My Gulf holiday post is still coming along, slowly, but it is coming along (hopefully I can finish them before my players get to them), but it seems like there was another post to get out in the meantime!
I was thinking of something I told the group on our first session: “Adventurers are like lawyers, no one really likes them until they need some themselves.” My Dad, although not a lawyer, does work in the legal profession, so I have a fair amount of respect for those who do, but I think the cliche got the point across. Still, I was kicking it around and trying to further crystallize how the average Joe in the Gulf would feel about adventurers in general.
To some extent, the settlers of Pericolosa are more sympathetic than the people of Asila. After all, either they or their parents or grandparents had to have some sort of adventurous spirit to leave the safety of their old life and start again from scratch in a land full of dangerous creatures. On the other hand, when adventurers set out from Asila, they go far away, while in the Gulf, their going into ruins practically in your backyard. There is also a sense among most people in the Gulf that the amount of risk they took is fine and reasonable, but much more than that is just crazy.
While each group has its own perspectives on adventurers, there are a few commonalities that go across cultures. Adventurers, typically, are smelly, dirty homeless people. They make their living through robbing the dead, stealing things from terrible monsters, or worse, turning to actual banditry. They often have no (or minimal) ties to the community, and are liable to skip town at a moment’s notice. When they pay at all, it’s almost always in strange ancient coins, or in barter for objects that are probably cursed, or the monster they stole it from wants it back.
Still, there is money to be made in dealing with them, and most adventurers are desperate enough that they just have to put up with some price gouging here and there, or carrying enough ancient treasure back with them that they don’t care. As a result, most communities will put up with them as long as their coin holds out, but not much longer. Still, in times of crisis, many communities are more than happy to leave the dangerous thing that needs doing in the hands of slightly deranged outsiders. Expertly resolving these crises can sometimes lead to the individual adventurers involved being welcomed as an honorary member of the community, although they are just as often given a curt “Thanks” and sent on their way.
While, naturally, perspectives on Adventurers vary from individual to individual on the micro level, when looked at as a whole, there are some prevailing trends that generally hold true for most of the races of the Gulf:
When compared to the other, longer lived races, the idea of risking it all for the one big score is a very human mindset. Every stock is capable of producing people foolish/desperate enough to take up the life, but humans seem to understand the mentality the best. As a result, most adventurers are human. Still, the fact that humans who don’t take up the life are likely to UNDERSTAND, doesn’t mean they LIKE adventurers. At the very least most normal folks wish those smelly, dangerous hobos would go practice their “trade” somewhere else.
Even among humans that don’t have the temperament for adventuring, the propensity for risk-taking and expansion that is most common among the stock results in most villages on the edge and fringes of civilization being human. Since adventures tend to operate just beyond those fringes, those human villages tend to be the same ones that bear the brunt of the damage when some reckless adventurers piss off, but don’t actually bother to kill a dangerous beast or tribe of goblins. The fact that human villages actually interact with Adventurers the most, and thus see the most of their poor behavior (if such behavior is the exception or the rule can be debated), doesn’t help either.
While Halflings communities can be found in most decent sized human towns (and visa-versa), Halfling culture can vary from Human culture in several ways. The most relevant being that, unlike humans, most Halflings just don’t get it. Going on adventures is just not something a respectable Halfling would do! A Halfling that has fallen on hard times should have an extended family that can take them in until they get back on their feet. Even if said Halfling is an orphan and somehow has no family friends that will take them in (a rare case among the general population, but not uncommon among adventurers), wealthy members of their home community would often take them on as a servant, even if they had little need of one. Honest work like that would surely be more preferable to life on the Road in dark and dangerous places.
Any Halfling that is forced to take up the life must have something WRONG with them if they have no “honest” way to make a living and no one to take them in. Any Halfling that CHOOSES the life of an adventurer must be even worse! The other stocks are (to a Halfling) all kind of strange anyway, but Halflings tend to mistrust their own Adventurers even more. Still, while none would admit it in polite company, many Halflings LOVE to hear stories of grand adventures, especially those that star their own kind.
