Battling Burnout: Part 3 - The Usual Cast of Characters
In this week’s edition of Battling Burnout, I would like to share with you a tip about character building which I am calling: The Usual Cast of Characters!
What happens when you are trying to build a new NPC from the ground up, but you have no idea what their inner drives are? In just a few words, how would you describe them? If I was playing a character like Gimli from Lord of the Rings, I wouldn’t say he was just a dwarf with an axe. Instead, I would say that he was a stalwart warrior, dutiful yet suspicious of elven kind. So how do I find natural character elements if none spring instantly to mind? I would like to consider that you build your new adventurer from classic archetypes and character forms.
Once we know their fears and goals, we connect with them, even the villains of the piece, much more deeply. Effective characters often have strong archetypal qualities. They have sensibilities we have seen before. Archetypes recur in fiction because they mimic real people’s similarities and differences.
There are various sets of character archetypes that you could sort through, both academic and fictional; most of which have similarities that stretch between them due to their universality. Take for example the Jungian archetypes. Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung proposed that archetypes are highly developed archaic images that derive from the collective unconscious and are the psychic counterpart of instinct. This means, we are all coded with similar storytelling imagery, and we have had it since birth. From these images emerge common motifs such as the mother, the child, the trickster, and the flood, among many others. We will come back to these archetypes specifically later in a character building exercise.
Since I already brought up Gimli, son of Gloin, let’s do the same thing and look at some of the Lord of the Rings archetypes. The pauper king (Aragorn), the enigmatic magician (Gandalf), the clever thief (Bilbo), the fallen brother (Boromir), the shadow (Sauron), the maiden of purity (Arwen), the warrior handmaiden (Eowyn), the golem (Gollum), the keen hunter (Legolas), the ancient lord and lady (Elrond & Galadriel), the twins (Merry & Pippin), the dark magician (Saruman), and the fool (Wormtongue). These character types have been recurring in stories of wizards and warriors even before Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth became the fuel for a legion of modern day novelists and game designers.
Tolkien’s influence on what we imagine today to be the races of elves, dwarves, and goblins is very strong. There is something magical about an elven city, with its ancient architecture and infusion of magic around every corner. And where would a ruckus tavern sing-a-long be without a drunken dwarf leading the patrons in a ballad of valor and conquest? What better foe is there than a lurking horde of slimy green-skinned goblins, ransacking a town and making off with its treasures?
Use this iconography and archetypes to make comfortable and approachable characters. You can see what imagery best fits their goals and their strengths. My dwarven character could be suspicious of all elves and creatures of magical origin. He would be brave and loyal, steadfast and honest, grim but yet willing to laugh once the battle has concluded. Give your character depth, let them make realistic choices based on who and what they are. When you let them do what we expect them to do, we are all the more swayed by them when they finally act in unpredictable ways.
I have two character building exercises this week. The first one will be something that I came up with especially for this blog entry to serve as a random character building tool. The second is a continuation of last week’s character building exercise, where I outfit the Hero’s Journey with the inclusion of archetypes to build personalities. Enjoy!
Character Building Exercise #1:
If you have a set a polyhedral dice, get them ready for this exercise. If you don’t, I am sure you can find an auto dice roller or number generator on your phone. You will need a 12 sided die (or a d12) for this exercise as we are building a random character. If not, you can just pick a number between 1 and 12; it’s for fun! Sometimes you can get interesting and conflicting results, which makes for an interesting personality, however, if you find a character trait that is in total opposition to something else that doesn’t work for you, just re-roll.
The first number you roll will be a character role or influence based on Carl Jung’s archetypes, although they are merged together with some other academic sources such as from Carl Golden with my own reinterpretations. First listed is their inner archetype, followed by their strongest goal, then their deepest fear. Then follows their personal alignment, which may or may not create conflict with other characters with whom they are allied.
Roll your 12 sided die.
