Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sci-Fi Archetypes

Although it's arguable that D&D has ever purely adhered to the notion of class-as-archetype, I nevertheless think a case can be made that that was the intention behind character classes. Regardless, I've been thinking a lot lately about what archetypes would make good character classes in a science fiction RPG. Space Opera and Starships & Spacemen are two examples of SF RPGs that included classes, but those in S&S are very specific to the game's setting, while I think Space Opera's are a mixed bag of specific and broad. Consequently, neither game quite provides what I think is an ideal selection of character classes based on sci-fi archetypes.

Anyway, I've been racking my brain to come up with a good -- and preferably short -- list of sci-fi archetypes that could conceivably be used as the basis for some SF character classes. So far, I've got:
  • Soldier/Warrior: The straight-up combat guy.
  • Rogue/Scoundrel: The sneaky/disreputable guy.
  • Diplomat: The persuasive guy.
  • Scientist: Concerned with abstract knowledge.
  • Technician: Concerned with practical/technological knowledge.
  • Mystic/Adept: The guy whose knowledge transcends science.
One could argue that Scientist and Technician are just two sides of the same coin, namely an "expert" of some kind and I'm sympathetic to that argument. I separated them for the moment, just because I instinctively tend to think of, say, Spock and Scotty as representing two different archetypes.

There might also be room for a "barbarian/outsider" archetype as well -- a guy from some backwater or unusual place and, because of that, possesses uncommon skills and abilities from the norm. The problem is that the archetype might be too broad to be meaningful as a basis for a character class, though, so I'm not sure if it fits in with the others.

So, where have I gone wrong? What am I missing? What further divisions/amalgamations would you recommend? I realize it's hard to offer truly useful advice since I haven't said what function a "class" will play mechanically (mostly because I haven't fully decided yet). For now, assume something akin to D&D's classes and assume a very broad "space opera" kind of science fiction -- definitely not hard SF -- and you should be good.


  1. The pilot is an interesting case. I agree that he's a real SF archetype, but the problem is that, as a class, he spends most of his time doing non-pilot-y stuff and that's no good. Plus, it occurs to me that, in a proper space opera game, almost anyone, regardless of class, should be able to learn to pilot a starship.

    But you're right; there's definitely something to the ace pilot idea. I simply don't know what to do with it.

  2. Ah, but the Ace Pilot usually conforms to another class when not sitting behind the controls of his ship. Most of the main characters in Star Wars are Ace Pilots, but they're obviously a mixture of the above classes when dealing with things not dogfight related.

    PS: Ninja'd about my reservations in regards to Pilots. 3.5+ D&D would (heck, DOES) handle such things through the skill and feat systems, but a simpler, more old-school game... well, I dunno.

  3. Various incarnations of Star Wars make up most of my "space opera" rpg experience. And each time someone invariably wanted to play a droid (for some crazy reason).

    I don't know if that was just because of the specific setting or not but I thought I'd mention it...

  4. I've thought a lot about this too, because class and level is simple and familiar and implies advancement, and can eliminate the need for defined skills. I'd also love to see something compatible with D&D stats, so your otyugh, neo-otyugh, and rhemoraz can be dropped in as charmingly familiar alien beasts, and many devices can be defined as spell effects -- the plasma rifle is a big bulky wand of lightning bolts and works the same way.

    Taking a cue from earlier D&D's dwarf or elf, "alien" could be a class or set of classes. Likewise, "android". Maybe also "explorer" or "frontiersman" -- adept at survival and fighting, but not a plasma rifle wielding space marine. There are a lot of "artists" or "priests" floating around the literature too.

    D&D class/archetypes as originally conceived seem to be rival paths to greatness. Whether you're a fighting-man or a cleric or a thief, you can end up with a dominion of your own. Classes that are really only skill/trope sets maybe do not have that quality of an ultimate destiny. Scotty isn't a very good PC model -- he's just going to keep being Scotty down in the engine room. So maybe a spread of NPC classes can take care of roles like "technician"

  5. "The pilot is an interesting case. I agree that he's a real SF archetype, but the problem is that, as a class, he spends most of his time doing non-pilot-y stuff and that's no good. Plus, it occurs to me that, in a proper space opera game, almost anyone, regardless of class, should be able to learn to pilot a starship."

    I agree, and you just described Han Solo.

