Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Aspects & Archetypes: What Makes You a Hero

We talk a lot about playing different "kinds" or "types" of Heroes, when we talk about HJ, usually because we want it to be possible to do all kinds of different heroic stuff without being pigeonholed. But although we say that you can be different kinds of Heroes, we haven't really gone in-depth about what that means, so today seems like a good time for that!

Obviously, Heroes are people, so there's all the nuance of every possibility for a person involved here, but they also have large commonalities in mythology, folklore, modern storytelling, and everyday life. HJ models heroic "types" with two major systems: the Aspects and the Archetypes. (And if you were confusing the two you weren't the first, so hopefully this post will help with that!)

Basically, Archetypes are about motivation and purpose, and Aspects are about skills and actions.

You've all heard plenty about Aspects already, since they're the main stats that Heroes use to do things. The point of Aspects is that they let a Hero do things that kind of Hero should be able to do - if a Hero wants to be a fighter, they take points in Warrior to illustrate that they're embodying that concept, and if they want to be a wise scholar who helps out their group with secret knowledge, they take points in Sage so that they'll be good at that. Nothing is stopping anyone from calling themselves a "warrior" without buying any dots, or even from sometimes doing warrior-style feats (like Striving for Glory to punch a guy, for example), but it would be exceptionally hard to have a character really be a Warrior if they are not actually good at anything the Warrior Aspect allows them to do. Heroes can have any number of the seven Aspects at various levels, although most will have two or three that really define their heroic role. (Also, obviously, there are Talents within Aspects that further specialize them, so even if you and your buddy are both Leaders, one of you may be all about the Diplomacy and Purpose and the other all about the Sovereignty and Tactics and see a pretty small amount of overlap.)

On the other hand, a Hero's Archetypes - of which they have two, the better to illustrate that Heroes are very rarely just one thing, although they do have the option of functionally abandoning one of them if they want to - are about why they're a Hero in the first place. The Archetype tells everyone why a Hero does what they do and what pushes them to go out and try to affect the world instead of staying home and never becoming the focus of a story, and the mechanic rewards them with progression when they fulfill this role they chose for themselves. Someone with the Ruler Archetype is a Hero because they want to impose their will on people and create new systems or order, and someone with the Artisan Archetype is a Hero because they want to create new things and feelings that have a lasting impact on society. They don't necessarily need to be good at those things, because unlike Aspects, Archetypes are about motivation - an Artisan might actually not be a very good artist or inventor, but as long as they keep trying and they work toward affecting the world in that way, they are still fulfilling that role.

For most characters, you end up with a pretty nuanced character description just from the Aspects plus the Archetypes: a character probably has three of one and two of the other that matter, which gives you a lot of information about who they are, what they do, and why they do it in a handful of stats. To use long-suffering playtest character Bernard as an example, he's a Sage/Creator/Hunter with Citizen/Savior Archetypes, and that's a pretty good portrait of what he actually is in action: a smart, somewhat vaguely goofy magician who heals his friends and talks to animals, and who is doing all these things because he thinks it's important to help people in need and keep his community safe and healthy. One of those things being different would change his character focus, which means that it's totally possible to have multiple Heroes who have the same skills (Aspects and Talents) but who do radically different things with them because they have those skills for different reasons (Archetypes).

So, for example: Odysseus and Horus are both broadly Tricksters, and probably have a lot of investment in the Trickster Aspect. If you specialized them further, you might say that Odysseus is a Trickster/Sage/Warrior, and that Horus is a Trickster/Warrior/Leader, so that now you have one Aspect's difference between the two but still some similar stats in play. But then if you add in Archetypes, you might say Odysseus is a Trickster/Sage/Warrior with the Citizen/Explorer Archetypes, and that Horus is a Trickster/Warrior/Leader with the Rebel/Ruler Archetypes, and now we have two very different characters: one guy who uses his Trickster & Warrior skills to do whatever it takes to explore new vistas but also take care of his followers and community at home, and one who uses them to fight against an unjust authority and seize power for himself instead.

The idea here is to give players lots of different ways to express the ideas behind the Hero they create and play, and to be able to tell stories that have resonating common themes without falling into the problems of "this group doesn't need two Lovers, we're just doing the same thing all the time" if they don't want to double down on having more than one person take on the same specialties. Good for the story, good for the game!

By the way, there is actually a third layer of this in play if you have a Mysticism-heavy Sage in your group: they have a Blessing that lets them determine the "role" a hero is destined to play in the current Saga and help push them into it, so that you might end up with even more specificity and complexity added to what you're doing at the moment. This Blessing lets Sages assign one of six common mythological hero classifications - for example, the "action Hero" (Beowulf) or "folk Hero" (Johnny Appleseed) or "sacrificial Hero" (King Arthur) - that gives the Hero who takes on that role additional benefits and responsibilities in a more short-term kind of way.

A fun game we sometimes play, when we're hours into working on something and need the break, is to grab a few famous Heroes from either mythology or pop culture and try to figure out their Aspect/Talent/Archetype/role setup, which ends up with some fun details where you can see characters becoming different from one another in spite of having similar overall themes. Our pick the other night was Neo from The Matrix, who after a little discussion we decided was probably a Creator/Sage/Trickster with the Magician/Rebel Archetypes, who depending on the movie was first the Action Hero, then the Culture Hero, and finally the Sacrificial Hero in each of his three stories.


  1. For those of us playing along at home, I think it would be nice if we knew a little bit more about the archetypes... we've been told so many things about what the aspects and talents do that I could arguably assign them to characters in my sleep by now :)

    But archetypes we know very little of beyond their names... which in cases like ruler or rebel are usually enough, but what on earth did a magician do? Besides magic, presumably.

    1. Good point! I think we probably posted some about what Archetypes do mechanically back in the day, but we never really talked about what ones there are or what they do on a more story-defined level. Let me put that together into another blog post for y'all, since it'll probably be a little long for a comment. :)

      Ironically, you don't have to do magic to have the Magician Archetype. Although most people probably do.