The Sage Knowledge Deception Lawful
The Ruler Prosperity Overthrown Lawful
The Innocent Happiness Punishment Lawful
The Orphan Belonging Exclusion Altruistic
The Caregiver Help Others Selfishness Altruistic
The Lover Connection Isolation Altruistic
The Jester Levity & Fun Boredom Unorthodox
The Rebel Revolution No Power Unorthodox
The Explorer Freedom Entrapment Unorthodox
The Creator Realize Vision Mediocrity Self-Interested
The Hero Change World Weakness Self-Interested
The Magician Alter Reality Unintended Results Self-Interested
The second number you roll will be a characters overall disposition based on the four temperaments that originated with Hippocrates. Roll another 12 sided die. If you land on a number between the four main temperaments listed, you will be somewhere between the two. For example, a roll of 3 would place you between Sanguine and Phlegmatic, but with lower energy than Sanguine.
Roll your 12 sided die.
Sanguine: Positive mentality, very optimistic. Bounces back from defeats.
Carefree & easy going
Controlled & reliable
Phlegmatic: Introverted, low energy but balanced. Calm and rational, but could be considered dull.
Careful & passive
Reserved & rigid
Melancholic: Emotional, they dwell on the past and are pessimistic. They take time to recover from failure.
Anxious & moody
Restless & restless
Choleric: Extroverted, hot-tempered and fiery. They are ambitions but can be negative and irritable.
Impulsive & active
Talkative & outgoing
Lastly, we will select an issue that they might be dealing with, an imbalance if you will, based on Jung’s archetypes of the collective unconscious. This roll of a 12 sided dice is optional, if you want to add something deep in their subconscious that they might be working on. This subsection is VERY open to interpretations.
Roll your 12 sided die.
1,2,3- The Self – Individualization and wholeness, integrity of mind, striving toward completion. The character is coming to grips with diverse pieces of their lives. They want to make it all make sense, to make themselves make sense. To bring themselves to unity with who they should be, possible through religious or spiritual faith.
4,5,6- The Shadow- Repression, weakness, wildness, darkness, remnant of instinctual animal past. Here your character may be trying to understand their darker impulses, or an unruliness within themselves. They may want to reintegrate the shadow that was once split from them. Or, they may be prone to nightmares, dark visions, impulses, or hallucinations.
7,8,9- The Anima/Animus – Balance of feminine/masculine, true self, roles and urges. They are not acting on their natural impulses, which may be repressed love or taking on a role that they feel they should. Maybe they want to take on a gender role which goes against another principle or the society around them.
10,11,12- The Persona – Social masks, shield from negativity, pretense. They are always putting on a show, acting as if they are someone else or hiding behind another emotion. They could deny negativity, shielding themselves from the reality of their tribulations. They could also have strong desires to be someone or something other than what they are, desiring a collective to remove them from the true self that they are denying.
How did you fare? For fun, I rolled for my dwarf. He came out as The Lover, so he craves connections and hates being alone. He is Impulsive and Active, so he is always jumping to conclusions and doing what seems fun, trying to meet new people. I went through the third step and landed on The Persona, which I am interpreting to mean his anxiety exists when he feels excluded, so he has learned to put on masks to blend in with others. He desires companionship and he hasn't learned yet how to be happy alone or in a monogamous relationship, which would ultimately be the best thing for him.
Character Building Exercise #2:
Continued from last week, we are building a new character who is undergoing a form of the Hero’s Journey. As I stated before, the hero’s temptation is the paragon of virtue that they encounter, or maybe something in that regard.
I see my character as a female, which might help me focus on WHO she is a little more clearly. Sorting through archetypes I see her starting as an Innocent, but she becomes the Orphan fairly early on in the story. She began as Talkative and Outgoing, but after the loss of her father figure (the selfless Caregiver), she becomes more Reserved and Rigid. She also shifts from desiring just to be happy with her father, to needing somewhere to belong.
The paragon of virtue she encounters would be someone offering her a course in life, and a new belonging. She meets a soldier, a Hero archetype, who wants to Change the World. She’s afraid to be alone and so she accepts. Joining with this Hero archetype to train with his elite guardsmen group, she is brought along into a new world of adventure. She desires to take penitence for what she believe to be her father’s inability to complete his mission, eventually discovering that her father was murdered by the Hero. The Hero was afraid and angered by the actions of the Caregiver, seeing the man’s desire to Help Others as a sign of Weakness. The recognition of this betrayal and her confrontation with the Hero leads the girl to face her final trial.
Join me again next time as I continue this exercise with the same character, fleshing her out even more in next week's Battling Burnout.