  6. Yes the scientist is definitely different from the technician. The scientist is Dr Zarkov from Flash Gordon and Spock from Star Trek. Chewbacca would be a tech, a grease monkey who fits C3PO together and works on the falcon. Scotty would be a tech, certainly competent in science but really more of a hands-on guy.

    Other archetypes:
    medical specialist, Bones McCoy

    robot/android, Bishop from Aliens, Robby the Robot, R2D2, Data from star trek

    alien, if your using race as class like OD&D or Basic


    consider multiclass?

  7. diplomat = sage. Boring NPC class.

    Why can't a soldier also be a technician? Didn't everyone in star trek know how to fight? Just like the ace pilot, most of the classes are things any good character should be able to do. Imagine D&D with five different thief sub classes, that's what your list looks like to me. Look at D&D again. It started with just two classes:

    (fighter) Exploring Human--broad skills, fighting, technical, diplomacy, piloting, engeneering all in one class.

    (magic user) Human mystic--narrow skills, they give up a lot of the above for magical ability.

    from here, let's extrapolate outwards.

    elves, dwarfs, hobbits, gnomes aka ALIENS with different names. Race as class. Some have strong fighting skills (klingons, dwarves), some are sneaky (hobbits, ferrengi) some are technically savvy (gnomes, wookies).

    Don't try and start from Ad&d with 23 different character classes and then work backwards. Start with what D&D did. Two classes and work from there.

  8. It seems to me that in a lot of sci-fi, "race as class" fits as much as in D&D, perhaps even more. A lot of times, the fiction will focus on a bunch of humans with one exotic archetype that seems to be almost entirely defined by his nature rather than a set of skills or a particular role.

    Like, I don't see Spock as being a technician. I see Spock as his own class in the context of good old Star Trek. He's the dude with pointy ears, an undecipherable air, weird relationship to Logic and an exotic ability to put people to sleep like no human could.

    Chewbacca is another obvious example. Yeah, I guess he could fit the warrior class but much like a D&D dwarf, he might be better off as his own brutish and cool class.

    Much like D&D, these "classes" would round out the party and might overlap a little with other archetypes but they feel to me like they should be their own thing. Granted, how to implement this in a generic game would require some work, I suppose.

    Oh, and I totally agree about the pilot. It's difficult to make it its own archetype when it is so dependent on a particular context.

  9. Ha! Looks like UWS beat me to "race as class" while I was writing :)

  10. What about the Merchant guy? Definitely plenty of examples in space opera.

  11. No Doxy? :)
    Honestly, I get more juice out of Encounter Critical's classes than others: You have a Warrior, Warlock, Psi-Witch, Criminal, Pioneer, and Doxy. You can add the Mad Scientist class and I think that pretty much covers all of the archetypes you would need in one of my sci-fi campaigns.

  12. This is not totally related, but it struck me to be up your alley: The 1930's sci-fi comics of basil wolverton.

  13. Spock I see as a scientist (and later a diplomat like his father).

  14. If you're gonna go about the Spock/Scotty dichotomy to illustrate the difference between theoretical/applied sciences, then maybe scientist/engineer might be a better choice.

    After all, while the engineer's theory would be sloppy and their methods would be risky and not clearly thought-out, the scientist isn't accustomed to getting their hands dirty and would not be able to improvise an ingenious solution from limited resources.

  15. I have to disagree with UWS Guy about Diplomat being a boring NPC class -- in space opera, diplomats are in the thick of tense, dangerous situations where survival depends on their quick thinking and knowledge of alien cultures.

  16. Dr. Zarkov is an inventor. Scientist? Sure. Technician/Engineer? You betcha.

    Also, isn't Spock always fixing something? Isn't he always running down to help Scotty in the engine room? The dichotomy between Scientist and Engineer does not hold.

    Also, what about the bookwormy sorts? Daniel Jackson starts off as just an Archeologist, then after season bajillion, he's helping Carter build stuff.

    One last point: You know you've already started forming the basis for the Strong Hero,, Fast Hero, Smart Hero, Dedicated Hero, and Charismatic Hero, right?

    Those damn D20 Modern designers were on to something.... But, like you, I prefer using the Archetype names we all know instead of the Adjectival Heroes.

    Another option: Take the idea UWS Guy suggests and do the inverse. Take those AD&D-esque 23 classes, make them into archetypes and then simply allow a player to combine 2-3.

