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"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
Specialization is a common trend in fiction. It allows the author to create an ensemble cast where every member of a team provides a specific function, and avoids role duplication.
Not always, however.
Perhaps a character is a loner, and needs to be able to do everything on his own. Perhaps everyone else is just so useless, he had to take over their jobs as well as his own. Perhaps he just has a wide variety of interests. May be a sign of a person with a checkered past, who has had to take on a lot of roles in his life, just to get by. Whatever the reason, this character has at least some skill in a wide variety of disciplines.
Sometimes the leader of a group may actually be a Jack of All Trades, with a good, basic grasp of the specialized skills possessed by the members of his team, allowing him to understand how to use each team member to their fullest potential.
Supertrope of Renaissance Man (where someone is exceptionally good at many things) and Master of None (where someone is not very good at a lot of things). A related trope found in Video Games and Tabletop Games is the Jack of All Stats, who has well-balanced stats, not skills.
Anime and Manga
- Ussop from One Piece (before the time skip) seems to be this. He's not an especially good fighter, though he gets in on the action here and there and uses his cleverness when he can. He was doing his best to fix the ship, as the only one who had any skills in that area before they got a shipwright. He mostly did odd jobs on the ship for the crew, not having a specialization like all the others.
- Whilst his pure combat skills where sub-par compared to the other (Admittedly super-human) characters, his aim was always extremely good (Which did in at least one occasion come to great help). Since the time-skip it simply seems he has gotten the combat power to use it effectively against more powerful enemies.
- Robert Heinlein's character, Lazarus Long, an immortal, and the source of the page quote, was a firm advocate of learning a wide variety of skills to be prepared for change (a matter of some concern for an immortal, of course).
- The aptly named Jack of The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, a freelance businessman who does "a little bit of everything", though he will assure you that he is not one of those giant-slaying Jacks.
- Michael from the Knight and Rogue Series has a multitude of unusual skills ranging from carpenty to bar tending. This is mostly due to his knight errantry consisting of helping with odd jobs that need to be done as he's passing by.
- Remington Steele: he may be a fake detective, but Steele's previous life as a conman left him with a wide variety of useful skills.
- A nonfictional example: Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs tries to be this, though he often ends up closer to Master of None.
- Highlander has Methos who after 5000 years has held just about every possible job and has picked up just about any practical skill imaginable. This makes him different from most other immortals who seem to pick a niche and stick with it.
- Bruce Springsteen has a song called "Jack of All Trades".
I'll mow your lawn
Clear the leaves out your drain
I'll mend your roof, to keep out the rain
I take the work that God provides
I'm a jack of all trades
Honey, we'll be all right.
- Dominion: Hinterlands gives us the Jack of All Trades card. It grants four common effects -- gaining a card, inspecting your deck, drawing cards, and the option to trash a card -- but is nowhere near the best at any of those.
- Magic: The Gathering:
- A five-color deck will have a less reliable mana base than a one- or two-color deck, but it'll have access to all the different tools that every color can offer.
- Obelisk of Alara. It gives you access to five different simple abilities with a wide range of uses, spanning all five colors.
- Murphy's World. Sean Murphy (the man who discovered the title planet) spent a lot of time in crummy jobs, giving him a wide but shallow set of skills.
- Eando Kline of Pathfinder, as part of being a well-built sorcerer/rogue/bard.
- Shadowrun supplement Aztlan. Shamans of the Jaguar totem prefer to acquire a minimum level of talent in a wide array of skills rather than specializing in a limited package of talents like most characters.
- Classic Traveller. The Jack of All Trades skill allowed a character to use any other skill at level 0, which meant that they would avoid penalties for lack of skill but not gain any bonuses either.
- Hollow Earth Expedition supplement Secrets of the Surface World. The Jack of All Trades skill gives a broad familiarity with a variety of different tasks, without any formal training. The character may use any skill that they have no training in at no penalty (General Skill) or reduced penalty (Specialized Skill).
- In Final Fantasy XIII, all of your characters can eventually use any class, not just the three that they start with. However, classes developed outside of a character's main three are relatively underpowered and may not be suited to that character's strengths. (For example, Hope can become a Sentinel but his very low HP makes him unsuited for the role.)
- The Shaman class in World of Warcraft used to be this when the game was young, being able to tank, heal, hit and cast, but not being particularly good at any of them.
- The Druid class would probably better fit this role, seeing how Shamans have no viable tanking specialization.
- In Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu, the Master Knight class is this. It can use any weapon of the game outside of Holy Weapons, A-Ranked Light Magic, and Dark Magic. It's a strong class able to perform well in anything it can do, even though it doesn't pack the immense power the Holy Weapon wielders have.
- In Drakensang you can possibly create such a character by learning different abilities from different teachers. You could end up with a human swordsmaster who can also practice stealth, pickpocket, recognize plants, identify magical items, disarm traps and know of to seduce a lady. And you can do this with basically any character (however, some characters have natural disadvantages regarding certain skills).
- In Runescape, the Player Character is encouraged to become one of these. There's no class system; all players get to train every skill, and are rewarded for doing so. The Shattered Heart activity gives rewards in 15 different skills and has a bonus reward if you do all of them. The "Jack of Trades" aura (invoking the trope by name) gives an xp bonus if you work on lots of skills in a short time. There's lots of other ways that skills are subtly intertwined so that it's better to train them in tandem than it is to work on them separately, and of course, all the different skills are required for various quests, so anyone who wants to do all the quests will be forced to branch out.
- Can be Taken Up to Eleven if you train everything, you end up being a Lightning Bruiser Magic Knight who knows something about everything, can fix anything and can kill anything that bleeds (and some things that don't).
- Quentyn Quinn, hero of Tales of the Questor, failed every apprenticeship he applied for, leading him to think he's not good at anything. Once he become Questor, however, it becomes clear that while he's not good at anything, he's a little bit good at everything, allowing him to combine his skills in unexpected ways.
- Jim Morales from Code Lyoko had a ludicrous amount of jobs before settling down as the gym teacher of Kadic Academy. His skills come in useful from time to time, particularly in one episode wherein he and Jeremie had to survive alone in the wilderness.