Monday, July 29, 2013

More Thoughts on the Adventurers

The other day, I pointed out different historical examples of adventurers, based on the kinds of things adventurers typically do in a D&D game - explore old ruins for lost treasures, conquer territory, and pillage other people's stuff.  The usual.

I tend to think the most about settings that are alternate earths, low magic, a little more grim and gritty.  Monsters are on the rare side, at least in the civilized lands.  I get the sense most folks play a much higher fantasy game, wild west style, where it's totally appropriate for dangerous and heavily armed adventurers to wander the country side and do whatever they want with minimal interference.

It's not my first choice to do "the wild west with orcs and knights" thing, but it's certainly the easiest.  Other approaches force you to think a little longer and harder about the role of adventurers in the game and how they fit into the social structure.  The wild west solves a lot of problems.  (My family just got me to start playing Skyrim, and it's totally like wandering the wild west, with battle axes and dragons).

Here are some of the campaigns I've run in recent memory, or are currently thinking about, and how adventurers operate in the setting.

The Black City
I ran the Black City much of last year.  It involved a desolate island in the frozen north, home to a crumbling alien city.  Viking explorers have created a trading camp on the shores of the island each summer, to launch expeditions into the ruins.

This one is totally the wild west with battle axes; there is a veneer of civilization and law and order while back in Trade Town, but once a party enters the ruins, it's the law of the jungle.  It's worked pretty well for an archetypal D&D game without having to think to hard about the role of adventurers.

Gothic Greyhawk
Greyhawk is a high fantasy setting, and the players started out on a frontier where humans were rebuilding after wars with monsters a generation ago.  Settlements further up the Sterich Valley were still ruined and uninhabited.  Shortly after the campaign started, a zombie apocalypse swept over the region, depopulating the valley and the home town completely.  There were no institutional impediments to the characters forming their own mercenary company out in the dead zone, and they even started the process of domain building when the wave of zombies moved onward.

Harrow Home Manor
This one's just an idea - it involves a ruined manse on the Yorkshire moors in the 1600's (I talk about it a bit here in this post: Area map for Harrow Home Manor).  Adventurers would need to keep a low profile in towns and villages.  Carrying heavy weapons in town is sure to gain the attention of the constabulary, and returning to town laden with treasure is going to garner even more unwanted attention.  For that matter, the ruins themselves are the abandoned, ancestral ruins of some noble, somewhere.  An early modern game begins to put some pressure on the role of dangerous adventurers vis a vis the rest of society.

The Antediluvian Prison
Last week I discussed the idea of using Biblical folklore as the back drop for a megadungeon somewhere in the Near East - it'd involve themes of a war in heaven in the distant past, imprisonment of the losers beneath the ground, and a great flood wiping out the corrupt civilizations of a past age.

The great powers of the time, like the Romans, are pragmatic and focused on their military.  Resources are bent towards military use.  Expeditions would be sponsored to plumb any ancient ruins in search of lore and knowledge if there was any thought that artifacts or knowledge could be retrieved and used against enemies of the Republic.

Adventurers are probably mercenaries hired by the local governor to exploit the ruins, creating a natural tension between keeping their finds for themselves versus turning over their findings as per the contract.

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It's easiest to establish D&D style adventurers out on a frontier, making that clear distinction between the civilized lands behind you and the dangerous wilds ahead.  The point isn't lost on me that the campaigns we've played the longest had the fewest impediments on player action, and gave them full license to wander free, fully armed (despite any protestations that it's not my favorite approach).  Hmmm.