To the Elves, there is nothing strange about leaving your home to wander the world for a few decades. There really is nothing strange about “living in harmony with nature” (read: being homeless) while you do it either. The issue arises with what adventurers DO while wandering. Elves, with their long lifespan, are naturally one of the more risk averse stocks, and generally take the long view of things. They tend to prefer the known, safe way of doing things than to take the risk to innovate. To take the small, guaranteed, gain than to risk it all on a big score. This is further compounded by the fact that, while a “big score” might last a human and their children a lifetime, money that will last 100 years is not enough for an elf to retire on.
Further, even among the civilized races, elves have a strong taboo against violating the sanctity of the dead. Merely touching a corpse is only done by their mystics, with intense purification rituals before and after. Not only is robbing the dead forbidden, but simply entering their spaces, the very same abandoned ruins that Adventurers often raid, a terrible sin. To the Elves, this is not without good reason. With their long memories they often know that there is, more often than not, a good reason that lost and abandoned places came to be that way. They know that the world is much better off if things buried in many of those ruins stay buried. Violating these places is not only a strain on the spirit of those who do so, but a danger to all involved.
The elven risk averse mentality is antithetical to the one that produces most adventurers, and their social taboos label such things immoral and dangerous. As a result, few Elves take up the life, and those that do are typically even further removed from their community than Adventurers from other stocks.
The Dwarven word for “Adventurer” more is also their word for “Unemployed”, and both are held in a particularly low regard. Adventurers don’t craft great works of beauty and they don’t contribute to the good of the hold or their Clan. The only thing they seem to be good for is that sometimes they manage to bring back rare materials that real dwarves can use to enhance their works, but those times seem few and far between. Dwarves who don’t contribute are only barely better than Oathbreakers and Cowards (if they aren’t those as well), and Adventuring is not seen as a a profession, let alone an honorable one.
There is a major exception to this in Dwarven culture, and that is the “Grand Venture”. The actual process of a Grand Venture is not really that much different from what Adventurers do (go to a place, kill/sneak by/outwit the inhabitants, and then loot it), however the key difference is in the (official) justification. A Grand Venture is one where a group of Dwarves seek out to avenge a great wrong. This wrong must have been perpetuated against the entire hold or an entire clan, not a personal matter (unless a clever Dwarf can frame the personal matter as an insult to his entire clan), and it must be suitably grand in scope. Claiming an ancestral hold, recovering a stolen clan masterpiece, even making war are typical examples. Dwarf grudges being what they are though, what is seen as an honorable Grand Venture for one clan, can be seen as an unprovoked attack by those they perpetrate it against, and can spark feuds that last for generations.
In such cases when the Grand Venture is seen as justified to a Dwarven society, it is not only socially acceptable, but even honorable to abandon your work and strike out when the opportunity presents itself, although they are expected to return to it when their task is complete. Dwarves on a Grand Venture typically avoid the semi-slur of the Adventurer title, typically taking on a term equivalent to “Avenger” or something similar. Some Dwarven adventurers often try to pass themselves off as being on a Grand Venture to avoid the social stigma, how successful this is depends on the Dwarf, and how good their story is.
Why does anyone do this?
In spite, or perhaps because of most seeing them as outsiders, Adventurers are arguably the most free of anyone who lives in the gulf. Their livelihood is not tied to a specific location or community. They are not bound by the roles and rule of the caste of their birth. The treasure found in lost ruins can make most wealthier than a lifetime of work in the professions of their parents. They owe their allegiance to no one save their comrades and patron Saint-Hero (although some authority figures would disagree with that one). They get to see and experience more than many in their lifetimes.
The life is hard, and many turn to it because they lack the opportunity to do anything else. The majority of adventurers don’t even make it to their first score. Even those that do survive and make a living off of it, the grind eventually wears them down to the point where they are not physically and/or emotionally capable of continuing it any more. Still, many wouldn’t trade the life for anything else.