Archetypes, Talents, and the Evolution of Character

After an interesting conversation in a chat room on MeWe, I came to realize that it was time to publish an article on one of the most important ways any given character may differentiate themselves within Faerie Tales & Folklore… Talents. I have written at length about class, lineage, the introduction line, magic, and many other aspects of the game in general. However, I never really delved into talents and how they were intended to be used within the world of the Mythological Earth. I hope to remedy this situation by using talents, along with other character choices, to build some of the most iconic class archetypes from the earliest editions of Dungeons & Dragons.

This article will be similar to my article “I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in Kansas Anymore”, in that it is an exploration of how the various subsystems in Faerie Tales & Folklore can be used in ways that might not be readily apparent. The Mythological Earth and the rules that support it are vast, sometimes a little insight into how those rules bring ideas to life are just the sort of tale a player or narrator needs to hear. With only three lineages, three classes, and a handful of professions, it can seem if some truly loved ideas must have been cast to the cutting room floor. However, this has not been the case. In the following paragraphs, I hope to state my case.

First let us get some page references out of the way to make this process easier to follow.

  1. The three available lineages are discussed on pages 25-37.
  2. The three available classes are detailed on pages 38-50.
  3. The twelve professions are briefly discussed on pages 59-62.
  4. Talents are covered on pages 70-75.

In addition to these basic references, it is also important to take a look at the idea of the “introduction line” on page 66, and the various archetypes offered on 625-633. All of this information aids in both understanding and utilizing the concepts offered in this article. It is probably a good idea to have at least a basic understanding of both the magic and combat systems, as many of the talents that will be mentioned below directly relate to either system and how they function. Now that the boring stuff is out of the way, let’s wade into the fun stuff…

The Assassin (Hashīshiyyīn, Shinobi-No-Mono or Thuggee)

To begin, I will attempt to recreate the assassin, inspired by the hashīshiyyīn told of in Marco Polo’s writings. These highly trained killers were religious warriors who used guerrilla tactics and terror to improve their odds of victory. Though this build is intended to recreate an individual of a specific culture and place in history, it makes a good basis for other zealous killers of history (such as the Shinobi-No-Mono or the Thuggee)

The lineage which best fits such a character is that of common men. It is the strong religious predilection of common men which makes them a near perfect fit. Add to this the ability to call upon deified spirits for miracles and drive off spirits fits well with the idea of a holy guerrilla warrior. The obvious choice for class is a sneak-thief. The skill set offered by this class is essential to creating an effective killer. As for profession, an assassin can come from any line of work or social standing, so this choice is free to use for color and customization.

Let’s now look at the talents which complete this build, listed from the least to the most costly.

  1. Pugilist (basic talent): It is important for most trained killers to be lethal no matter the situation they find themselves in.
  2. Swiftness (basic talent): Mobility is of paramount importance for the effective use of guerrilla tactics.
  3. Knack (standard talent): Many assassins take to the study of alchemy or chemistry in the attempt to learn more about poisons and under useful substances to aid in their goals. This talent offers a simple way to acquire such skills outside of profession.
  4. Militia (standard talent): The option of taking berserkr fits extremely well here. It is a shoe in for the “I complete my job or die trying” mentality. This option can also be a good substitute for a lack of armor.
  5. Training (standard talent): Understanding the proper use of a great many weapons is of a clear advantage to a dyed in the wool killer.
  6. Warrior (standard talent): Traditionally, the hashīshiyyīn eschewed using missile weapons, instead opting to focus on melee combat. This talent is also a prerequisite for specialization, a talent that is central to the build.
  7. Evade (expert talent): Being able to avoid detection until the moment of the strike and than vanish again before anyone knows what has happened, is the desire of most assassins. This talent can help realize such a goal.
  8. Specialization (mastery talent): Critical hits are an important portion of an assassins combat style. This talent ensures there will be a greater number of critical hits.
  9. Watchful (mastery talent): Being surprised is a death sentence for an assassin, being immune to surprise helps a bit.

This assassin build fills the more traditional descriptions of these often misunderstood killers. Though not strong in supernatural ability, this assassin is a cunning, efficient dealer of death. This is the thinking man’s warrior, the one who uses every available advantage to ensure the completion of their objectives. (Continued below)

The Bard (Rú, Shaman, or Skáld,)

This archetype is both loathed and loved, again with roots that go way back into the history of D&D. This is the true tabletop jack-of-all trades, a learned warrior who also wields the full might of magic. The bard, and other shamanic musicians, use music as a channel for the conjuration of otherworldly forces. These folks are often skilled in the arts of warfare as well as the history and mythology of their culture. Bards are the ones who tell the stories, it is they who shape how we remember and what we remember. Many, such as the shaman or rú, hold an almost religious significance among the people with whom they reside.

