Getting Personal 2: Archetypal Stereotypes


In my previous column I proposed a new system to describe characters via pairings of well-known archetypes. In this column, I explain how to interpret those pairings. If you have not read the first column you will probably not understand this one. Then again, maybe you won't understand it anyway. It's pretty complicated. Are you sure you're ready for this?

Pirate vs Ninja

The four Jungian pairings map to my pairings as follows:

Jungian Pairings My Pairings
[S]ensing vs I[N]tuitive [P]irate vs [N]inja
[T]hinking vs [F]eeling [R]obot vs [M]onkey
[P]erceiving vs [J]udging Pun[K] vs [Z]ombie
[E]xtroverted vs [I]ntroverted [C]lown vs Cow[B]oy

In the system that follows, these four pairings are broadly aligned into two groups of two, each centered upon the Pirate vs Ninja comparison. While the more common primary comparison is Extroversion vs Introversion (here, Clown vs Cowboy), the Pirate vs Ninja debate is better known in RPG circles, and provides a more interesting distinction when it comes to role-playing style, and a character's purpose within a group of other characters.

Pirates are generally more practical, active and focused on the physical world. In a fantasy game, they are often the fighters and rogues of the party, and generally the leaders due to their strength (be that physical strength, or strength of character). The Undead Pirate Zombies (PZ) are the scourge of the oceans; whereas more rogueish pirates will just steal your valuables, everyone knows that the warrior Pirate Zombies will show no mercy. On the other hand, the thievish Pirate Punks (PK) simply roam the world enjoying freedom and looking for new treasure. They are the swashbucklers of the world, unpredictable and focused on fun.

Ninja are more thoughtful, reserved and intuitive, focused on the mental and spiritual worlds. In a fantasy game, they are often the spell casters (wizards or healers) or tactical advisors, and while often the smartest are generally not the leaders (e.g., Merlin to King Arthur). The cyborglike Ninja Robots (NR) are cold calculating machines, brilliant intellectual wizards who are focused on the task at hand and manipulating knowledge to achieve their own ends. The touchy-feely Ninja Monkeys (NM) are more focused on community, healing wounds rather than causing them. They are concerned about the needs of their troupes and groups, even above and beyond even their own needs.

More on those two-letter codes (e.g., NR, NM) later.

You probably know if you (the reader/player) are an Introvert or an Extrovert; it's a pretty easy distinction to visualize. Likewise, it should be similarly easy to determine if your character is a Pirate or a Ninja. Neither distinction means that they are literally a swashbuckling rogue or a stealthy assassin; it's just to do with how they generally behave.

As with any system, these are of course broad generalizations. Not every Introvert is always introverted, just like not every Ninja always acts like a ninja. But when you're dealing with stereotypes of archetypes, you always end up with black and white, ninja and pirate, yin and yang.

But Wait, There's Four

If you've played any card game, you're familiar with the four suits: Diamonds, Spades, Hearts and Clubs. These suits are derived from the corresponding suits in the Tarot, each of which traditionally symbolizes an element and/or season as well (of which there are, natch, four). The elemental correspondences are a little fuzzy, but generally this is how everything matches up.

Card Suit Tarot Suit Element
Spades Swords Air/Spring
Diamonds Pentacles/Coins Earth/Autumn
Clubs Wands/Staves Fire/Summer
Hearts Cups Water/Winter

Dungeons & Dragons, of course, also has four classes, as do most role-playing games, whether of the pen-and-paper or computer variety. Oh, there might seem to be more, but there are almost always four core classes, the four that D&D started out with: Fighter, Thief, Wizard and Cleric. Nowadays, designers have drifted somewhat away from some of those terms, loaded as they are. Thieves for example have become Rogues, and Clerics have become the much-less religiously-named Healers. In MMORPGs the terms occasionally get lost in the function of the class, giving us Tank, DPS, Blaster and Healer.

Of course, it's tempting to map these four class archetypes up to the other fours mentioned above, along with other similar groups of four:

Archetype Healers Wizards Warriors Rogues
Keirsey-Bates NF NT SJ SP
Tarot Suit Cups Swords Pentacles Wands
Card Suit Hearts Spades Diamonds Clubs
Function Healer Blaster Tank DPS
Color Blue Yellow Green Red
Element Water Air Earth Fire
Season Winter Spring Autumn Summer
Direction North East West South
Yin/Yang Yin Yang Yin Yang
Mental Skill Wisdom Intelligence ? Charisma
Physical Skill Constitution ? Strength Dexterity
Creature Nymph Sylph Gnome Salamander
Star Wars Luke Obi-Wan Leia Han Solo
Wizard of Oz Woodsman Scarecrow Dorothy Lion
Fantasy Race Human Elf Dwarf Hobbit
A-Team Face Hannibal B.A. Murdock
Buffy The Vampire Slayer Willow Giles Buffy Xander
Harry Potter Gryffindor Ravenclaw Hufflepuff Slytherin
Lord of the Rings Aragorn Gandalf Gimli Legolas
Hobbitses Sam Merry Frodo Pippin

"But wait," you say. "Why do Wizards align with Swords, and why do Rogues align with Wands?" To which I reply: "Don't think of them as Wands, think of them as Clubs, like the sort you'd get mugged with by a Highwayman." "And what about the Sword?" you ask? "Gandalf," I reply. "Glamdring."

