So, You’re an Adventurer (or What Makes You so Special?)

A while back, D. over at Fleur du mal linked to Rick Stump’s post Monsters of the Id on his site Don’t Split the Party.  Rick’s post begins with a digression about how many people never read the entirety of the rules set and uses an example of how he guest DMed and brought low a party of 3rd to 5th level PCs with a standard patrol encounter.  This, along with D.’s post on High Men – a subset of humanity in his game world, set me to thinking about how “heroes” became “heroes” in Rhillmoran.

I admit that until I read Rick’s post I had not read all the random encounters section on the 1E DMG and was not aware that 5 in 20 encounters in Inhabited Outdoor Areas were with patrols of fighters or rangers on horseback led by a 6th to 8th level Commander, seconded by a 4th to 5th level Lieutenant, or that these patrols included a 2nd to 3rd level Sergeant, 3 to 4 1st level men-at-arms, and 13 to 24 soldiers (See page 182, Dungeon Masters Guide © 1979).  Also, there will be either a 6th or 7th cleric or a 5th to 8th level magic user with the patrol.  This got me to reexamining other Random Encounter Matrices.  The City/Town Encounters section (pages 190-192, 194) of the DMG showed me that City Guard and City Watch encounters included fighters, clerics, and magic users and that a randomly encountered cleric could be 11th level and have 5 attendant clerics of 4th level with him or her.  Clearly, the PCs weren’t the only members of society to have adventuring classes. (2016.04.29)

In Greyhawk Adventures by James M. Ward © 1988, there is a section on beginning your campaign with 0 (zero) level characters (pages 117-126).  Using this option, nobodies can work their way up to somebodies of importance.  This is, clearly, a take on the idea that it is not one’s social class or bloodline that makes one a hero; it is one’s actions and choices that makes one a hero.  This seems so at odds with 4E and its emphasis on Epic Destinies and minions.  I seem to recall a passage about 4E fighters that said even a veteran of multiple wars would only be a 1st or 2nd level fighter (I can’t find a reference for that passage at this time).  In 1E, adventurers are defined by what they do, not by what they can do.  In 4E, adventurers are defined by what they can do; they are inherently different than the hoi polloi of the rest of creation.  What changed and why and what does it say about how I am going to develop NPCs and societies on Iolta and Thrain? (2016.04.29)

Clearly in 1E, the PCs weren’t the only people with adventuring classes, but they were the main ones going out and “adventuring.”  I don’t really know what was going on in 2E, since I treated everything as if I was still running 1E.  3E made a distinction between PC classes and NPC classes and 4E PCs were a separate breed entirely.  Ever since the implementation of the CR system, there has been a growing distinction between the PCs and everyone else.  I don’t know if that distinction still applies in 5E or not.  I still haven’t picked up the 5E DMG, so I don’t know what it says, but my reading of the DnD Next Playtest rules, the Players Handbook and the Monster Manual, I suspect that the distinction is extremely lessened, if not completely removed.  If that is not the case in D&D Official Settings, it is Rhillmoran.

For many years, I had players that assumed that every orc encounter was with an orc that had class levels.  Why because I believed that if a PC could do, so could an NPC.  The reverse is also true anything an NPC can do, a PC can learn to do, as well.  If the super evil wizard boss can cast 25 hit die fireballs, then the PC wizards who take her down can learn how she could do such magical feats.  If the PCs don’t want to make a pact with Mephistopheles, then they don’t get cast 25 hit die fireballs.

Having adventuring classes among the clearly non-adventuring populace says all sorts of things about how D&D societies work, but I am going to ignore those things for now.  What I want to focus on is why the PCs are adventurers in the first place.  Why do people with very little in common gather together in commando style groups and set out to loot ruins and do daring do?

They’re misfits, also known as Red Nose Reindeer Syndrome.  Adventurers are people who do not fit into the rest of society.  They have something in their personalities that make them outsiders in their own communities and/or even families.

They are laggards, also known as I want to Win the Lottery Syndrome.  The PCs are folks who are looking for the big score.  They will go out of their way and do more work than necessary, just get out of work.  They enter each dungeon with the hope that they will escape with a dragon’s hoard and never have to work again.

They are thrill seekers, also known as Adventurer Syndrome.  Everyday life is boring.  There are only so many cliffs one can use to base jump before base jumping gets stale.  Dungeons provide so many more thrills.  One can face horrible monsters, deadly traps, and grueling self-torture.  It’s awesome!

They are heroes, also known as They are Heroes Syndrome.  The PCs are adventurers because they are the ones who stand up and do when things need doing.  They may clothe it in terms of mercenary greed or proving one’s self or fulfilling destiny, but the PCs go into the dungeons, slay the dragons, and rescue the princes because they are the ones that will do it; they are heroes.  When the call to action has been sounded and others cannot or will not, the PCs rise and do or die trying.  The queen may be a 15th level fighter.  She may stand with her generals and soldiers and defend the city gates, she isn’t an adventurer. She isn’t going to sneak into the orc encampment and assassinate the orc cambion warlord leading the Horde.  The PCs will, because they are heroes.  It is what they do.

Game On!


10 thoughts on “So, You’re an Adventurer (or What Makes You so Special?)