A bard is a complex archetype, with many possible variations on the theme. As such, defining the bard is going to be a bit involved. The lineage which best suits this archetype is that of a multi-class high man. This means that the class of the build is two fold, fighting-man and magic-user. This offers a plethora of abilities which make for a highly flexible and interesting role to play. The best profession for such a build is the variation of the traveling entertainer known as the bardd (page 540). As it offers the stronger position within the community.

A bard is likely to purchase a wide array of talents in support of their already vast skill set, though knowledge and leadership are commonly at the forefront.

  1. Swiftness (basic talent): Discretion is the better part of valor.
  2. Accurate (standard talent): This talent can be seen as optional, but should be taken if there is a greater desire for martial prowess.
  3. Knack (standard talent): A bard is likely to know at least one unusual skill of worth. Their worldly nature almost forces it.
  4. Legerdemain (standard talent): The enterprising bard can use subtle tricks to make a performance more memorable, make simple changes to their appearance, and other useful but relatively minor bits of magic.
  5. Militia (standard talent): The abilities of both commander and duelist are useful to the bard, and both can be had with his talent and the class of fighting-man.
  6. Warrior (standard talent): As with accurate (above), this talent affords improved combat prowess. Though handy, this remains an optional choice.
  7. Attribute (expert talent): A bard needs a better set of attributes than most to truly exemplify their role. This talent can and most often will be taken up to three times.
  8. Leaned (expert talent): A bard commonly possess a great deal of worldly knowledge.
  9. Natural (expert talent): This talent is very useful to all practitioners of the magical arts.
  10. Sharpshooter (expert talent): Many members of this “jack-of-all-trades” possess a frightening skill at weapons of all types, especially missile weapons. Nothing like an “impossible shot” to woo an audience.
  11. Gifted (mastery talent): An additional known spell is invaluable.
  12. Leader (mastery talent): This talent solidifies the bard as a voice of their community.
  13. Specialization (mastery talent): For those bards who have committed much to the art of war, this talent is the cap stone. In simple terms, critical hits finish fights quickly, and often with a dramatic flair.

In its bare unadorned form, this version of the bard, is the classic fighter/magic-user of many settings. With this build, true military might has been overshadowed by education and magical studies, but they are nonetheless capable on the battlefield. The bard, shaman, or skáld is a valued member of any community and, in places where the archetype flourishes, they often fill advisory roles to the leaders themselves. The additional options offered in this build’s talents create a truly formidable and well rounded character, by giving a strong boost to the archetypes combat abilities. It is worth noting that the amount of experience required to complete the more combat capable version of this build is a staggering sum. (Continued below)

The Cleric (Brahmin, Drui, or Paladin)

This archetype is a game table favorite almost everywhere, and for good reason. The cleric offers a decent midway point between a pure fighting-man and a magic-user. Recreating this archetype is a bit more difficult than some other archetypes, but in the end it offers more of the feel of a religious warrior. The cleric is often the spiritual voice of the community of which they are part, or at least one such voice. However, they are often the ones who ate first to rattle the sabers of war. Though the cleric is often seen in through the lens of Christianity, this build would suffice for the Hindu Brahmin, the Gael Drui, or a Magus of Mazdayasna.

The choice of lineage is also rather easy in this instance, it can only be a common man. Religion is almost exclusively practiced by common men within the Mythological Earth, thus the priesthood is most likely to be composed entirely of common men. As for class, it is a fighting-man which seems the best choice. Not only does this create a resilient warrior, but it allows for the lands and armies to further the territory of one’s beliefs. As for profession, ordained priest is the natural choice.

