Storyboard: Archetype discussion - the Scholar

It's time for our third archetype discussion, with the previous two being the Soldier and the Rogue. I've been pleased with the positive response I've seen so far, especially since the archetypes seem to help highlight the difference between a class and the character. There are classes that suggest a more roguelike approach (not a Roguelike approach; that's different), but people play them as soldiers, undertaking missions and killing based on exterior orders rather than any sort of malice or desire.

And that's great -- the power of archetypes is that you can have almost any class or combination of abilities backing them up. Such is the case with today's archetype, one that is often seen as being limited to spellcasters but which can really cover almost any set of skills. James Joyce wrote that when you think about things, you can understand them, and that's the bread and butter of the scholar. Queue up some appropriate music, and let's take a look at someone who just wants to know more.

What is the character?

Birds have to fly, fish have to swim, and the scholar has to know. What she knows is almost secondary to that overwhelming urge to find something out, to glean just a little bit more knowledge, even if she later finds she was happier not knowing. Within her chosen fields, a scholar devours every piece of knowledge she can get her hands on, accumulating all of it within her head before moving on to the next bit of information. And there is always, always more to learn.

The pursuit of knowledge is all-consuming, but it neither provides any moral compass nor violates an existing one. If the character believes that murder is wrong, she won't murder someone to find out more. Truth be told, if she were left to her own devices and allowed to do nothing but learn, she would do so. She serves the siren call of understanding more, usually simply for the purposes of knowing. There's no thought of application or profit -- and if those do creep into the equation, they're ultimately secondary concerns.

What's the angle?

There's a lot to know in the world, and the fact of the matter is that the best place to learn certain subjects is on the road. After all, far-off countries (or planets, depending on setting) are going to provide more learning than the local library. The scholar doesn't need to fear for employment, either, as she's sure to find uses for her various pieces of knowledge as she roams. It's only the compulsion to know more than she does that prevents her from finding lucrative employment in one location to begin with.

For some characters, the need to know is almost like an addiction, growing and mutating until the scholar is willing to do whatever it takes for more learning. For others, it's far more benign -- she would rather accept a hole in her knowledge for now than do something unspeakable. Either way, scholars are the most likely characters to commit atrocities for purely benign reasons. If your character studies magic, she raised a necromantic army just to see if it would work. If she studies weapons, the massive planet-shattering bomb is just a proof of concept. Swordfighting? She didn't mean to kill anyone. Cooking? Well, she wanted to see if she really could make spam tasty.

What makes it interesting?

While scholars might not make traditional heroes, there are a number of hooks to be explored within the context of the lifelong learner. She could be so focused on her studies that she forgets her basic humanity, so caught up in one subject that she fails to see more fascinating opportunities, or so devoted that other concerns fall to the wayside in the name of knowledge. All that she has to be is fundamentally dissatisfied with what she knows, always wanting just a little bit more, however she has put her learning to use thus far.

From a metagaming standpoint, a scholar can help provide the glue to bind storylines and character goals. If a character in your group needs to learn something or find out some important scrap of information, well, the scholar probably knows it. And it allows you to tie together seemingly separate plot threads, by dropping hints and clues that more than one person has goals in the same direction. Anything that makes a group more cohesive is a good thing in the long run.

What should I keep in mind?

Unlike our previous two archetypes, the scholar isn't intimately familiar with violence and the usual murdering-pickpocket nature of adventuring. She's the most likely to bring up reasonable ethical concerns and the most likely to suggest that there might be a better way to do things. You don't want to play this up too heavily, but being the scholar does mean that you can occasionally insert a touch of real-world common sense to proceedings, even if just for comedic effect. ("Couldn't we just ask the trolls to let us peek at the scroll instead of murdering them all?")

Also, do try to stake out a single area of study with clear boundaries rather than make your character a generic study of everything. This doesn't mean that she can't have esoteric knowledge of many flavors but rather that real academics don't tend to study everything with equal zeal. That being said, you can certainly add in other fields as needed under the pretense of hobbies. After a long day of studying ancient ruins in dungeons, your scholar might very well be the sort to curl up with a book of obscure military history... because everyone needs a hobby.

That's our third part in the series, and as always I'm eager to know what you think. Shoot me a line at, or just leave your opinion in the comments field below. Next week, I think I might be as self-indulgent as I've ever been... but I'll let that idea stew for a little bit longer.

Every Friday, Eliot Lefebvre fills a column up with excellent advice on investing money, writing award-winning novels, and being elected to public office. Then he removes all of that, and you're left with Storyboard, which focuses on roleplaying in MMOs. It won't help you get elected, but it will help you pretend you did.
This article was originally published on Massively.