New Rules of Fantasy: On the Road

New Rules of Fantasy: On the Road

Adventuring is weird profession, isn’t it? As an adventurer I wander around the region looking for monsters to kill and ancient treasures to grab. If you’ve ever heard the term (“murderhobo”)[] , you’re starting to see where I’m going, but I want to go even deeper into the awkwardness of adventurers.

First: who is letting all of these very powerful people roam their kingdom doing as they will? Gritty fantasy constrains the impact of a small group of individuals, but in heroic fantasy, what king or queen wants a party wandering within the borders who can create an extinction level event? I’ve always felt that, unless a group of adventurers quickly aligned themselves with rulers and power brokers, they’d gain as many enemies as they have people thinking of them as saviors. There is no way that those with power can allow powerful people to just snowball into huge problems for them later.

The next issue is what you’d expect from me: who is it that pours power and skill into people and then says “you’re free to leave! Enjoy your life”? Historically, this did not happen. You were trained, you apprenticed, you served some person or organization’s purpose. There are always people who made their own way of course, but I doubt there were many people who left these organizations with a smile on everyone’s face. Similarly, I care most about how our characters got our skills and what connections that acquiring those skills gave them. If you were a member of the guard, then who do you still know? If you still work for them, what do they ultimately want you to do?

Taking this further, what I want in my games is to take away adventuring as a “profession”. What I’d rather have is adventuring as something that emerges from the result of my crazy job, and the crazy people that I meet. I want to keep mobility so characters can travel freely, but I want to give characters a purpose in the world besides gaining power and money. Rather than being the sole purpose for taking action, adventure becomes an emergent part of characters engaging in activities they are doing.

The real trick is: what professions do the characters take? There are any number of low-fantasy games that actually address what I am talking about, but I want to deal specifically with heroic fantasy as a genre. To do that, I need to make the scale of my professions scale. In a world where magic is a real thing, our professions need to embrace this. I’ve got two basic rules for professions that lead to adventure:

  • Travel is a must. The job must have a high amount of travel involved, whether by choice or necessity.
  • Personal judgement placed highly. This profession can’t be one where you are forced to follow orders to the letter. You are given general orders or specific missions and then you are left to decide how they are done.
  • Community built in. this profession comes with a built-in community. Whether it is an official organization or loose affiliation of like-minded people, this is who you know and who you may have learned from. It’s a source of connection, drama, and also plot as you move forward. Sometimes you need things from the community, sometimes it requires action from you.
  • Feed into fantasy. These professions don’t need to echo mundane real world professions. We can assume mundane professions exist, but we want to make professions that drive the fantastic and unreal aspects of the world.

Here is one example of what I’m talking about.

Gravemen. The Sacred Order of Headsmen is a guild for those trained as executioners and gravediggers. Though the guild has higher aspirations, its members are typically pulled from the lowest ranks of society. The work is grim, brutal, and lucrative, offering a chance at rising in station for those with the stomach for the work. Gravemen are not popular, and sometimes must retreat from mobs incited by more politically-charged executions. The guild provides safe-houses to gravewomen, and any other member of the guild is obliged to help anyone who can give them a “sword” or “shovel” coin, given to members of the guild after the apprenticeship period is over. Gravewomen typically serve at a station for a few months at a time before moving to the next assignment, though political realities can shorten that time period.

Gravemen have a bad reputation, as many think of them as psychopaths who also rob graves instead of digging them. The latter notion is somewhat true: Being specialists as digging graves and burial rites, gravemen are given access to location of tombs and mausoleums filled with riches. Those who like to take their life a little easier avail themselves of this knowledge, but gravemen are also the first suspects when tomb’s riches go missing.

Despite their bad reputations, Gravewomen are considered indispensable for their burial rituals that ensure a body cannot be woken with necromantic rituals, and for political expedience when a ruler must make an unpopular execution. Often unfairly, an executioners take the blame for the killing. A King’s executioner can be masked and therefore have his identity hidden, but a Gravewoman cannot be masked. Any retribution from a mob can and usually does fall squarely on her shoulders. This relieves the pressure from the person who ordered the execution, and can normally settle down even the most volatile of situations.

Gravewoman similarly serve a purpose of providing an neutral outsider to dispense the most brutal justice. Some communities will not dispense the proper justice to criminals because they risk censure from the community. Having a member of a smaller community be an executioner often meant isolating that person from everyone else so that she would not become to attached to those she might later have to kill. The lives of these executioners were bleak and miserable, and created distrust in the communities.

For these reasons a gravewoman is always begrudgingly welcomed into a community. A hardened outsider who will do what is needed and move on in time is seen as the perfect way to dispense justice and put people to their final rest.

What “adventure-ready” professions would you put in your world?

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4 Responses

  1. I like this idea; the “Adventurer Profession” is something that always bothered me, although mostly for motivation. I had not considered the political ramifications of high powered people wandering through the country-side. In the campaign I’m running now I hand-waved things a bit by having an Adventuring Agent whose specialty is finding things for her clients. The party is her primary resource when those things are in dangerous places but I didn’t put the detailed thought into that structure that you did here. Here’s my take on another way to employ adventurers in this world:

    The Tinkers of the Guild of Artificers
    The Guild of Artificers in Kolos Jamorda makes a business of supplying constructs and magical devices to all with the coin to pay. It is vital to their continued profitability that constructs function as expected, or cease to function if payments are not made in a timely fashion. Towards this end, the Guild sends out members to wander from community to community, servicing Guild products as needed. These traveling Tinkers are expected to repair worn devices but they may have additional means of promoting the Guild’s interests. Tinkers may be called upon to put down rampaging constructs before they can hurt too many people and damage the Guild’s business prospects in that region; to investigate ruins and rumors of derelict artifacts, bringing back examples, plans, or tales of ancient practices that might benefit the Guild today; or to deliver completed devices to out-of-the-way clients.

