Heroic Archetypes – What Kind of Hero Are You?

by Alton (Marc Talbot) on April 9, 2013

a-to-z-letters-hWhy do we play our favourite RPGs? In my opinion it’s because we like to be social, hang out with friends, and enjoy their company after a hard week at work or school. It’s because it gives us an avenue to create and play in a land that is far away from real life for a few hours. It’s because these games give us an outlet to be creative with our characters, to model our own desires to be something that we cannot normally be in this society.

RPGs like D&D give me the chance to be a hero. I love rescuing the damsel in distress, defeating the evil overlord, or even slaying the ravaging iconic Dragon that laid the countryside to waste. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, literally and figuratively. Heroes and heroic tales are one of the most powerful forms of fiction.

It should come as no surprise to learn that heroes present themselves in as many facets as icosahedrons (d20s). So what kind of hero are you?

Throughout April Dungeon’s Master is participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge is to write a new article ever day in April, excluding Sundays. That’s 26 articles over the course of the month. To make things even more interesting the title of each article will begin with a different letter of the alphabet. Today Dungeon’s Master welcomes guest poster Alton (a.k.a. Marc Talbot) author of the gaming blog 20ft Radius. “H” is for Hero as Alton shares five popular archetypes with us.

The Epic Hero

When I think Epic hero, I think of superheroes in costumes and tights like Superman and Batman. Modern fiction has stereotyped this hero, but superhero is not the only way to describe an Epic hero. They can be described as characters that possess extraordinary or superhuman powers and are protectors of the people. D&D characters may not have Superman’s powers but some of the things they can do certainly seem extraordinary or superhuman.

The superhero will defend and protect the people of their surroundings. This type of hero tends to be a community based character, and will defend their communities with zeal and gusto.

Examples of an Epic hero include Bruenor Battlehammer from R.A. Salvatore’s Legend of Drizzt series.

The Chosen One

A lot of fiction drives their stories around the idea of a chosen one. For example, Luke Skywalker is a chosen one, the one who will bring back balance to the Force. A lot of D&D campaigns are also based around the idea of a chosen one, whether the character is an NPC or even one of the player characters themselves.

The chosen one is a character who is destined to save the world and is usually the only person who can. This character is heroic, but usually starts the story unable to see what they are supposed part of. The character is not normally exposed to danger at the beginning, and is usually hidden from the danger because the parents or guardian know the significance of this character’s birth. The character is thrown into action at some pivotal point in the story.

Besides Luke Skywalker, another example of this is Falon of Nenlast from Bill Slavicsek’s novel The Mark of Nerath.

A subtype of this type of hero is the Unwilling hero. He’s an unwilling participant in the greater scheme of things and usually ends up saving the world.

The Anti-Hero

An Anti-Hero is a character who disregards the rules and consequences of society. They tend to be outlaw-ish and tend to have no status in society. They hang on the fringes and have a tendency to reject society; rejecting its values, rules and popular attitudes. This person is usually a loner, and seeks to try and establish their own sense of rules and ethics.

Life is often hard for the Anti-Hero. Poverty and a horrible family life often causes these heroes to be failures, crude, angry and dishonest. They lack some of the redeeming qualities of the Epic hero. Sometimes this hero is also confused with the villain, although when given a choice, the Anti-Hero chooses to fight on the good side.

The vigilante character the Punisher, and “The Dude” from the Big Lebowski are good examples of Anti-Heroes.

The Antagonist Hero

Sometimes in my games we decide to play evil characters and we go in with the attitude that we are the best and that we are going to wreak havoc on the rest of the world. Unfortunately there is always someone bigger, badder and more evil than we are.

We have to defeat that evil to establish our dominance in the hierarchy of this evil world forcing us to become the antagonist heroes. These heroes have to be “good” and defeat a greater evil than themselves, sometimes saving others, which essentially makes them good-like characters. They are essentially evil, but become heroes to selfishly achieve their goals.

Lorcan, the Cambion devil in “The Brimstone Angels” series by Erin M. Evans and Artemis Entreri as depicted in R. A. Salvatore’s Sellswords trilogy are good example of Anti-Heroes.

The Gothic Hero

The Gothic hero is old beyond their time and wise beyond their years. This hero is usually burdened by a secret; a secret so profound that guilt follows them everywhere and affects their actions and interactions. These characters tend to be highly intelligent and imaginative, but have a proud and reckless side to them.

These heroes often have a personal system of law that is cumbersome and unconventional to their psyche. Strong and sensitive, they relate to a lot of the characters who are deemed evil and are somewhat easily duped.

Tanis Half-Elven from the Dragonlance series is a good example of a Gothic hero.

The heroes presented here are the ones that are most prominent in fantasy literature and our gaming tables. Whether you are aware of it or not, we tend to use these archetypes in everything we do at our gaming table, be it for our characters, our storylines, or our NPCs.

What type of hero do you play? Do you have a character that currently fits into one of these heroic types? Do they have great stories to tell? Share some of them with us.

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1 Timothy Brannan April 9, 2013 at 11:29 am

The anti-hero has been popular for a very long time. So popular that I am beginning to dislike the guy!

I am rather fond of the Reluctant Hero. They guy that was in the wrong place at the wrong time while the Chosen One was out having a burger. The Scooby Doo and Shaggys of the world.

2 Svafa April 9, 2013 at 1:30 pm

I’m a big fan of tragic heroes, and almost all of my characters have some aspect of the role. I’m typically already plotting how to bring misfortune and ultimately death to my characters during character creation. I seem to rarely start prior to their downward spiral though, and am almost always beginning with them already on the road to misery; Svafa, who I use as a pseudonym, is the only one I can think of that I began prior to her tragic falling (and may be the only one to surpass her death becoming a redemptive figure, but I left her final outcome intentionally vague).

Thinking about it, this extends even to my DMing. The villains I build are rarely out-and-out evil, and instead fundamentally flawed characters who make poor choices or are swept into dire circumstances by chance or an external power. Doesn’t excuse the evil they do, but I think makes for a more interesting character who believes they are doing the right thing or that they don’t have any other choice.

3 Sarah April 9, 2013 at 6:59 pm

None of my characters have ever really been heros; more like background characters backing up the rest of the group. Mainly because I go for the elf ranger side more than the hero stuff! I have played an evil character before though, backstabbing and shape shifting which was the most fun I’ve ever had playing!

By the way, I just set up a shop/blog selling cartoony D&D designs: http://thescurvydwarf.wordpress.com/ 🙂

4 Eilleen June 25, 2013 at 12:29 am

The Reluctant Hero sounds like a lot of fun and that is exactly what our DM has planned for us! Of course, I was going more for the Wandering Hero, like Kenshin Himura, The Battousai… but is a group story of how we all came together… Wrong place + wrong time!

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