Thursday, 15 March 2018

On Career Prospects and the Lives of Adventurers

Your average RPG/D&D bog of mill adventurer does not look like they would in a sensible world where population demographics exist. 

Neo-Classical Adventuring is a terrible choice of profession for your Average Fantasy Joe. 

The job description is as follows: 
  • Travel through several leagues of untracked wilderness looking for a dungeon, while trying to avoid wilderness encounters and avoid getting lost.  
  • Once you get there, descend into the depths of the earth, while dealing with various traps, hazards, diseases, wildlife ad naseum. 
  • Finding some bad guys, and murdering a small tribe of humanoid gribblies on their home turf.
  • Gather spoils from the corpses.
  • Head home, go to tavern (if you can afford it).
  • Rinse and repeat, with increasingly more brutal, terrifying and eldritch bad guys as you go on. 
In short, the benefits are:
  • Potential acquisition of powerful magic items. 
  • Occasional chance of becoming wildly rich, but only once you kill enough monsters to steal their shit. 
  • No workplace benefits, or guarantee of stable lodging or income. 
  • Far more likely risk of brutal, painful death.
You can get rich, but you will more likely just die. 

Sit back, right now wherever you are reading this blog post. Does this sound like an enticing career path? Let's face it, most humans are risk averse and desire stability, comfort and just enough money to keep going. 

There isn’t a parallel job role in modern society, or in a medieval one. There probably hasn’t been one in human society throughout all of history. There nearest thing is Gentleman Adventurers exploring the Andes or the Amazon, or Archaeologists breaking into the pyramids. 

These things don't have zombies in them.  

Being a soldier doesn’t touch it. Even being part of a stable army in the middle of a war is probably 75-95% not fighting. Everything in adventuring about knocking down doors, killing monsters and stealing their shit. If you ain't stealing shit, you ain't eating. There isn't much downtime.  

Why has your protagonist chosen adventuring as a career option? Why hasn’t your fighter become a guard in the town militia, or joined the army? Why hasn’t your rogue joined a gang or a Thieves Guild? Why isn’t your cleric still at the temple? Why isn’t your wizard in a tower, studying like a sensible magician? 

Adventuring leaves you a homeless vagabond, with no guarantee of one meal to the next. 

This adds a vital question in character creation. What compelled your character to seek out this utterly bonkers way of living? 

If this is true, and its such an awful option, how come most adventurer in whatever D&D content you buy look like this? 

I don't do myself a favour here by picking art from 7th Sea, a romantic swashbuckling game, but I'm lazy and it came up on google.       
This guy is well-trimmed and smart looking.  He has shaved in the last 3 days. He is wearing clean clothes. You could go for a beer with him. 

What is he doing 50 yards from the surface in a dank cave? Why is he knee deep in swamp ooze and covered in the blood of dismembered kobolds? 

This guy doesn't look like what I envisage as a fantasy adventurer. This is a common theme that dissatisfies me in Modern RPG products. Everyone just looks a bit too clean. 

If your character does look like this, then there is a probably a damn good reason they sought out adventuring. 

The first great DM told me any good D&D should have answered the following 3 questions in their backstory. In fact, they made us all write it on a post-it note before we even looked character sheets. 

(Erin was great. We will talk about their PARTY creation method in another blog post.) 
  1. Who am I?
  2. What do I want? 
  3. Why am I finding it by adventuring?
Unless your character has a really compelling answer to that final question, they are probably at least one of these four things. 
  1. Unemployable - Perhaps due to personality deficiency, boredom or stupidity, your character is incapable of holding down a stable job as a guard, hairdresser, farmer, tavern wench, small business owner or fisherman. To survive they have turned to adventuring, as the only way they can make money. 
  2. On The Run From The Law - Your character had a sensible job in a sensible town. Maybe even a fitting boy or girl or a couple of kids. Something went wrong, and now they are unable to exist within that society. 
  3. Lack of Family or Place In Society - They never got a proper job because it wasn't an option to them. Perhaps this is why RPG characters are always orphans? They lacked the proper parental guidance to get them into a sensible career in the post office.  
  4. Thrill Seeker/Lunatic - Your character is fucking insane, and goes into dungeons for fun. 

Amusingly, if all of your character is one of these things, your adventuring party starts to turn from looking like this...
Terrible example again, cos this is one of my favourite pieces of art from the 5e PHB
to this...

That's good advice. Be these guys. Buy Lamentations of the Flame Princess and go wild!

Your "Adventurers" are now a bunch of homeless, vagabond, insane murderhobos. 

And these are only kinds of people who would do adventuring in the real world. 

This has some real interesting implications for your world-building. There is a certain tragic nobility for this kind of quasi-underclass saving the world for everyone else. 

Imagine the generic baron of these lands greeting our heroes for the first time. He is expecting a gallant group of knights in shining armour and noble wizards and priestly men of god. What arrives instead is a squalid gang of wretched folk, with sordid lives and all the more sordid futures. 

God damn, that’s a campaign I would love to play. 

For more about these kinds of protagonist, see the upcoming game I wrote, Best Left Buried.