Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Archetypes in D&D

A thread over on Dragonsfoot sparked this post. First of all, don't ever try to use logic on the internet; it's a complete waste of time. Further, no matter how valid your point, someone will figure out a way to call you stupid. I tried to be civil at first, but the incessant insistence (nice) that I was wrong was getting on my nerves. I really don't know why some of those guys were trying to "prove me wrong" anyway. I was fairly explicit that idealism and reality are two separate things, but they wanted to ignore that and stretch out the conversation so they could be right. Whatever. Sometimes I troll message boards, sometimes I don't. Might be a good time to go back to trolling on DF as it's fairly obvious most of the people there just have too much time on their hands (see earlier post on this blog).

WHATEVER. Done with that diatribe. My point in the thread was that the character classes in D&D are peripherally related to their literary counterparts, archetypes prevalent throughout heroic fantasy. The classes themselves do not directly model any specific character, but are amalgams of many different character-types. Thieves, for instance, are a combination of Cugel, The Grey Mouser, maybe a bit of Bilbo thrown in. Magic-users are Gandalf, Merlin, Rhialto and a bunch of other guys. I don't see how you can really argue this point as Gygax explicitly states his sources of inspiration. That said, D&D cannot really replicate any of these characters in-game. It sorta does, but to accurately reproduce Gandalf, for instance, is nigh impossible. You can make a MU called Gandalf, but he really won't be like Gandalf in LotR. There's nothing wrong with that, but it does demonstrate that D&D itself is its own genre of fantasy. MUs in D&D behave uniquely and have no analogous literary figure that is the archetypal definition of a D&D wizard.

Given that, D&D character classes replicate D&D archetypes, not literary archetypes. Again, nothing wrong with that. The game is fun. However, a problem crops up when people try to justify certain behaviors in-game by using the literal descriptions of the character classes. That doesn't work, mostly because the character classes, as written, really don't work properly within the context of the game. The classic example is the paladin. Literary references to paladins would not permit them to operate in a generic, dungeon crawling game. I highly doubt Charlemagne would go traipsing about in some dank cave, looking for a coffer of copper pieces, nor would he ask one of his knights to do the same. When you read the description of the paladin character class, the assumptions inherent to that description lead one to believe you're a knight of Charlemagne. But you're really not, you're a D&D paladin. It doesn't take much thought to figure this out. "Hey, D&D dungeon adventuring really wouldn't be something a paladin would do." The step that must be taken is to simply put the character class into the D&D context. The D&D paladin isn't really a knight of Charlemagne, he's a combination of characteristics that resemble those knights, but lives in a different universe with different assumptions. D&D = Greyhawk, which both resembles and differs from every other fantasy world out there. In Greyhawk, paladins go into dungeons to kill goblins. I can live with that, and it makes the class playable in the D&D context. Paladins praying, proselytizing and looking for grails is closer to the literature but don't make for a good game. Thus, for the game part, we need to hand-wave those "realistic" goals and have our paladins go into caves to look for lost treasure. Any sort of flimsy excuse works, even one so lame as "it's a game". In fact, this is the best excuse we can possibly come up with because it IS a game, nothing more. Trying to find some magical justification as to why paladins are killing orcs in caves as opposed to managing their money and trying to figure out a way to feed all their peasants this year is pretty boring. Sure, we can maybe say, "well the peasants are hungry, we need money", and thus the paladin goes to look for gold coins. That's still basically a hand-wave. Again, I have no problem with this, but it seems like a lot of people do. The classes, AS WRITTEN, have no legitimate reason to go out and adventure. Within the context of the D&D game, however, we must simply accept that they do adventure and in fact do it all the time. What's wrong with that? Nothing as far as I'm concerned. I can accept that the classes perform illogical actions on the basis of comparison, i.e. class write-ups vis-a-vis fantasy literature vs. D&D adventuring, because who really gives a fuck in the end? It's fun to have paladins go into wizard's towers and combat kobolds. I don't need any more justification than "fun".

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