This is largely a thought exercise, though, not a complete system. I'll have to ponder it a bit more. 

However, it strikes me that Monte Cook's new Numenera project may do something similar, with its character generation, which is strongly archetypical, but very streamlined.

Hmm... in retrospect, that was one of the reasons I backed the Kickstarter for the project.  

Update: It has been drawn to my attention that the inimitable Scrap Princess put together a really great post on archetypes. She goes a lot further than I did, too, and shows how you can create specific classes based on archtypes. You should go read it. Immediately. Go!

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