Monday, August 9, 2010

Thinking Way Too Hard About: Adventurers

As you may have noticed, my friends and I are experiencing something of a Dungeons & Dragons Renaissance. All this gaming has got me thinking about the characters we play. I have been going on dungeon crawls since grade school, thanks to board games like Hero Quest, arcade games like Gauntlet II and Shadow Over Mystara, and computer games like Might and Magic II. I take for granted that a Warrior, a Thief, a Magician, and a Priest (and/or Dwarf and Elf) will tromp over to the dungeon outside of town to kill some goblins and skeletons. When I stop to think about it, there is a lot more going on here. Adventuring is not just something you do; an adventurer is something you are, and some common threads unite all such men and women.

There are many reasons to go adventuring: a lust for gold ranks highly among these, but there are also many who are trying to protect their people, to serve their lord or god, or to seek out hidden knowledge. These motivations are not enough to make a person an adventurer, however. A strong man can earn gold as a soldier or a thug, a priest can serve his god safe in a temple, and a scholar can learn much in libraries and laboratories. There are some whose blood calls out for more, men and women who are not content with an average, safe life. They know of the danger waiting for them outside civilization's walls, but they are willing to face the challenge. More risk, more reward.

Adventurers are brave.

Adventurers feel a draw to the uncivilized world where danger and reward wait, but there is a corresponding force pushing them away from the commonplace world of cities and civilization. Adventurers are a restless crowd, unable to sit still and accept a normal life. They have trouble relating to the blacksmith, the street sweeper, the carpenter or the farmer. Some adventurers were born to normal lives but could not accept the daily grind. Others never had the option of living a normal life. A large number of adventurers are exotic travelers from foreign kingdoms, elves and dwarves and more exotic races. Many are half-breeds who have trouble fitting in with either of their parents' races.

Adventurers are misfits.

Whether they started adventuring as the exiled vampire half-drow prince or as a gnome with a tambourine, all adventurers must fight constantly with the forces of evil. It's unavoidable: even if an adventurer is a paragon of good, that adventurer will see terrible things in the course of her adventures. No matter how strong her faith is, she must at some point grapple with that age-old question of why such evil can be allowed to exist.

Adventurers are troubled.

The victories an adventurer experiences are temporary. There is always a larger menace; when the orc raiding party has been dispatched, the main orc force must be dealt with. When one villian lies slain, there are many others hidden, scheming. Adventurers move on to the next fight because the righteous battle is never won, or because the adventurer wants to test himself against a stronger adversary, or because the next dragon has an even larger hoard. Inevitably, the battles that follow will be increasingly harder. The party that emerged battered and victorious from their fight with a giant will move on to face a larger, stronger giant the next day. This means that most adventurers eventually reach their limit, and therefore their doom. The ones who survive have to be able to rise to the challenge. As the monsters get stronger, the adventurers have to become stronger still.

Adventurers thrive on danger.

Above all, adventurers defy description. Every rule I can come up with has exceptions: there are adventurers who are cowards, or rooted in the community, or innocent, or who fear challenges. Perhaps the one thing that all adventurers must share in common is that they have answered the call to adventure, time and again.

Because they cannot hear about the grimoir hidden in the lost tomb without wanting to be the first mortal in a thousand years to learn its secrets.

Because they cannot allow the evil cult to spread without bringing upon them the judgment of the true gods.

Because no matter how much wealth they have acquired, the gem in someone else's stash gleams brighter.

Because somebody must slay the dragon. Where is my sword?

Fetch me my sword.