    Han Solo: Scoundrel Pilot
    Luke Skywalker: Mystic Pilor
    Data: Android Scientist
    Deanna Troi: Alien Scientist (specialized in social sciences)
    Spock: Alien Scientist
    Kirk: Soldier Diplomat
    Samantha Carter: Soldier Scientist
    The Doctor: Alien Scientist
    Pa'u Zhotoh Zhaan: Alien Mystic Scientist

    (Hmmm...lots of scientists running through my head...)

  17. Engineers are sloppy..? Scientists don't get their hands dirty? Maybe. But Scotty isn't exactly an idiot (in fact he's one of the smartest guys in the ST universe) and Spock certainly can improvise when necessary. I think this is probably why SciFi games work better with skill-based systems as opposed to class-based, as the archetypes aren't nearly as clear cut. Most major characters in Star Wars and Star Trek are hyper-competent, which really blurs the line even more. Kirk is a master Diplomat, but arguably better at tactics and hand-to-hand than any soldier and pretty damn ingenious when necessary. Luke Skywalker is a mystic soldier guy who is one of the best pilots in the galaxy. So, yeah...classes just don't work that well.

  18. How about a wider class archetype called Dignitary? He might be:

    A diplomat or any kind of politician
    Any person of noble birth
    Any kind of celebrity
    Any kind of ideological leader

    The important thing is that he tends to be recognizable, tends to benefit from an immunity (formal or informal) of some kind, probably communicates well and has lots of contacts and he is certainly better kept alive than dead. He tends to be involved on a larger scale.

    It seems like a more flexible class to work with to me, accommodating more sci-fi.

  19. If someone said to me they want to play a diplomat I would look at them like they wanted to role-play a lawyer or a dentist.

  20. SJGames' Star Munchkin had a set of sci-fi classes to keep it in line with the formula established in fantasy Munchkin, so they're definitely along your line, despite their intent to parody. Its classes were... Space Ranger, Bounty Hunter, Gadgeteer, Psychic and Trader. The races for the sake of race-as-class were Cyborg, Feline (a pretty obvious Kzinti reference), Bug and Mutant (which just led to trouble when they made their superhero variant with a Mutant class).

    I think there's definitely something to be said about the Trader class (which ckutalik called the "Merchant"). It neatly straddles the archetype while leaving room for that Han Solo type Smuggler archetype without needing a variant.

  21. Didn't Scotty come up with some brillant transporter related theories? That sounds as much scientest as technician to me. That's why I also agree that sci fi RPGs lend themselves better to skill based systems rather than class-based. Though, X-Plorers did a good job of combining the two styles.

    But, if you want to stick with classes, I would nominate Medic/Doctor (Bones/Crusher) and Scouts (people adept at exploring and surveying virgin worlds).

    Also, rather than a Diplomat class, maybe reconfigure it into an Agent class. In space opera diplomats usually get embroiled in lots of espionage and intrigue, so Agent might work better in the context of an adventure RPG.

    Ed Green

  22. "If someone said to me they want to play a diplomat I would look at them like they wanted to role-play a lawyer or a dentist."

    Leia Organa, D.D.S.?

  23. I think you'll find that there is little practical difference (as far as the mechanics of character classes are concerned) between a scientist like Spock and an engineer like Scotty. They've just taken their special knowledges in different technical and scientific fields. Or a Doctor like Bones, for that matter.Their abilities will be similar, just applied to different things.

    I'd definitely add "Explorer" to represent those intrepid characters whose mission is to go and explore new planets. They'd be trained generalists, not as good as any of the specialists described above.

    But, yes I agree with The_Myth that the D20 Modern definitions of heroes are rather apt in this regard (at least if you are going to limit yourself to a handful of classes).

    [I was just thinking if a system similar to the latest Gamma World might work, where you select two archetype templates to create your character's "class." Hmmmm. Idea.]

  24. Interestingly, your classes conform rather closely to D20 Star Wars. I don't remember if it had a distinct scientist class though.

  25. I see Diplomat and Sneaky Guy as two different ways to play the same class. I never liked that D&D Thieves were assumed to be shifty. You could use the same skills to burglarize someone's home as you would to break into the evil Necromancer's Lab and steal his powerful ring. Likewise, the Diplomat would need to be sneaky and the Sneaky guy have a silver tongue. I think, if you could come up with a name that conveys the possibilities, you could combine the two. Then again, I've never seen another term for Thieves in D&D that conveyed the whole scout/spy/ninja/recon/con man spectrum.

