When we think about some occupations, we immediately get an image: The uncompromising cop, the fainting lady... These stereotypes can be used to a great extent to create a sense of deepness, of a hidden layer, even in NPCs that the characters meet for a scene.
Let's look at this example scene and see how stereotypes can be used in different ways to enhance it.
The scene is quite simple: The characters arrive to the great market, and a preacher gives a speech about the power of belief, and about how to save one's soul:
And then, the lion will utter its name, and reveal its true nature, and the king and queen will have no choice but to surrender to the great true king, the creator of our land. And then! Then will the sheer power of our lion's very existence unravel all of the criminals and all of the murderers and all of the bad people, and the good and pure will prosper in the earth..."
'Till here, it's a normal speech. The preacher warns the commoners from bad things, and suggests that if they will do badly, he lion will reveal their true nature. The preacher here is probably a great person, very charismatic and stands probably above and beyond to the commoners' reach.
Let's think about something else: Let's give the preacher a trait that is against what we would accept from him: Our preacher is alcoholic. BAM! Immediately we've got a different picture, there's something stinky in this preacher, is not this good, he works against the people he's "trying" to save... It's still almost the same preacher, but now there's something deeper within him, something that makes him both more real and more humane. At the same time, this preacher just screams to be questioned by the PCs to get a greater understanding of him.
Let's think of another thing: We'll take one of the preacher's traits from the original stereotype, and we'll take it to the extreme. Our preacher is not only very charismatic and beyond the commoners' reach, but the commoners look at him like he's some kind of a holy person, a once in a lifetime person, one that... Maybe we'll change another thing: This preacher screams of daemonic powers. BAM! We've just got another preacher. The commoners don't listen to him because he's right, but because he's controlling them. It's like Sauron in the land of the Numenors.
The last way for today is by adding a random affection for something. Our preacher is obsessed with something, like flowers. He gives his speech, and he takes a break whenever a bucket or a basket with flowers moves in front of his eyes. Again, we're getting a different preach, one that has weaknesses, and that can be distracted by ordinary things and maybe even stumble in his words because of that.
What I was trying to show here, was that in all of the preachers we've begun with the stereotype and stayed quite close to it. It's still, after all, in a nutshell the same old preacher. But it's also a different one. The preacher became a different person when we changed a different thing in the stereotype. That's the whole truth. Changing a little thing in the stereotype can invoke magic in the way the character is being viewed.
And, that's it for today. How about you? How do you use stereotypes in your games?