  1. Resistant (basic talent): It is more common for the religious zealot to find themselves facing all manner of otherworldly foe and the threats they bring to bear. This talent can help with the sting a bit.
  2. Hardened (standard talent): This talent can offer a good explanation for the mythical will of the faithful.
  3. Knack (standard talent): Most members of a priesthood are well educated for the era in which they live. This talent can be used to acquire many important skills which are often associated with the priesthood (such as chirurgery or herbalism).
  4. Militia (standard talent): Between the choice provided as fighting-men and that of this talent, the cleric may gain two of these important abilities. Of those available, berserkr can offer the feel of divine fury, while commander can improve the already impressive leadership abilities of fighting-men.
  5. Stamina (standard talent): This furthers the tireless will of the divinely driven.
  6. Learned (expert talent): As discussed previously, those of the priesthood regularly enjoy a much greater level of education.
  7. Tireless (expert talent): The will to persevere.
  8. Blessed (mastery talent): Divinely inspired heroes must face the most foul of foes. This talent helps ensure the cleric is equipped to face all manner of supernatural evils and should likely be taken twice.
  9. Leader (mastery talent): This truly caps the strength of the clerics leadership skills. At this point they can command large numbers of the faithful to meet threats of unimaginable horror.

This recreation of the old favorite gives a more grounded representation of the battle ready religious acolyte then some more “traditional” takes in TTRPGs, however, this cleric offers all the meat and potatoes required: leadership, miracles, rendering aid for the wounded, smiting the faithless, and the will to go on. To add a bit more paladin to the build, simply add the talent rider early in the builds evolution. (Continued below)

The Illusionist (Charlatan, Coyote, or Magician)

This archetype has been around since the early days of D&D. In this build however, I am going to take a possibly controversial approach to the central theme of the what it might actually mean to be an “illusionist”. With this build, we are going to focus on the charlatan, or trickster. As such, it will not be a wielder of powerful magics, but rather a cunning con man looking for a mark.

To begin we start with the question of lineage. Here again, only one seems appropriate for this archetype, a low man. By choosing enchantment, or shapechange as their optional ability, low men can cover a wide range of mythical tricksters. For class, the choice is a bit unusual, a sneak-thief. Again, the intent was not to make a powerful practitioner of the arcane arts, but rather a petty magician. To this end, the sneak-thief is a wonderful choice, especially when paired with the natural abilities of a low man. For a profession, an illusionist might be a cunning urchin, a merchant trader, a traveling entertainer, or a wanted outlaw. The choice is left open to allow a bit of customization.

It is very common for an illusionist, or other charlatans, to choose their talents around what happens when the gig is up and their mark turns sour. Although they are not true spell-casters, some do learn a bit of real magic as they progress.

  1. Swiftness (basic talent): Any con man will spend a good deal of time in flight. When a con goes wrong, this can help the illusionist flee the scene.
  2. Knack (standard talent): Some illusionists cultivate unusual skills like chirurgery or alchemy to lend some legitimacy to their cons.
  3. Legerdemain (standard talent): As low men, illusionists often have access to bits of magical ability. The tricks provided by legerdemain can add some believability to the showy nature of the charlatan.
  4. Evade (expert talent): When a con goes wrong and the mark wants to string you up, hiding is a fine choice to keep one out of harm’s way.
  5. Learned (expert talent): The more one knows, the easier it is to pull the wool over the eyes of others. This talent improves the illusionist’s basic knowledge.
  6. Merchant (expert talent): Many illusionists and charlatans are also sellers of curios and snake oil. Whether conning a populace out of hard earned money, or haggling over the prices of admission to shows, these folk benefit from this talent.
  7. Natural (expert talent): Though such tricksters are not known for their powerful magics, the ones they do know they tend know well.
  8. Gifted (mastery talent): This talent must usually be purchased before natural (above), but it provides an illusionist with a single spell. Should the low man possess the ability to enchant, they can create a scroll from which to learn their single spell.
  9. Watchful (mastery talent): Keeping an eye out for guardsmen and disgruntled marks is much easier when being surprised is impossible.

This illusionist or charlatan is just that, a magical fraud (for the most part). However, the skill set these individuals possess is quite useful for any group of intrepid adventurers or nefarious villains. The ability to manipulate large numbers of people with relative ease is an often overlooked skill. Tricksters of this nature are fairly common in the myths and fairy tales of our collective history. (Continued below)

The Monk (Martial Artist, Pugilist, or Wuxia)

The idea of the monk or martial artist also goes back to the early days of TTRPGs and has strong literary roots in the wuxia tales of China. Building this archetype in Faerie Tales & Folklore is quite easy, it just takes a good understanding of the rules and what they contain. This archetype will stretch the bounds of the game a bit, but should work out very nicely.