  26. I think Shadow Run and Rifts had this topic covered fairly well.
    You might want to look at these games for some ideas.

  27. Have you looked at the Star Frontiers book: Zebulon's Guide To Frontier Space?

    In it are four "Professions" (remember that SF is a skill-based system): Enforcer (Fightin' type), Technical Expert (fix-it guy), Science Specialist (dude who knows lots of stuff and possibly a doctor as well) and Explorer (skill monkey who deals with folks diplomatically yet also knows how to survive in the wilderness).

    A fifth profession, The Mentalist is presented later on as a psionic/mystic type.

    So five basic classes.

    PDF's for the rules books can be downloaded (leagally) from this site:

  28. My thoughts immediately went to Traveller, so Scout and Merchant seem like good possibilities to me.

  29. Personally, I have a hard time thinking of a Sci-Fi RPG using archetypes/classes. I'm not saying it isn't doable (and maybe I'm a bit jaded by Traveller), but I think that careers or skill packages seem more appropriate to a Sci-Fi RPG. I think TSR's (or was it WOTC) old Buck Rogers and Alternity systems were class-based, and they never felt right to me.

    Another option that still feels class-like would be to consider the original Star Frontiers model: broad skill categories, with major and minor emphasis on each skill category chosen. For instance, if I wanted a pilot archetype, I would chose the "spacer" skill as a major skill (which could cover piloting, navigation, use of hostile environment equipment, etc.), and then a minor skill to further define the character (like maybe a "merchant/trader" skill to cover haggling, bribery, laws and the like).

    Of course, a system like this could easily be blended into a "class" system where there are dozens of archetypes, each with a major and minor skill... YMMV.

  30. I started down this path myself and currently working on this.

  31. Roles in futuristic and modern systems are so diverse that a skill system makes more sense. However, as far as skill systems go True20's divisions of Adept, Expert, and Warrior might make a good starting point:

    Warrior: Space Ranger, Mercenary, Bounty Hunter, Primitive, etc.

    Expert: Scientist, Engineer, Diplomat, Scoundrel, Hacker

    Adept: Star Knight, Psychic, Cyborg/Robot, Alien

    In True20, players can customize their characters by taking levels in two or three classes, and GMs have a point system to generate custom classes by mixing progressions in BAB, saving throws, skill points per level, allowed feats, and access to adept powers.

  32. ... as far as CLASS systems go ...

  33. When trying to throw together a sci-fi game I came up with those plus...
    Captain ( a low-level omnicompetent in everything and pretty good at something)

    seemingly useless and annoying 2nd Stringer (usually played for laughs but occasionally saves everyone. possibly due to a high "luck" stat)

    and a race-as-class-type alien.

  34. My favorite is the naive alien fan-service girl, like Dejah Thoris of Barsoom, Altaira from Forbidden Planet, Lum from Urusei Yatsura, Starfire (Koriand'r) from Teen Titans, Leeloo from The Fifth Element, and so on. Basically, an alien with different set of values or no taboos, so they are generally immodest (walks around naked) and frank with their sexual desires, who are still learning the ways of a modest and sensible world. They are a good mix blatant fan-service and buddy humor. ;P

  35. Technicians tend to get stuck playing sub-games (think "hacker") unless their techniques apply to a wide variety of adventuring tasks, which very often devolve to "being shot at." Scientists and engineers both do what we'd call magic, unless they're stuck trying to fix the hyperdrive again - a job typically with few creative opportunities (unless they're adventure seeds like "get new parts") best left to NPCs. For this reason I generally don't like Zarkov characters in fact, no matter how much I love them in theory: they tend to work by intuitive leaps that don't translate well to the tabletop. UNLESS you're playing WW's first ed. Mage, in which case everyone's a Zarkov, trying to fast-talk the DM and therefore reality itself into complying with their plans. And what you get then is Girl Genius, and perfectly fun but not all the time.

    In what way were Star Wars 1e's archetypes not character classes? Were there too many of them, or was it because their skills were too explicitly spelled out, or their lack of explicit levels? Many of the examples you cite (including Tough Native) are right there.

