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The Picaresque Hero

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The iconic hero encounters a state of disorder, and, by remaining true to his self and ethos, solves a problem, rectifying that disorder.

The dramatic hero is torn between two opposing impulses. He either resolves this internal disorder, or is destroyed by it.

What of the picaresque hero, the footloose protagonist of a winding tale of travel, either literal, or figurative (such as travel through social ranks)? He is Cugel, Gulliver, Encolpius, Barry Lyndon, Don Quixote. He journeys through a fundamentally disordered world, which acts upon him as much as he acts upon it. His changing fortunes reflect the disorder without altering it. He may be blinkered by a wayward moral compass, or, as in Quixote’s case, delusion. He is a critique of the heroic vision.

RPG characters are very often constructed using the tropes of iconic hero fiction, but in practice, whether because their players are grubbing for XPs or reveling in a freedom from social constraint, behave like picaresques. The less structured and more sandboxy the GM’s narrative style, the more their exploits structurally resemble the picaresque.

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