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FireflyJayne of Firefly : The Ten Best RPG Characters in Film, TV and Literature
Monday 26 February 2007, by Webmaster
This month we learn by example as I present what I believe are the top ten role-playing characters to appear in film, TV and literature. These are the characters that you would like to have in your group. Their number one trait is that they are fun, but the other traits are generally represented by the seven rules of character creation.
Of course, it should go without saying that the entire body of film, TV and literature is vast and beyond the ability of one person to fully grasp and understand, and that each person would rate the top ten differently. The choices below are my choices, with what I have seen and what I have read. I welcome each of you to come up with your own top ten characters and see how they compare to mine.
I should also warn potential readers that there may be some spoilers present as I describe the events that make these great RPG characters.
#10: Sturm Brightblade, Dragonlance
No one usually wants an overbearing paladin in the party, but Sturm pulls off being the righteous knight with flying colors. He is not overbearing, yet he is solid as a rock. He is predictable and the rest of his party can plan their strategies around his actions, he is the moral conscious of the party without being preachy, but he also has a dark past and a sadness to his character that is almost sweet.
His in-character actions only add to the campaign - he fell in love with an elven princess, was killed stalling the evil army so that the rest of the party could hatch their insidious plan and reached his goals of rebuilding the knighthood through his death. Few characters are as successful. Larry Elmore’s wonderful painting “The Death of Sturm” hangs over my desk as I write and still remains the only piece of artwork I have ever sought out and bought. I would love to have Sturm in my party.
#9 Cat, Red Dwarf
The house cat evolved into an “intelligent” and sentient life form is a picture perfect example of a fun character. Obsessed with fashion and good looks, Cat always has something funny to say about whatever is happening to the party. This spice is off the wall yet generally funny, and the out going cat never runs out of things to do or things to say. I guess looking good is important no matter what crisis the party is going through.
Characters like Cat are also great for the GM - it is easy to throw plot wrinkles and complications that lead to fun role-playing, without even actually being dangerous. A muddy dungeon suddenly becomes an opportunity for role-playing instead of just flavor text.
Cat’s one notable flaw is being “totally shallow” and only focused on him self, a claim that is made over and over but yet never seems to come true in his actions - he always does help out to try and rescue Rimmer despite complaining while his dexterity and ultra-sensitive nose becomes a useful abilities for the party as a whole. Luckily, being shallow becomes just fun in-character dialog and doesn’t break up the group. I would play with Cat in a heartbeat.
#8: The Dwarf (from Lord of the Rings, Icewind Dale Trilogy, Prydian Chronicles, Dragonlance, etc.)
Yes, Tolkien started it so he gets the real credit, but the Dwarf is such a simple character that the archetype has been used in many novels and likely countless of actual RPG campaigns. I decided that I couldn’t distinguish from the multitudes and that I would roll them all up into one character. Gimli, Bruenor, Doli and Flint are the most memorable ones for me, along with a couple of characters played in my groups, but they all had the same basic traits: gruff, loved to talk about mining/gold/jewels/smithing, good with an axe, and willing to tell other people reasons why it was a bad thing they were not also dwarves.
A funny twist is that the dwarven kingdoms are depicted as almost Hitler-esque in racial isolation and superiority. Dwarves think they are better then every one else. One would think that this is a negative when joining a group, but unlike elves (who generally remain snooty) the dwarves tend to have a down to earth (pun intended) feel that allows them to bridge the gap with the rest of the party (usually through some humorous comments) and eventually they overcome the racial prejudice to admit that the group isn’t so bad.
This evolution of the character makes the dwarf great, and along with the undaunted courage, everlasting loyalty, and ability to drink lots and lots of very strong ale make them welcome members of my group. Everybody should go play a dwarf at least once.
#7 Sam Gamgee, Lord of the Rings
In a group so full of wonderful and vibrant fantasy characters, the simple hobbit farmer remains the character that adds the most to the group. Sam’s stout loyalty and willingness to help make him a wonderful addition to any party, especially since every party needs a good cook.
A character like Sam will get the party “role-playing breakfast” as his only obvious contribution to the group skill set is cooking, so the player is going to be darn sure and use every opportunity to use it. Wonderful moments like chasing down herbs and rabbits to make one “last meal” before heading into Mordor, or taking time out of the session to lament the loss of cooking pans that will remain at the bottom of a dark pit, add to the vibrancy and realistic flavor of the campaign.
Sam also has the party loving skill of being incorruptible, having spent all of those character creation points that others used on fighting skills and smooth talking to increase his resistances beyond believable levels. That’s a good skill in any high fantasy campaign. Sam also has courage and no arrogance, which are traits people like in everybody.
The players can relate to him as Tolkien’s everyman character, and the group feels the same way. We are happy to have someone like Sam succeed, the group wants him to succeed, and that makes for a strong presence in a group. I’ll take you Sam, even if all you can do is cook and tie knots.
#6 Jayne, Firefly
I am sure everyone was waiting to see a Firefly character. There is probably some shock that the one I chose was Jayne. Jayne is arrogant, self-centered, greedy and one-dimensional. And I will be the first to admit that Jayne has a few problems and is a character that in the hands of the wrong player or GM could cause disaster, but in the hands of Joss Whedon, Jayne is perfect for any group.
What would the Firefly group be without Jayne? He is a foil, the voice of the base world talking to the group, the devil’s advocate against doing the right thing. He is not a warm and fuzzy feel good character, he is a character that will be active, drive plot, and drive character development.