    As a subset, I'd say: Man (or woman, these days) of Action (can shoot, do athletics, fly spaceships, lift boulders by default), Man of Genius (has some magic-approximating skills and maybe a hero-point-based Mage-like "fast talk" ability), Man of Means (persuasive, has local contacts - might be a noble, diplomat, spy, G-man or whatever but is often a penniless gentleman-of-fortune, temporarily without many of his means, but with the means to make more means) and Exotic (brew your own - robot, alien, alien cyborg, brain in jar, sentient hand). These may all be so broad as to seem unusable, but the point is they handle the basic game mechanics, everything else is a story told by the players.
    So you're wondering what Han Solo is? He's a man of action trying to make it as/split-classed with a man of means. Which is why he's not succeeding at the latter.

  36. ...and if you're thinking "action, genius, means == fighter, MU, thief" you're not far off, except that the man of action does the actual housebreaking. Because I assume that SF, even space opera, has more of a working society, and especially more effective states, than fantasy/wild west does, and that consequently the players will move more within social networks (criminal, diplomatic, law-enforcement etc), so the man of means is the social thief: a social network specialist.

  37. Diplomat boring? Read the Retief stories by Keith Laumer, classic sci-fi/space opera and all about a diplomat

  38. "alien, if your using race as class like OD&D or Basic"

    Race wasn't class in OD&D.

  39. For Stars Without Number, my own retro-flavored sci-fi game, I broke the classes down into just three- Warriors who excel at fighting things, Experts who focus on non-combat talents, and Psychics who use psionic powers, assuming the DM uses them in his or her world. I preferred to leave a skill-fiend's specific expertise unencoded in the base class, and instead express it with their skill choices and class ability to reroll a failed skill check once per hour. Of course, some DMs find skill systems anathema, but it's just as easy to generalize an Expert's talents so they get an equivalent bonus on any checks relevant to their particular focus. No matter what resolution system is used, "You can roll twice and take the better" is going to help a PC.

    I can see advantages in trying to encode specific abilities into the class to distinguish a doctor, for example, from a cat burglar. Class-specific mechanics and special abilities are an easy and natural way to give a particular character concept a feeling of uniqueness. Still, I'd want to be very careful that doing so actually was worth the additional mechanical complication and the implicit niche exclusion inherent in a class-based system.

    If you create the Nerf Wrangler and a Tribble Trainer classes, for example, you're implicitly saying that one PC can't be both a wrangler and a trainer. Those abilities which are archetypal for the two classes are mutually exclusive, unless you gin up some sort of multiclassing system- and in that case, you start to weaken the point of using a class-based system in the first place. Personally, I'm not sure how to approach the problem optimally, in a way that both provides mechanical flavor for a niche and doesn't stomp on crossover characters. What would Star Wars be like if you had to simulate it in a system that only allowed the Pilot class to fly a spaceship in combat?

  40. @Zak:

    I'd say that the lucky, sometimes comically bumbling character can be found in just about any adventure genre including fantasy (maybe Cugel the Clever is one of those?) - but, like the diplomat, D&D has traditionally not had a class for them, it's more a matter of playstyle.

  41. I think it depends on what you mean by 'science fiction'. For example in Star Wars you could argue that Luke, Han and Ben are in D&D terms a Fighter, Thief (with thief skills such as 'smuggle goods' and 'bullshit creditors') and Wizard respectively - or in psychological/literary terms a Hero, Trickster and Sage.

  42. On a ship, there are three classes of people. The pilot, engineer, and generalist. The pilots can't repair everything and the engineers and crew aren't good at flight, navigation, and using the weapons. Three types of specialist found on some ships are scientist, doctor, and combat wombat. Captains are pilots. Rogues and merchants are generalists. They work closer to the rest of the crew than the officers, and they focus on people skills over machine skills.

    Spock is a multi-classed pilot/scientist.

    I don't think Luke, Han, and Ben are hero, rogue, and sage because all three of them are pilots. Ben fights and smuggles droids, Han fights, and Luke turns into a sage.

    Fighter/mage/thief is a closer match, but if science is magic then engineering is alchemy.

  43. Other archetypes, somewhat redundant with what others have said:

    Holy Man, which perhaps could be covered by Diplomat, Rogue, or Mystic, depending on how you play it.

    Alien combat machine - Worf, Teal'c, Darth Maul.

    Bizarre alien. The bizarre part might be philosophy, customs, physical abilities, or mystic abilities.