"Ah," you say.

Of course, at some point this gets ridiculous and things stop aligning, so I will stop there and move off in a different direction after one final match-up. Remember those pairs of letters I mentioned earlier? NM, NR and such? Here's how those map.

Archetype Healers Wizards Warriors Rogues
Keirsey-Bates NF NT SJ SP

Taking the lead from the Keirsey-Bates system, this gives us not just a top-level Pirate vs Ninja pairing, but it also gives us four broad categories to place characters in. Since (as explained earlier) RPG players are familiar with four-category systems for defining characters, it only seems natural to align these four groups in similar ways.

Here are my suggestions for those four categories, along with what they mean, and some keywords that might describe your character's outlook on life.

Ninja Monkeys (NM**) aka Healers

Ninja Monkeys are emotionally driven, interested in healing, harmony and happiness in themselves and others. They are on a constant search for themselves, and for a sense of peace and union with their community at large, and as such they place a great value on relationships with others. They desire to inspire, and feel that they need to live a life that is significant in some way. While they generally hate that which is seen as evil, they often overlook it to focus on the good and redeemable in others.

Keywords: Healer, altruist, mystic, nurturer, empathy, benevolent, romantic, sagacious, humane, sympathetic, forgiving, insightful, mentor, friendly, idealistic, unity, ethics, morality, diversity, clarity, cooperation, diplomacy, dreamer, religious, inspired, ethical, perfectionist, choleric, human

Ninja Robots (NR**) aka Wizards

Ninja Robots are "pinball wizards," remote and distant emotionally, yet focused on the task at hand. They are rarely just competent at what they specialize in, preferring to become an expert at one particular thing, and are very demanding of themselves (and others) when it comes to that pursuit. Though not necessarily leaders, they are often drivers (literally or figuratively), and push themselves and others to accomplish goals and uncover truths. They prefer logic to emotion even in their interactions with others, and hate "small talk," preferring not to state the obvious or engage in meaningless banter.

Keywords: Visionary, architect, perfectionist, intuitive, ingenious, skeptical, abstract, pragmatic, practical, autonomous, calm, reasoned, knowledgeable, intelligent, scientific, phlegmatic, logical, detached, impassive, Vulcan, Promethean, elvish, sylphlike, airy

Pirate Zombies (P*Z*) aka Warriors

Pirate Zombies are not necessarily militant, but many of these warriors would be at home in the military, which like them is focused on service, duty, responsibility, tradition, hierarchy and order, as well as a desire to protect that which one holds dear -- be that an ideal, an individual or a way of life. They are sensory-driven and judge-like in their decision-making, focusing on real-world, practical details and the way things "ought to be done". They are known as stable, solid, dependable individuals who rarely change course and who never give up on tradition. They enjoy being a part of groups, whether they are leading or following. In the real world, they are generally the most numerous, and are often seen to be the people who make the world run. They get things done.

Keywords: Judgment, industry, tradition, economy, schedule, duty, honor, respect, authority, security, proper, organization, stability, routine, sense, detail, hard-working, responsible, community, rules, protocol, perseverance, guardian, morality, diligence, serious, dwarvish, gnomish, earth, pentacles, melancholy

Pirate Punks (P*K*) aka Rogues

Pirate Punks are roguish, swashbuckling and reckless, roaming the seven seas (literal or figurative) in search of whatever fulfills their current impulses. Freedom and spontaneity are their watchwords, and they love nothing more than to have fun, how they want, and when they want. All actions are driven to fulfill their current needs, though this can at times make them well-suited for activities and careers that require impulsive action (for example, a firefighter). They are interested in the artistic and the aesthetic, though their own interpretations of beauty may not always be obvious, static, or in line with the rest of society.

Keywords: Changeable, practical, optimistic, excitable, easygoing, sensitive, manic, tactical, perceptive, impulsive, quick, talented, aesthetic, skillful, stimulated, charismatic, adventurous, courageous, fiery, hobbitlike, Dionysian, hedonism, sanguine

We're Not Done Yet

So why do we refer to these categories as "Pirate Punks" and "Ninja Robots" instead of "Rogues" and "Wizards"? Precisely because role-players have gotten so used to the latter terms that they have strong associations with them. Describing a character as Wizardlike conjures up notions of hats and staves, but referring to one as a Ninja Robot removes that layer of familiarity. By using the more abstract (though instantly recognizable) archetypes, we avoid this potential muddle.

