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If not for Gold and Glory...?

le Redoutable

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.
hey! you use terms from Marvel Super Heroes SAIW callings !

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le Redoutable

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.
Hey: aren't you some of a B.O.A. ?

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