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If not for Gold and Glory...?

Yora

Hero
When working on my own campaign material, something I get hung up on regularly is how to explain to the players what kind of people PCs are within the world of the game and what their position and treatment in society is.

I love fantasy worlds with giant wildernesses that are full of ancient ruins and fearsome monsters. But the typical adventurer role that is assigned to PCs in most such settings never felt real and believable to me. They are freelance mercenaries that roam around the lands to deal with monsters that local militias and the lords' knights can't handle, and fight of other vagabonds that are just like them but have turned to simply robbing villagers and merchants. From any historic precedents known to me, wandering mercenaries in need of money are not the kind of people villages would put their hopes into. Instead they are the very marauders the villagers need protection from. Having to convince people in every town to not chase them away with torches and pitchforks just wouldn't be fun and is not a practical campaign format, unless you deliberately aim for a bleak Sengoku or 30 Years War style campaign.
Similarly, it just doesn't feel believable that typical PCs at the start of their career would be the only hope for communities that have been helpless against a great local threat for months. I guess you could pick a game in which the PCs start at superhuman power, but it still doesn't sit right that a typical fantasy world in need of heroes just has knights in shining armor strutting around looking for trouble to fix out of the goodness of their hearts.

The other alternative is plain old treasure hunting/tomb looting. Yes, that absolutely works as a campaign concept, but such characters would be motivated to turn around and head for greener pastures at the first sign of real danger.

If the PCs are not saint's looking all day for kittens to save, and not selfish people hoping for a quick buck by gambling their lives, then how do you set up and structure a campaign for PCs who face dangerous monsters in ancient ruins in the wilderness?
I never was able to find any satisfying answer to this.
 

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Marc_C

Solo Role Playing
My solution was to make them children (siblings) of a baron. They work for him defending his interest, that are not always lofty. The barony is in a backwater section of the kingdom with mountains nearby.
 
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Doug McCrae

Legend
If the PCs are not saint's looking all day for kittens to save, and not selfish people hoping for a quick buck by gambling their lives, then how do you set up and structure a campaign for PCs who face dangerous monsters in ancient ruins in the wilderness?
Perhaps they're thrillseekers. Neither altruists, nor rationally pursuing material self-interest, but driven by personal emotional needs. This would explain why they keep looking for greater challenges.

Alternatively, but similarly, they might be (despite your thread title!) glory hounds. Again this would mean they are pursuing continually bigger challenges, which is desirable in D&D-style long term play.
 

Marc_C

Solo Role Playing
In another campaign I started them on a pirate ship against their will. They managed to escape after a few harrowing levels. After finding some gold they bought their own ship, became corsairs for the King to seek vengeance against the pirate and all his friends.
 

Yora

Hero
Adventuring as a stepping stone to something greater could be an interesting concept for the society of a setting.
Some men of the Roman elite got pretty desperate to find something they could conquer to secure their status. Worked out amazingly for Julius Caesar, but various of the most disastrous Roman campaigns were stupid ideas from the start that only served as someone's career move.

This could easily be combined with the idea of noble scions with nothing to inherit, and the old concept that PCs would start looking for a good place to establish a holding arounf 10th level. Even though by all accounts, that rarely actually part of campaign play.
But even if you leave that as the eventual epilogue for a succesfully concluded campaign, it still would work as a sensible motivation for some PCs in the party. Others might simply be along to help their friends working towards their lives' goal.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
Having to convince people in every town to not chase them away with torches and pitchforks just wouldn't be fun and is not a practical campaign format, unless you deliberately aim for a bleak Sengoku or 30 Years War style campaign...

If the PCs are not saint's looking all day for kittens to save, and not selfish people hoping for a quick buck by gambling their lives, then how do you set up and structure a campaign for PCs who face dangerous monsters in ancient ruins in the wilderness?
Perhaps they're the latter but successfully pretend to be the former, thus avoiding the 'angry villager' problem.
 

Grendel_Khan

Adventurer
If the PCs are not saint's looking all day for kittens to save, and not selfish people hoping for a quick buck by gambling their lives, then how do you set up and structure a campaign for PCs who face dangerous monsters in ancient ruins in the wilderness?
I never was able to find any satisfying answer to this.

