Has a newbie ever asked you, “How do I play a (insert fantasy/historical trope here)?” To answer this question, we need look no further than page 15 of the rulebook: “Your character and persona are defined through your actions and behavior, not the name of the class that gives you your abilities.” This means that the abilities of the class are important, not its name. With imagination and flair, a great many character concepts can be play through one of the existing classes. While this article focuses primarily on wizard, its points can be applied across the classes. If one ignores the name of the class and focuses on its field role, the creative use of garb and equipment and actively attempting to portray an archetype the class structure becomes extremely flexible.
Picture an Amtgard wizard. What elements define a wizard in your mind? The great characters of legend and tale, Merlin, Gandalf, and Yensid spring forth almost without effort. The staff, wand, and clichéd floppy, pointy hat follow like ducks in a row. Add onto these a yellow sash and we have the basic wizard. This view of the wizard is the only one most of Amtgard will ever see. However, the only thing of these elements that is necessary for Amtgard is the yellow sash. All of the other elements are from our preconceived notions of the word 'wizard.'
However, if we think not of the name, but rather the role on the field, the class of wizard opens up to many more interpretations. A younger player at a nearby park recently asked about playing a pirate and the rules on guns. The simple and obvious solution would have been to tell him that guns are illegal and he has to play one of the classes in the rulebook. Yet, with a little thought, another solution became apparent. Obviously, anything that directly simulates gunpowder was expressly illegal; however, a sidebar in the Amtgard 7's Nautical Nights provided a little insight. A gun wielding pirate became a ranged DPS... just like a 'spell-ball wizard.' The issue then became, not whether or not one could play a pirate, but how to do so convincingly.
To play any class outside of the easy Medieval Fantasy stereotype, one has to play the character to the hilt. The first step to this is creating the visible appearance of difference. The defining garb of a wizard is simply his yellow sash. Anything else is fluff. Thus, to portray a pirate, I built a set of 'fluff' garb including proper boots, a foam parrot, and a really nice hat. However, the centerpiece of my kit for the day was a specially built flat-blade short sword. While conforming to all weapon construction rules, the “Boomstick” looked like a flintlock musket. By pantomiming loading it every time that I charged a spell-ball and aiming it when casting ranged verbals, I was able to create the illusion of small arms fire. When combined with role playing the concept of pirate, this achieved the desired result. Not only my teammates but also my opponents began to acknowledge my piratical skills rather than arcane powers. At one point, it even became necessary to ask, “Who be the bilge-rat what invoked parley?” as the other side began to play along.
This sort of play is not limited to either wizard or pirate. For a Star Wars flair, creatively playing wizard allows for easily portraying a Sith lord. With a little effort, assassin and monk can become the rapier fighters of Renaissance Italy. While the warrior is easily pictured as the historical man-at-arms of the Hundred Years War and the Crusades, it is a short jump to the samurai of feudal Japan. Bard lends itself readily to the Confessors of the Sword of Truth series. By ignoring the class's name and focusing on what it does, each of these models and many more fit into the existing framework.
The use of imagination and role play allows you to look beyond the name of a class and attempt to play it in a way that fits your persona. We may not picture Blackbeard or Jack Sparrow when thinking of wizard, but the mechanics of the class lend themselves to piracy. The use of garb and gear that break the mind's mold of a class go a long way towards making this something with which others will want to interact. So long as you use the class's existing abilities, you can portray a different interpretation of it. Remember: “It is up to you to give them life, substance, and personality.”
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