  1. *chuckle* I’ve really been poking at this because my game has always been focused on conflict with other people, along with very “basic” monsters like goblins, ogres, and trolls – not fantastic beasts.

    So 5E tries to sell you on the idea that characters are special (read the description for Cleric in the PH) but then immediately undermines it by including stat blocks for acolytes, priests, cultists, and cult fanatics, etc. in the MM. Of course, the way stat blocks work now evidently suggests that what makes characters special is that they have *more* features (and fewer HD) while NPC’s can have an assortment of features (but far less than a character of similar HD/level would) but no “character class” per se… Usually for stock NPC’s, it seems, level HD plus 0-2 extra HD and some collection of class features is the norm. Peek at the Black Spider in the Starter Set for an example of this in an adventure.

    Example, Bandit 2HD and No Special Abilities, while the Bandit Captain is 10HD with a mere two special abilities – Multiattack (2) and Parry.

    Interestingly, there just seems to be the hint of an assumption that “normal folks” 1HD while combat trained folks have 2HD (or more if they are “more powerful”) that is buried in the appendix and could be applied to goblins, orcs, etc.

    In any case, it seems like WOTC is trying to have their cake and eat it too – personally I find it confusing and will likely dump it and just stat up “people like people” using character classes.



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  2. LOL! And I never really answered your “question” inherent in the post!

    I’m with you, adventurers are adventurers for the same reason that some people join the special forces, motorcycle gangs, wildcat drill rigs, or become world travelers.

    In many respects I leave it up to the players – some people are “looking for adventure” some people are looking to “get rich” and some are looking for vengeance or wish to show their devotion by “killing bad guys” – they are all valid reasons, and it’s really up to the player in question.

    My simple answer in game terms is note that basic Fighters and Rogues are relatively common – and that Barbarians are likely similarly common in the appropriate culture. Clerics and Druids are almost as common, and that is because you run across these folks as soldiers, thieves, street thugs, and hired killers – as well as the village priest and acolytes. Wizards are more rare simply due to the training involved, but every village has at least one “wise woman” or “hedge mage” and towns and cities will have more formally trained wizards – all of which need a far more extensive training regime than clerics (let alone Fighters and Rogues).

    It’s when you start looking at things past the “basic four” character classes that I expect players to start looking for a fun backstory, or I have an explanation as to why it’s a Sorcerer in this town instead of a Wizard.

    But again, this is somewhat “uncovered” (or hidden) in the 1E DMG for me when it talks about the distribution of character classes when adventurers are rolled as an encounter along with the explanation of finding henchmen (with classes), hiring mercenaries (which associates Fighter level with command ability), and the aforementioned random encounter tables with the make-up of patrols – though it is also useful to look in the 1E MM and look under the various types of “Men” and see what a group of Dervishes, Bandits, Merchants, and the like consist of.


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  3. I will admit to not having seriously looked at any D&D beyond 3.5 (it’s been that long since I’ve played it). That said, character class in general has always been a problem for me. The idea that characters automatically have certain skills, and are barred from others, has always seemed arbitrary and limiting. Having it be a self-imposed limit is fine (character flaws, oaths, religious beliefs, etc.), but I much prefer systems that let characters learn skills that are outside their primary focus, even wildly outside it. It doesn’t have to be easy, and taking the time to learn outside skills should definitely cost more in XP, time, and even cash, but I want all the options. Maybe that’s just me, YMMV.

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    • I agree, character classes should be generalizations and individual characters should be customizable.. I am not sure what the best way to do that in D&D is, but it something that I am willing to work on.


  4. 4E DMG, page 150: “Player characters are the pioneers, explorers, trailblazers, thrill seekers, and heroes of the D&D world. Although nonplayer characters might have a class and gain power, they do not necessarily advance as PCs do, and they exist for a different purpose. Not everyone in the world gains levels as PCs do. An NPC might be a veteran of numerous battles and still not become a 3rd-level fighter; an army of elves is made up of soldiers, not fighters.”

    The thing that always gets me is “NPCs exist for a different purpose”, because it means that we have a defined purpose for everything in the world and nothing is allowed to violate it. From a mechanics/story agreement perspective this is streamlined and refreshing, and from a simulationist standpoint it’s limiting and terrifying

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    • LOL! I just tend to think of it as a pain in the a**! As the DM I’m really not interested in having to keep track of a whole extra system for determining NPC’s abilities – on top of PC’s and Monsters!

      Yeah, I get it, “Just treat NPC’s like monsters!” – but that seems somewhat disingenuous because, well, they are NPCs! Categorically, nominally, they are different and have been different since the beginning of the game. I have always appreciated the old “does every person who owned a castle a 9th level fighter” questions/arguments, but I never saw or had any problems in simply pegging “bad guy levels” to “good guy levels” – heck this may have been the start to my preferring “people” to “monsters” as opponents for my group.


      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the reference. I just could not find it when I was writing this post. I agree with you, the idea that we are bound to an unchanging purpose or fate is terrifying. It is also more disturbing to know that it builds on the belief that some beings are special and others to be used as the specials see fit. It is every racist’s and religious fanatic’s dream…If you are not one of the chosen, you are a beast or a sub-human at best.


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