Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Adventurers as Insiders

Last week I wrote about adventurers as outsiders and why they are almost always slotted into that category. Today we're going to talk about ways that you can avoid this and integrate your adventurers so deeply into the society of your setting that they aren't really adventurers (in the classical sense) at all anymore.

The easiest way to begin the process of tying a character into their society is through the use of backstory. I know that I have railed against too-complex backstories hundreds, if not thousands, of times before but in this case the story can serve an integral purpose. Every link created in the character's past is one that can be used to anchor them to a certain social construct. Perhaps we should look at some good examples? Here they are then!

Nobility. The most obvious of the anchoring-points in a backstory, being a member of landed nobility is a perfect way to integrate your character into society. Even second and third sons would generally have some expectations placed on their shoulders (but not too much, enough that they could detach and transform into the classic "outsider" adventurers). If you have a character who is a noble that either stands to inherit a sizable estate or has already inherited it, this will certainly give you inexorable ties to the land, the people, and the social structures of the region.

There's also a huge number of pre-built conflicts that come with being a noble. You have the politics of other houses, the royal politics of your king or overlord, and the dangers to the entire kingdom which you can become involved in.

Tradework. Less impressive than being a noble, being involved in some kind of artisan trade or craft provides the same sort of ties. Whether you're an apprentice, journeyman, or master, you now have to contend with a Guild (in large cities only), your customer base, your neighbors, and the law. Adventures for craftsmen are not anything like normal D&D adventures. You probably won't be killing hardly any orcs or kobolds. Instead, you'll be engaged in making money, running a shop, hiring up apprentices, and possibly in fighting off competitors or becoming (here they are again) the favored craftsman for a noble.

Clerical. Perhaps you're not a nobleman, or you're a cleric in addition (which overrules being noble in terms of your concerns for the most part, unless you've inherited an estate and are serving in a temple). Clerics lead a completely different lifestyle, even more different depending on the way religions function in your particular setting. Their concerns are rivals in their temple, the power of other temples, and the day-to-day activities that have to go on within the temple walls.

Farming. The fourth type of "integrated" profession, farmers can own lonesome steads in the hills or high-value estates near great cities. Either way, there's always things for farmers to worry about: defending their land from the wild (here orcs and kobolds and other nasties can come back into play), solving murder-mysteries, acquiring new land, or even going off to settle new frontiers.

Merchants. These are the most like adventurers, since they are actually a form of outsider. Merchants travel frequently, acquiring goods in one place and selling them in another. I would almost say that mercantile ventures are so close to adventuring as to not include them here, but I have referenced them for completeness.

Playing this game. Each category of occupation supposes that you aren't going to play a regular game of D&D. You cannot, for example, just make whatever decisions you want. You have a huge set of responsibilities at the beginning of the game, and many of your days are planned out for you already. This is one of the reasons that D&D isn't great at representing this type of play, but there's absolutely nothing stopping you from it.

You have to agree that there is going to be a lot more rigorous and organized structure to the game. For example, if you're a farmer, you can't just up and leave your farm when there are things to be done (harvest-time, for example). Likewise, as a blacksmith's apprentice you can't leave the shop until you've done the requisite amount of work for the day (which may be most of the entire day).

Additionally, this forwards the question of "What are all the other players doing?" If everyone is from a single background, that may make things easier (we're all farmers in the same village) or it may make it much harder (we're all nobility with our own estates). Either way, if the PCs aren't going to occupy the same location and duties (I'll be a village farmer, you the village priest, you the village wizard, you the village lord) then you are going to have to discover a different way to play the game.

The wizard class will have a hard time fitting into this structure. Wizards are outsiders by nature and even if they are integrated in terms of position (official royal wizard, etc.) they are still considered outsiders. They don't have a real place in society in most fantasy settings, and giving them such a place (wizard academy, etc.) erodes their power as mystic wonderworkers and makes them closer to magical technicians which is generally an unenviable transformation.

So, how do you play the massively spread out "insider" game? I would recommend playing it the way you play Birthright or Gangbusters. Time is a lot more fluid, actions can be spread out over weeks, and any actual adventures that we would classify as such (ruins, dungeons, bandit camps) occur in a discreet time period before the large-scale time is resumed.

Of course, you're going to need rules. Lots of rules. How fertile is your ground? How much money do your estates accrue? What's the pension of a local cleric? This may seem like a headache now, but the creation of such systems can result in the creation of not only a totally new game-type but also a completely refreshing D&D experience.

I might help you out in the future with some systems of that nature. Stay tuned, sportsfans!

1 comment:

  1. As a veteran of several of your campaigns thereof, three cheers for the Birthright setting. Probably one of my favorite games of ours through the years.