Monday, February 6, 2012


Note: This post is one part rant, and one part constructive response to the rant.

I've been reading on Enworld quite a bit lately. Yeah, I know. Not quite the hub of the Old School Renaissance, is it?

When I read posts there, I'm struck by the breadth of the D&D experience, specifically across the editions - and, at times, how little we have in common.

One of the things that I know is completely perspectival, but still bugs me, is the god-damn "adventurers are heroes" crap. I realize that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but that doesn't mean that I have to agree with it. Part of the reason why the "hero" thing bugs me is that it connects to all sorts of broader discussions about play-style, edition preference, and the influence of Hollywood fantasy/sci-fi films in tabletop gaming. These are usually the same folks who claim "cinematic action" is a necessity of tabletop gaming. I don't lay blame at their feet solely. To some degree it's generational and it's what they've been told to expect in word and image from WotC and others.

That being said, here's my take on the perception of adventurers:

In my game, adventurers are considered from a low fantasy point of view. They are scruffy and morally ambiguous. They might actually do "good" on occasion, but that wouldn't necessarily be done for its own sake. More often than not it happens to be coincidental to treasure seeking. In addition, adventurers occupy a unique social position much like gladiators in Ancient Rome. Adventurers are both lauded and despised by society. They are despised because adventuring is the act of desperate men (or women). Only those on the social and economic fringe of society would knowingly choose a quick gp (and certain death) over gainful employment. On the other hand, of countless rabble who strap on a sword and are never heard from again, occasionally an adventurer or a small group will return laden with coin and recount tales of their exploits against Draconis the Red Dragon! Or their battle against the Goblins of Kertle! Or whatever. These adventurers are very few, but their tales hang on the tongues of local villagers such that their reputations become much larger and grander in the constant retelling (than they really are in drunken reality).

So how do you consider adventurers?


  1. Kelly: Well Oddball, what do you think?
    Oddball: It's a wasted trip baby. Nobody said nothing about locking horns with no Tigers.
    Big Joe: Hey look, you just keep them Tigers busy and we'll take care of the rest.
    Oddball: The only way I got to keep them Tigers busy is to LET THEM SHOOT HOLES IN ME!
    Crapgame: Hey, Oddball, this is your hour of glory. And you're chickening out!
    Oddball: To a New Yorker like you, a hero is some type of weird sandwich, not some nut who takes on three Tigers.
    Kelly: Nobody's asking you to be a hero.
    Oddball: No? Then YOU sit up in that turret baby.
    Kelly: No, because you're gonna be up there, baby, and I'll be right outside showing you which way to go.
    Oddball: Yeah?
    Kelly: Yeah.
    Oddball: Crazy... I mean like, so many positive waves... maybe we can't lose, you're on!

  2. It depends on the setting.

    In my Emern game, which is a pile of early 16th century stuff with fantasy D&D bits stuck into it, adventurers are seen as pretty dubious, untrustworthy people back in the Old World, but the PCs are in an area (the New World) where almost everyone who isn't enslaved or hostile is an adventurer or a pioneer of some sort, and they just kind of blend into the overall ecology of chiselers, slavers, freebooters, pirates, conquistadors, mercenaries, disreputable minor noblemen and profiteers that comprise their society.

    In the Dawnlands, which is more influenced by Central Asia, the early Iron Age, mythic fantasy and Runequest, wandering around looking for things to steal and people to kill is not unusual, since the PCs come from nomadic clans. They're seen as untrustworthy and vicious by civilised peoples not because of their profession but because of their ethnicity (and the feeling is reciprocated). By the standards of their fellow nomads, they're not unusual for either good or ill until they become particularly powerful.

  3. I've never run a "save the world" campaign. It never sits right with me. I have also never thought of the PCs as heroes. Yes, they occasionally do heroic things now and again, but it still is usually self-serving. Sometimes they just happen save that village on their quest for riches.

    Who would deny the ale on the house for a job well done?

    I briefly looked over some of the D&D Next talks, but I'm not sure I could handle Enworld based on what you've shared.

  4. I share your loathing for the "characters as heroes" approach to gaming. Power fantasies for impotent man-children.

  5. Wanna' be a hero? Hope ya' roll good enough to qualify for a paladin, and then go die for your party at some point. Maybe they'll make some money off your sword later. That's my opinion of the cinematic hero.

    The better definition of 'hero'? Someone who goes far to do deeds no average person would, and succeed. They needn't be especially good, nor terribly evil deeds, but something worth bragging about that usually makes a good game. And that friends, is the only thing a hero should be: the man that lifts the portcullis for his friends, the one that sneaks through a base of baddies and assassinates their leader and leaves without incident, the slayers of monsters without using direct force; the wily; the powerful; the audacious; and the ones that make it back out. The dead are dead, the living are victorious!

    1. I run a retro-clone and play in a 4e campaign (go ahead, lynch me!)and the adventurers are portrayed pretty much the same way. We always make jokes about how D&D is a game of looking for short-term, freelance jobs with no benefits or danger pay.

  6. There will be no lynching, those are only done Mondays and Fridays after tea.

  7. Rock bands. Weapons and armor are as cheap and plentiful as guitars are in the real world, so anyone can pick up a set of gear. Some might actually go out and get in a fight or two, and either die or decide that farming's not so bad after all (which is probably WHY gear's so cheap - most of it is lightly used).

    But some get a taste for it. These are the ones who actually have a shot at advancing. Most are the adventuring equivalent of the local bar band, keeping at it enough to pick up a few levels but never really going anywhere ("Don't quit your day job"). But a very rare few have the chops and the breaks to go all the way to the top. The are the rock stars, the heros, the legends. Of course a fair number come to a bad end anyway.