Why using Barbarians as Characters in Stories is Risky Business

“The mindless beast.”
“ . . . dull creature.”
“ . . . a big, green, rage monster.”
Loki: “I have an army.”
Stark: “We have a hulk.”

For fans of the original Hulk character construct, these are good words. However, times have changed, and so have characters in our favorite genres. Much to my chagrin, I had to change my movie watching behavior. If only I could go back in time. Sigh!

The Hulk

“…this big, green rage-monster.”

Fast forward to today, and we have the Hulk and Dr. Banner as the same person, at the same time, and I cannot handle it. I want the Hulk to be this big, green rage-monster. He needs to be this big, green rage-monster! For the story, there is not much character development as a big monster, but it does make for some exciting action. But if that is all we are getting from the character – action – then what are we missing? According to the monomyth, The Hero’s Journey, the character needs to go through some form of transformation – a death and rebirth experience – and be better for it. In the Hulk series, we know that the gamma rays should have killed him. In a sense, they did. Dr. Banner is no longer just a weak, timid, scientist. He is transformed. He dies, and is reborn into the big, green rage-monster! Although this is – in fact – the character’s death and rebirth experience, there is no further growth for the character. Or is there?

The (movie) evidence suggests that the Hulk continues to transform and grow.

Image by pendleburyannette from Pixabay
Image by pendleburyannette from Pixabay

In the movie, The Incredible Hulk (2008), we are given three specific examples of character development:

  1. Betty Ross (love interest) can calm him down.
  2. He thinks of a strategy to defeat the Abomination.
  3. He does not actually kill the Abomination at the end of the movie.

In the Avengers (2012) movie, we are given a few more examples of character development:

  1. He can function as part of a team.
  2. He can take orders from Captain America.
  3. He saves Iron Man from plummeting to his death.

In Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Black Widow can calm the Hulk.

Of course, this is where I must stop.

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

TTRPG & The Hulk

“play is one of the main ways in which children learn and develop.”

But what does the Hulk have to do with tabletop role-playing games? I am glad you asked! I continue to explore the value of tabletop role playing games in the classroom and academic environments. In previous articles, I posited that role-playing is an extension of storytelling, and that storytelling is an extension of humanity. If this is true, then role-playing is also an essential element of our humanity. Although the roles we play in real life have actual consequences and impacts on others, there is a lot to learn from how we interact with others in a role-play environment. This knowledge can transfer to the real world. Therefore play – in all of its constructs – is so important to children. At its foundation, “play is one of the main ways in which children learn and develop. It helps to build self worth by giving a child a sense of his or her own abilities and to feel good about themselves” (Family Lives, n.d., para 1).

Fantasy World Barbarian

“…only advantage to a campaign is in combat, and only under specific situations.”

In this fantasy world, characters are grouped according to classes – or archetypes. In D&D, these classes designate occupations – or jobs. Based on class, a character has a specific skill set and knowledge base. This includes the Barbarian class. In D&D role-play, the barbarian class is rooted in Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian character construct. Without diving too much into this archetype’s backstory, I can easily identify some of the basic characteristics:

  1. Has few, if any, verbal communication skills.
  2. Uses brute force, strength, and rage in all combat situations.
  3. Relies on instinct rather than cunning, strategy, and planning when facing an enemy.
  4. Rage increases the character’s ability to fight, and to heal.

In recent developments, the barbarian character can also morph into a beast-like monster with sharp teeth, claws, and a tail – let us not go there now. As described, this character has clearly defined parameters and may not be the preferred role-play character archetype within a game or learning environment. The character’s only advantage to a campaign is in combat, and only under specific situations. I will continue to expand on this idea in future articles.

Image by pendleburyannette from Pixabay
Image by pendleburyannette from Pixabay
Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

TTRPG in k12 Education

“How, then can we expand on the value of role-playing as a form of education?”

Bringing this home. If you remember your days in k12 education, you were taught a few things about narrative writing and literature. Like me, you may not remember a whole lot about it. But believe me, it was part of the curriculum. And you probably read a famous novel or two in your middle and high school years. I remember having to write a three-part play in high school. I did well, but it was not my main interest. Little did many of us realize just how valuable all this information was. In truth, much of the TTRGP modules, rule books, and game situations are a bridge from these classic novels, just re-packaged for a role-playing environment. How, then, can we expand on the value of role-playing as a form of education?


Bauman, H. (2016). The 12 common archetypal characters in storytelling & how to use them. Retrieved from https://btleditorial.com/2016/12/05/common-archetypal-character/

Family Lives. (n.d.). Why play matters. Retrieved from https://www.familylives.org.uk/advice/early-years-development/learning-and-play/why-play-matters/

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