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Basic Information

Tricksters are characters who play tricks, disobey normal rules, or otherwise challenge authority. Mythopoetically tricksters tend to serve to break down barriers to progress and/or overcome unjust authority - a trickster may also serve as a form of donor, either by stealing ill gotten resources from a villain, or in a culture hero capacity (for example, by stealing fire from the gods to give to Mankind). In a divine myth, tricksters sometimes create useful or dual natured things by accident - objects carelessly discarded or lost during a prank often take on great significance, but, given the culture hero role, an otherwise ambiguous trickster may be credited with some very significant gift. At lower levels trickster may assist the hero of a narrative for a variety of reasons: sometimes because the hero's cause will create disruption (which amuses the trickster) and/or discomfit some long term enemy of the trickster; sometimes he will assist in recompense for a trick played on the hero, or the hero's assistance in avoiding punishment for some earlier offense. The trickster is usually a male character, often representing the adolescent male in any given "path of life". (Indeed the trickster or "knave" is sometimes seen as one of the Three faces of Man.)

Other common roles for the trickster are as an amiable freeloader (often found engaged in fence painting and stone soup production), the wise fool (often as a foil to another, more malevolent trickster), the cunning servant (usually as a foil to a stupid master) and the agent of nemesis (or at least karmic balance - deflating the pompous and greedy).

That said, a trickster need not necessarily be humourous - the Machivellian chessmaster is an aspect of the trickster, as is the con man, the evil clown and the snake-oil salesman. Any character who favours deceit over hard work has the potential to fulfill this role. The Fair Folk are also fond of appointing themselves to this role (pooka being especially well known for it), but their sense of humour may leave something to be desired - especially for the more unseelie variety.

The Devil sometimes ends up taking over trickster roles in European legends (often from more ambiguous pre-Christian figures) but seems equally prone to being the victim of tricksters.

List of Trickster Archetypes

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Named Tricksters

Tricksters from Myth and Legend

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Game and Story Use

  • If you introduce such a character as an NPC, especially as one intended to go against the players, play fair and make sure that there is some way of defeating or thwarting him.
    • Using them as a recurring nuisance to syphon off excess treasure or otherwise tip the odds back against the party when they are doing better than you expected is always a potential application, especially if the trickster is someone the PCs cannot kill in all good conscience.
    • In fact, this may bring back the option of trickster as karmic balance - when the dice are against them, the trickster swoops in and provides a distraction or escape route, when they are riding high, the trickster is there with banana skins and superglue. Moderately insane deities do well in this role.
  • Player character tricksters are harder to pull off, but can be rewarding when done right. Just make sure that the other players are on the same page when it comes to your humor…
    • Realistically this is an easy role for the party's faceman or theif to fall into - the one who pulls of bait-and-switches, shell games and Bavarian Firedrills to tip the odds for the combat monsters.
  • The Runequest fRPG makes quite a feature of tricksters, who play a significant but somewhat ill-defined role in the Orlanthi social structure.
  • Because so many tricksters are shapeshifters or masters of disguise it's possible that any of the characters mentioned on this page could be, or could be masquerading as, nearly any of the other characters mentioned on this page. This goes double if your campaign or story uses themes like bissociation, syncretism and interpretatio graeca.
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