Though I’m not really a fan of April Fool’s Day, I like to think I appreciate the fools that exist in our stories. Clowns and jesters all have a place. But where is it? And how can we use those characters?
Fools have a part to play in all great historical endeavors. Some have had power. Others have wished it. And the wisest have left it to others. But where do they appear in your games?
In history and fiction, fools are often portrayed as simple or stupid, but just as often they are the real power in a particular royal court. Just look at some of the classic quotes I found in a quick search:
“The greatest fools are ofttimes more clever than the men who laugh at them.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Storm of Swords
“Showing off is the fool’s idea of glory.”
― Bruce Lee
“He who hesitates is a damned fool.”
― Mae West
“A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
― William Shakespeare
“Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.”
I often play the fool as a PC, enjoying the freedom it affords me. A simple die roll can make a decision I was unwilling or unable to make myself as a player, which often pushes the story forward in new and unique ways.
It’s tougher to play the fool as a NPC I think, as they become some of the wisest characters in many ways. Fools are invisible though often in plain sight. And they are sometimes thought senseless, though they often see, hear, and feel more clearly than anyone around them.
So how do we work these strangely dark, comic, tragic, or insightful characters into our stories organically?
Here are seven possibilities for fools in your game:
- The classic jester in a king’s court as a simpleton with a mind like a steel trap. Ask anything and he (or she) can recall the smallest detail of anything that occurred while they were in the room. They may not comprehend such things, but quoting speakers word for word and recounting action and location can be very useful to a discerning ear.
- The other classic jester as a twisted, intelligent mind unceremoniously stuffed into a warped or broken body and forced to perform for others. This genius can cause a war with a careful whisper into the right ear.
- The gentle giant who everybody loves in a particular town. This is the traditional Lennie character from Of Mice and Men who will protect his friends with a zeal that is hard to match.
- The village idiot who has an opinion on everything and is willing to share if you would but bend an ear…
- The town drunk who says things that other people are only thinking and is more than willing to start a fight over the smallest offense.
- The town harlot who is always looking for love in the wrong places. Male or female, the harlot can be easily encouraged with a bit of liquid courage.
- The professional fool is one who treats hilarity as art, practicing day and night with acrobatic and verbal prowess to entertain the masses on a moment’s notice.
Your PCs can easily find these characters by reputation in town. Some may use their notoriety as a boon, negotiating for their services. Others may simply stumble into scene after scene making their presence known to any new faces.
As GM, it’s your job to use these characters as tools in whatever Machiavellian plots you may have concocted. As a PC, if you so choose, it’s your job to play one of these characters to the hilt.
And remember that a bit of randomness can introduce a unique twist with a simple die roll. Use your dice like a collection of Magic Eight Balls, asking a question and rolling to get a result. On an even number, go for it! On an odd number, perhaps using discretion *is* the better part of valor.
But never overlook the power of the fool. Who knows what they know and are capable of!
Looking for other NPCs and description suggestions? Check out any of the available Moebius Adventures products at RPGNow, DriveThruRPG, Paizo, or d20pfsrd!