And at his core, Jayne cares about what other people think, he is just trying to avoid it. He is trying to reconcile his base greedy view of the world against the feelings of belonging and companionship he gets from the Firefly crew. He lets little bits of it slip out - the hat made by his mother is dear to him, Book the preacher is his best friend.
“When you can’t do something smart, do something right.” That could show up in any campaign I have been in, and the other players would rally around it. Even Jayne is saying that, they would think. And the most poignant moment - when he does actually betray the party, he tells Mal to make up a story about what he did so that the party wouldn’t find out. He does care what they think, and is even guilty afterwards. So, I say “Yes” to having Jayne in my party. It will liven things up for sure, but I role-play for those sorts of things to happen, and who wouldn’t want a munchkin like Jayne along in a fight?
#5 Tyrion Lannister, Song of Ice and Fire
Tyrion is just a wonderful example of a player willing to take a bunch of flaws and play them with vigor. He took dwarfism (much different then being a dwarf), multiple obnoxious personal habits, rival (the party!) and spent those remaining points on just intelligence and noble birth.
Tyrion says what is on his mind, often appears cruel and mean, and hails from a family that is considered to embody greed and selfishness, but at his heart is just a small man that wants to be loved after always being treated cruelly by the world as a whole. His family hates him because of what he is, and those that would love his personality traits hate him because of his family. What he needs is a group of outcasts that would recognize his important traits and trust him, so that he can develop the same loyalty he has to his brother to each and every one of them.
He has the courage and self-sacrifice to attempt the greater good, even if he has the social skills of a grenade with the pin already removed. He is not willing to try new things and put himself at risk, and if you are a true hearted person that can stand his biting wit then Tyrion is a true friend who will always have an ingenious plan to solve your problem. And he doubles as comic relief. I would like him in my party, so that we can become heroes together.
#4 Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride
As I get to the top characters, I find that I don’t even really need to say anything, that the characters ultimate coolness just is so apparent you don’t have to try and convince anyone of their place in the role-playing group. Inigo is undoubtedly in that category, but I’ll say some stuff anyway just for completeness.
Inigo is the classic fully fleshed out character. He has a dark background (six fingered man), an ancient heirloom (his father’s sword), a driving goal with a practiced quote (“You killed my father, prepare to die”), a fun Spanish accent, a drinking problem, and a good heart. He’s friendly, isn’t overbearing about his wonderful skill, and is a consummate sportsman. What else is there to say?
#3 Jimmy the Hand, Riftwar Saga
What always amazed me about Jimmy is that I actually liked him, nay, loved him. I constantly wonder how Mr. Feist managed to create a thieving cat-burglar that I could enjoy so much.
In essence, Jimmy is the archetypal thief that countless role-players have tried to play and failed. He is a master of his craft, the son of the Head of the Thieves Guild and befriends the Prince of the Realm. He manages all of this by both circumstances and by actually caring about other people.
Jimmy is the classic example of a thief that decides to become part of a group, have friends (even actively make friends!) and care about a greater good. He also does not subsume any of the other roles of the group. He lets others fill their role, and they let him feel his. Too often, thieves are just players that also want to do everything and hog the spotlight. Jimmy doesn’t do that, but still contributes his wonderful skills and even the occasional bit of wit. If I need a thief, he is the one I want.
#2 Han Solo, Star Wars
I know some of you out there are saying “Number Two? Who could be better then Han?” Well, you’ll just have to wait while I elucidate Han’s wonderful role-playing features and build up some drama for the grand winner as best role-playing character of all time.
To start with, George Lucas is known for hitting those mythical archetypes, and whether he had “reluctant hero” in mind with Han, we role-players sure do. Han fits the bill of that rogue that becomes the reluctant hero as he discovers the virtues of having friends and having a cause. That role-playing evolution is in itself enough to warrant a spot in any group, but if you add his scoundrels ways and witty comments, along with his knack for being lucky instead of perfect, then you have someone who can bring some serious fun to the gaming table.
Not only that, but he has a fun stormy romance with a princess, a background that keeps coming back to haunt him, and has to have the party come and rescue him. (Which is fun because it advanced the story as well.) I would beg someone to play such a character in my group, especially if I was playing the stubborn princess.
And the Winner. . .
#1 Wolverine, X-Men
Wolverine is the same character as Han Solo(reluctant hero, witty comments, dark background, in-party romance), but he has the added benefit of having the most fun role-playing superpower in existence - regeneration. It is amazing what ideas the party will come up with when they have an almost indestructible party member, and regeneration is even more fun because it hurts. And he gets to complain about it.
But otherwise, he just has the whole package - mysterious background, evil arch-villains, sometimes caustic sometimes caring personality, proficiency in combat, cool abilities, cool hair style, flirtatious romance, and is someone that can be trusted. Who wouldn’t want to put that character in your story?
You will notice some general trends in what makes a great character in reading through these examples, but I’ll spell them out here anyway. A great character does not shy away from danger, but comes up with a plan to attack it, even if that is a sideways plan. A great character develops over time and is willing to change. A great character causes conflict by taking action, including minor conflict within the group. A great character is trustworthy and loyal. A great character has a developed enough personality that the rest of the group can often predict actions. And a great character cares about the other party members.
There are many other great characters that didn’t make my list and might make your list. There are many that I don’t even know about because I haven’t read the book or seen the movie. It is your duty as a role-player to watch and read and remember which characters you thought were fun and which ones you would like to have in your group. Once you figure that out, you can help define for yourself what attributes make great characters for you.