This week I'd like us all to try another linguistic trick with our games. The next time you all sit down at the table, ban the use of the word adventurer.
|Freelance incendiary artist is still a valid job title, though.|
How Do You Stack Your Gold?
Ask yourself how many times characters at your table have been described purely by their class levels (class levels being a meta concept, and not something that we really see in-game). Now ask, if pressed, how many people would describe their profession as "adventurer"? For step three, ask what the word "adventurer" means in a practical sense. Because, generally speaking, it's a catch-all category that people use as a way to Spackle over the fact that they've left a huge part of their character's life and history vacant and empty. As if they didn't exist before level 1.
|You're starting to lose me here... what's the point?|
The point is that adventurer isn't really a job description. It's a placeholder. A placeholder you're supposed to come back to, and fill out with something a little more descriptive before the game really gets started.
To do that, all you have to do is ask, "How do you pay your bills?"
The answer should be informed by the character's skill set, but it's mainly a story question. Take the most basic character there is; a 1st level fighter. This character could be a military veteran, who either left the service, or was discharged; meaning he's a pikeman who needs work. Maybe he's a rough-and-tumble bruiser, who favors spiked gauntlets and short knives over fancier tactics. Is he a mugger? A legbreaker for a local gang? Or does the character use his prowess to keep the peace, either as a watch guard, or a bouncer at the local tavern? Is he a prize fighter, cracking teeth and breaking bones for the entertainment of a crowd? Is this fighter an archer? If so, how does he use that skill set? Is he a hunter? Does he perform as a sharpshooter with a traveling circus? If he has ranks in the Survival skill, is he a woods guide, eking out a living trading furs, and escorting merchants through rough country?
All of these vocations explain where the character's skills came from, and what the character does to earn money. Because, when you get right down to it, that's usually pretty high on any list of "adventurer" goals. Sure there might be motivations like revenge, or justice, or saving the world, but no one would ever fight a dragon if the dragon's hoard wasn't on the table. And, by knowing what you do for a living, you'll be able to explain why the party needs you before setting off on the current plot hook.
What Title Does Your Character Use?
We tend to label people based on what they do. And, when we're describing ourselves and our skill sets to other people, we tend to use professional labels as a short-cut. For example, Argon Lockbar is a 7th-level Rogue, a master lock and trapsmith, and he's traveled the world in search of lost lore and ancient relics, both for profit and because he believes it's what's right. If he's an erudite scholar, he might call himself an archaeologist, or a student of history. If he's a little more crass, or honest, he'd call himself a treasure hunter.
|Vaults ain't gonna open themselves.|
The title a character uses can sometimes upend your expectations for their class, as well. For example, Perine Hensdale is a 5th-level enchanter. Top of her class, she has potent magic at her command. When people ask what she does, though, she might answer that she's a bounty hunter; one who literally talks people into giving themselves up. She might also be a diplomat, keeping her magical skills hushed while secretly using them to secure peace treaties for governments, or just to settle trade disputes between unions. And just because it says 6th-level paladin on Herne Darkwood's sheet, that doesn't stop him from being a wandering sellsword. It just means that he might be willing to waive his fee, partially or entirely, for the right cause.
Motivation Dovetails With Your Job
One of the other major elements of your character is their motivation. But that motivation needs to gel with what your character is doing (and if it doesn't, you need an explanation for why that isn't happening).
|Ugh... mastery of the arcane arts is so unfulfilling.|
For example, say your character is an arcane scholar. He's a professor of history at one of the finer institutions, and always keeps his classes riveted with his lectures. But he, himself, craves being in the field. So he tends to take sabbaticals to go to dig sites, and to track down lost ruins or ancient mysteries. On the one hand, this is an adequate description of Indiana Jones. It's also a snazzy concept for a bard, a wizard, a sorcerer, or a witch, and it means that at no point in time will the answer to, "so what do you do?" be, "I'm an adventurer!"
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