May 31, 2011

Adventurers and Society

The iconic adventurer is a person outside of society. They follow no lord. They essentially rob tombs. They are judge, jury and executioner (no adventurer has ever brought an orc to trial). They wander from town to town, becoming a part of nothing.

Society likewise mistrusts the adventurer for making the choice to live outside the norms. Adventurers are not to be trusted; after all they have no vested interest in the community. They have made a choice that is an aberration. Adventurers are here today and gone tomorrow, and if the stories spread around are true, they are gone with something of value to the community.

What if we turned this stereotype and cliché on its head? What if instead they were a part of society? What if they were the same as a baker or blacksmith in the eyes of society; where being an adventurer is just another occupation? That is how I am running it in one of my current campaigns. In this society, adventurers are looked favorably upon and have been integrated into the customs and societal norms.

There are quite a few advantages of doing something like this.

-The players buy into the world and become invested in it. Instead of being apart from society they become a part of it. Its problems become their problems. Adventures become less about what the characters can gain from it, but rather what their society can gain from it. Thus it allows for a broader range of quest lead-ins.

-Removes the automatic animosity of the “common” folk toward adventurers. While some like that feeling of alienation or elitism, I would prefer it if the alienation was a result of a character’s actions as opposed to their choice of vocation. Again this allows for easier introduction of quests. It is more believable that a town would trust and ask for the aid of a party of adventurers when those adventurers are part of their own society.

-Feelings of worth. Few things rankle me more than saving a town from certain doom only to have them revile me because I am “one of those adventurer types”. Players get a sense of respect and worth for completing an adventure, more so than if they were just there for the lootz. Adventures gain more meaning.

How can a GM integrate adventurers into society?

-Provide an explanation of why and when adventurers turned from pariahs to upstanding citizens. This is often an example wherein a group of adventurers saved the kingdom from certain destruction, or can include legends of adventurers who sacrificed much for the kingdom.

In my own campaign, over 500 years ago the empire was invaded by an army of demons. Things looked bleak for the empire, until a group of adventurers found a way into Hell and killed the Demon Prince behind the invasion. Only one of the group survived, but for this act the empire recognized the contributions of adventurers and worked to include them in society.

-Regulate the adventurers. Nothing says you are a part of society than if society makes laws and rules for your existence. This could include such things as taxes, mandatory military service, laws affecting the killing of certain other races (such as orcs), registration, etc.

In my campaign, every adventuring group is required to buy a license (cost is nominal at 100gp per year). This license absolves them from paying taxes on treasure found. It also allows the Magistrate (basically the sheriff) to conscript the group if they are needed for the safety of a settlement.

-Let adventurers serve a function in society. This could range from troubleshooters, registered relic recoverers, to scouts in a new land.

In my campaign, the empire has discovered a new continent. Along with colonists, the empire has offered rewards for adventuring groups to explore the new land. They are offering cash payouts for every 25 miles thoroughly explored (by coincidence, 25 miles equals the area of one of the hexes on my map). In addition, the party is leading the exploration and what they find and how they react to it will affect the colony and ultimately the empire’s presence in this new land.

So, try something new and make the adventurers a valued member of society. You may be surprised by how your players react. Has anyone don something similar and how did it work out?

1 comment:

Victor Von Dave said...

I personally really like the cliche of the adventurer as a dangerous, maybe slightly crazy outsider who deals with things the rest of society is too afraid to (the depiction of adventurers in China Meiville's Perdido Street Station is great for this). But that could just be the DM in me that likes it when the yokels take super powerful PCs down a peg.

That said, I really dig your idea. Especially the whole integration into a societal role (the licence is great). You could have a great adventure navigating the sometimes deadly political machinations between the adventurers guild and the noble houses of a city.