Felix Danger’s great post about playing a bard a little differently got us thinking; What other classes and roles have built-in tropes and stereotypes? The answer? Well, all of them, actually. Bards are often fancy lace and lute singers, like Felix said. Wizards are always wizened- hell, it’s right there in the name. Paladins have a stick up their behind as they tank their way into battle.
These archetypes have served us well and can still be fun to play. It’s easy for first-time players to hop into these roles as they get used to driving a character, so we shouldn’t discard them entirely. Not everyone’s first car is a Lamborghini (unfortunately), and these tropes are a nice, safe 2001 Toyota Camry. But if you’re having a RPG ‘mid-life crisis’, then maybe think about switching away from the tried-and-true roles, and get yourself a sports car.
Motivations, backstory, and character traits are all huge parts of creating your character. These three things all work together to invent a person from whole cloth- and most of them can be determined before you even roll the dice. Why not make all three of those things something a little different, a little subversive? If you’re feeling tied down by all the grunting brutes and murder hobos that stereotypical fighters supply, really try creating something new and specific to you. It makes the game more interesting, newer, and above all, more fun.
Getting a New Start
The easiest class to subvert tropes with is the normal, every-day fighter. Usually, he’s a big dumb brute that likes kicking down doors and choppin’ off heads. Now, like I said, there’s nothing wrong with being a big dumb brute. Heck, my uncle was a big dumb brute! But after years of playing tabletops, or maybe just not liking what you’ve seen in your two months, it’s nice to try on something different.
The fighter is the easiest class to do this with, because most fighters can be normal people. A wizard or rogue have some learned practices that you’d need to explain away with backstory, but everyone knows how to swing a sword- fighters are just unusually good at it. This makes your fighter character a blank slate- tabula rasa. (By the way, I totally call dibs on my next monk character being a mute named Tabula Rasa).
Your fighter can be, more than any other class, anything you want. Is he a farmer who was burned out of his fields because of the new evil wizard-king? Is she an imperial guard, disgraced by that one case she can’t solve? Accountant that was bored by numbers? College student that hits the gym a little too often? The tabula rasa aspect of fighters make them 100% open backstory.
I’m sure that, this being a table-top RPG site on the internet, I can safely assume you’re passingly familiar with the Game of Thrones books (or A Song of Ice and Fire books for you purists out there). Although some characters fall into other RPG archetypes, most fall into the fighter category; The Hound, Jamie Lannister, Jon Snow… Bronn’s more of a rogue, I guess, but he’s still applicable for the template. Now look at the wide range of backstory we’ve got for each one of those characters- Disgraced and disfigured bodyguard of the prince, golden and handsome knight with questionable morals and, hmmm, “tastes”, a bastard son of a lord, and a conniving, gold-thirsty mercenary. All of them are as different as can be, and that’s what makes fighters great.
My favorite fighter character I’ve played is a great example. Because the fighter character is, let’s face it, “Who wants to hit stuff the hardest?” you get to create a really deep dude that hits stuff really hard. Wally Cleaver was a punderfully named chef and butcher who traveled with the rest of the party to find exotic recipes and spices, trying to collect as many culinary tips as possible in between goblin raids and what-not. He fought in a white chef’s hat and apron, and used a giant butcher’s knife as a weapon.
Why not have a big barbarian wielding a giant battleaxe in a sharp coat and tails, pouring tea for guests and generally being prim and proper? You could call him Axe Jeeves! In case you haven’t noticed, I love coming up with names first and going from there. If you have a character in mind, it’s up to you to add the accessories and traits to bring them to life, and if a pun is up your alley then by all means, go for it.
The Price of Being Unique
That brings me to my next point. If you’re a player that enjoys min-maxing, backstory-based accessories might not be for you. The cloth armor of a butler’s tuxedo does not make for an optimized barbarian, and the butcher’s knife or points put into cooking-related skills don’t always mean success in combat. Go ahead and min-max your characters, by all means. It’s your character, you can have that dude breaking down a castle wall by level 15. But I got to cook a meal for a king and harvest neat-looking vegetables, and that’s not something included in the fighter archetypes.
If you’re into dealing the most damage with the least amount of rolls, min-maxing can give you a flowchart of perks to pick, abilities to upgrade, and weapons to wield. You’ll be slicing off those Mind Flayer tentacles in no time, it’s true. In order to get a character that’s truly yours, you’re going to have to get off the beaten path a little. People pick big dumb fighters because, let’s face it, they work really well. But since when has picking what everyone else is doing been a tenant of Role Playing Games?
In closing, remember that fighters can sometimes get a bad rap. You don’t want a million Legolas-es clouding up your group’s ranger classes, so why does every fighter need to be Conan the Barbarian? Get out of the box, and get some creativity, even if it means a little bit weaker of a stat sheet.