    While few of the Tinkers are master Artificers, many are able to make small magic items and can refurbish and resell damaged devices to help manage expenses on the road. Some find other means of generating income; a Tinker who knows how to repair a thing also knows how to break it and there are many who seek that ability. The Guild even encourages this talent and will often send a Tinker to confront artificers operating outside Guild sanction.

    Of course, those who desire a Tinker’s service may not wish to pay for them and will attempt other means of coercion. There are others who do NOT desire a Tinker’s services and will actively oppose it. Constructs and magical devices have the ability to unbalance power in a region and a noble may react aggressively to a Tinker who treats with their subjects directly. Other rulers might welcome a Tinker into their own fiefdom but do everything in their power to dissuade the Tinker from visiting their neighbors. A noble who has gained access to such devices might be delighted with the Guild; their neighbors almost certainly will not be so happy. While the Guild itself is too powerful to take on directly, individual Tinkers can be exposed and vulnerable.

    Tinkers can never be certain of their greeting amongst commoners either. Their work is mysterious and often considered unnatural, a view that is promoted by other practitioners of the sorcerous arts who consider them competition or who believe constructs and devices grant too much power to the uninitiated.

    Generally Tinkers without a specific assignment wander where they believe they will be most useful. Some focus on the acquisition of ancient artifacts while others are more concerned with the repair of broken constructs and the disabling of run-away devices. People seeking a Tinker can wait for one to pass or leave word at a Guild chapterhouse with their request. All Tinkers are expected to seek out chapterhouses regularly to turn in their discoveries and pick up new assignments. Given the dangerous nature of Tinker work and the valuable materials they are believed to be carrying, Guild chapterhouses are also a good place for mercenaries or guards to find work as escorts and allies for a Tinker.

  2. Another good profession for dungeon-crawling is… stonemason.

    It was common for ancient temples and tombs to get plundered for building materials, and in many cases this was at the request of the current ruler who wanted to use it for new construction (real-world Egypt has many examples of this).

    In a fantasy world, I could easily imagine a specialized stonemason with the job of discovering lost dungeons, getting rid of the monsters and traps, evaluating the stonework, and then sending for a work crew to dismantle the structure. It would also serve a valuable social function, in that it would deprive monsters of a convenient place to lair.

    And if you want to go even further, the Masons could be collecting magic items and ancient knowledge so that they can secretly rule the world.

  3. I gotta get in on this, because this is just keen. Stealing rather blatantly from one particular inspiration, but whatevs. Call it a clever cameo.


    The Order of the Broken Flask is an order of mendicant monks who follow the Rule of St. Paraclesus, a holy individual who expressed his devotion through the sciences. It was St. Paraclesus who helped the Sapphire Faith to become a renowned source of knowledge. The monks of the Broken Flask are tasked with traveling the world in search of ancient and powerful magic, whether that be in the form of lore, strange creatures, or magical items.

    Each chapter of the Order is comprised of a number of monks who report to an Abbot or Abbess as their superior. The superior seldom leaves the chapter’s abbey, and is almost always a well-studied individual who spends much of their time curating the stores of knowledge that the abbey possesses, or overseeing the assignment of novices to research projects being conducted by the senior monks.

    A monk begins as a novice, who joins the order as a young man or woman somewhere in their teens, usually around the age of 16. They undergo scientific and religious instruction under the watchful eye of the senior monks, who are called Magisters. A Magister spends much of their time in a laboratory, analyzing lore and peculiar things brought in from the field, but Magisters also go out on field missions sometimes. Generally, Magisters are considered to be too experienced to risk on dungeon-delving.

    When a novice is thought ready, they are given one last opportunity to leave the abbey before they commit with their vows. A monk of the Broken Flask swears vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and also a fourth vow: the vow of reverence for the secrets of the world. This last vow is interpreted in multiple ways by various perspectives, but within the Order it has three basic meanings. First, it means that the ancient secrets of the world must not be treated as cheap playthings nor defaced wantonly. Second, it means that these secrets are valuable and to be treated and studied with great care. Third, it means that these secrets are sacred, and that exploring them is a divine duty for the glorification of the Godhead.

    Newly-admitted monks are not immediately given field assignments, but undergo training from more experienced members of the Order. Then, they are sent out in small groups to pursue new and wondrous discoveries in arcane vaults and other strange places. They are given orders by their superior to retrieve knowledge or items from a given locale. How they accomplish their orders is up to their own judgement, but they are expected to retrieve them and return to the abbey in good time.

    Amongst the general public, it is not known why the Order of the Broken Flask takes that name. It is a point of much speculation amongst some, though a few have pondered–was the “Flask” broken from without…or from within? They are well to ask the question. For the Order has a fifth, secret vow: to recapture and contain the sinister creature known only as Homunculus.