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Personality Archetypes

In super hero comic books characterization is seldom one of the fine points—more favored are fast action and exciting plots. In order to compensate for the relative two dimensionality of its characters, the super hero genre has the concept of "team personalities." Each character in a team book epitomizes one trait common to the human psyche—aggressiveness, discipline, responsibility, serenity, impulsiveness, or one of many others.
     In doing so, the characterization and psychological struggles then become externalized rather than internalized, interactive rather than personal. When the team captures a villain and the question of what to do with him arises, the aggressive character presses for killing him, leaving the innocent gasping at the thought of blatant murder. The serene one councils for the sanctity of all life, while the romantic feels the fool has surely learned his lesson. These conflicts are the basis of the team book, and also make for great role-playing situations.
     To bring this into V&V, each player should select an archetype for their character. This is not to say that the character can't have depth, quirks and history; they just have a noticeable bent. The common super-hero archetypes appear below, with a brief description of each. The personality archetypes for the characters in a group should be chosen by the players together, as a team of all serene or aggressive characters becomes remarkably one-dimensional in play.
     Personality archetypes can change in play, but the changes have to be believable and gradual. These are just a role playing tool, however—nothing more, nothing less. GMs might dock experience points for playing way out of type, but that's it. They are not integral and can be skipped. I like them just because they mirror the comic book team dynamic, and work well to set up a good group dynamic among the players.

  • Aggressive: Hey, sometimes violence is the only solution, and usually it's the best one. Think with your fists, have a short fuse, and take yourself too seriously. When it comes time to lay down the guns and think of a better way, aggressive characters will keep fighting out of sheer anger or stubbornness.

  • Arrogant: You know that your right, and more important, you know that most of the people around you are wrong. Why you suffer these fools is beyond you, but they are useful sometimes. Your arrogance can stem from your powers, your intellect or your upbringing, but it is rooted in your belief of your innate superiority.

  • Artistic: The urge to create permeates you, and no work is ever finished. The artist need not just be painters and singers—architects building the city or teachers molding their students are artists as well. Strive for beauty and perfection, because it is in striving for the unattainable that we become human.

  • Bitter: The world's a crock, and you know it. Cynical, nasty and sometimes cruel, someone or something hurt the bitter character once, or maybe several times, and you'll never let that happen again. You have few friends, little trust and no faith in human nature, except in that it will always turn against you.

  • Comedic: When it doubt, pun. When you're sure, crack a joke. Keep the jokes coming, as no situation is complete without them. Comedic characters aren't insane—they just see the funny side of things. If something has no funny side, feel free to be serious. For a little while.

  • Disciplined: A place for everything and everything in its place. This isn't a game, and peoples' lives are at stake. You, and your team, have to be in peak condition and perfect form all the time. Don't let anger get in the way of efficiency, keep the talk to a minimum, and get the job done. When there is no emergency, you can lighten up some. Disciplined is a classic archetype for the team leader.

  • Driven: Driven characters are very much like disciplined ones who have gone too far over the edge. Pick a goal, hopefully an impossible one—the end to organized crime, for example That's your life. Sleep? A waste of precious time. Friendships? Too encumbering. Hate? Clouds the mind. Love? Ditto.

  • Follower: You are someone who prefers taking orders, and doesn't like to take charge. There is nothing that says that you are slow, stupid, or docile—you just like to stay in the background, offering advice perhaps. The spotlight, or, heaven forbid, command, is your worst nightmare.

  • Honorable: Your word is your bond. A loss of face is equivalent to a loss of life. Respect an honorable foe, despise a dishonorable one. Honorable characters live by a very strict code and will not break it. If you must break it, or do so by mistake, penance must be paid, salvation sought, honor redeemed.

  • Impulsive: Act first, act second, think third. For an impulsive character, looking before you leap is a cardinal sin. No foe is too tough, no trap too obvious. This doesn't mean that you won't ask for help once you screw up, but sitting around talking is boring! Better to act, and pay the piper later.

  • Innocent: The world is a great, big, wonderful place, full of exciting things and friendly people. An innocent is never prepared for the many faces of evil. She will revolt against the blatant, but walk right into the subtle. If the character loses her innocence, she will often turn to Bitter, Loner or Responsible as a new archetype, depending on the nature of her fall from grace.

  • Insecure: The insecure character lacks a feeling of self esteem, or personal worth, and most importantly, of confidence. She will constantly turn to others for support, advice, or instruction, and too often believe the worst about herself before she considers the best. An insecure character will often try to hide that nature behind a facade of another archetype, but always go too far.

  • Loner: You work best by yourself, and can't figure out why you encumbered yourself with this team. If the opportunity comes up for you to do something on your own, take it (this is not an impulsive act, nor an egotistical one—don't do it if you won't succeed, and don't overestimate your abilities just to try it). If you must be with a group, follow these rules: speak when spoken to; don't offer opinions; look for an opportunity to be alone whenever possible. Pleasant chit-chat is anathema to you—avoid it at all costs.

  • Rational: Everything in the world makes sense, just as long as you look at it in the right way. Puzzles and problems intrigue you, and you firmly feel that there is not situation a dedicated mind can't work its way around. The character could turn unemotional, relying on cold logic, or could simply use deductive reasoning and cause and effect as all purpose tools.

  • Repentant: You have some error in your past, which you must atone for. This is usually something fairly large, but you feel guilt easily and see things through the lens of your previous shame. This is similar to responsible, but not identical, as it is much more focused.

  • Responsible: People need protection, and you're just the person to do it. Make sure no one gets hurt, be it physically, psychologically or emotionally. If someone is hurt, help them however you can—console, commiserate and heal. This can be a martyr complex on the part of the character, or just a love of all humanity.

  • Romantic: You don't have opponents—you have archenemies. You don't fight in brawls—instead engaging in duels of honor. You never have a crush on someone—you are smitten with love at first sight. Never walk when you can run, never jump when you can fly. Nothing is small—it is huge, grandiose, worthy of memory in story and song. The romantic is a lover of life, perhaps a little innocent, but always fun to be around.

  • Serene: Serene characters are the wise, religious part of human psyche. All life is sacred and has value. Everyone is important in some way. Calm wisdom and faith will provide a way. Life has meaning and purpose. This is not to say that the character must be a pacifist, or inactive in her meditations, just that she values a cool head and communication over conflict.

Brief Sample Teams

The Host

  • Apollyon (Serene)
  • Rashiel (Artistic)
  • ENOCH (Bitter)
  • Uriel (Aggressive)
  • Zachriel (Romantic)

The Revolution

  • Needle (Rational)
  • Phoenix Talon (Aggressive)
  • Lucky Charm (Driven)
  • Scott Silver (Innocent)
  • Albert Smith (Arrogant)
  • Promethean (Repentant)

Golden Era X-Men

  • Cyclops (Dedicated)
  • Wolverine (Aggressive/Loner, then Honorable)
  • Storm (Serene)
  • Nightcrawler (Romantic)
  • Colossus (Artistic)
  • Ariel (Innocent)

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Copyright © 1998 Brian Rogers