I still think Earthdawn handled this element really, really well. There's a reason to explore and be surprised (the world changed while everyone was hiding from the Horrors), there's no need for players to absorb tons of lore (again, hiding), there's a reason to venture into ruins (that's where some of the Horrors are still lingering, plus treasure/artifacts from the time before the Horrors swept in), players are specifically presented in the role of heroes, rather than mercs, in a way that's really wired into the setting as well as the magic rules, and you can add as much or as little about the wider world as you want.

Not suggesting you run Earthdawn or use its setting, but it's a fantastic approach, I think, that doesn't just randomly plop PCs into a setting, but really builds the setting around the entire question of "Why are there PC adventurers?"
 

Yora

Hero
My own setting is based on the premise that environmental changes are relatively frequent and unpredictable, and city states are abandoned and overgrown by forests because rivers dry up or fields turn into swamps quite regularly. But the same dynamics also constantly open up new areas for settlement and agriculture, and more often than not, there have been previous civilizations in those same spots at some points in the past. Or a city state that had already been considered doomed unexpectedly bounces back to even greater prosperity and a larger territory.

This absokutely makes a great setup for Kingmaker type campaigns, though I personally am more a fan of campaigns that keep moving to many different places instead of staying in one spot.

But it doesn't just have to be clearing an area and building a castle to establish yourself as a new domain. The society of the setting could expect potential new lords to havd some real street cred before gambling their livelihoods on these people's ability to actually secure and defend a territory. Getting skalds to spread the tales of your deeds could be a requirement to have a real shot at founding a new domain. And the magical treasures salvaged from failed domains would be invaluable tools when the creation of new magic items is a very slow and expensive process.
And to get yourself established, you first have to accept menial tasks that might not necessarily require true heroes to deal with, but get you some experience and credit if you can do them before the local lord's soldiers get around to it.
 


the Jester

Legend
The motives of adventurers vary a lot; some do it out of a sense of duty, some to better themselves/become more powerful, some out of greed, etc.

But that's not what I'm actually chiming in for- I wanted to address OP's statement that

From any historic precedents known to me, wandering mercenaries in need of money are not the kind of people villages would put their hopes into. Instead they are the very marauders the villagers need protection from.

Yeah, that sounds about right, especially given how murderhobos tend to treat npcs and towns.

But for a very interesting take on how other people see adventurers, check out China Mieville's Perdido Street Station, an urban fantasy novel that cranks the weird up to 11. They're not the main characters, but at some point a party of adventurers gets hired to deal with a monster, and the view you get of them is fantastic- the viewpoint character who you see them through (not the employer, btw) is both pretty intimidated by them and sees them as of ow character; I think grave robbers is one of the phrases used to describe them. Anyway, if you get the chance, it's a book worth reading for that bit alone- and it's got a bunch more to offer, too.
 

the Jester

Legend
My own setting is based on the premise that environmental changes are relatively frequent and unpredictable, and city states are abandoned and overgrown by forests because rivers dry up or fields turn into swamps quite regularly. But the same dynamics also constantly open up new areas for settlement and agriculture, and more often than not, there have been previous civilizations in those same spots at some points in the past. Or a city state that had already been considered doomed unexpectedly bounces back to even greater prosperity and a larger territory.
Yes! The idea of periodic catastrophe is a big theme in my game, along with the idea of fecundity- the world is generally more fertile, and populations grow and regrow more quickly, than in our world.
 

DrunkonDuty

Adventurer
Maybe the adventurers could be adventuring for their own personal reasons.

Personal revenge.
Quest for some hidden knowledge (magical or perhaps simply mundane like finding the answer to some personal mystery.)
Thrills and spills.
A mission from god. Or church.
To save someone/something they love. Maybe directly - save the princess from the evil overlord, or indirectly - gain the means (evidence, macguffin, money) to save someone from some unpleasant fate like imprisonment or the orphanage being shut down.
To get from place A to place B the heroes must pass through Hell.
Friendship (Wookie life- debt, etc) with another PC (who has their own reason to adventure.)
Love.
Escape from a catastrophe.
Escape from a love catastrophe.
Truth, Justice, and the Greyhawkian way.
Self-Defence.
 

pming

Hero
Hiya!

Depends entirely on the campaign world and, well, "feel". In one 1e/HM campaign (a homebrew), the PC's are quite powerful simply being 1st level. Because of this rarity (people with actual "classes and levels"), adventurers aren't really a "thing". PC's that show their power...say, casting a Magic Missile or Cure Light Wounds spell, or a fighter taking three daggers and a sword to the chest who SILL wins the fight and doesn't die, etc... are immediately seen as blessed or cursed by the gods. Reactions can run from "Please! Stay at my inn! For free! ANYTHING you want!" to "Get the pitchforks, torches and tar!".

