Apprentice Wordsmith A Writer's Blog

The Masks of the Dealer -- Vogler's Archetypes

Christopher Vogler’s book The Writer’s Journey has had a big influence on how I write. I’ve quoted from it before in previous posts, and you’ll likely see more from it in the future. The biggest lesson I took from this book was how to use character archetypes.

When I first began working with these ideas I thought of an archetype as a fixed role which a character would play exclusively throughout a story.

This is the classical view of archetypes. Once a character has been pegged as hero or villain, ally or foe, the character is stuck in that role. Betrayals, defections, and changing sides are explained away as part of clever schemes. That character was always secretly a good guy or a bad guy. They just kept their true intentions hidden from everyone, even the audience.

Vogler, however, defines archetypes “as flexible character functions rather than as rigid character types.” The elements of an archetype are no longer tied to the character themselves but onto the actions such a character would do.

The archetypes can be thought of as masks, worn by the characters temporarily as they are needed to advance the story.

Allowing a character to take on multiple roles and switch between them as the story demands lets them develop naturally into a fuller, rounder character since the audience gets to see their multiple sides. Betrayal and defection no longer have to be part of a clever scheme in order for a character to remain consistent. It’s the character genuinely changing in response to their circumstances.

But how does that work? What does it look like? Could a character wear two archetype masks simultaneously? The only character I know of who comes the closest to doing the latter is the primary character from the 2015 video game Hand of Fate – a man known only as the Dealer. He wears the opposing masks of Mentor and Shadow (Vogler’s term for an antagonist). He is at once your teacher and your opponent. The dynamic that develops between the real-life player and this virtual character is one of the game’s big draws.

I’ve never heard of this game.

Don’t worry. You’re not the only one. This post isn’t going to focus on the gameplay and mechanics, so you don’t need to play the game in order to understand my analysis. I’ll explain what you need to know as it becomes relevant. Still, it may help to have a general idea of what kind of game Hand of Fate is before I dive deep into its story.

The game’s creators, Defiant Development, describe the game like this on its Steam store page:

Hand of Fate is a hybrid roguelike/action-rpg/deck-builder, in which the player builds a set of cards into a deck, which is then used to deal out the dungeon floors through which they adventure.

Confused? I recommend watching TotalBiscuit’s video about the game for more details on what it is and to see it in action.

{Warning: From here, I’m going into spoiler territory. If you want to play this game blind, you should stop reading now.}

The Premise

The story of Hand of Fate is the story surrounding the game you are playing. It’s not just you the human who is playing a game. Your character is playing one too.

You have passed the thirteen gates, and you come to my table to play the game of life and death.

The only real difference between the player and the player character (PC) is that the latter is risking something precious by playing this game. As the Dealer explains, “One lives, and one dies.” If the PC loses, he dies. Yet if the PC wins, the Dealer’s life is forfeit. This is a vital detail to remember as we delve into this character.

On a surface level, the Dealer’s role in the game is first to voice the tutorial, teaching the player how to play. He quickly shifts into his primary role as narrator. He’ll comment on the random encounters you’ll journey through – “I’m sure it’s not called Deadman’s Gorge without reason” – and the pieces of equipment you’ll acquire – “Distinctly average. What do you expect me to say? Congratulations?” He’ll even express impatience when the player hasn’t done anything in a while:

It has been called the game of eternity that we play. I didn’t think that meant you’d take forever to make a decision, mind.

This narration is more than witty commentary, however. The Dealer gives us insight into the nature of the game we’re playing, the world outside, and (most importantly for us) his own character. It’s what he reveals about himself and what he thinks of the PC that demonstrates how he embodies two archetypes seemingly at once.

Next month, I’ll examine the Mentor and Shadow archetypes more closely and analyze how the Dealer fills both roles. Till then, let’s talk about archetypes down in the comments. What do you know about them? Do you agree or disagree with Vogler? Why or why not? Do you know of any other examples of characters wearing multiple archetype masks?

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