    Sci Fi characters tend to be jack off all trades and defy categorization, so I agree with others that prefer an open-ended skill system. In Star Wars and Star Trek you expect every character to be able to hold their own in a gunfight, argument, or dogfight. The most natural system for this that I've seen in WEG's D6 Star Wars system.

  44. Having a pilot class in sci-fi is like having a horse riding class in d&d.

  45. Like the cavalier? (Though I think that was a broken class, especially in its UA version.)

  46. I love Sci-Fi gaming and really don't like the concept of classes for that genre. On the other hand, the less 'archtype' oriented concept of a 'job' or 'profession' works well in Sci-Fi. As noted, many Sci-Fi characters are identified less with what they are and more with what they do.

    Perhaps you're the commander of a spacecraft but your skill set is in military tactics, space combat and engineering. What about the exobiology science specialist who's skilled in first contact diplomacy with the aliens she studies.

    Unless you're running a setting where certain positions are specifically noted (like Star Trek), a more free form skill system is better than classes in Sci-Fi IMHO.

    Or you could go to my blog and check out my Galaxy Quest 'classes'/jobs. ;)

  47. I think it's a good idea to clarify that we are talking Space Opera here. Sci-fi as a whole is too broad and in several strands completely antithetical to the idea of classes, based as it ofen is on more real individuals rather than groups, logic and new paradigms rather than archetypes of the collective unconscious.

    So what are the themes in Space Opera? Ensemble casts are more common, so that's good. it also draws on many of the same influences as D&D; westerns and frontier adventure, pulp, boys-own adventures.

    Looking at Space opera which follows those traits, I think The Myth is right in that it conforms pretty strongly to the D20 Modern attributive heroes with Strong, Fast etc.

    But to make it more archetypal I would pick out these constants:
    -The Heavy (uses big weapons or melee).
    -The Sharpshooter (essentially a space cowboy or sheriff; most likely to also be an ace pilot).
    -The Brains/scientist (figures out what new things are and how to deal with them, provides exposition for the rest of the crew and the audience).
    -The Keystone/engineer (gets the most out of what the team already have, rather than the new stuff. Actually embodies the ship or base and hence can often be the ship's computer or something along those lines).
    -Sidekicks (most often robots, sometimes aliens, often comic relief, relatively helpless but with some very useful skills).(Sidekicks might a kind of shared PC, usable by all all players in addition to their own.)

    Now one thing no-one has mentioned yet is equipment. Technology is a major part of space opera, and the gadgets a character carries tell you a lot about their role. Do they carry a laser pistol? A big gun? A blade or melee weapon? A scanner of some description? A multitool?

    I think this standard issue equipment is much more important than and goes beyond the 'can be used by' description for D&D weapons and armour. Space Opera characters exert their archetype using the objects they hold in their hands (if their hands are empty then that tells us something about them too).

  48. It’s difficult to make generalizations across Sci-Fi or Space Opera, as every story emphasizes different things. But I think most types fall into one of four categories: Combat, Science, Medical, and Tech.


    - Command Yellow-shirts (Kirk)
    - Security Red-shirts
    - Science Blue-shirts (Spock)
    - Doctor/Nurse Blue-shirts (McCoy, Chapel)
    - Engineering Red-shirts (Scott, Uhura)
    - Piloting/Navigation Yellow-shirts (Sulu, Chekov)


    - Colonial Warriors (Apollo, Starbuck, Sheba)
    - Command (Adama)
    - Scientists (Dr. Wilker, Boomer)
    - Medtechs (Cassiopeia)
    - Doctors (Dr. Salik)
    - Ship’s Systems (Tigh, Omega, Athena)


    Science and Medical are here totally de-emphasized (all handled by droids?). Everyone can fly and fix a ship, and everyone can fire a blaster; Jedi can do all this and more, with no drawbacks. So I see no way to use classes here.

  49. Not every SF universe requires that everyone know how to fly a starship, unless interstellar travel vehicles are common and cheap. Plenty of space opera settings feature other methods of space travel like dimensional portals, or unique situations like the Guild navigators of the DUNE universe, that preclude most from knowing how to operate spacecraft. In universes like this, or just ones where spacecraft operation is a rare and unusual skill, the Space Pilot archetype may take on an increased significance.

