Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Adventurers are Rockstars

I'm not sure where I originally picked up this idea. I'm sure I didn't come up with it independently while reading D&D material. It must have filtered in from somewhere, since I stand on the shoulders of giants in terms of gaming. I started playing in 4th grade, which must have been in... 1990. I bought my first books in 5th grade, which makes that '91. The Forgotten Realms are older than I am, and I know this is a concept that has sometimes been bandied about in Realms material.

However, it's one that I've done my best to incorporate into Arunia. I think its important to understand specifically what I'm talking about, not just the general "oh yeah, adventurers are the D&D equivalent of modern day rockstars and celebrities." What I mean is that adventuring in Arunia is a social phenomenon. It occurs as part of society and has a recognized place on the social hierarchy (essentially outside it, allowing for huge lateral and vertical movement across normally difficult social planes). This is hardly unique to Arunia, but it does have a number of implications that we can draw out.

In a setting that doesn't assume adventuring is common, adventurers may in fact be protagonist-like heroes. This sets the players apart from the normal population of the setting, making them special. This type of setting seems to lean towards the play common in later D&D editions (3+) as well as other games. PC exceptionalism can only be enhanced by making their very job description a rarity.

If the PCs are not exceptional, adventurers must be common (or the PCs aren't adventurers, perhaps). In Arunia the common presence of adventuring parties and mercenary companies is assumed. Successful companies may be well known, well integrated into society (by, for example, being named as lords or high priests of important lands or temples), and may be fabulously wealthy and attended by dozens if not hundreds of hangers-on and mercenaries.

Here are some common ways that adventurers resemble rock bands:

- Names: Adventuring companies in Arunia, as in many settings, often think of a name for themselves (or are given a descriptive name by the people they work for/around/with). These names are a sort of marketing feature, allowing them to broadcast their intentions far and wide. Good-aligned groups tend to shy away from names like THE BLOODY SHIELD and the GORY BANNER. Mercenary-naming conventions from the High Medieval and Renaissance are common, but there's also an element of the Black Company thrown in there. Your name is your ambassador, so if you want to be thought of as fearsome, have a fearsome name.

- Party Membership: Like a lot of good rock outlets, the roster rarely stays the same over the years. The same things that cause bands to break up, of course, affect adventurers. Stresses from being in close quarters with people you may not necessarily like all that much for extended periods can certainly take their toll. However, unlike rock, adventuring is a HIGHLY LETHAL career. This results in parties where no original members are left alive, where parties break up and reform and join other parties, where a name can be passed on for generations to new groups that inherited the old soul of the previous party.

- Fame and Fortune: In many ways, adventuring is taking the easy way out (or is seen as such). Instead of making do with your lot, you risk death and dismemberment to become fabulously wealthy and laden with ancient magic. This tends to raise hackles in some folks just as much as it spawns adoration in others. Many see adventuring loot as unfairly earned (and a lot of that is probably justified). Adventurers are not always scrupulous, they can overcome social boundaries with relative ease, and they appear to be universally successful (because you only really hear about the guys that make it).

Clearly, there are other important factors to consider when examining the social effect of adventuring. There will almost certainly be vast economic problems when wealthy adventurers roll into an area and begin spending a large amount of money - this is an ancient D&D truism. However, much of Arunia has a rudimentary monied economy where mercantile income (taxes on licensed markets) represents the only source of tax-in-coin collected by local lords.

There's nowhere for that money to go except into mercantile networks, strengthening trade routes and causing massive upticks in market attendance. I'm not quite good enough at economic theory to carry the notion beyond that and since I'm an early medievalist I don't quite know enough yet about high medieval markets and mercantile ventures to spin out a good analysis on the subject, but I imagine that the baseline would be that rural regions simply won't be able to absorb that much cash, leading to a bleeding effect as the money is siphoned off to major political/market centers.

Other social effects of adventuring parties include: a much higher willingness to hire and make use of mercenaries across the board, the ability to engage in dangerous political schemes without directly exposing oneself by using mercenaries as a catspaw, and the farming out of dangerous war-time duties to professional murderers.

I've tried to give Arunia as much verisimilitude as possible, and that includes interpreting and understanding the effect of adventurers on social structures the setting-over.


  1. Being a rockstar is also pretty lethal, you gotta admit. And you die for the same reasons - going too hard, too quick, or by unhappy accident.

  2. I have often said that if I ran a points of light styled game, the character would be like glam rock stars complete with platform shoes, rival bands, smarmy managers and groupies . . . but that is neither here nor there.

    The comparison to rock stars is a good one I think and successful adventurers can be disruptive to the social fabric because of their odd origins (and ofter, even odder philosophical/political views).