Obviously, those asterisks in the titles above indicate left-out letters. If we stick those letters back in, we get not four categories, but a total of 16 subcategories. Due to length, these will be covered in the next two installments of this column. Stick with me! The next column can be found right here.

This series started out really cool, and is quickly rocketing up the Awesome Scale with each installment. I'm looking forward to more. Great articles.

From this morning:

"NCsoft has released information on the character classes available in their upcoming MMORPG Aion: The Tower of Eternity. Players will be able to choose from four initial classes - Warrior, Scout, Mage, and Priest - which then branch off into two different advanced classes."

When will someone break away from the standard four?

Is it even possible?

Lots of RPGs are simply classless - you design your own package with a point buy system.

You can argue that D&D classes like barbarian, paladin, and ranger are all unique classes, or that they are all just specialized variants of the warrior 'type.' Same for druid/priest, sorcerer/wizard, bard/rogue.

Exalted by White Wolf adds a fifth basic monster food group - a sort of ambassador - using the Oriental five element cosmology, but it's kind of weird and lame and nobody ever wants to play it. World of Warcraft offers nine character classes, but you can raise the same argument that they are all either just hybrids or variants of the four standard MMORPG party roles: tank, DPS, nuker, healer.

But when you think about it (as I often do these days, now that I'm designing a system) characters in games and fiction really only deal with situations with four solutions: fight using their brawn, strategize using their brains, deceive using their wits, or persuade using their charm. Jung (and his disciple, Campbell) identified four archetypes of masculine (and, presumably, corresponding femminine) identities: the Warrior, the Wizard, the Lover, and the King. So it seems that on a profound level humans are programmed to see the world in terms of four fundamental types of interactions - or it could be that Western Civilization stamps this form on to human experience and causes us too see it that way.

If you were going to break away, what would you add, subtract, or alter?

I think a good start would be moving away from thinking of characters in terms of combat function and stripping away the biggest offenders.


The first one to go should be the Healer. LOTRO sort of gets away from this by swapping in Morale for Hit Points and it does feel a bit different when you're not chugging down red life potions in the middle of combat. The worst thing D&D ever did is introduce Cure Light Wounds and Potions of Healing. It takes the sting out of death.

The next thing to go should be this notion that Rogues are nothing but backstabbing double damage machines. That's almost as abhorrent to me as the notion that all Rangers can fight with two weapons. Rogueish sorts are supposed to avoid combat and snipe from the shadows, not be primary front-line death dealers.

As to where you go from there... Not sure. Perhaps back to the source material, I guess. Fafhrd and Grey Mouser aren't cut and dry. Neither is Conan. What makes them unique from one another if you can't call any one of them a Warrior or a Rogue specifically?

That's why I prefer to play and design classless systems.


Re: D&D 4e preview

Class Roles are the first thing they talk about. These are new specific "jobs" in an adventuring party that they designed for. They are defender, striker, controller, and leader.

Clerics... are meant to be the definitive "leader."

Fighters... are meant to be the primary "defenders."

Rogues are the melee "striker"... able to do the most damage one on one.

Wizards are the main "controller."

Defender = tank
Striker = dps
Leader = healer
Controller = blaster

See above for why this generally sucks.

"If you were going to break away, what would you add, subtract, or alter?"

Step 1 -- Go Classeless
Step 2 -- Take the skills and divide them by the traits required to learn them. Make a few skill trees.
Step 3 -- Make an interesting setting that includes societies, orders, guilds, and other organizations -- some who freely share their knowledge and others who guard their secrets jealously.
Step 4 -- Design a system that equates the game table use of the core traits from step 2 to the progression of skills.

The first thing that this approach solves is that the classes in most games do not have context in the game world. The next thing that it solves the the experience/vodoo dilemma. In my opinion the experience system in D&D is ideal for an evil witch doctor, but not much else because power is increased by murder and plunder. This is the essence of vodoo blood magic. Why would a healer improve based on this paradigm? Check out the links below for more of my thoughts on the matter.

* "only deal with situations with four solutions: fight using their brawn, strategize using their brains, deceive using their wits, or persuade using their charm."

-- I agree mostly, but would choose five.

Daring - Muster your courage and confront the situation.
Alertness - Be quick and resourceful to avoid/disarm the situation.
Voliton - Apply faith and do what is right regardless of consequence.
Insight -- Formulate a plan and resolve with thought.
Artisitc -- Use charm, persuasion, and panache to get what you require.