    Similarly, the combat archetype depends on the technology of the world. Do soldiers of this universe go into battle in robes with energy swords, or body armor and pulse rifles, or strength-enhanced suits of powered armor, or are they the pilots of hovertanks, mecha, or other unusual vehicle?

    Another archetype of SF, and SF gaming, is the "Space Marine"--a step above the typical combat archetype, specializing in exo-atmospheric combat, or at least considered tougher than even other combat-oriented PCs. Depending on the universe, they can be unkillable combat machines, or expendable redshirts.

  50. Personally I think that the space marine archetype takes us into the realm of Military Sci-Fi - a different strand to Space Opera. There's always room for overlap though.

    In other thoughts I was considering sci-fi 'hats'. Space Opera frequently stereotypes future societies (alien or human) with different 'hats'. Humans often have the 'generalist' hat or the 'brave and daring' hat. Sometimes that becomes the 'foolhardy and insane' hat, which can be fun.

    So each class could be a kind of hat. 'Samurai hat' is your basic feudal honourable warrior with a preference for up-close combat eg Klingons.
    'Elf/Faerie hat' is your mystic, with supranormal powers and a byline in riddle-like wisdom eg Vulcans or the Beings of Light etc.

    The actual position in the crew, training, equipment and so forth can then be less important - the PC can do anything they like as long as it is filtered through the lens of their Hat. You can have a soldier with a Mystic Hat, or an engineer with a Cowboy Hat, and so on.

    They don't have to wear the actual physical hat, unless they want to.

  51. 'Samurai hat' is your basic feudal honourable warrior with a preference for up-close combat eg Klingons.
    'Elf/Faerie hat' is your mystic, with supranormal powers and a byline in riddle-like wisdom

    I can't quite figure out how this is different from archetypes, except that somehow it is. Maybe it's the separation of the character's "nature" from the job. Maybe it's the primitive sentence construction of "Samurai engineer," "elf navigator," "foolhardy smuggler" (a short-lived combination)... Regardless, I like it, assuming a good setting-specific set of each term can be generated. They fight crime!

  52. Like some others have said, the problem is that in Science Fiction almost all characters are described by a (at a minimum) 2-level grid of archetypes.

    There is a background archetype (barbarian, noble, fallen noble, creche-born, corn-fed peasant stock, alien, dirt poor, outsider, lost in time, mutant) and occupational/social-role archetype (scientist, commander, criminal, diplomat, scoundrel/rogue/wanderer, technician, warrior, adept/psychic).

    Race as class is basically using a background fantasy archetype and using it as an occupational/social-role archetype: those who fight, those who pray, those who know, those who take, those who aren't [human].

    Of course you're opinion, and mileage, may vary on whether you consider social-role to be defined by background or occupation.

    James, I know that the idea of 2 archetypes per character is getting very far away from your simple list of space opera archetypes but I would say that keeping anything that might be a background archetype off the list might help simplify things. Other than that I would just add Commander as an archetype.

  53. (hello from the future!)
    Complaints against the pilot "not doing pilot things" is moot. YOU decide what the main activities are in a game. (Based somewhat on common genre tropes.)
    Case in point: rogues. Searching for traps in dungeons (and the obligatory party role that comes with it) is very much a DnD invented thing. Yet many many games even today feel compelled to include traps and chests with locks that can be picked (not an actual story trope!) just because DnD did it.
    Trying to force in "Mystic" when magic is alien (hehe get it?) to most sci-fi settings really shows the hack DnD addicted thinking on display here.
    Just count how often characters are involved in space fights in say, Star Wars. Piloting, operating space cannons and ship repairs might be skills that every party needs.
    Eg. this is what the "party roles" were in the old SW trilogy:
    C3P0: diplomat (translator)
    R2D2: mechanic
    Han Solo: pilot, underground diplomat, gunfighter
    Chewbacca: Han Solo: pilot, mechanic, gunfighter
    Luke: pilot, melee fighter, force magic
    Leia: rebellion diplomat, gunfighter
    In any setting with plentiful sci-fi machinery like ships, robots, computer networks etc., skills like piloting, engineering, or programming/hacking are likely to come up often. (the cyberpunk genre really leaned into what you can do with virtual space so there's plenty to steal from.) You can even add things like mecha suits or exo-rigs to be operated with a Pilot class or skill if you want to make Pilot more of a classic fighter class thing. It's all up to you.