45 Master Characters – A GM Resource Review

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0825

Roleplaying Tips reader Jim B. sent this great overview of a GM resource I thought you might be interested in. Thanks Jim!

Hi Johnn,

I’d like to suggest a good resource book for GMs: 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, 2011. The book is written for fiction writers, but it lends itself well to RPG settings of various sorts. It provides great material for developing major and secondary NPCs. It could also inspire players when they’re designing their own characters.

Most of the book is about hero and villain archetypes. It uses 8 goddesses (7 Greek, 1 Egyptian) and 8 gods (again, 7 Greek, 1 Egyptian) as models for hero and villain archetypes.

The hero/villain chapters each revolve around one god or goddess, offering hero and villain variations of the type. Each of these chapters includes:

  • A name for the heroic version (The Seductive Muse, The Amazon, etc.).
  • A general description of the type.
  • What the type cares about.
  • What the type fears.
  • What motivates the type.
  • How others see the type.
  • How the character’s story arc might progress (good for developing an NPC’s backstory).
  • Good pairings with other archetypes (good for developing a heroic/villainous NPC’s partner, lieutenant, mentor, rival, or family member). The pairings can offer a useful counterpoint or a source of conflict for the main NPC.
  • The type’s assets.
  • The type’s flaws.
  • The villainous version of the type (The Femme Fatale, The Gorgon, etc.) and how it compares and contrasts with the heroic version.
  • Examples of the type from TV, movies, literature, and history.

Next, there are chapters on various types of supporting characters that can spice up a story with additional conflicts: Friends (four types), Rivals (six types), and Symbols (three types).

Each of these types includes:

  • The type’s relationship with a main character
  • Various ways the type can create conflicts for a main character
  • General examples of the type
  • Specific examples from TV, movies, etc.

I find the book to be very helpful. In addition, the author has provided a “46th Archetype” online.