Public Service Announcement: Today is St. Valentine’s Day. Please remember to give the loved ones in your life a symbol of your appreciation. A greeting card, a box of chocolates, and/or a floral arrangement are all traditional gifts.

Flowers, chocolate, and the ubiquitous mass-produced gift card may seem dull and stereotypical to some, but millions of them will be given today. And nearly all of the givers and receivers consider them an appropriate gift. Many of them will be expecting such gifts.

I know what you’re thinking. “Gee, thanks. But what does this have to do with gaming?” Aside from saving what relationship you may have from your forgetful nature (and therefore earning enough ‘partner karma’ to continue gaming), it reminds us that not everyone shares the same perception of such things. Which is important for today’s topic: What is the difference between an archetype and a stereotype?

The difference is purely subjective*; it depends on what you like. Archetypes are positive; stereotypes are bad. My archetype is your stereotype. One person’s dull cliché is another’s expectation. One man’s entertainment is another man’s outrage. This may seem obvious, but to many it’s not.

Even knowing that everyone has different tastes is not enough. As a GM, there are a few proactive measures you can take.

Know Your Players

A good GM should be aware of where the line between ‘archetype’ and ‘stereotype’ falls for each of his players. You can pick this up by their reaction during play, by directly talking to them during the Game Charter conversation, or just by knowing their tastes in books and movies.

I’ve noticed that the dividing line between the two may fall in different places for different genres. For instance, a 1950s ‘space opera’ style game is more accepting of stereotypical characters than one focused on ‘hard’ sci-fi.

Learn to Compromise

My wife likes romantic comedies; I like ‘guy movies’. We compromise when we can, and occasionally take turns watching each other’s genre, but sometimes we watch movies without each other.

If you love the old-school goodness of the iconic archetypes of Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, and Priest cleaning out ecologically impossible dungeons, but some of your players just sigh and shake their head at another tired old set of tropes, then perhaps you could talk it over and find some common ground, or take a break from each other for a bit.

Wait – That’s It?

This isn’t groundbreaking material: we like what we like, and we shouldn’t assume that everyone else likes it, too. But any number of arguments, bad games, wasted characters, and even group disintegrations have needlessly occurred over unquestioned assumptions. Take a moment and talk to your players about what they like and don’t like. And since we’re such terrible judges of ourselves, double-check their answers by their reactions to your latest archetype.

Agree? Disagree? Got something to add? Sound off in the comments and let us know!

* I’m sure I’ll be taken to task by any number of English Lit majors for over-simplifying the complex relationship between ‘archetype’ and ‘stereotype’, but as I always tell English Lit majors, “venti iced mocha, four shots, extra chocolate, no whipped cream, please.”