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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Modern Fantasy Archetypes

This is just a wool-gathering post: thoughts expanding on a reply I made to someone on Dragonsfoot asking what D&D would look like if it were (a) designed today, (b) without reference to the character archetypes established in gamer culture, and (c) based on the archetypes in modern popular fantasy literature.

I think you could pretty much sum it all up as Supers, Furries, and Bad Asses (which I referred to as "Bad Asterisks" on Dragonsfoot, to avoid foul language.) Supers and Bad Asses are the two extremes: anybody with a built-in power vs. anyone without a built-in power. The Supers are superheroes, supernaturals (vampires, ghosts, Slayers,) and anything else really powerful. The Bad Asses are ordinary, but have equipment, know-how, or resources; you could subdivide them into Brawns (physical,) Brains (mental,) and Buddies (social.)

The Furries are in between, with a couple minor freakish traits that might be useful; you could subdivide them into anthropomorphic and non-anthropomorphic. They can be anything from talking animals to humans with a couple animal-like traits. If you wanted to require specific features for specific varieties of Furries, you could have Equine, Draconic, Canine, Feline, Avian, and so on. For that matter, although "Furry" refers to the fact that the archetype is based on anthropomorphic animals, you could have other mildly-powered characters lumped in, like robots ("clunkies"; don't look that up...) lower-powered monsters ("spookies",) and aliens ("freakies"?.)

I'm having a tough time thinking of modern characters from kid shows, teen lit, or TV that don't fit one of those archetypes.


  1. By "modern popular fantasy literature" do you mean urban fantasy (à la Harry Dresden, X Files, Twilight, Supernatural, Harry Potter) or do you regular pseudo-medieval fantasy written today?

    (The latter would be a very tough question as I find that fantasy as written today has borrowed so much from D&D that it would be hard to imagine what fantasy literature would look like had there never been a D&D game.)

  2. It's more "what did that other guy mean?" but I took the post to mean urban fantasy, but without an "urban" requirement. I'm sure if you look around, you could find some pop fantasy set in other time periods that does not necessarily follow the D&D pattern.

  3. In a certain light the original D&D archetypes are pretty deep-rooted in fairy tales and maybe even in psychology. Even after being filtered through Tolkien, Lieber, Vance and others, and interpreted further by wargamers and nerds, you still have warriors, woodsmen, scoundrels, seers and miracle workers. I actually don't often try to frame it in those terms, but that's what popped into my mind reading the post. I'm not sure if a different genesis would really give you different archetypes or just the classics under different names and trappings.

    "[B]ased on the archetypes in modern pop fantasy lit..." I honestly don't know what you'd get. I'm picturing rpgs invented by fans of modern vampire and werewolf porn (excuse me, "urban fantasy romance"), but without any WoD influence... I'm not sure if that would be good or bad, but it probably would be different.

  4. Heh, your use of the word "porn" must have triggered Blogger's spam detection... I had to unscreen your comment.