First, the choice of lineage again leaves one spectacular choice above the rest, a single class high man. The choice of optional ability is more open in this build. Strength can work for the martial artists famed for their inhuman physiques and impervious can work well for the classic “iron shirt” style. However, wirework is likely the most common and thematic of the available options. Class is another relatively easy but surprising choice, magi-user. By virtue, most wuxia tales border on the magical, and some even go to extremes with the supernatural capabilities of their heroes and villains. The magic-user offers such abilities in spades. Profession is also wide open for this build. The monk may come from nearly any background. Now, an important detail is that on page 552 and 553 there are rules for the “qinggong practitioner”. This variation on the single classed high man magic-user is tailor made for the monk, and this build will make use of the option.

The monk’s evolution through talents will generally focus on two things, toughness and the ability to cause mayhem with only one’s fists and feet.

  1. Pugilist (basic talent): This talent is now acquired as part of being a qinggong practitioner. This change will appear in the coming final release.
  2. Resistant (basic talent): This talent is a useful option for the “iron shirt” practitioner.
  3. Swiftness (basic talent): This talent bolsters the abilities of those with the wirework ability.
  4. Wrestler (basic talent): This talent works well (thematically) with monks who have chosen the strength ability.
  5. Hardened (standard talent): This talent fits well under the “iron shirt” repertoire.
  6. Knack (standard talent): Monks often know a bit about medicine and herbalism, this talent can help acquire such skills.
  7. Stamina (standard talent): This offers a good boost to the monk’s endurance, and allows these martial masters the ability to fight and move for extended periods.
  8. Warrior (standard talent): This talent opens the door for specializing in one’s fists, no more needs to be said.
  9. Learned (expert talent): As noted with the cleric (above) a monk is often privy to an education few others experience.
  10. Tireless (expert talent): This talent furthers the almost inhuman endurance of the monk, allowing them to outlast most foes (earthly or not). This talent is a must for those with the wirework ability.
  11. Blessed (mastery talent): A must for all styles of hand to hand combatant (especially those with the strength ability), blessed should be purchased twice (the second time is especially useful to finish up the “iron shirt”).
  12. Specialization (mastery talent): Lethal critical hits with one’s fists (or kicks) is simply par for the course.
  13. Watchful (mastery talent): The monk archetype is famed for its uncanny perception.

This build is certainly more complex and expansive than most, but so are the tales from which it spawned. An optional talent to further the more D&D inspired monk is to purchase militia and use it to gain berserkr. Any reasonable narrator should allow a player to change the reason for the prohibition of leaving the field of battle from rage, to honor.

It is important to speak briefly about the use of spontaneous magic, as this build is intended to utilize it. In the case of a monk, spontaneous magic is intended to support the characters expanded “qinggong” abilities by using the rules for magic. These abilities are not what would be considered “magical” and are thus not affected by anything disruptive to magic or the otherworldly. The use of spontaneous magic in this situation is intended to be extremely narrow. Such magic should amplify the abilities associated with their school of martial mastery, rather than being a catch all for whatever crazy feats the player has in mind. (Continued below)

The Ranger (An Fhèinne, Huntsman, or Ronin)

The ranger is a classic archetype with a strong following. However, of all the classic TTRPG roles, this one remains the least defined. The woodsman, scout, warrior, and traveler of the wilds seems somewhat of a tabletop jack-of-all-trades, however this archetype is not commonly known for its social skills. In this build, we are going to focus on the highly mobile ranged warrior.

To begin, the archetypes lineage will be a single class high man preferably choosing the abilities of strength or wirework. The class will certainly be that of a fighting-man. Even the profession is a relatively easy choice, skilled ranger. These choices provide a good measure of the classic archetype already. However, with the right investments in talents, we can really bring out the best of this role.

  1. Swiftness (basic talent): Mobility is paramount for a missile based warrior. This talent offers fine start in improving that mobility.
  2. Accurate (standard talent): This talent improves missile weapon effectiveness and opens the door for specialization.
  3. Legerdemain (standard talent): A ranger often knows many tricks that seem to defy natural law: starting fires anywhere, tracking where no tracks seem to exist, and surviving through nearly impossible environments. This talent can account for some measure of that knowledge.
  4. Militia (standard talent): To get the ranger “feel”, it will be wise to choose archer with the fighter class ability, and mounted archer with this talent.
  5. Rider (standard talent): Almost every wanderer of the wild can ride, most ride very well.
  6. Sharpshooter (expert talent): A ranger should have the capacity to perform stunning feats of missile combat. This talent makes such feats much easier.
  7. Gifted (mastery talent): Many rangers acquire some measure of true magic, though nothing like the magic-user. Even a single spell can radically change the capabilities of a ranger.
  8. Specialization (mastery talent): This talent makes critical hits much more common.
  9. Watchful (mastery talent): Not being surprised is quite handy for a missile based combatant.