In another campaign, my 5e "Genericka" one, PC's are seen as something of a cross between mercenaries and world-wrestling stars. There are enough of them that they are seen mostly as "the same"...and primarily untrustworthy. Useful...but untrustworthy. They tend to bring more trouble than they solve. People in power like nobles, mayors, rich merchants, etc, use them as pawns to get what they want and/or gain themselves prestige and virtue-points that they can brag about at posh gala's ("Yes, I know Bearkiller personally. He is every bit as impressive as the stories you hear", or "One time, over dinner, Theloneus Blade...yes, THAT Theloneus Blade, the renowned Paladin of Sekhth? He complimented me on how thoughtful I was for helping my scullery maid's child with some expensive medicine", etc.)

Then in a Hackmaster game (well, most of my HM games, actually) Adventurers are seen as a nuisance. As people not to be trusted, in fact, to be avoided if at all possible. A small town can go years without any problems...but the SECOND that a half dozen "adventurers" arrive in town, it's suddenly beset upon by a pair of staving, diseased manticore's and people start getting sick! What's worse...is that these Adventurers then offer to help... for the right price, of course!

So, yeah...it depends on the campaign. The key thing is to explain the "adventurer's perception" of the general populace to the Players so that they know where they stand and what type of PC's they want to create.

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 


Some settings have the trope of wandering adventurers ("heroes"), but that doesn't mean that every campaign has to use them. There's the party forced into action, such as being simple village militia when your home becomes under siege. There's the party serves a lord/master/god who dictates their course of events. There's the party charged with an epic quest, taking the entire scope of the campaign to complete (Lord of the Rings).

Not that there's anything wrong with the standard tropes, so long as they fit logically in the setting. To use your examples, in Greyhawk adventurers are basically tomb robbers that periodically do mercenary work. Because of this, they're generally disliked, but many attempt to join them, only to die in their first "adventure." In the Realms, however, wandering heroes are normal, and often depended upon to protect people from the various monsters that roam the countryside. People become adventures mostly for glory, but the coin doesn't hurt either. A band of ronin in Rokugan would be despised by the local samurai and feared by peasants, since they would be considered dishonorable and untrustworthy, even if all they were trying to do is make enough to each each day.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Just noting that wandering mercernary bands have been around for millennia and were really prominent from the Hundred years war right through to the Napoleanic War, I can beleive that they'd be prominent in a DnD world too (you dont really want to send your personal guard out to get slaughtered by zombies)

So anyway in the past I've had PCs come together as:
  • Survivors from the same village
  • Condottieri hired by the baron
  • Agents of the Guild Merchant
  • Associates of the Church
  • Passengers on the same wrecked ship
  • Workers hired by an archeologist
  • Members of the Travelling Circus
  • Patrons of the same bar :)
 
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GMMichael

Guide of Modos

If the PCs are not saint's looking all day for kittens to save, and not selfish people hoping for a quick buck by gambling their lives, then how do you set up and structure a campaign for PCs who face dangerous monsters in ancient ruins in the wilderness?
I never was able to find any satisfying answer to this.
This answer is between the lines/a summary of some earlier replies: write character backstories. If you don't have a satisfying campaign concept, it might be because you don't have any satisfying character concepts.

If the question is, "who goes out to murderhobo? " one answer is, "people with significant resources (including tools of war and personal powers), who are supremely idealistic or slightly suicidal ."

So, rebellious rich kids?
 

Yora

Hero
Just noting that wandering mercernary bands have been around for millennia and were really prominent from the Hundred years war right through to the Napoleanic War, I can beleive that they'd be prominent in a DnD world too (you dont really want to send your personal guard out to get slaughtered by zombies)
Yes, they are a thing. And generally they are exactly those bandits that villagers need saving from. Roaming mercenaries are usually the worst villains terrorizing a war zone.
 

I guess a good modern analogy is superheroes? Why do they do what they do? A certain suspension of disbelief is needed.
I've long held that D&D as a genre is really Medieval Super Heroes. (MSH? Hmmm). Given that early D&D had many local leaders as well below name level, and that armies are largely assumed to be nought but first levels...
And, back in the days of named levels, Superhero is 8th level fighter.
 

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