Another D&D-related post, and a brief one on account of how I’m now a grad student with classes to teach as well as attend and a hundred pages of reading each week.
Over at The Dragon’s Flagon, Eric Treasure (if that’s his real name [dun dun dunn!]) has posted a couple lists of “archetypes” for lending variety to basic character classes: ways to differentiate one PC from the next through style and equipment rather than lists of variant classes with special rules. I was impressed with the “thief” list, but some things about the “fighter” list bothered me.
Why is the cultural designation of “barbarian” used at all? Why lump everything from ancient Greek marines to Vikings to classic pirates to the pirates’ enemies on HMS Bigwoodenship under the single rubric of “sailor” regardless of their fighting style? Why include “coward” at all when it’s so universal? Why single out the “black knight” when he’s simply an evil version of the classic knight, who is left out entirely in favor of the would-be knight “the gallant”? Why separate out “archer” when bows are generally going to be carried by foot soldiers, mounted soldiers (omitted) or hunters? Long story short, as you no doubt expected: I present an alternate list that feels more satisfying, along with a handful of culture-specific images (read as: stereotypes) as examples.
- The Ideal Knight – The classic chevalier or samurai model. Often inherits the position and enough money that they can afford the equipment and training — in any case will tend to be heavily equipped and trained. Prefers ritualized single combat, and will often at least pay lip service to a personal code of some kind, but in the end not afraid to make full use of their advantages and cut other people down where they stand. Possibly prone to questing. The Black Knight. The White Knight. The Samurai. The Warrior Monk. Hector. Achilles.
- The Simple Knight – As above, but not idealized. Simple knights have better equipment and training than the common man and can in theory hold their own in a fight, but in practice tend to be administrators and are more willing to talk things out or call for backup. The Poor Samurai. The Small-Town Sheriff. The Captain of the Watch.
- The Soldier – Part of a trained professional fighting force. The soldier can generally keep cool in a combat situation, and specializes in group tactics and maneuvers taking advantage of one kind of weapon, such as a pike, bow, shield and sword, etc., possibly with a backup weapon or two. Operates most comfortably in a group, in a hierarchy, with a certain level of jargon and signage or symbolism. The, um, the Soldier. The Palace Guard. The Bodyguard. The Janissary. The Mongol Horse-Archer. The Marine. The Legionary.
- The Perfectionist – Someone who has devoted their life to physical or martial excellence, often with a spiritual aspect. May focus on one weapon or learn to use a wide range of sometimes surprising tools. May know supporting skills like parkour. The Shaolin Monk. The Holy Assassin. The Fantasy Ninja. The Palace Master of Arms. Inigo Montoya. The Fastest Draw in the West.
- The Berserker – Probably has above-average combat training and a decent weapon, but the main feature of the Berserker is an altered state of consciousness. They tend to fight with simple ferocity, ignoring pain and any wound that doesn’t straight-out incapacitate them. The Viking Raider. The Ecstatic Warrior. The Savage Tribesman. The Crazed Junkie.
- The Brawler – Someone who happens to be good at fighting because they have gotten into a lot of fights. Will tend to have an idiosyncratic style or a preferred weapon derived (or made) from a common tool. May be in it for personal kicks, as part of a pugilistic culture, or just an asshole with poor interpersonal skills. The Prizefighter. The British/Irish Pub-Goer. The Gang Member. The Hoodlum. The Gladiator.
- The Thug – A professional who happens to have violence as a tool of trade, the thug will usually prefer intimidation, surprise, and violence against those unable to resist over direct combat. If forced into a more even fight, though, they’ll generally be interested in any weapons or tactics that can end it quickly in their favor, including improvised weapons, property damage, low blows, getting bystanders involved and taking hostages. The Mugger. The Highwayman. The King’s Tax Collector. The Mafia Enforcer.
- The Worker – Someone who happens to be able to fight as a side-effect of their main profession, like sailors who can hold their own with a knife or harpoon. The Hunter. The Woodcutter. The Sailor. The Big Guy. The Cowboy.
- The Showman – Their job (or at least their martial training) emphasizes athletic, surprising, and often visually-interesting combat or pseudo-combat. May specialize in pure performance, one-on-one duels, or evading and surviving a mass of enemies. To the Showman fighting is an art, not a tool, but unlike with the Perfectionist it doesn’t have a spiritual or obsessive aspect. The Sword-Dancer. The Swashbuckler. Modern Shaolin Monks. Jackie Chan.
- The Dilettante – An amateur with lots of theory and probably not so much practice. Like the Showman, is most interested in combat-themed aesthetic or intellectual pursuits, but more averse than the Showman to actual combat. Tends to fight in a formalized way that makes certain assumptions about the battlefield and its rules, and may use an unusual, old-fashioned, or faddish weapon. The Karate Club Member. The Sport Wrestler. The Nonlethal Duelist. The Dandy With a Sword-Cane. The Ceremonial Guard.
- The Desperate – No training, no tools, no hope. Someone who would normally get out of a fight as fast as possible but doesn’t see a choice in the matter now. Will tend to use whatever weapons are on hand (but not well) and simple tactics (running forward, running away). Most effective in numbers. A Body in the Mob. The Farmer Pressed Into Service. The Cannon Fodder. The Revolutionary.
As I tried to show with the examples, there’s a lot of room for fine-tuning and color. Any of the above can be treated mechanically as a “fighter.” Each archetype then suggests a kind of approach to fighting while allowing a myriad of culture-specific manifestations. These in turn can be further colored by personality. Is this Soldier a fearful hoplite who refuses to fight outside of the phalanx? Is this Perfectionist a sadistic bully who constantly picks fights with the excuse of honing their abilities? Is this Ideal Knight a paladin, or a xenophobic menace to travelers?
I don’t have much else to add. Perhaps looking over, or rolling a d10 on, the above list can provide inspiration to anyone who avoids bread-and-butter fighters due to their being “boring,” but is still willing to give it a try.