This version of the ranger fills most of the traditional points: a little magic, a lot of nature, and a heaping pile of raining doom upon the enemy. In addition, they possess the leadership abilities of a fighting-man, making the Robin Hood concept easy to realize. In the end, it makes for a thoughtful warrior with more than a few tricks up their sleeves. This archetype offers a player a bit of everything fantasy has to offer, while being stylistically more grounded than some of the more fantastic archetypes. (Continued below)

The Wizard (Bruja/Brujo, Leech, or Wu/Xi)

The Wizard is the last of the traditional archetypes, and one that shall be followed as closely as possible. Being the learned magic-user, this build will focus on scholarly and magical pursuits. Most earthly cultures have their myths of the speakers to spirits, healers, or curse throwers, the lot of them shall be distilled here for simplicity. The wizard is such a defined archetype, older, strange, oddly dressed, and prone to blather. These beings become forces of nature in the fullness of time and experience.

The lineage of a wizard truly has only a single option (yes, again), and that would be the low man who possesses the enchantment ability. This provides the ever important ability to create items of magical ability as well as write scrolls to pass on magical knowledge. Of course, the magic-user is the obvious only answer to the question of class, and this truly needs little explanation. As to profession, there are several standouts: animal breeder is useful for wizards who fancy wildlife; the landed noble offers a wizard legal cover and the resources to explore magic to the fullest; traveling entertainer provides a fine reason for the wizard to be itinerant; while wanted outlaw may show them to be of the darker variety of spell caster.

This wizardly build will focus on the accumulation of magical ability and scholastic knowledge. The choices of talents should reflect this pursuit.

  1. Resistant (basic talent): A wizard is more accustomed to the perils of the elements and of the things which bump in the night.
  2. Knack (standard talent): Most wizards cultivate an odd array of unusual skills, such as: alchemy, chirurgery, herbalism, tinkering, etc.
  3. Legerdemain (standard talent): This provides a spell based wizard the ability to play with spontaneous magic a bit. It offers the caster a slew of tricks to make their lives seem more magical.
  4. Stamina (standard talent): Casting spells can be tiring, this talent gives the wizard a bit more room before fatigue sets in.
  5. Learned (expert talent): If knowledge is power, the wizard is king.
  6. Natural (expert talent): The ability to cast a spell instantaneously and without a role is a benefit that cannot be ignored.
  7. Tireless (expert talent): Again, casting spells is a tiring process.
  8. Ageless (mastery talent): Yes, a wizard needs this talent.
  9. Gifted (mastery talent): Magic-users do not receive too many spells, access to another one is invaluable.

This wizard feels right at home filling its classic role. It has a substantial amount of magical power, a strong background in knowledge and understanding, as well as a bit more in the tank to keep them going when it is most important. To give this build a bit more of a practical feel, take the talent Merchant early on to create a hedge wizard, or traveling curio dealer. This option works well with the profession of merchant trader, creating a worldly wizard of uncommon practicality and mystery.

This list includes most, if not all of the class options drawn from the first couple of editions of D&D and how to recreate them in Faerie Tales & Folklore. While creating these builds, I did focus on how each should be presented within the framework of the Mythological Earth. This ethic, seen throughout the game itself, steered me toward the “low magic” cleric and illusionist builds, as well as the well rounded ranger. As a game, Faerie Tales & Folklore was designed to allow a high degree of customizability while still maintaining the tenants of the implied setting. Offering simple ways to modify a character or villain, allows narrators and player’s tools to feel more connected with their characters… Because they built them.

Talents are to characters and villains what themes and plot points are to settings and campaigns. They are additional tools that can be used as they are needed. A great deal of the rules within Faerie Tales & Folklore are just that, an expanded tool kit to deliver a certain flavor of historical fantasy. Though many of the rules are difficult, if not impossible, to ignore without breaking the setting, many others can be used or set aside as needed to tell the tale being told. That said, look for a few more talents to be added to the final publication of the game. There are a few holes that still need to be filled in the “customization of class” concept.

As I find myself saying when this point of an article arrives, I hope to have provided a modicum of inspiration and information by which one can better craft their ideas into effective gaming creations. This was a fun exercise, one that I needed to undertake for a good while now, and I hope it is well received. Enjoy your time at the game table friends. Be well…

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